Saturday, January 1, 2011

Haunted Old Louisville, Kentucky

This blog entry is dedicated to my dear friend, KP, a resident of Old Louisville, with wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year, you deserve it!

I wanted to do something special for New Year’s and was contemplating Haunted Kentucky which is coming up next. Ever since I started this blog, David Domine’s three volumes on the ghosts of Old Louisville have been calling to me from their shelf. As some of the best books of ghost stories I’ve read, in terms of writing and research, I’ve wanted to use them. I considered using Old Louisville as simply an entry in the Haunted Kentucky entry, but then remembered that my friend, KP who has had a pretty rough year, is a resident so why not do an entire entry and dedicate it with wishes for a great new year?

Old Louisville is the third largest historic district and the single largest historic district of Victorian architecture in the United States. Beginning as a suburb of the city in the 1870’s and known as the “Southern Extension,” the Old Louisville neighborhood earned its current moniker in the 1960s. The roughly 48 blocks of the historic district encompasses a thoroughly wide range of the many styles that were popular during the Victorian era: from Gothic to Art Nouveau, Richardsonian Romanesque to Eastlake.

Conrad-Caldwell House
1402 St. James Court
Conrad-Caldwell House. Photo taken for the
Historic American Building Survey (HABS),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints
and Photographs Division. 

On the south side of Central Park is the St. James-Belgravia Historic District which consists some of the grandest houses in Old Louisville. The site was initially the site of the Southern Exposition held between 1883 and 1887. The Conrad-Caldwell House, now the home of the St. James Court Historic Foundation and a museum, was perhaps the grandest house in this most grand of settings. Built of limestone, a stone associated with paranormal activity, in 1893, visitors to the house have witnessed the apparition of a curious little man; most likely either Mr. Conrad or Mr. Caldwell. Others have had experiences with a female spirit, quite possibly that of Mrs. Caldwell.

Ferguson Mansion (Filson Historical Society)
1310 South Third Street
Furguson Mansion. Photo by W. Marsh and courtesy of

The truly lavish Beaux-Arts style Ferguson Mansion was built in 1901 at the cost of $100,000, an extravagant amount of money at the time, especially to house a family of three with six servants. Little expense was spared both inside and out with the best craftsmen in various fields being brought in to sumptuously decorate the interior. This manse now houses a poltergeist named Sally and the Filson Historical Society which concentrates on the history of Kentucky, the upper South and the Ohio River Valley. Staff has witnessed books jump from shelves and in one case an entire shelf emptied itself of books in front of a surprised staff member.

Louisville Free Public Library
301 York Street
Old postcard of the Louisville Free Public Library, 1919.

Though technically not in the Old Louisville Historic District, I’m including this library anyway. David Domine’s description of the ghost in this magnificent Beaux-Arts library reminds me of the spirit the Ghost Busters encounter in the New York Public Library in the first Ghost Busters movie. The spirit is “a vague, misty form—oddly reminiscent of the stereotypical schoolmarms that populated American libraries in the early 1900s—has been said to hover effortlessly between the stacks, her figure translucent and bright.” One staff member encountered her one evening as she glided through the aisles apparently reshelving books. Having worked in libraries myself, I’m sure the staff was pleased to have help in this tedious job.

“Pink Palace”
1473 St. James Court
Pink Palace, 2007. Photo by Censusdata and courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built initially as a gentlemen’s club, this Chateauesque structure with a striking pink color served in that capacity only briefly before the house became a private home then was acquired by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a group that crusaded against the consumption of alcohol and other vices. It was the WCTU that first painted this house a dramatic shade of pink. The spirit of Mr. Avery, who owned the house before the WCTU acquired it, has appeared as a crisis apparition, saving residents from tragic situations.

Presentation Academy
861 South Fourth Street
Presentation Academy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The oldest school in continuous operation in the city, the Presentation Academy, is a private Catholic girls’ school. According to legend, among the living students and staff there walk the spirits of former alumni including a young girl who died in the first half of the 20th century and a nun who took a tumble down a flight of stairs.

Speed Art Museum
2035 South Third Street
Speed Art Museum, 2009. Photo by Sarah Lyon, courtesy of

Founded as a memorial to her husband, Hattie Speed founded the Speed Art Museum in 1925 with the building constructed in 1927. Hattie Speed’s devotion to her husband’s memorial and her own perfectionism may be what is keeping her spirit within the walls of the museum. A rose-type perfume has been smelled, motion sensors set off, elevators operate mysteriously by themselves and misty, white shapes have been seen on security monitors; all believed to be Mrs. Speed checking up on “her” museum.

Walnut Street Baptist Church
1101 South Third Street
Old postcard of the Walnut Street Baptist
Church, 1909.

Erected just at the outset of the 20th century, the grand Gothic Revival Walnut Street Baptist Church has provided spiritual sustenance for over a century to the citizens of Old Louisville and beyond. But it also harbors a legend. Over that century, people have reported an odd, winged creature around the church. Reports of this creature, dubbed the “Demon Leaper” even come from as recent as 2005, according to Dominé.

Dominé, David. Ghosts of Old Louisville. Kuttawa, KY:
     McClanahan Publishing, 2005
Dominé, David. Haunts of Old Louisville. Kuttawa, KY:
     McClanahan Publishing, 2009.
Dominé, David. Phantoms of Old Louisville. Kuttawa, KY:
     McClanahan Publishing, 2006.
Old Louisville. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     1 January 2011.
Presentation Academy. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 1 January 2011.
     Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 January 2011.
Speed Art Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     1 January 2011.
The Filson Historical Society. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 1 January 2011.


  1. Thanks so much, Lewis! I didn't know about all of these places being haunted. My mother used to play in the yards where the Speed Museum is and knew "Miss Hattie Speed," she says.

  2. Never knew any of this! Spent many days rehearsing for Ky Shakes Festival at Conrad Caldwell house....doesn't surprise me...

    Also, like kuhpuh, I believe there was a (friendly) female spirit in residence at my old residence on 3rd St...which was a brothel for a time in the early 1900s.


    1. ...Where on third street exactly?? I am moving to 3rd in two weeks...ahh!

  3. I'm going to have to go to Louisville. I had no idea it had so many beautiful and haunted buildings.

    1. I live in louisville but not downtown but some of these stories are true

  4. Jessica, be sure to check out David Domine's books before you go as well as Robert Parker's Haunted Louisville, Vols. 1 & 2.

  5. What beautiful building structures! Especially the cathedrals. I'm not a church-goer, but the cathedral designs amazingly blow me away.

    I'm going to direct a good friend of mine to your post here, seeing as she lives in Kentucky herself.

  6. Lewis - Thanks so much for the plug! Glad to hear you find Old Louisville as interesting as I do...

    David Domine

  7. I live on Belgravia (the walking court that intersects St. James...this neighborhood is truly alive with...well.. the dead. It's beautiful (not really scary at all) and very comforting.

    1. I live in Louisville too and you are right it is not too scary but old and neat,I live on the East End but go downtown a couple times a week and i like to go to central park

  8. never knew about this place would love to visit it. such places have always greatly fascinated me!

  9. is this district within the city of louisville? by the way lewis you have done a great job i would love to see this place but i live so far away in the asian country dont know when i will get to see it?

  10. Aun Imam, yes, this is the historic district within the city of Louisville. I haven't actually seen it, either, but hopefully both of us will get the chance soon.

  11. thanks LEWIS! are all these places that you have mentioned really haunted? i am really curious to know why? i read about this district in an issue of the ECONOMIST magazine and was really fascinated to read about this place. i had never heard about it before. i am very interested in doing research on such places which have paranormal activities going on in them.are David Domine's books available outside the US? what other ghost books can you tell me about? are there other places like the old Louisville district in the USA? i am sorry i am asking too many questions but its just that i have always wanted to study about such topics.

  12. Well, I cannot personally vouch for any locations I have written about being haunted. I can only say that there is evidence that they may be. Domine's book are available on, I'm not sure it they are available internationally. Robert Parker has written two book on hauntings in Louisville that cover places beyond the Old Louisville neighborhood.

    There are many historic districts in the US with ghosts, some similar ones that have been well researched include Cape May, New Jersey (Craig McManus has a marvelous series of books on this) and Savannah, Georgia (there are at least 12 books on this).

    As for why these places are haunted, I can't quite say. Certainly the number of preserved historic buildings in a particular location contributes to this, but there may also be geographic reasons involving certain types of stone that provide energy to spirits.

  13. thanks Lewis for the information and you have done a great job by creating this blog. it helps people like me get the information they want.keep up the good work. by the way you must see the movie The last excorcism its really interesting!!!