Pope Lick Monster: Perhaps the real, dark history behind this Louisville, KY legend isn't what you may think. Is it death by monster or machine? TAP TO GET PODCAST
Louisville, Kentucky, has much to offer locals and travelers. There are ghost tours and museums a-plenty for those who love history, not to mention exciting escape rooms for friends and family. And don’t forget all the dining experiences and catching a pro game while you’re there. But be warned, no matter how alluring the old train tracks may seem, whatever you do, under no circumstances should you go hunting for the Pope Lick Monster, lets you meet the most dreadful fate.
The Mysterious Lure of Train Tracks
There is something mysterious and inviting about train tracks. The way they stitch across the countryside, sewn into the landscape. The hypnotic repeating patterns of railroad ties topped with seemingly infinite lengths of rail stretching beyond the furthest reaches of our eyesight. Trains are the tool that tamed the New World. They are the arteries that carry life across the wilderness and into the heart of our cities and towns. We carve tunnels through mountains and build bridges across valleys to create a path for these goods to flow.
But in between our lamp-lit hubs of commerce we call home is a whole lot of well, nothing. But human curiosity has never allowed that to stop us. If one man blazes a trail a dozen more will happily follow it to see where it goes – even if they know it leads directly into the heart of danger. But mystery and folklore often hold a more powerful grasp on our minds than common sense. And no place on the map tells that tale better than a set of train tracks in Pope Lick Park.
Pope Lick Park is a beautiful little getaway tucked neatly on the eastern outskirts of the Louisville, Kentucky Metro area. With miles of walking trails, playgrounds for kids, a river to paddle and fish, and sights to see, this beautiful, family-friendly park has plenty of outdoor fun. But on the edge of this tamed section of land lies a reminder of a more sinister presence.
The signs plastered all along the fence warn of the dangers ahead. People who venture too far down those tracks will often not return. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. Just beyond the fence often bent away by curious onlookers and just a short hike up the hill you will come to a bridge. But this bridge is not intended to be crossed by human feet. The Pope Lick Trestle spans a 772-foot gap, rising 90 feet (or about eight stories) into the air. And while it is entirely safe to drive or walk under this trestle bridge to take in the sight, if the stories are true, you might want to do so during the hours of daylight. And under no circumstances should you venture up top because the monster who calls this bridge home isn’t known for leaving survivors.
Pope Lick Monster – Origin Story
The circus train wound its way through Fisherville on its way to Louisville for a weekend of performances. The night was dark and the rain fierce but the tracks guided the train onward. As the train neared the Pope Lick trestle, lighting struck and arched across the rails, blasting away a piece of the track just ahead. There was no time to brake. The train skipped the rail and plummeted off the trestle bridge into the creek below. Most of the crew perished. Only a handful of the animals survived. Rescue teams spent all night sorting through the rubble, taking count of everyone and everything that was on board. But a peculiar pattern began to emerge.
First, it seemed as if some of the circus workers had initially survived the crash as their bodies were found outside the dining car appearing as if they were crawling away. However, somehow it seemed one of the animals got to them before help came as arms and legs had been sheered off and tossed about in a brutal manner.
Second, towards the back of the train and in a car all unto itself, buried amongst the hay and feed barrels was a strange, single cage. But this cage was unlike the other animal cages they had seen. This one looked more like a prison cell. It was furnished with a wooden cot, straw seat, and a bucket for well… presumably sanitation purposes. But unlike the rest of the cages they had seen which were either crushed under the weight of the collapsed train car or mangled in a heap of rubble, this one seemed as if it had been broken apart from the inside. Almost as if when the train car shifted it loosened up those iron bars enough for whoever or whatever was inside to push its way out.
While at first, none of this made sense, the journal they would find days later tucked away in the sleeping car would shed a gruesome light on exactly what tricks this circus had up its sleeve.
Pope Lick Monster Sightings and Encounters
Two decades prior, back in the early 1930s, Colonel Beauregard Schildknecht had pulled and stopped his circus train one evening near Beltsville, Maryland. The following morning, one of the performers noticed a crate resting outside of one of the car’s doors. When they paid for box one, they found a crying baby boy inside. But as they took a closer look, they noticed small knots on his head. And when they unwrapped the blanket tucked around his body they quickly learned that this was no ordinary boy. With cloven feet like that of a goat’s and a longer-than-average chin, this goat child was tossed at the doorstep of the perfect group to take in a freak.
Sadly, the tale goes that as the child grows, he is treated more like a beast than a human. Locked away in a cell in the back and fed leftover scraps, the goat child learned to hate humans. And when the opportunity came that stormy night in Fisherville, He took his chance, broke free from his cage, and took revenge on all of those survivors who had treated him as if he were nothing more than livestock.
Now free, the Pope Lick Monster as locals have come to call it, took up residence under and on the Pope Lick Trestle. Now he spends his days chasing down cars at night and mimicking the cries of children to lure people out onto that 90-foot tall train bridge where he then gleefully pushes them off the top or places them into a trance with his red, glowing eyes to sit there awaiting the impact of the next train.
Over the years, locals have told stories of the Pope Lick monster terrorizing their cars late at night. One young couple told the local museum owner, Rod Whitenack, about an encounter they had one evening as they were leaving the park. As the sun set, they were driving under the trestle to head home when a man with large horns and cloven feet jumped from under the bridge and grabbed their car door handle, ripping it clean off. They floored it, quickly getting up to around 60mph but when they looked out their window, the monster still following alongside early falling out of pace with their speeding car.
Another similar local story tells of a young man who encountered the Pope Lick Monster as he drove under the trestle where the creature lunged and slashed at the side of his car before jumping onto his windshield. He slammed his gas pedal down and heard the sound of claws tumbling across the roof as he sped off.
And while these creepy tales of goat-man encounters are enough to cause a stir, they pale compared to the very real horrors that have occurred 90 feet above.
The tale of a cryptid creature escaping a circus train isn’t exactly fresh. If you remember, back in episode 5, we covered a similar story of an angry ape that cracked out of its cage down in Chatawa, Mississippi. Heck, goat men aren’t a new tale either. In episode 34 we covered the Lake Worth Monster, a similarly terrorizing goat man down in Texas. But what does make this tale unique is the very real list of deaths that this monster has supposedly left in its wake.
See, the Pope Lick Trestle Bridge isn’t a place to mess around. First off, while it gives off the appearance of being decommissioned due to the rust and all-around “old-timey” vibe, the Pope Lick Trestle is actually still used by trains multiple times a day. Second, The “walkway” across the bridge isn’t a walkway at all. As a matter of fact, the bridge is just barely wide enough to fit the tracks with the sides of the train left hanging over the edges. And with trains often traveling across at around 35 miles per hour coupled with the 720-foot span of the bridge, getting caught on this track is nothing to play around with.
Pope Lick Trestle: Real Deaths Caused by the Pope Lick Monster
Numerous people have lost their lives on the Pope Lick Trestle:
1985 John K. List ventured out on the track while shooting crows. A Southern Railroad Company train turned the corner, and despite only being 30 feet from the trestle’s entrance, John couldn’t outrun the barreling hunk of steel.
19-year-old David Wayne Bryant was out on the tracks in 1986 when he noticed a train coming at him. He lept from the trestle to dodge the oncoming train and was rushed to receive medical help but months later in May of 1987, he passed due to complications from his injuries.
In 1987, 17-year-old Jack Bahm II was struck and killed by a train while trying to cross over the trestle.
Five years later in 1992, 19-year-old Grady, a student at Miami University was visiting the area and ventured out onto the tracks. At around 1:45 am, he saw the lights of an approaching train and in an attempt to escape, hung out over the edge of the tracks by holding on to the edge of a railroad tie. Tragically, he lost his grip and fell to his death 90 feet below.
In 1995, James Ratterman, age 35, was using the trestle as a bridge for his ATV but around halfway across, his ATV flipped, trapping him underneath. Miraculously he didn’t fall off the narrow bridge, however, his fortune would soon turn when an oncoming train sealed his fate.
19-year-old Nicole Jewell lept to her death to avoid an oncoming train in 2000.
And the list goes on and on.
And while most of these deaths can be chalked up to people putting themselves in a dangerous spot, that doesn’t stop the rumors that perhaps they ended up there not out of a careless oversight of their own safety but rather because of the hypnotic call of a creature with a hatred for humans. Whether the Pope Lick Monster is real or not, we can’t deny that the monster has claimed very real, precious lives.
Take the death of Roquel Bain, age 26 as an example. Bain and her boyfriend, David Knee, made the 3-hour drive from Ohio for a local ghost tour. With time to spare before the tour began, they decided to make a detour to the local haunt of the supposed Pope Lick Monster. Ignoring the warning signs, they snuck out to the entrance to the trestle. David mentioned, “When I saw that bridge, the thing looked so rickety, I thought it was out of service.”
Hearing legends of how to someone the monster one must cross the trestle on foot, the couple ventured out onto the bridge but instead of catching a glimpse of the creature, they were met with a terrifying rumble in the tracks followed by the lights of an oncoming train.
David, a 6’ 1” Karate instructor, tossed his body over the edge, having on to the lip of a railroad tie but to his horror, when he looked up he saw Roquel attempting to outrun the oncoming train. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw her body go flying,” David recounted. “It’s a nightmare waking up each day and realizing it’s not a dream.” Fire Officials found Roquel’s body in a field the following morning on April 23, 2016.
Even more recently in 2019, 15-year-old Savanna Bright was struck by an oncoming train after attempting to cross the track supposedly on a dare of bravery or perhaps to summon the creature.
The Pope Lick Monster Explanation
The irony in all of this is that many believe the story of the Pope Lick Monster was created to stop people from doing this very thing. Many long-time locals tell stories about how they were described as kids of the Pope Lick Monster and how it was used as a scare tactic to keep them away from the trestle.
But it seems there just isn’t a good solution to keeping people away. After all, they can’t just block it off. They already put up fences but people just go around. Warning signs aren’t enough. Criminal prosecution hasn’t been successful. There was even once a small platform about halfway down the trestle that could be used as an emergency platform that was removed because, at the time, people believed that seeing the landing would “encourage” people to attempt the journey.
But nothing seems to stop people from giving it a go. Even the threat of a dangerous monster only encourages people to attempt this reckless stunt, possibly fueled by Ron Schildknecht’s short film titled, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” which premiered on December 29th, 1988.
But the truth of the matter is that this whole story is mostly a tall tale to try and keep people safe that has evolved year after year. Need proof? Look at that movie maker’s last name and then refer back to a specific circus conductor of old. See what I mean?
Death by Monster or Machine?
Some speculate there is no keeping people off this bridge. Maybe if they put a walking bridge next to or under it, people would stop using those tracks. Or maybe they should erect a statue of the Pope Lick Monster as a tourist destination, which would help curb the appeal the trestle seems to have. But the truth is, as most cryptid stories tell us, the power of curiosity is one of the most mysterious forces of all.
So if you find yourself in Pope Lick Park, stop by the Pope Lick Adventure Outpost. Grab a selfie with the statue of the Pope Lick Monster. Go drive under the trestle and enjoy a day at Pope Lick Park. But whatever you do, please stay off the top of those tracks. Because whether it’s a mimicked cry, a hypnotic stare, or just a case of chronic curiosity, whatever you let lure you out onto those tracks will place you into a far more severe danger than any goat man. One whose clutches are far less forgiving and whose deep growl is more gutturally terrifying. This very real beast that calls the trestle home cannot and will not stop for you and you will never outrun the thunderous gallop of a 20 thousand-ton train.
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