Pope Lick Trestle
Over Pope Lick Road and Pope Lick Creek
The ghastly siren of Pope Lick Trestle has claimed yet another victim. The terror experienced by a young couple from Ohio while visiting this lonely railroad trestle is unimaginable. The couple was exploring the paranormal wonders of Louisville, of which there are many, and expected to tour Waverly Hills Sanitarium last Saturday evening. While trespassing at Pope Lick in search of the famed Pope Lick Monster or Goatman the couple was caught in the middle of the railroad trestle by an approaching train. The female was struck, thrown from the trestle, and killed. Her boyfriend was able to hang from the trestle until the train passed.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the Sirens, beautiful maiden-like creatures who lured sailors to their death with their enchanting song. It seems the Pope Lick Monster is a variation of the sirens. In this case however, the monster lures teens with the thrill of viewing his ghastly form and when they walk the trestle in search of him some of them have been killed by a train on this busy thoroughfare.
The legend of the Pope Lick Monster is, like most urban legends, rather hard to pin down. The tales appear to have begun circulating in the mid-20th century. At that time, the trestle was a remote place where local teens would congregate to party and “neck” (in other words, to make out or have sex in the parlance of the period). Perhaps it is one of these teens who first saw the mysterious creature described as being half-human and half-sheep or goat. David Domine, a local writer, historian and expert on area legends and lore describes him as having muscular legs “covered with course dark hair. He’s got the same dark hair on the parts of his body. His face is alabaster they say and he has horns as well.”
Some descriptions state that the creature uses hypnosis or other mind-altering methods to lure victims onto the trestle. Other stories note that he uses mimicry to recreate the voice of a child or loved-one. Once on the trestle, it’s too late for the victim to escape a passing train. Perhaps nowadays with the preponderance of thrill-seekers especially looking for paranormal thrills, just the thought of seeing the Goat Man’s visage is enough to lure the unwary.
Since the late 1980s, the siren of the trestle has claimed its fair share of victims. A young man died from injuries sustained in a fall from the trestle in 1987. The next year a young man was killed here in February. In 2000 local headlines note another young man killed after falling from the dangerous trestle. With the most recent victim, that makes four, though I suspect there may be more that didn’t immediately appear in newspaper searches. The trestle was constructed in 1929 and there may have been many deaths here over the years.
The exact identity of this murderous creature is also hidden in lore. Some stories make the connection between this creature and the Goatman that haunts the woods of Prince George’s County, Maryland. That creature is supposed to have escaped from a Beltsville, MD government lab, though the creature must do quite a bit of traveling between the two locations. Other stories indicate that the Goatman is the product of an illicit relationship between a local farmer and a member of his flock. Still other stories note that there may have been some type of Satanic ritual involved. The tale of a traveling circus involved in a railroad accident near here tells of the escape of a freak from the car carrying the circus’ freak show is also mentioned as an explanation for the monster here.
In 1988, Louisville filmmaker Ron Schildknecht premiered his short film, The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster. Norfolk Southern immediately expressed concern that the film might encourage locals to trespass on the trestle. Schildknecht added a note about this to the film to appease the railroad. It does appear that the film and the ensuing controversy served to stir up interest in the legend and perhaps add a bit to it.
Walking along railroad tracks, bridges, and trestles is considered trespassing. While these places are seemingly open to the public, they are private railroad property. The young woman killed at Pope Lick isn’t the isn’t the first ghost hunter or legend tripper killed on railroad property in recent years. In 2010, as a group of ghost hunters explored Bostian Bridge near Statesville, North Carolina, a train appeared and one of the young men was struck and killed by it. The victim pushed a young woman to safety and she was injured in the fall. This group of ghost hunters were looking for the ghost train that is known to appear here reliving the horrific train crash that occurred here in 1891.
Pope Lick Trestle may be safely viewed if one travels down Pope Lick Road. A walking trail also parallels the road and passes under the trestle as well. Do not trespass on the trestle! If you hear the siren call of the Goat Man of Pope Lick Trestle, shut your ears and leave the area, he may be calling you to your death.
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Kentucky: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bluegrass State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
- Bryant, Judy. “Trestle of death: Film depicting legend stirs fear of life imitating art.” The Courier-Journal. 30 December 1988.
- Bryant, Judy and Lisa Jessie. “Film puts Pope Lick trestle” fatal attraction in the spotlight.” The Courier-Journal. 4 January 1989.
- Gast, Phil. “’Ghost train’ hunter killed by train in North Carolina.” 28 August 2010.
- Gee, Dawna. “Numerous urban legends tell of Louisville’s Goat Man.” WAVE3. 9 May 2014.
- Holland, Jeffrey Scott. Weird Kentucky. NYC: Sterling, 2008.
- Kuwicki, Holden. “Local legend may have contributed to Pope Lick death. 25 April 2016.
- Strikler, Lon. “The Pope Lick Monster’s Deadly Trestle.” Phantoms and Monsters Blog. 30 May 2014.
- Tangonan, Shannon. “19-year-old does after falling from railroad trestle.” The Courier-Journal. 7 November 2000.
- Wilder, Annie. Trucker Ghost Stories. NYC: Tor, 2012.
- Yoo, Sharon and John Paxton. “Coroner: Woman killed by train while investigating ‘goatman’ myth.” KLTV. 23 April 2016.
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