JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) — The Pope Lick Trestle near Fisherville has been around since the late 1800s, a landmark that draws hikers and bikers to the trail that goes right under it. It’s also home to a dark legend, best told in the light of day.
“I like the idea that monsters lurk somewhere just outside the visual range and could possibly exist,” said Rod Whitenack, who grew up in the area and now works for a company called “Louisville Halloween.”
One of Whitenack’s jobs is to man a gift shop at Pope Lick Park and operate an outdoor escape game based on the Legend of the Pope Lick Monster. The shop is full of items featuring the famous cryptid, including caps, T-shirts, toys, and books. It also features a huge statue of the monster, known as “the goat man.”
“We can trace it (the legend) back to at least the 1950s,” Whitenack said.
Here’s the story: The creature is half-man, half-goat, who hides in the woods by day and hangs out on the trestle at night. He can hypnotize people with his red eyes, forcing them to walk out onto the tracks to be hit by a train.
Whitenack said, according to the story, “He was found as an infant. He lived in chains in the circus and was fed scraps from the grease pits of the carnies. And he was treated miserably for all these years. So, when he finally broke out, he hated humanity.”
Sadly, one part of the story is true. Many people have died on the trestle, most recently a teenage girl in 2019. There’s a memorial for her set up under the bridge. The boyfriend of a young woman from Ohio who was killed by a train in 2016 admitted they were there to look for the monster.
The trestle is 742 feet long, with a 90-foot drop at the center. There’s no way to outrun a train if you get caught on the tracks when one comes along.
It’s illegal to go on the tracks, and Northern Southern Railroad will prosecute trespassers. Several signs warn that the line is still active.
“We always try to tell everyone, ‘Please, please stay away from the trestle. If you want to see the goat man, come to one of our attractions and we promise you, you will see the goat man,’” said Whitenack.
Another part of the legend is that the goat man comes down from the trestle at midnight on nights when there’s a full moon. It’s said he can run 60 miles per hour and often chases cars and jumps on the hoods of those who dare to drive under the elevated bridge.
“I’ve heard stories of people who say, ‘He ripped off my car door hinge,’ or ‘He chased me and there were scratches on the side of my car or the roof of my car.’ Those are the stories I heard a lot when I was a kid,” Whitenack said.
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There was a real-life goat man who roamed the eastern United States in the mid-1900s. Ches McCartney of Georgia traveled in a wagon pulled by a herd of goats and, according to Whitenack, he did camp at least one time near the trestle, staying for several days or possibly weeks.
“People would bring their families out on the weekend and come see this guy, and he would sell postcards. He’d meet people and he was weird and smelled funny,” Whitenack said.
He and others believe parents might have tried to scare their children away from danger by telling them, “Stay away from the trestle or the goat man will get you.”
Whatever the origins, the tale has grown into a Halloween story of monstrous proportions — an urban legend that many people believe is worth keeping alive.
Whitenack said, “I think that it connects us to our culture, it connects us to where we live, and it just makes our lives more interesting.”