HARRODSBURG, Ky. — There’s not much left in Harrodsburg of a once-great resort– remnants of a wall and a springhouse over a site where soothing mineral waters used to flow. But in the early to mid 1800s, Harrodsburg Springs hotel was a showplace that drew wealthy visitors from far and wide.
Local historian and antiques deader Jerry Sampson said, “It was a huge place in its time. They would gather there typlically from May to October to, what they called, partake in the waters.”
Each year around this time, Sampson dusts off a story tied to a grave on the old hotel grounds– a grave marked “Unknown.”
It’s the story of a woman who checked into the hotel about 170 years ago. She came alone, claiming her father was a prominent judge, who would be arriving soon. They showed her to a room, where she stayed until the grand ballroom was opened later that evening.
“The music began to be tuned up,” Sampson said. “Musicians rosened up their bows, and as soon as that first note struck, this beauiful young lady started gliding down the staircase and she came and captivated everyone that was in her presence.”
The story goes that the woman joined in the very first dance… then the second one… and the third, as the men in the room lined up to capture her attention.
She never sat down, dancing every dance, telling one of the men it was the happiest night of her life. And as that happy night was ending, sadness struck. The stranger collapsed into the arms of her partner and died on the ballroom floor.
The hotel owners waited a week for someone to come to identify the body, but no one did.
“And they searched her room and the only things that were there in the small trunk was the dress that she arrived in,” Sampson said. “No journal, no diary, no ledger, nothing.”
So they buried her on the property near a large tree, with a marker that commands respect: “Hallowed and Hushed be the place of the dead; step softly, bow head.”
Years later, the ballroom burned, the mineral springs dried up and the hotel became a military asylum.
Other fires followed and the whole place was pretty much forgotten by the early 1900s, and so was the mysterious dancer. Until one night, when a woman who was walking near this gravesite told friends she had encountered a ghostly figure.
“And the figure approached her and she said ‘Can you help me please? You see, I was dancing at the Harrodsburg Springs and I’ve lost my way,'” Sampson said. “And the woman said, ‘Oh, my dear, don’t you know? Harrodsburg Springs burnt down to the ground more than a hundred years ago.'”
And with that news, the figure began weeping and disappeared– the figure of the lady who danced herself to death nearly two centuries ago. But those who’ve heard the story still come to what is now known as Young’s Park, looking for her, hoping to see her dancing in the moonlight, twirling to music only she can hear.
Historians now believe the grave may contain the body of Mollie Black, a woman who disappeared from Tazewell, Tennessee around that time, but as long as the body stays buried, no one will know for sure.
THANKS to Lexington Vintage Dance for helping us recreate the dance scenes from the 1800s, to the Carnegie Center for providing the ballroom, and to artist Patrick Lynch for loaning us paintings to help set the scene in the ballroom. And to Katie Anderson for portraying the ghost.