Dominé (Old Louisville, 2014) returns to Louisville’s local haunts in this smooth cocktail of history, architecture and the macabre.
“Who says you have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good ghost story?” asks the author, a self-identified skeptic, as he opens the floor to more than just stories of urban legends and creaky floorboards. He introduces readers to the city of Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby and Colonel Sanders’ universally recognized chicken. Since its founding in 1778, it’s become a “Victorian time capsule”—home to Millionaires Row, brooding Gothic churches and lavish mansions boasting Art Nouveau interior design. (It’s also home to once-controversial modern high-rises.) But for every humbling structure, Dominé notes, there’s an equally sinister accompanying tale. In one such story, a woman is tormented by loud knocks on her second-floor window and heavy footfalls on her staircase; after hearing them, she finds fireplace pokers laid out in the shape of a cross. In another particularly tantalizing fusion of history and legend, he tells a story of a hairless creature with massive wings who’s alleged to dwell on the spires of the Walnut Street Baptist Church. Those eager to dismiss the stories as flights of fancy may be surprised by the fact that an overwhelming number of levelheaded, sensible folks have allegedly had these encounters, making them lifelong, if reluctant, believers in supernatural phenomena. Likewise, Dominé’s skepticism adds an intriguing dimension to this collection. He occasionally relays stories whose historic origins can’t be traced, but he supports his most enticing tales with centuries-old images and newspaper headlines. In one impressive display of investigative journalism, he links Louisville’s Demon Leaper to a string of similar incidents reaching as far back as London’s legendary Spring-Heeled Jack. “Like so many of the legends and unsubstantiated stories in Old Louisville,” he says, “reports of these ghostly encounters suggest at least a tenuous connection with the past, a correlation borne out in neighborhood folklore and modern oral traditions.” His own unnerving experience at a séance at the city’s Spalding University provides a fitting endnote.
A well-researched, spooky slice of Southern American history.