The Booneville Tuberculosis Sanitarium
Within the quiet hills of the quiet mountain valley town of Booneville, Arkansas, located a mere 60 miles southeast of Fort Smith, lies the remnants of the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Though majority of the buildings still stand on the 998 acre property, mostly vacant, the memories within the walls of these buildings are still extremely prevalent. For being a place intended on being a sanctuary became a place of terror, misery, pain, and loss to any surviving former patient or those who have had family there.
Tuberculosis, or TB, has been recognized and identified since the beginning of time. Skeletal remains from Neolithic Settlements in the eastern Mediterranean show TB to be found in prehistoric humans as well as tubercular decay in the mummified remains of ancient Egyptians. Hippocrates identified TB, Greek being Phthisis around 460 BC, as a horrible, widespread disease involving coughing up blood and fever, which was almost always fatal. Prior to the industrial revolution, TB was regarded in more paranormal terms, most prominently as a form of vampirism, as when one family member died, the remainder of the family was doomed to the same fate as the belief was the original family member would drain the life of the rest of the family. It’s also been regarded as a witch’s curse of turning the victims into horses at night to ride to their meetings, thus their lack of rest as well as the victims being forced to nightly attend fairy revels. Dr. Robert Koch was the medical professional to dispel the folklore and reassert the disease to public knowledge. Tuberculosis is known to attack the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body such as the nervous system. Being an airborne and liquid contagion, an epidemic was bound to happen with new people coming from all around the world into America in droves.
The turn of the 20th century broke TB into epidemic proportions and thus called for Sanatoriums to be built across the nation. In the fall of 1905, Judge Joseph M. Hill of Fort Smith was diagnosed with the disease and petitioned to the government, both state and federal to have a facility built for the quarantine, study, and treatment for the disease. Judge Hill relocated himself to Arizona for the hope that the warm, dry air would cure his ailments.
Five years later, on March 31, 1909, Arkansas Legislation passed Act 378, that appropriated $50,000 for the establishment of a Sanatorium and an additional $30,000 for 2 years of maintenance. Legislators called for an oversight committee charge to seek out land in which to build the Sanatorium for the region. The hamlet of Booneville offered 973 acres of land in the hills southeast of town for $10,000. The oversight committee surveyed the property and concluded that the crisp, clean, mountain air would provide the ideal atmosphere for those suffering from the disease and accepted the offer. Building began almost immediately and continued for another 60 years.
The original plans called for 1 ward building, 4 cottages (Two for men, two for women), 4 cabins, 5 tent houses, and 1 superintendent’s cottage. The first patient was admitted on August 2nd, 1910. The sanatorium was capable of housing 64 patients. With donations by prominent families from Fort Smith and organizations of the area, such as the masons, additional buildings were constructed to expand and increase the patient capacity of the property. A school was made out of the Mason’s Building. A farming operation was built and incorporated into the property complete with dairy cattle, beef cattle, other livestock, hay, and vegetable crops to supply the food demand of the hospital. A fire department, phone system, water and sewage systems were also built into the property turning the sanatorium into its own community above the original hamlet of Booneville in the valley below. In 1938 the Nichols-Nyberg act was passed, funding the construction of a new hospital building on the grounds. This act was promoted and pushed by Phillips county Representative, Leo E. Nyberg who was suffering from, living in, and would eventually die at the Sanatorium. The new Nyberg building was state of the art, spanning 528 feet in length, 5 stories in height with a full basement, and capable of housing 512 beds. The building was capable of housing x-rays, a morgue and full kitchens. The building was completed and opened in 1941 a year after the passing of Senator Nyberg. By the end of the construction, the property housed 76 buildings across the property.
The facility saw over 70,000 people but the disease and lack of educated treatment left a 70 to 80% mortality rate, creating a sense of fear impacting the place. Prior to the 1950’s, Treatments were basically primitive in nature with rest build solidly into the schedule out in the open mountain air as well as regular meals, as prescribed in the Victorian era. Surgeries were attempted, deflating the lungs and using sterilized ping pong balls to keep them deflated, removal of the phrenic nerve, a long, spaghetti-like cord that connects the spinal column to the diaphragm, and thoracoplasty, in which a large chunk of the ribs and muscles of the chest ere surgically removed to make the afflicted lunch collapse. Many of these treatments, such as they were, were pioneered or refined at the Arkansas State TB Sanatorium in which quickly became the standard across the nation. More medicinal advances after the 1950’s curbed the growing epidemic as well as actually helping the afflicted beat the disease and thus, a decline in population was to be had. The last patient of the hospital checked out in 1973, forever closing the doors on the location as a hospital.
This investigation was a rare opportunity for our team to travel out of state to investigate a site that all teams aspire to investigate. For this investigation we teamed up with another Oklahoma based group called SPIES. This location is so popular with paranormal investigation groups that it is booked 3-4 months in advance. There are many documented findings and reports that have been written but we wanted to put our own special touch on this. When our team arrived at this location, we were blown away by its massive size and its sad past history. As noted in the history, in the 63 years this hospital was active over 70,000 patients were treated there. With an average mortality rate of 50% untold thousands died there. Our investigation was confined to the Nyberg Building which the primary care giving facility following its completion in 1941. To try and capture as much documentation as possible and allow the team to investigate all five floors and basement in the time we had available we decided to set up our static infrared cameras on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors as well as the basement. We broke the available people into a few groups and have them investigate on different floors. This report will be broken down into our experiences by floor with each team’s point of view being considered. We could tell that this location was very active as during the setup of our DVR cameras, our audio recorders captured some unique evps down in the basement area. Two of these evps were, “Thank you,” and a very loud Raspy Gasp.
While the teams were setting up the equipment TJ and Christy went outside with the walking camcorder and began filming some footage for a future documentation on this investigation we plan to do. While walking through the emergency room pavilion which connects to the hospital, TJ and Christy both heard a couple of footsteps walking up behind them but when they turned around to look, there was no one there. This pattern was to be repeated to every team on every floor throughout the night. For clarity, this report is formatted to provide our experiences by floor.
Basement/Morgue – Christy, Gary, and some members of the SPIES team were the first to investigate this location with other members of the team rotating through the floor as the night progressed. While Christy and Gary were setting up stationary cameras in the basement area, Christy’s audio recorder picked up an EVP that said "Thank you" We do not know what the spirit was referencing too as the EVP did not match any conversation taking place during the time it was recorded. Also during this time our audio recorders were able to pick up the Raspy Gasp of what we believe to be that of a man.
Shortly thereafter, while conducting a sweep of the basement area, shadows were seen in the hall and in the morgue area. Gary heard audible whispering in his ear and the whole team heard footsteps coming from the hallway. One investigator from the SPIES team named Maria asked any spirits present to light up the K2 meter for us and our audio recorders captured a female voice answering her saying, "No." "No" to K2 activation Within just a few seconds Maria stated she felt like she had been touched on the leg by something unseen.
We believe we encountered 2 different spirits in the morgue/basement area. One of these we thought to be a female and the other a male based upon the audible voices all the investigators heard. As the team investigated some of the rooms and areas that were in the basement, our team felt very uncomfortable in various places. The feeling that we were being watched and followed was very strong and nearly all members made comment about the same feeling. At various points we would hear footsteps walking up behind us but when we would turn to see what was there; there would be nothing or no one there.
Later in the investigation a team comprised of Ashley, Cory, Anny, Shelby and Mark investigated the basement area. One of the investigation techniques employed was to set up a flashlight to enable a spirit to activate it or deactivate in in response to questions. With documentation of this technique in mind, a video camera was set facing the flashlight in order to document both the questions posed and the responses via the flashlight that were provided. Specific equipment used was Christy’s night shot video camera with the bulb flashlight Maglite in the morgue on a table. As with prior flashlight interactions the team moved to the next room to pose the questions to the spirit(s). Mark then proceeded to ask the spirit(s) to scare him in any way shape or form. No reaction was recorded. Ashley then asked for the flashlight to turn on. The flashlight seemed to flicker on several times. Ashley then stated to the spirit(s) that if they wanted the team to leave the room they needed to turn the flashlight on as bright as possible. Seconds later the flashlight turned on full power. The team then left the room and investigated the rest of the basement with no other experiences noted. As team returned towards the room to wrap up the investigation they asked the spirits to help us find the flashlight and the flashlight turned on. Upon review of the video, the team noted that the flashlight went off and on several times. As the team returned to pick up the equipment; Mark again started to ask where his flashlight was. Once we got into the room, the flashlight came on. The flashlight activations while the team was investigating other parts of the basement may have been due to the battery releasing a charge every so often; however, the activation when the team returned to the room looked nothing like the ones on video while we were gone.
1st Floor – The 1st floor is still actively used for business. This was where our base was established. On the first floor of the hospital while setting up the base for the DVR, one of the members from the SPIES was talking and our audio recorders captured an EVP that said, "Liar" We do not know what this EVP was in reference to. About the same time TJ reported seeing a figure that resembled a nurse walk from one side of the hall to the other on the North end of the hallway. Later while glancing down the South end of the main hall; Christy reported seeing a dark shadow down at the end that crossed over to the other side of the hall then disappeared. Throughout the night Cory (who was primarily manning base) reported seeing shadows move in the same area and undefined sounds from there. At one point midway the night Cory reported feeling someone touch his right ear.
At one point during the investigation, while conducting sweeps outside of the hospital, Christy was able to get a photograph of a shadowy figure standing at the front doors looking outward onto the hospital grounds.
2nd Floor– On the second floor of the hospital almost all members heard lots of audible voices coming from various parts of the hallway. One of the more interesting things that took place on this floor was of a woman humming which was heard by many of our team members. At one point during the investigation a team comprised of Mark, Ashley and Anny broke off to attempt interaction with any spirits present employing flashlights. Equipment employed were two different flashlights. One flashlight was equipped with a bulb (Maglite) and the other with a LED bulb (Maglite). During the beginning of the sit down the flashlights were set up on a bench in the middle of the hallway. The team sat on the bench with the flashlights beside Mark. It turned off and on in response to queries several more times. It seemed that the interaction was more immediate when Mark asked the questions rather than Ashley. Ashley asked at one point if the spirit present liked Mark more than Ashley and flashlight came on immediately.
Throughout the night members of the team reported shuffling sounds behind them and banging sounds from various areas of the hallway. At one particular point Christy was going in and out of the rooms and when she heard banging sounds coming from one of the rooms, she went in the room and try to mimic the banging sound from off of one of the metal spring beds that still remained in the room. During this time our video camera and our audio recorders picked up what sounded like a woman's voice saying, "Take me home to Bonner Cave, take me"
3rd Floor – On the 3rd floor several members of the team heard a loud cough coming from one of the rooms. While doing a sweep up on the 3rd floor, the group saw a shadow that appeared in the hallway, first hunching in the doorway of one of the rooms and then slowly it would move at the edge of one of the doorways. It followed them around the floor and tried to play games with them as if it were playing a hide and go seek type of game. While they were walking he would duck in and out of the rooms. While investigating the hallways and rooms, Christy heard her name called but later when she reviewed her audio, this evp did not appear. Shortly after this, two members heard a man’s voice come from one of the rooms that said, “Little Shit,” but our audio recorders didn't capture this evp.
At another point during the investigation a team comprised of Ashley, Richard, Shelby, Mark and Anny investigated the hallway. Shelby and Mark decided to split off from the group and go to one end of the hall to do an EVP session while employing an EM Pump, Mel Meter and Night Shot Camera. During that time they captured several EVPs. Some of the clearest EVPs they captured that night were captured on the 3rd floor near the “jail cells. The team reported hearing "He may not believe it" and "It's to bad" during their investigation of the 3rd floor. Along with the EVPs they also captured one picture of an unexplained light anomaly which they tried to recreate without success. They then met up with the rest of the group and decided to break down into a group with Annie, Mark and Ashley to go to the other end of the hall. Having experienced considerable success with employment of flashlights in other parts of the facility, the team decided to attempt to interact with any spirits present on the 3rd floor while employing the same flashlights. Once the flashlights were setup, the team decided to go across to the opposite room across the hallway to see if any intelligent response could be achieved to our questions with us away from the flashlights. We were able to get a few responses with the flashlights but could not be sure they were an intelligent response to the questions posed. We then decided to walk down the hallway leaving the flashlights and while walking the one member of the team exclaimed “Oh my gosh! I lost my flashlight! We need to go back and find it!” They then walked back to the very same room and the flashlight was on and flickering. They did this same activity three more times with similar responses each time.
4th Floor – While the team was unable to fully investigate this floor due to the hazardous environmental conditions there, there were some encounters made. While walking back down towards the stairway to leave the floor members of team were holding the Mel Meter which started getting very strange reading all the way from 3.2Mg down 1.5Mg. We were actually able to follow these reading all the way into the center bathroom. Then just as suddenly the appeared they had disappeared. No further investigation of these phenomena was conducted.
5TH Floor – Our group proceeded up to the 5th floor only to discover that it was a much smaller floor and it had a lot of little laboratory type rooms rather than individual patient rooms. In one of the rooms while Christy was taking photographs, she captured what appeared to be the face of someone looking at us through a window from the outside which would be impossible since we were on the 5th floor.
Later during the evening a team comprised of Ashley, Anny and Mark investigated this floor. As with the prior team they determined that floor was primarily used for lab and administrative purposes. The team decided to attempt interaction with any spirits present by employing flashlights. The flashlights were placed on an old refrigerator in a lab room and the team retired to a nearby room to pose questions. The team chose to modify the flashlight employment technique by using two LED flashlights and asking the spirits present to activate and deactivate both flashlights together in response to questions the team asked them. Since the team believed that the area there in was a nurse’s wing they asked if there was a nurse present to which they got a direct response. As Ashley asked questions she was able to determine that the spirit they were interacting with was a nurse under 25 years of age who worked at the hospital sometime after the 1950’s. Unfortunately, no EVPs were recorded throughout this session. The interaction of Ashley with the spirit present was recorded on video. Video of Flashlight Activating
Conclusion: After a good night’s investigation and taking into account prior groups’ reports we believe this location is haunted. This investigation was a great chance for the team to investigate in a large, institutional building while employing new techniques and perfecting ones they used often. Since this location was not a residence dealing with cliental, we were able to concentrate or focus more on the building and its horrific past and the personal experiences our team experienced there. We would certainly enjoy doing more investigations at this location and may consider doing one at some point in the future.
I had previously been to this location once before about 5 years ago. I have to admit that I had some doubts about this old hospital still being haunted because of all the paranormal teams that have visited it during those 5 years. The first time I visited this location, I was with another team and we were the first ones to investigate the old hospital. It was what I considered it to be as virgin territory and I loved the thought of going into such a massive building with such a tragic past and having the privilege of being the first to be able to investigate it. It has been my experiences that once a place has been investigated repeatedly, it can drain the energy from a particular location and the ghosts don’t always stick around or they just might not have enough energy to produce any good recorded evidence. I quickly learned that that wasn’t the case with this old TB hospital.
The place still looked the same inside and out and I was pleasantly surprised as I walked through its corridors that it still had the same vibe of, “You’re not alone” and as I walked more and more I felt as if we were being followed by various spirits. I could hear a few of them chatting amongst themselves as we walked down the halls. I also saw a few of the old resident patient’s peer their head out of their rooms to catch a glance of us before quickly ducking back inside and disappearing.
Basement/Morgue floor I encountered a man named Henry who stated he was upset because he had watched as his body was brought into the morgue but he wasn’t dead. When we started asking him if he would give us a physical sign of his presence he got upset with us and stopped communicating with us.
2nd floor I encountered a man by the name of Thomas who told me he didn’t want to be there in the hospital and he just wanted to go back home but his family had brought him there and wouldn’t let him leave. He stated that he didn’t like one of the nurses and the pills she was giving him was making him sick.
Also on the 2nd floor I encountered a woman named Joleena who told me that she was only visiting the hospital and she was there to witness to those patients who were not saved. She loved to sing and also used her voice to sing to the patients that were there. She stated that she had contracted tuberculosis and was still trying to help witness to people that were still at the hospital until Jesus returned to take his children back home to Heaven with him.
3rd floor I heard a loud cough and went into one of the rooms where I saw this man in his 50’s who was sick and lying in bed. He told me he didn’t want to be bothered and for us to leave him alone. We apologized to him and exited the room.
I also encountered a woman named Sophie who was very sad. She stated her family had brought her into the hospital but she didn’t want to be there. She stated she was a dancer and that she once had a dance recital scheduled a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving but she didn’t get to attend it because she got sick and was brought here to the hospital. I watched her as she danced in the halls of the hospital to show us the dance she had learned for her recital. She danced very gracefully and I felt really sorry for her.
On the 3rd floor we all encountered a spirit that appeared as a dark shadow, first hunching in the doorway of one of the rooms and then it would slowly stand at the edge of one of the doorways peering at us. He did not want us there at the hospital and stated that he wanted us to leave. He verbalized several threats to us and stated that the spirits that were there in the hospital were there for specific reasons and that he used their energy as a resource for himself and that was why he was at the hospital. He followed us around the floor and played games with us. While we were walking he would duck in and out of the rooms and called us names and cussed at us. During this time I heard my name called but when I played back my audio I wasn't able to capture this evp. One of the times we were looking for him in the rooms, I was standing by one of the room doorways and heard him say, “Little Shit.” This was also heard by one of the other members present. Our audio recorders however weren't able to capture this evp.
5th floor I got the feeling we were being followed but it didn’t seem to be by anything negative, just more or so curious. Several of these rooms appeared to be like little laboratories. In of the windows I was able to take the photograph of a man’s face.
Closing Thoughts: I personally feel like this old TB hospital has spirits remaining from its past. Some of these spirits I feel are in a state of confusion and either do not know that they are dead or they feel like they have to remain at the hospital since that is where they were confined to before their death.
There were two interesting photographs from this location
There was one positive video from this location
There were 6 evps recorded from this investigation.