One of the most talked about and famous aspects of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium is the Body Chute or Death Tunnel. The Body Chute is the preferred name.
The Body Chute was once used to transport the bodies of deceased TB patients from the hospital to the bottom of the hill to waiting hearses or trains. At the peak of the TB epidemic, many patients died everyday. In order to keep morale up and not upset living patients, the hospital administration decided to use the Body Chute to discretely send bodies away from the hill. The logical step was to transport the bodies down the tunnel that was used to carry supplies and heat to the hospital. A railcar wench-type system was used to carry the bodies from the top to the bottom of the hill.
Due to the lack of electricity, there is total darkness inside of the tunnel after about thirty feet down. Good strong flash lights are needed. The acoustics are interesting too. There is a strong echo when you talk.
You can get a good idea just how dark it is down inside this tunnel from these photos. The light only shines down or up so far, and then it goes into total darkness. Studying the photos closely, you can see that there are steps on one side, and a smooth slab on the other. At one time there were rails on the smooth side, somewhat similar to what a coal mine has. They had gurney tables with wheels which rode on those tracks. A motorized winch system would gradually lower the bodies of deceased patients down the tunnel.
The tunnel is approximately 500 feet long. It has vent shafts the stick up above the ground about every 100 feet. These shafts let in some light and fresh air.
Alongside of transporting bodies, The tunnel was also a good way for employees to get up and down the hill during the winter and keep warm at the same time.