Thursday, October 27, 2011
Sheepman: The Trestle of Death
The Pope Lick Monster is/was, according to legend, a half-man, half-goat creature that lives under the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle across Pope Lick Creek and South Pope Lick Rd. near Fisherville in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky. The stories have been used as a 'dare' that required an unfortunate sap to climb onto the trestle. These individuals were most likely under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
roofs of cars passing beneath it. Yet other legends tell that it attacks its victims with a blood-stained axe. It has also been said that the very sight of the creature is so unsettling that those who see it while walking across the high trestle are driven to leap off.
Other legends explain the creature’s origins, including that it is a human goat hybrid, and that it was a circus freak who vowed revenge after being mistreated. In one version, the creature escaped after a train derailed on the trestle. Another version claims that the monster is really the twisted reincarnated form of a farmer who sacrificed goats in exchange for Satanic powers.
There is a well-known history of people dying either on the trestle or by falling from it. Many more have been severely injured.
The New Voice - October 31,1990
Nobody knows when the quiet, rural area beyond Jeffersontown first became home to the community’s strangest, and definitely scariest, resident – the Pope Lick Monster.
But tales of the creature, also known as the Sheepman, have circulated for decades in eastern Jefferson County, and as Halloween night approaches, rumors of the beast again seem to be common.
“It’s always been around J-town,” said Michael Zettler, a 1985 graduate of J-town High School. “It was always talked about, especially around Halloween.”
“I first heard of it in the early 1960’s,” said Mary Ruckriegel, the wife of J-town Mayor Daniel Ruckriegel. “When I started dating Dan, the kids were always talking about it, especially during Halloween. I don’t know if it was a figment of someone’s imagination or what.”
“I can remember hearing stories of the thing when I was 4 or 5 years old,” said Rod Whitenack, a J-town native now in his early 20’s. “Every time Halloween would roll around, discussion about the monster would start up.”
There are probably as many residents of J-town as there are descriptions of the "thing" that supposedly lives below the rusty train trestle that passes over Pope Lick Road and Pope Lick Creek out Taylorsville Road near Fisherville.
Most describe the monster as a scary half-man, half-sheep, who terrorizes anyone who dares enter his domain. They say he has the features of both man and sheep, with horns, an ugly snout and a hairy brown body. He walks upright, has hooves for feet and can run at high speeds, enabling him to catch anyone in his territory.
Some say it is Jefferson County’s version of Ichabod Crane’s nightmare – a headless horseman-type monster who rides the tracks and kills anyone who crosses his path.
Others say it’s not a monster at all; it’s an old chemist who became a recluse after a chemical explosion in his lab terribly disfigured his face.
Others say it’s just a hermit who lived in a nearby shack and would scare away anyone who came near the trestle.
Still others say the figure that purportedly wanders the area is the deformed son of a local farmer, so hideous he won’t show his face until nighttime.
But whatever the description, the J-town monster has several similarities with other world-famous beasts. Like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, actual sightings of the Pope Lick Monster have been few and far between, if at all.
“There was always some guy who said he saw something out there.” Said Whitenack, who said he made many trips to the trestle. “But I never did.”
And like the Swamp Thing and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the J-town monster has even been the focus of his own local flick, titles “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” which premiered in Louisville in the fall of 1988. The 16-minute, black-and-white movie has been shown at the Vogue, The Uptown and, most recently, at the Water Tower, and been well received by area fans.
“I was looking for a Story indigenous to the area,” said the film’s director and producer local independent filmmaker Ron Schildknecht. “And the Sheepman is something only told around here; it’s been around at least three generations.”
Before he began filming, Schildknecht put in nearly a year of research o the subject. “I talked to 50 people formally and probably 100 more informally getting as much information as I could,” he said. “Was he half-man, half-sheep?” Did he walk on all fours or on two legs? Did he murder people or was he tame? I found a lot of interpretations; it was all real scattered out.”
Half the apparent appeal has been the imposing train trestle, which has stood overlooking the area since 1929. The trestle, which is still used regularly today, spans nearly 800 feet and is about 100 feet tall.
Over the years, teen-agers have been known to frequent the location in search of a remote spot where they could party without being bothered by police or parents.
“The trestles were a real popular place to go and drink and get rowdy,” Schildknecht said. “The talk of the a monster makes it much more attractive to go out there.”
“It was part of a senior tradition,” Ruckriegel said. “They would go out there to see if they could see it; it was a sign of bravery.”
“The boys would take the girls out there to try to scare them,” she added. “It was something really scary.”
While the site may have provided fun for some, tragedy has also come to many who have walked the tracks. In recent years, several youths have been killed, whether from falling from the trestle or after being caught on the tracks and hit by a train.
“It’s unfortunate,” Schildknecht said. “The story of the monster seems so harmless and innocent, except for the real danger of the railroad.”
About a year ago train officials put up a chain link fence with barbed wire to keep thrill-seekers from climbing to the tracks.
But that hasn’t stopped the rumors about the monster.
When the 32-year-old Schildknecht went there to film the movie, he didn’t see the beast but admitted even he found the place a little frightening. “It’s kinda eerie,” he said, “knowing the history and that people have been killed out there.”
“I didn’t feel anything supernatural,” he said. “I was just more intrigued with the ambiance of the trestle. And it’s pretty intense when a train goes by.”
Also finding the area spooky was Zettler, one of the high schoolers who with a couple of friends made the trek to the monster’s purported stomping ground.
“It was real scary.” He said. “Even though you know the legend is silly, you still think about it.”
As long as the legend has been told, no one knows for sure how it started.
“I’ve often wondered if it was a Halloween prank,” Ruckriegel said, “and then got blown out of proportion.”
“It probably started as a man walking his goat,” Zettler said. “It’s just a bunch of stories. It’s something you hear through the years.”
And the legend still exists in the East-End community today, but only to a degree.
“I think a lot of the kids today are too smart to believe all that stuff,” Ruckriegel said. “But I guess it’s still going around.”
“The story is still being told,” Schildknecht said. As long as there’s a trestle out there and long as there are kids in high school, it’s still alive.”
The Pope Lick Monster exist in the collective imaginations of hundreds of people,” he added, “which for me says he does exists.”
What do you think?