Heartbeat of Zagreb

If Walls Could Talk - the Story of Brestovac, the Haunted Sanatorium

The century-old hospital died along with its tenants. But for some of them, death was not an obstacle.

Those were the times that Zagrebians don't remember so fondly. With the World War One at Europe's doors, there was another menace threatening the lives of the citizens. 'White plague,' they called it. And we can assure you, the nickname that preceded this illness was a diminutive compared to what it did to those captured by its stale and deadly breath.


When 1909 knocked on Zagreb's doors, tuberculosis had already been taking its heavy toll on our beloved city. Therefore, the city management knew they needed to do something about it. A need for a proper treatment of the infected citizens was not just a necessity, but a priority, especially because tuberculosis is contagious.


Brestovac hospital

Image credit: Iva Silla / Secret Zagreb


The love that gave birth to Brestovac


So, distinguished citizens of Zagreb held several meetings in which they brainstormed about this necessity. But Brestovac Sanatorium would not be built if it weren't for Milivoj Dežman, a major benefactor of Zagreb at the time. Among many occupations Milivoj took up, the most important one was being a doctor. Unfortunately, his altruism and occupation weren't the only reasons why he fiercely bid for a place for a proper treatment of tuberculosis patients. The reason for his persistence was his personal grief. His first big never forgotten love, actress Ljerka Šram got infected with this, at the time, deadly disease.

After few attempts, Milivoj succeeded in putting things in motion and a big beautiful building on the hill of Medvednica mountain, just outside the city, was built for his beloved Ljerka. They called it Brestovac Sanatorium. It was meant to be the place where people suffering from this horrible disease could eat properly, rest and get a breath of fresh air because, at the time, there wasn't much more they could do for them.


brestovac hospital

Image credit: Secret Zagreb


For some time, Milivoj thought that his forbidden love was safe. Why forbidden, you ask? Well, you see, Lady Šram was married, but that didn't stop Milivoj from loving her, and she was not so indifferent either. He forged a plan: he will take care of her and for other patients, and leave his journalistic and novel writing career in order to dedicate his life to finding a cure for tuberculosis.

That was the case until one cold November morning in 1913 Milivoj found his beloved Ljerka covered in blood. She was not breathing. Panicked, he did everything he could to keep her alive, but it was too late. Lady Šram choked to death on her own blood.  Even though death was not a rare sight in Brestovac, this one deeply affected Milivoj, who was the head of the sanatorium. He never recovered from his loss.


Then the rumors began...


Shortly after her death there were rumors about ghosts covered in blood roaming the hills of Medvednica mountain. Even some of the hospital patients were disturbed by that notion, claiming that Lady Šram was visiting them at night, praying for their recovery. The rumors went so far that patients' families stopped visiting them fearing of the late Lady Šram covered in blood.


Image credit: Secret Zagreb


Alongside the sanatorium location and these blooming rumors, which were scary enough, there were also stories that the sanatorium was built with underground tunnels and catacombs. Catacombs and tunnels were a quarantine for those terminally ill, as well as their final resting place. Of course, after this fact came out in the open, more and more stories about shadowy apparitions of Lady Šram were accompanied by her foggy friends buried in the tunnels under the empty Brestovac walls, forever condemned to hope for their recovery in some other life.


Image credit: Iva Silla / Secret Zagreb


The fear of paranormal and the Second World War isolated the hospital even more and made her totally undesirable not only for citizens but the patients as well. And what's even worse, Lady Šram and her walking dead army got 200 new friends whose bones were scattered all over the hospital grounds. Those are the remainings of the 200 patients who were killed during the WW II, and they were scattered all over the place to make room for other, new patients. It seemed that the sadness and grief just piled up at the Brestovac Sanatorium.


The hospital finally closed its doors in 1960 because of the medical advances in the field of treatments for tuberculosis. But even though the corridors are missing the echo of a tuberculosis cough, rumors haven't been silenced for more than four decades. 


Image credit: Iva Silla / Secret Zagreb


Still, there is always few people brave enough to come and see Brestovac ruins and seek the belongings of the deceased just lying around, hoping to confirm creepy rumors. And while Milivoj and Lady Šram are long gone, this place stands neglected from Zagrebians, spreading its powerful silence as a token of all the dreadful faiths whose time stopped long ago on that mountain. 


Header image credit: Iva Silla / Secret Zagreb

Author: Lana Suša