A Contemporary Look at the Generations Old Legend of the Pope Lick Monster
“Here There Be Monsters”
Those words can be found on many early examples of cartography when the world was still young to sea travelers and vast areas of the ocean were still relatively unknown and unexplored. Missing ships and sunken galleons were often attributed to mysterious monsters who lurked in the dark depths waiting to destroy unwary wayfarers.
These monsters became the stuff of urban legends, stories that were passed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition in camp fire tales and late night sleepovers. Eyewitnesses and documentation of these creatures of legend are generally questionable at best. The stories that are told are often based on the testimony of “a guy my brother knows who has a sister that has a friend whose uncle saw the creature in his back yard next to the illegal moonshine still.”
Welcome to the world of cryptozoology, my friends. As one of Louisville’s lurking legends myself, The Phantom of the Ville, this week I will be your host in exploring one of our cities most enduring urban legends, the legend of the Pope Lick Railroad Trestle in Eastern Jefferson County near Fisherville. The Pacific Northwest has Bigfoot. Point Pleasant has the Mothman. Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster. Tibet has the Yeti, and Louisville has the Goatman of Pope Lick.
Stories about the Pope Lick Goatman seem to date back as far as the late 1940′s, but no one seems to know the exact event that started the legend, and there are several wildly variant versions of the creature’s origins. One story says the creature was an escaped freak from a circus sideshow that survived a circus train derailment in the area. Another describes a farmer whose Satanic ceremonies led to the birth of a deformed demon from one of his own goats. In some stories the monster has supernatural, hypnotic powers to lure its victims onto the train trestle just as the train comes along, and in others it uses an Axe to hack up its victims.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to tell the story the way I heard it growing up in Jeffersontown, and I hope you will take the time to tell the story the way you heard it in the Comments/Reviews section below.
I was in Elementary School when I was first told the story of the Pope Lick Monster. The Goatman was described to me as having the upper body of a man and the legs and hooves of a goat, covered in black and white spotted hair with a goat’s head and protruding horns. The schoolyard rumor spreaders had statistics too. He could run up to 60 miles per hour and would chase any car trying to pass under the trestles after Midnight but before dawn. He lived in either a hut or a small cave nearby. If you tried to cross the trestles at night and a train would come around the bend, he would appear on the other side of the nine story drop leaving you the choice of either being hit by the train, forced to jump to your certain death or be killed by the monster!
The legends continued to circulate when I reached High School, and when I was old enough to drive, the Pope Lick Trestles became the perfect place to take dates for a good scare and a little death defiance. I did indeed climb out onto the tracks overlooking the creek, but my fear of heights didn’t allow me to go very far as the railroad ties are further apart than they look and I could see right through them to the ground ninety feet below.
There were a lot spooky stories surrounding that area in the 1980′s. Just a mile or two further down Pope Lick Road there was a farm called The Four Winds that was supposedly the place of worship for a Satanic Cult. There were rumored news reports of missing dogs in the area and speculations about ritual animal sacrifice. At the time, its wooden fence was painted stark black and red and the sign on the front gate next to a menacing red plow warned, “TRESPASSERS WILL BE PERSECUTED.”
When you’re 17 years old, this kind of threat nearly demands you to trespass. It’s like a “double dog dare.” One night a friend and I climbed over the gate and crept stealthily into the field and up to an old barn. Suddenly, we were both stopped dead in our tracks by the sound of tribal drumming coming from further back in the woods. “Did you hear that?,” I asked my friend, not sure if my nerves were playing tricks on my ears. Just as suddenly we also heard ritualistic chanting.
If the Pope Lick Monster could run 60 miles per hour, I don’t think he would’ve caught up to us as fast as we got out of there!
As the years passed the legend was retold in a short film by local filmmaker, Ron Schildknecht, called “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” and in a play by Prospect native poet, Naomi Wallace, called “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.”
In recent years, however, I’ve heard less and less about the Pope Lick Goatman. Last month I took the drive down Taylorsville Road to the beast’s lair and was shocked at how much has changed since my High School/College adventures. The road between J-town’s Gaslight Square and Pope Lick Road used to be mostly wooded area, farmland and the occasional ramshackle barn. It was a desolate stretch of road perfect for a legendary creature to hide and lurk. Today it’s littered with strip malls, restaurants, gas stations, condominium complexes and upscale gated communities. In fact, there is a modern Kwik-E-Mart right across the street from the Goatman’s trestle with an omnipresent police car in the parking lot. The traffic at the crossing is non stop.
The trestle itself is now guarded by an eight foot fence bearing “Keep Out” signs to deter teenagers and legend tripping curiosity seekers from getting near the railroad tracks. As far as documented facts go, there have been actual recorded deaths attributed to thrill seekers falling prey to trains which still use the trestles today. At least two deaths in 1987 and another as recently as 2000 were reported in an article in the Courier Journal by local homespun journalist Bob Hill, and many believe the story of the Goatman may have been created to scare kids away from the real dangers of the area.
Is the Goatman gone forever, chased away by urban progress and the encroaching suburban civilization? Has this local cryptozoological creature of legend disappeared into the murky bog of forgotten history? Has the city’s overprotective fences and signs robbed us all of a little bit of the mystery and magic that makes our lives more interesting?
You tell me! Have you heard about any recent sightings of the Goatman? What stories were you told about the horned beast growing up? Did you ever try to cross the railroad tracks or explore the area after Midnight? Tell us your own campfire tales about the Monster of Pope Lick!