The Legend at Pope Lick Haunted Attraction Brings Folklore to Life
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
The thrill of chills was instilled in Michael Book when he was just four years old and his uncle introduced him to horror movies and haunted houses. Though he had the pants scared off him, Book grew to love Halloween and horror. He even got sent to the school counselor as a kindergartener for drawing pictures of Freddy Krueger and his bloody glove. Teachers soon realized, however, that there was nothing menacing going on — only a child who was already outlining his future career path. By age 13, Book created a small haunted house and by 15, he was charging admission for his first commercial haunted house, which attracted thousands.
As an adult, Book created Louisville Halloween, which lists all the fear-inducing attractions in the area. Book also had an idea that had been brewing in the back of his mind for many years.
“I’ve always wanted to do something themed around the Goat Man and the legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” Book says. The Pope Lick Monster is said to be part-man, part-goat and lives beneath the 90-ft. high Norfolk Southern Railway trestle, which extends 770 feet across Pope Lick Creek.
In 2015, Pope Lick Park opened inside the Parklands of Floyds Fork, the largest public park in Louisville. Book knew this was the prime location for his attraction, which he co-owns with Mike Kimzey. Last year all the pieces of the puzzle came together and they got it up and running.
Because so many variations of stories surrounding the tale of the Pope Lick Monster exist, this unique attraction encapsulates them all.
The most prominent tale is that years ago a circus train carrying passengers in the freak show was crossing Pope Lick Creek when the car was struck by lightning during a terrible thunderstorm and derailed, killing the majority of those onboard. The Goat Man (aka: the Pope Lick Monster), however, along with some of the other circus freaks, survived the crash and escaped into the woods. Those who dare
to take this walking tour will encounter these characters amidst a forest full of cedar trees, all clumped together to cast spooky shadows.
“There are also a lot of freak show circus attractions within the event itself,” Book says.
One of the other legends is that the monster is really the twisted reincarnation of a farmer who sacrificed goats to gain Satanic powers. Therefore, another part of the attraction involves entering a barn full of “slaughtered goats.”
“One of the unique aspects of this haunted experience, outside of the folklore itself, is that everyone goes through it holding a flashlight,” says Book, noting that it’s no ordinary luminescent device. “This one interacts with the event. It turns off and on as you walk, sometimes changes colors, and there are some other surprises thrown in there as well.”
Rod Whitenack, Senior Editor for the Louisville Halloween website, provides content for the Pope Lick attraction’s website (louisvillehalloween.com/legend-at-pope-lick/). Having grown up in Jeffersontown, he’s intensely familiar with the legend.
“The first time I heard the story was from a girl who lived next door. I was six years old, and when she mentioned the Pope Lick Monster, my ears perked up,” recalls Whitenack, who became captivated with the many tales, one of which is a Lover’s Lane type of story that claims the Goat Man is a savage character with red glowing eyes who will chase anyone who drives beneath the trestle after midnight during a full moon.
“Legend states that he can run up to 60 mph and that he can hypnotize his victims,” Whitenack says. “As teenagers, we’d take girls up there and tell them these stories to try and scare them. It was a major high school thing to do.”
So much intrigue surrounds this folklore that short films, stage plays and even Discovery channel documentaries have been made about the Pope Lick Monster. Locally, stories about the Goat Man have swirled around Jeffersontown for decades.
“Anyone interested in ghost stories, urban legends, and monster movies are fascinated by it,” Whitenack says. “The Pope Lick Monster is kind of like our Bigfoot.”
Book agrees. “If you can see something that possibly exists, then people are naturally going to flock to it,” he says.
The walking tour can take anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes to complete, depending on your speed and your nerves.
“Everybody walks differently or runs differently, as the case may be,” Book says with a chuckle. “It really depends on how scared people get and how fast they go through the woods.”
The $20-per-person attraction runs every Friday and Saturday through October 28 with tours starting around 8:30 p.m. Patrons are spilt into groups of two to eight.
“We keep the groups small to make the experience as intimate as possible. It’s scarier that way,” Book says. “Think about it. Wandering through the pitch-black woods with a flashlight is way more frightening if you’re surrounded by just a few people rather than a group of 50.”
Book speaks from personal experience, recalling the chilling night when he and his team were out in the woods cutting trails for the attraction.
“Most of us work day jobs so we were out there in the middle of the night. It was crazy dark and suddenly the birds high up in the trees started going crazy, flapping their wings,” Book says. “There was all this fluttering and trees limbs were falling. It was really strange.”
Creepier still, was the night when they were deep in the forest and heard a snorting sound 20 feet away.
“It would walk around, then more snorting,” Book says. “It was probably just a deer, but I don’t really know because we had head lamps on and flashlights in our hands and never saw anything.”
Now that the attraction is open to the public, others get to experience the delight of the fright. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
“People say this is one of the best haunted attractions they’ve ever seen,” Book says. “In fact, last year a 12-year-old kid came with his grandfather and was scared out of his mind. But he loved it so much that he asked his grandpa to bring him back every weekend after that. When I talked to him, it was his fourth time through.”
Tragically, through the years various people have gotten injured and even killed in their quest to explore this legend on their own. A perk of this haunted experience is that it provides the public with a safe outlet to seek that legend without venturing anywhere near the trestle.
“People can satiate that desire to come face-to-face with the Goat Man and not put themselves in harm’s way,” Book says.
Whitenack maintains that the great thing about the Pope Lick Monster is that it gives folks an escape from mundane life and daily stressors and allows imaginations to run wild.
“The idea of the supernatural, the paranormal, the unexplainable adds a little magic and mystery to our lives,” Whitenack says. “That’s one of the reasons why these types of stories will never go away and why this attraction is so popular.”