The Phantom Gazette – LouisvilleHalloween.com News
Alley Theater Founder/Chairman and former Baxter Avenue Morgue Creative Director, Joey Arena, is the new caretaker of one of America’s oldest standing walk through haunted houses.
The job: Restore the original Haunted House at Guntown Mountain to its former glory, preserving its history as an iconic roadside attraction in Cave City, while updating it slightly to fix broken props and pump up the “lesser polished stuff.” Get it ready for re-opening as a preview of Funtown Mountain this Halloween in 2015.
The goal: Please both longtime fans who have taken dozens of trips through the dark and twisting hallways over the years and newbies who have never experienced this classic haunted walk-thru.
The man: Joey Arena.
“History is very important to me,” says Arena. “I want to keep all the original props and try to replace the broken ones. Will (Russell) has a lot of the original Funni-Frite props, like The Thing (a pair of hands that pop out of a mysterious box), in storage. I’m going to try to find a replacement of the Gorilla gag at the end.”
Arena has a long and fabled local resume in both the theater and the haunt business. As co-founder of the Alley Theater when it opened in the back of the Highland Grounds Coffee Shop 21 years ago, Arena has staged countless productions including “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which will be returning for its third blood soaked engagement in 2015. The Alley has moved recently to its most prestigious location on West Main Street between the Kentucky Center for the Arts and the 21c Hotel.
Arena was also one of the earliest Creative Directors at the Baxter Avenue Morgue.
“The Morgue opened in 2001 and I and my former wife, Verity Vice, worked there during the first season,” relates Arena. “After the season ended, the owner asked everyone working there if we had any suggestions for improving the haunt for the next year. We turned in what was basically an 8 page treatise on the improvements we would make.”
He laughs. “It was a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ type of situation, because he ended up hiring us as Creative Directors in 2002 and we took over the Morgue for the next five years.”
Arena and Vice married two days after Halloween during their time running the Baxter Avenue Morgue, but after they divorced amicably five years later, they decided to part ways with the Morgue as well.
“The Morgue was about us,” admits Arena. “We wanted to make it the haunt we always wanted to see but never saw. It just didn’t seem right for either of us to continue without the other.”
This Halloween, Arena is returning to the haunt biz in a big way as both the head haunter at the Haunted Hotel (formerly named the Haunted House) at Funtown Mountain and as the new Creative Director of Zombie City at the Asylum Haunted Scream Park where he’ll be putting his theatrical background to use in cooking up some “major story developments” in Asylum’s unique, interactive haunted attraction.
“The Haunted Hotel at Funtown Mountain WILL be open this Halloween,” states Arena. “We’re planning a big concert to be held there on Halloween night, but the plans are still in flux and I’m not sure who the headlining act will be at this time.”
“For the most part, we plan on keeping the Haunted Hotel an actor free attraction, but we certainly plan to have actors and entertainment set up to entertain people waiting in line during the Halloween season,” says Arena. “I can actually see us possibly putting an actor or two in there as something special for Halloween, but mostly we plan on keeping the attraction as it is.”
The rickety old Haunted House at Guntown Mountain was built in 1972 and designed by a defunct company called Funni-Frite Industries who specialized in building dark rides and funhouses for the amusement park industry. There were originally seven Funni-Fright pop-up gags that brave guests would encounter while exploring the tight and winding passageways, including the legendary Charmin’ Charles, a skeleton playing piano visible through the cobwebbed window on the second floor.
“Charmin’ Charles will remain exactly where he is,” definitively states Arena.
Other gags originally installed in the Haunted Hotel include the “box of moaning skulls,” the Mummy, the “Hang ‘em High” gag with a machine gun shock scare added, the Baron, the Troll and the Gorilla.
If you’ve never experienced the thrills of the Haunted Hotel, there’s a point midway through the attraction where guests emerge from the darkness on the second story balcony for a breathtaking view of the Cave City landscape that doubles as a great photo opportunity for friends and family waiting down below. The balcony also serves another sinister purpose during the daylight hours. Once brave explorers’ eyes re-adjust to the daylight, they must return again into the dark and disorienting hallways with renewed blindness!
This Halloween promises something old and something new in Cave City, and Joey Arena is the man in charge of making it all spooky. Now all we need is a time machine to speed up the next eight months.
Local entrepreneur, Will Russell, plans to turn the defunct Guntown Mountain roadside attraction in Cave City, KY into a bizzaro Disneyland tribute to the creative spirit of Kentucky!
The love of roadside attractions, and one rickety old haunted house in particular, has turned WHY Louisville store owner and Lebowski Fest creator, Will Russell, into Kentucky’s latest theme park owner. Just this week, Russell finalized the deal to purchase Guntown Mountain, and the ink on the contract was still wet when I met with him in his subterranean funhouse on Baxter Avenue that serves as the office for his multiple business ventures.
Amid the collection of curios found lying about his office are giant abominable snow monster heads, vintage Halloween blow molds, laboratory skeletons, Gremlins, “Big Lebowski” memorabilia and the Chinese Wild Man monster costume from John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” which he bought recently in a Profiles in History auction.
Russell takes the whole “Keep Louisville Weird” agenda to another level.
“I love roadside attractions,” says Russell. “I think they are the core of American entrepreneurism.”
“It was actually the Haunted House, sitting on the top of the hill by Guntown Mountain, that captured my attention when I was driving by there and saw the FOR SALE signs,” he confesses. “At first I had no idea that the Haunted House was part of Guntown Mountain. I thought it might have been a separate attraction, but when I found out it was part of park, I had no choice. I had to buy it.”
Russell’s Land of Tomorrow Productions has purchased the park with plans to both preserve it and to add many new attractions to it.
“The Haunted House still works,” he says. “We went through it the other day, and I want to preserve it mostly the way it is because it’s the oldest standing attraction of its kind in the country.”
“The goal is to preserve as much of the spirit of Guntown Mountain as we can. In fact, I feel that the ghost of Guntown Mountain will remain in the park,” states Russell. “I love this place. I proposed to my wife on the chairlift.”
Russell has big dreams for Funtown Mountain, and to that end he has secured the creative services of the Weber Group in Sellersburg, IN, the same company who designed the twin spires logo for Churchill Downs, the giant baseball bat for the Louisville Slugger Museum, the troll for the Troll Pub Under the Bridge and many other iconic creations for theme parks and zoos across the country.
“They build dreams,” says Russell about the Weber Group.
Some of Russell’s dreams for Funtown Mountain must remain a secret at this time, but he graciously shared some of his plans for new attractions that he intends to make part of Phase One in 2016.
“The centerpiece of the park will be Lolleyland,” he reveals. Lolleyland refers to the work of local artist, Kathleen Lolley (http://www.lolleyland.com/), who has a longtime working relationship with Russell and whose work can be found in many of the best art galleries in Louisville.
The other major new attraction, which he had told no other media outlet about at the time of this article’s publishing, is the Kentucky Wondershow Theater, which will be built in the current location of the Opera House in the western town.
“The Wondershow Theater will be a place where we can show movies and have concerts,” says Russell. “We’d like to have concerts with local musicians like Will Oldham, Jim James and other talented Kentucky artists, and then we’ll be having hologram concerts.”
Excuse me? Hologram concerts?
“Yeah,” he promises. “We’ll be using new technology to record actual live performances of bands that can be played back in the Wondershow Theater in three dimensions, so it will look and sound like they’re really there.”
Russell promises to build a giant clown head that will be visible from the highway as well as “pirate rides” and elaborate adult/kid’s playgrounds. He also dreams of releasing a giant Kraken like the one created by special effects artist, Ray Harryhausen, in the 1981 fantasy film, “Clash of the Titans,” to tower above tourists who visit Funtown Mountain.
That’s just for Phase One. If everything goes well, Russell would like to add a roller coaster and, possibly, his dream of a Kentucky Mount Rushmore in Phase Two.
“I’d like to use Funtown Mountain as the location for Roadside Attraction Enthusiasts Conventions and Steampunk Conventions,” he confesses. “Don’t you think Steampunk kids would like hanging out at a place like this?”
“This is a collaborative effort and a whole bunch of extremely talented local artists, musicians and creative folks are involved,” says Russell. “Ultimately, it’s a celebration of Kentucky and everything Kentucky has to offer. Kentucky is a lot more than fried chicken, bourbon and horses.”
The Park Lands Project of Floyds Fork has recently opened Pope Lick Park, making access for monster hunters who’d like to visit the Goat Man’s Trestle and surrounding woods safer and easier than ever before!
Greetings monster lovers and urban legend believers, it’s the Phantom of the Ville, welcoming you to Pope Lick Park! As Sir Richard Attenborough’s eccentric dinosaur park owner, John Hammond, said in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster, “We spared no expense.”
Indeed, even though 21st Century Parks is a private non-profit organization, they seem to be seriously invested in Louisville’s green infrastructure. Pope Lick Park is really, really nice, and there’s more to come.
Beckley Creek Park and Pope Lick Park are open now with Turkey Run Park and Broad Run Park scheduled to open in late 2015, encompassing nearly 4,000 acres of park lands stretching from Shelbyville Road in the north to Bardstown Road in the south.
When I joined the Louisville Halloween team nearly four years ago, one of the first articles I published was a look back at the mystery of the Pope Lick Monster (one of Louisville’s most enduring cryptozoological legends) and a contemporary tour of the Goat Man’s domain.
As much as had changed since I remembered the desolation and spookiness of the trestle area in the 1980s, much more has changed in just over the last year. Due to unprecedented urban sprawl across the land between J-town and Fisherville, the traffic whizzing up and down Taylorsville Road day and night had become as dangerous for urban legend trippers wishing to stare up at the infamous trestles as an encounter with the Goat Man himself.
Not to mention the cars whisking and winding down Pope Lick Road with very little side road space for civilians to park, take photos of the trestle structure or to peer into the woods in hopes of spotting the elusive horned beast.
No longer! Now part of the Louisville Loop, a planned 100-mile paved recreational path that will connect the city through neighborhoods and parks, curiosity seekers can now safely travel underneath Taylorsville Road and across Pope Lick Creek via a newly built metal underpass.
Once on the other side of Taylorsville Road, you’ll find a crosswalk that leads directly to the Louisville Loop pathway and a large, slopped pavilion just underneath the train trestle. Now, rain or shine, you can stand beneath the pavilion at Trestle Point, staring up into local myth as you share ghost stories and/or high school adventures.
Bring your camera! The world needs more blurry monster photos.
The miles of paved pathways and dirt trails, like the one that meanders through Big Beech Woods just down the way, give local armchair cryptozoologists plenty of chances to scope out Goat Man’s sacred turf. Let’s face it, Goat Man can’t just lurk by the train trestle all the time. He must have lots of hiding places in the surrounding woods and creek beds.
Just fifty yards past the trestle and only a few feet from the pathway, I spotted a hunter’s tree stand in the woods marked as PRIVATE PROPERTY. Now, I know it’s likely that someone has used that perch to hunt squirrel or deer, but my imagination would love me to believe it was built by a modern monster hunter hoping to catch a midnight glimpse of a cloven hoofed devil.
Some words of warning: The public park closes at dusk and police are known to patrol the area around Trestle Point after dark. Be safe. We DO NOT recommend or endorse ignoring the NO TRESPASSING signs and fences built around the trestle or attempting to cross the railroad trestle at any time. Ever. The trestle is still in daily, continuous use by freight trains and it takes a train moving at 55 miles an hour over a mile to stop.
We DO recommend you take advantage of these new parks for biking, hiking, canoeing, exploring, dreaming and even monster questing. Park maps are available at the Trail Kiosk not far from the Park Gateway as you turn right off of Taylorsville Road (coming from J-town) onto Pope Lick Road.
Send us your best blurry monster photos!
Watch the skies on the night of January 5th for a hag on a broomstick that might bring you New Year’s gifts and candy or lumps of coal (and a lump on your head) if you’ve been naughty this year.
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
A couple of days ago I received a call from Andrew Coombs, the owner/operator of Grim Trails Haunted Attraction in J-town. He informed me that he was busy adding witches and broomsticks to his annual Christmas displays in tribute to La Befana.
Just assuming he had lost his mind to post Halloween withdraw, I played along.
“Good luck with that,” I replied.
“Have you ever heard of La Befana, the Christmas Witch,” he asked?
The Christmas Witch? No, although I’m familiar with Krampus and the Eastern European tradition of Krampus Night which takes place annually on December 5th, I had never heard of the Night of the Befana, which takes place annually on the evening of January 5th on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany in Italy.
I had some serious research to do.
Epiphany is a Christian rooted holiday tradition that refers to the “manifestation of the divinity,” or the night when the birth of Christ was revealed to mankind, except in Italian folklore there is apparently a cackling witch on a broomstick added to everyone’s front yard Nativity scene.
That’s not really accurate. The whole legend of the Befana is entrenched in the idea that she never actually found the Nativity in Bethlehem, and is still eternally searching each year for the birth place of Jesus Christ.
Grab a yule log and I’ll tell you the whole story.
Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!
Befana, an example of the traditional “good witch,” lived in a very tidy and comfortable house where she often spent hours cleaning and sweeping the floors with her broom. One day she was paid a visit by the Magi, the biblical Three Wise Men, who had become lost on their journey following the Star of Bethlehem and needed shelter for the night.
Although she wasn’t able to give them directions to Bethlehem, she did take them in for the night where they revealed to her their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Before the Three Kings left the next morning, they invited Befana to come with them to see the baby Christ child.
Her first instinct was to tell them she was far too busy with her daily cleaning duties to join them on their quest, but some hours after the Three Kings had left to continue their search, she began to regret her decision and decided to try and catch up with them.
She packed a bag full of bread, treats and other gifts for the Christ child and flew off on her magical broom to find the three kings. Having no luck finding the wise men, she continued to follow the star they told her about, but got completely lost along the way, never making it to the manger in Bethlehem.
Centuries later, Befana is still looking, and on the eve of January 5th, she flies around the world stopping by the house of every child she hopes might be the one she is seeking, climbs down through the chimney and leaves sweet treats and gifts for the children she knows have been good and lumps of coal (caramel colored sugar rocks) for those who’ve been naughty.
In the modern Italian tradition, she often leaves a little bit of both, as no child can possibly have been good all year long. She also hates being spotted while at her task and has no problem with whacking anyone over the head with her broomstick who attempts to stay up after bedtime in an attempt to catch a glimpse of her.
Like American children often leave out milk and cookies for Santa Claus, the kids in Italy leave a glass of wine and a pasta dish for the Befana, so I’d imagine she might get a bit tipsy somewhere across the North Atlantic and I recommend substituting coffee or 5-hour energy drinks if you’re hoping she makes it to your house in the States this year.
The Befana is celebrated in huge festivals all across Italy today. The town of Urbania, which is thought to be her home, hosts a festival featuring hundreds of costumed Befanas swinging from the towers while crowds of up to 50,000 people come to watch.
The Piazza Navona in central Rome hosts a Befana market during the days between Christmas and January 6th where you can buy Befana toys and decorations, candies and food. Tradition holds that on the stroke of Midnight on January 6, Befana herself will appear in the window of the Piazza Navona and hundreds come out to watch for her.
I couldn’t verify, in all my research, if all of those hundreds of gawkers annually get bonked in the head by Befana’s broomstick.
There are small pockets of Italian communities in the United States and Canada that still celebrate La Befana, and the Italian World Showcase pavilion at the Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida embraces the whole tradition with costumed storytellers that educate children from all over the world about the Christmas Witch.
So don’t forget before you go to bed on January 5th to leave out some good wine and Italian food for Befana. The legend says that if she really likes your offering, not only will she leave you candies and gifts, she’ll also sweep your floor for you before leaving. No matter what you do, no matter what you hear in your house after Midnight that night, don’t open your eyes. You may regret it if you catch a glimpse of this witch of winter.
Need a unique, last minute Christmas gift and/or party gag gift? The Phantom of the Ville haunts some of the quirkiest locally owned shops to find the strangest and most magical curios in town!
Happy Holidays from the crypt! It’s less than two weeks until Christmas Eve, and I’m sure that those of you that read the Phantom Gazette with any regularity probably know a couple of people with unconventional tastes. What do you get those folks for Christmas that haven’t even taken down all their Halloween decorations yet? Or maybe you need a white elephant gift for a company Christmas party?
This week I stopped by a few of my favorite locally owned curio shops and discovered a few interesting items that just might fit the bill. I encourage all of you to shop locally this Christmas, which both keeps more money in our local economy and also keeps Louisville weird.
ALCHEMY: The Marvelous, Magical Olde World Emporium on Market
415 East Market Street
Alchemy is a magical place filled with tonics, candles and fantastical items of all shapes and sizes. They also have a wonderful selection of books sure to please the black sheep of the family and the oddball at the company Christmas party.
Check out Lemony Snicket’s “The Lump of Coal,” or if you know someone worthy of a lump of coal in their stocking, you can get them a big lump of Coal Soap.
Other books worth considering are “Walking Your Octopus” by Brian Kesinger, “Santa Claws: A Scary Christmas to All” by Laura Leuck with illustrations by Gris Grimly and, especially, “Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man.” Davis, one of Walt Disney’s top artists, animators and graphic designers, did most of the art design work on the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and this wonderful art book dedicates a chapter to each of those haunting attractions.
For the spooky kook in your life, check out Alchemy’s Bone Head Bottle Openers and museum quality replica skulls. There are also some beautiful and evocative Christmas ornaments for sale. Check out the golden dragons wrapped around the candy cane sticks.
WILD AND WOOLLY VIDEO
1021 Bardstown Road
Louisville’s best video store for going on 18 years, Wild and Woolly is really the only game in town for serious film lovers and for those that crave more than just the Top 20 Hollywood blockbusters. It’s also a horror movie fan’s best friend.
While it’s mostly a rental store, there are some great titles for sale in stock on Blu-ray and DVD for the film lover on your Christmas list.
A perennial holiday bestseller at Wild and Woolly Video, “Evil Roy Slade,” starring John “Gomez Addams” Astin is available in a tin boxed set with the Astin starring Western comedy “Brothers O’Toole.”
If you’re looking for a cheap and mind melting Christmas movie, you can pick the K. Gordon Murray version of “Santa Claus” for $4.98. This re-edited and dubbed Mexican holiday kid’s film features an ongoing ‘Spy VS Spy’ battle between Santa Claus and Satan himself. In one scene, Santa shoots the devil right in the derriere with a bow and arrow. You won’t see that in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
Highly recommended to our readers is “Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America,” a documentary that explores the reasons why we love Oct. 31st and which tours some of the best haunted attractions in the country. You can also pick up the Blu-ray boxed set of “Halloween: The Complete Collection” for the Michael Myers fanatic on your list.
Other interesting choices include “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series,” which has been restored with all the original music, correcting the sin committed when it was initially released with all the rock music replaced due to unresolved music rights issues. You’ll also find “Freaks,” directed by Louisville born director, Tod Browning.
960 Barret Avenue
Ultra Pop is a little corner of Louisville heaven that serves as a home for imported vinyl toys, art design books, designer t-shirts and local art prints. The owner is a serious lover of Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman and other Japanese giant monster flicks, and you might both find these movies for sale and playing on the shop’s big screen TV.
A recent stop into Ultra Pop turned up a couple of gems that you may want to add to your Christmas shopping list. First, Ultra Pop is carrying a tin box of Krampus greeting cards! This might be all you need to complete your holiday shopping. Just send one Krampus card out to everyone you know and spread the devilish Christmas joy.
I also spotted a series of Universal Monsters Pop! Vinyl figures, bound collections of Bernie Wrightson trading cards and a whole wall of framed monster related art prints by local artists at very affordable prices. Also, check out the owner’s amazing display of Rankin-Bass Christmas Special action figures and play sets.
1583 Bardstown Road and 806 East Market Street
WHY Louisville is a tastefully tacky curio shop that sells Ville memorabilia, locally made t-shirts and oddball trinkets that will make your Grinchy heart grow three sizes this season. The original Highlands location proved so successful that they’ve recently opened a second store in NULU.
My favorite “must own” item in the store pays tribute to Louisville’s cryptozoological legend, the Pope Lick Monster, also known as the Goat Man of the Pope Lick railroad trestle in Eastern Jefferson County. Get your loved one a “Goat Man Lives” t-shirt this holiday season!
While you’re there, you can pick up an inflatable, remote control great white shark to have swimming around your tree on Christmas morning. Don’t forget to properly decorate your tree with WHY Louisville’s golden Bigfoot Christmas tree ornaments.
Next to a creepy un-lifelike figure of Walt Disney wearing mouse ears and over-sized Mickey Mouse gloves, I also spotted some Beetlejuice Bobbleheads which strike me as the perfect Christmas gift for anyone.
There are plenty of other locally owned shops out there. Caufield’s Novelty at 1006 West Main Street, for example, is a great place to buy latex monster masks, magic tricks and vintage style Christmas decorations. Don’t forget to shop locally and Keep Louisville Weird!