Pope Lick Monster

Pope Lick Monster: Searching for Louisville’s Deadly Legend

Paranormal author and investigator J. Nathan Couch goes in search of the Pope Lick Monster in Louisville, Kentucky, which is responsible for at least 3 deaths.

Wisconsin paranormal researcher J. Nathan Couch recently took a “legend trip” to Kentucky. Legend tripping is the act of visiting an allegedly haunted location to try and experience the legend for yourself. This is the second in a series of articles by Couch following the Waverly Hills Sanatorium tour.

Legend of the Pope Lick Monster

The Pope Lick Monster is said to be a strange, savage amalgamation. He’s often described as a large humanoid creature with furry, goat-like legs, alabaster skin, wide-set eyes, and horns that protrude from greasy fur. The monster is sometimes referred to as Goatman or even Sheepman. According to story, the beast was originally captured in the wilds of Canada around the end of the 19th century. The Goatman became the star of a circus’s freak show until an electrical storm caused a train derailment. This devil-like creature was supposedly the only survivor. Instead of returning to the vast northern wilderness, the Goatman made his way to the Pope Lick Trestle, and is said to reside there even now.

Recent: Pope Lick Monster legend claims another life in Kentucky

The monster is said to possess a wide array of supernatural skills to lure people out onto the trestle including mimicry, telepathy, and/or hypnosis. Once a victim is lured onto the trestle, the Pope Lick Monster uses its abhorrent physical appearance to frighten its intended victims, causing them to leap or fall to their demise. Some versions of the legend insist the monster waits for a train to approach—then from beneath the trestle—holds its charmed victim down until the train runs them over.

Climbing onto the trestle for a glimpse of the Pope Lick Monster has long been a recreational activity for reckless Louisville-area youths. While even entertaining the idea of such an absurd creature might make even the most ardent paranormal enthusiast feel foolish, the Pope Lick Monster has killed at least three people. That’s a fact.

View from the ground of the Pope Lick tressel looming overheadThe December 30th, 1988 Louisville Courier-Journal ran a front page article entitled Trestle of Death, in which it records two tragedies. Jack “J.C.” Charles Bahm II, a 17-year old Spalding University student, was struck and killed by a train February 18, 1987 while crossing the trestle. He has since been eulogized at the site of his death. “JC we love and miss you” is spray painted on the trestle’s base. In May 1987, 19-year-old David Wayne Bryant died of injuries obtained in 1986 when he jumped from the trestle to dodge an oncoming locomotive.

Versions of the Pope Lick Monster legend have been in circulation since the 1960s, and the area around the trestle was a popular party location for area youth, but it took the Louisville premiere of the 1988 short film “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” to persuade the railroad it needed something more daunting than trampled chicken wire to keep the public off the trestle. The night of said premiere, two boys were arrested when they attempted to climb out onto the trestle. Immediately thereafter, a six-foot high security fence was installed.

The fence, along with a heightened police presence still hasn’t kept people away from the tracks. In 2000, a 19 year-old Mount Washington man named Nicholas Jewell was shaken from the trestle by a train’s vibrations as he tried to hang from the trestle to avoid being hit by a train.

Exploring the Pope Lick Trestle

On July 27, 2013 I went in search of this trestle to see if I could understand why anyone would risk their lives in search of a monster. As I turned onto Taylorsville Road, I caught a glimpse of the ancient looking track as it ran parallel to the road, nearly hidden by the trees. I felt as if I’d caught a glimpse of an immense, sleeping serpent. I turned onto Pope Lick Road and the trestle immediately towered some 100 feet overhead. The narrow, curved road had a surprisingly high amount of traffic when I was there, and with no visible shoulder on the road, my only recourse was to park at a nearby gas station. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a Louisville Sheriff’s Department patrol car sitting unmanned. I refused to be daunted by this; I’d come all the way from Wisconsin for this trip. There would be no turning back. Besides, I had no intention of going anywhere near the tracks, nor did I plan to climb any fences.

Creek at the base of the Pope Lick tresselDespite my lawful intentions, I felt like a criminal as I navigated an astonishingly high amount of traffic to take pictures from a nearby bicycle trail. Next I walked down the shoulder of the road to stand beneath the tracks. I felt a strong need to gaze up. As I did, the light through the railroad ties was dazzling, and I felt dizzy on the uneven shoulder. My imagination conjured up the approach of a train. The trestle is 772 feet from end-to-end. If you’re stranded up there with a train coming, it’s impossible to out run the locomotive and the engineer has no hope of stopping in time. The body of one of the men that was hit was recovered a couple of miles from the trestle. I turned and examined the creek, which on this day barely qualified as a trickle. One’s only choice is to leap off the trestle, a jump that it’s vastly improbable to survive.

I envisioned the Goatman—a poorly disguised image of the devil himself—and I was reminded how certain members of the Jeffersontown and Louisville community believe the Pope Lick Monster—or some other supernatural force—DID persuade those kids out onto the track. As I walked back to my car, I took a final look at the antiquated, foreboding structure and I couldn’t put myself in those kids’ shoes at all. Having been a nervous and meek youth growing up, I couldn’t imagine needing a thrill so bad that I’d wander onto the trestle.

While I wouldn’t go as far as say supernatural provocation caused the death of those kids, the Pope Lick Monster DID lure them out onto the trestle, if only with his legend.

The Pope Lick train trestle in Lousiville, Kentucky, home of the Pope Lick monster
CAUTION: Trespassing ruins legend tripping for everyone. Also, never ever play or loiter on railroad tracks. Funerals aren’t fun for anyone.

Read more about the Pope Lick Monster in Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

A Haunted Tour of Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Is Waverly Hills really full of ghosts? Author J. Nathan Couch takes a tour of the infamous sanatorium to experience America’s most haunted place for himself.

Wisconsin paranormal researcher J. Nathan Couch recently took a “legend trip” to Kentucky. Legend tripping is the act of visiting an allegedly haunted location to try and experience the legend for yourself. This is the first in a series of articles by Couch. Next article: Pope Lick Monster

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Ask any paranormal enthusiast to read to you from their bucket list and you’re practically guaranteed to hear “visit Waverly Hills Sanatorium” right away—assuming of course said enthusiast hasn’t already visited. While some reputedly haunted locations shy away from such attention, the people at Waverly have whole-heartedly embraced it, turning the building’s black history into a supernatural cash-cow. The building has been featured on every major paranormal television series, was the subject of a feature-length documentary entitled Spooked, and legions of ardent paranormal investigators and curiosity seekers either tour the property or conduct full-scale investigations for a fee. Proceeds from such activities are being used to restore the building, which has suffered from decades of neglect and vandalism.

A gurney in the Waverly Hills morgue

A gurney in the Waverly Hills morgue

If any place should be haunted, Waverly should be it. The history of the location would best be described as nightmarish, if it wasn’t so very real. At the turn of the 20th Century tuberculosis—or “The White Death” as it was also called because the color it turned one’s skin—was a true epidemic and no one had the slightest idea how to treat the disease. As medical science struggled to cure this deadly respiratory infection, a massive open-air sanatorium was constructed in the hills outside Louisville. The current structure opened in 1924, replacing a smaller building that had been built years earlier. Innumerable patients were treated at the Sanatorium, however, distressingly few survived. During the height of the plague as many as a person an hour succumbed to infection. So many died their bodies had to be secreted from the building via an underground tunnel so as not to upset the other patients who soon could suffer the same fate. Finally, by 1961 a proper treatment had been devised and the need for a TB sanatorium ended. Waverly was closed down and, in 1962, the site became the Woodhaven geriatric facility. Woodhaven was closed down in 1980 by the State of Kentucky due to the horrid conditions and abuse endured by patients.

In the decades that followed the grounds were methodically vandalized and became a nest for transients and troublemakers. In addition to the already-thousands of deaths which occurred during both the White Death and Woodhaven incompetency, there have also been allegations of both murders and suicides. Keep in mind this is merely the Cliffs Notes version of Waverly’s tragedies.

Waverly Hills Tour

On the night of July 26, 2013 I participated in one of their guided paranormal/historical tours. The site boasts a myriad of ghosts and paranormal phenomena. To list it all here would be redundant as the spectral troupe at Waverly is arguably the most well-known in America. Instead, I’ll focus on my own experiences at the Sanatorium. The path to Waverly takes you past a posh golf course where many of Louisville’s elite are enjoying one last round. At the end of a long, narrow lane a wooden sign post with tour information stands, the only hint about what lies just around the corner. After a slight bend, the Sanatorium suddenly appears in the evening sky—a hulking reminder of the area’s tragic past. There’s an interesting juxtaposition here, I’m simply not clever enough to articulate it.

I was underwhelmed as the tour began on the first floor. The guides were doing a fine job, mind you. I think that perhaps the interior of the building itself was having a hard time measuring up to the decades of history and lore that surrounded it. Perhaps I was just distracted by the juvenile graffiti that had accumulated over the years, or the nervous whispering of my fellow tour patrons.

Waverly Hills patient Lois Higgs

Lois Higgs, a patient of Waverly Hills

Things began to change as we reached the second floor. As we walked from the solarium—an open air area for patients that runs the length of the wing we were on—towards a patient’s room, I noticed a shortness of breath and a headache beginning. I do not claim to be “psychic” in the least, nor would I say I’m “sensitive” to paranormal activity, but I have had similar experiences before while visiting or investigating allegedly haunted locations. After we all got within earshot the guide began telling a story about one of the room’s former residents, a young woman named Lois Higgs. Lois passed away from tuberculosis in 1956. Numerous EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) sessions have supposedly captured messages from her. Investigators and tour patrons regularly leave flowers in memory of the woman. A fresh bouquet of roses was present beneath several photocopied pictures of the woman. I noticed a bit of soreness and discomfort in my right arm and shoulder as the guide spoke.

We walked across the hallway into the next room. This was a small, miserable room with one small, boarded-up window. The guide pointed out that sunlight and fresh air was once thought a prime adversary of TB, thus the solariums all over the building. These dark rooms were where patients were taken when the medical staff had given up hope for them. Even before the guide had told us the nature of the tomb-like rooms, I noticed my heart rate quicken as I entered.

I thought that these various symptoms I was experiencing were peculiar. I’m not the least bit claustrophobic, nor was I feeling “spooked” from the building or the stories. I’ve been in plenty of supposedly haunted locations. I should also point out the temperature and humidity inside the massive concrete structure was mild for a Kentucky July. A cool front had come through and a breeze was circulating through most of the building. As we left the second floor I began to feel better.

A patient room in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium

By the time we finished with the third and fifth floors, it was now growing dark outside and a flash light was needed to navigate the stairs. We stopped on a landing where we were told a cautionary tale by the guide. In recent years trespassing has dropped off since Waverly was opened to the public, largely because of security guards and the installation of numerous cameras on the grounds. However, a couple of local teen boys had recently broken into the building with a hatchet. A security guard heard a loud scream come from the fourth floor. When he arrived the teens were screaming, “They won’t let us out!” The guard calmed them then asked who they were talking about. “The people in the stairwell! They won’t let us out!” The guard walked over and easily opened the doorway to the stairs and showed them no one was in the stairwell. As the guide said this I heard the sound of several women laughing. It seemed like the sound was coming from up and away from us, as if it came from the floor above. I should point out there were numerous women on our tour, but everyone was in the stairwell, packed tightly. A few patrons had been murmuring and giggling during the story, but this laughter seemed farther away. Perhaps this was an echo of some sort, but it was intriguing considering many of Waverly’s most famous apparitions are female. As we walked onto the fourth floor we were shown the hatchet marks made by the panicked kids.

Before we entered the fourth floor we were instructed to turn off all electronic devices—anything that’s a potential light source. The fourth floor has a reputation for being the most active area of the property, and shadows are regularly seen moving across the hallways. Numerous tour patrons were asked to walk, one at the time, arms out, to a point nearest a bend in the hallway and stand perfectly still while the rest of us watched. It did seem as if shadows moved across the floor by the patrons. After a patron ran back to the group after feeling a cold spot and hearing a noise behind her, I volunteered.

Waverly Hills solarium

Waverly Hills solarium

As I stood there I noticed a cool breeze from the nearby solarium, but I heard nothing. I did notice a shadow in a room to my right from my peripheral vision, but it could have been a trick of the light. The whole time I stood there people remarked shadows were moving all around. I was amazed, but as the phenomenon continued without waver, patron-after-patron, I began to question it. The hallway is very long, and because of this it seems to narrow as you look down it. The rooms are evenly spaced apart the entire length, with natural light coming through the doorway of each, creating a stripped dark/light/dark pattern as far as the eye can see. This fourth floor phenomenon is an optical illusion called spatial aliasing. This occurs with reoccurring patterns at great distances. Basically there is too much detail for the human eye to deal with, and it causes this bizarre effect. An easy way to see spatial aliasing at work is to stand far from a chain-link fence and stare at it while walking the length of it. The pattern of the chains will appear to swirl or bend. Cool stuff, but not supernatural.

After the tour I stood near my car looking at the awesome structure, taking in all my experiences. A fellow patron and I started discussing the tour. She remarked that whenever she’d touch the wooden handrails in the building and noticed how they’d been worn smooth by the hands of so many who’d died tragically or suffered in the building, she’d tear up.

As we continued our conversation I began to notice a small orb-shaped pinpoint of light moving across the second floor solarium. It was the size of a firefly but a blue-white color, and it would disappear only to reappear with perfect timing in every other window. My companion asked if I could see a blue light. I said that I could. We watched as it traveled the entire length of the west side of the building heading east. At first it appeared as if it was inside the building, but as it progressed it moved up above the solarium windows in front of the exterior brick. When this happened it became two separate identical points of light, spaced so closely they almost touched each other. When the light neared a bend in the building—the sanatorium is roughly question mark shaped—we lost sight of it. The light(s) traveled roughly 350 feet in approximately 10 seconds.

I did a quick scan for anyone else in the parking lot. A couple was standing a few car lengths away taking photos. I quickly asked if their camera had any type of laser pointer on it. It did not. They hadn’t noticed the lights we’d seen, but that wasn’t surprising. The orbs were so small it surprised me that we had seen it. It wasn’t some sort of reflection, because solarium windows didn’t have glass. This was the most intriguing event of the night. I suppose someone could have been playing with a laser pointer, but it was blue-white not the usual red color. Also, the light seemed to almost instantly change from one point of light to two evenly sized points of lights.

Scratches from ghosts in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium?

Scratches from Waverly Hills ghosts?

I went back to my hotel room and after a lot of winding down, managed to fall asleep. The next morning as I was walking from the shower my wife exclaimed, “Where’d you get those scratches!?” I walked over to the mirror and sure enough I had several large, broken blood vessels on my right shoulder. They were vertical, horizontal, and diagonal in pattern. I wondered if perhaps they were caused by carrying my heavy backpack and a cloth shopping bag the previous day. When I first arrived at the hotel I had only enough time to check in and secure my belongings, as I still had to find a restaurant before my tour started. I didn’t shower or change clothes before the tour, and I had carried the majority of my stuff across my right shoulder. However, I then noticed a couple of similar marks on my left shoulder. On my left, I had only carried my laptop bag, which has a very comfortable padded strap. Was this caused when I began feeling sick on the second floor? I regularly play the role of baggage-mule on family vacations and I’ve never caused broken blood vessels anywhere on my body.

I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty that these odd marks are a supernatural manifestation, but after having experienced everything I did, I firmly believe Waverly Hills is haunted. Four days later and the marks are starting to fade.

The haunted Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky

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