Pope Lick Road


The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster

Press

The Encyclopedia of Louisville
James D. Kendall (Edited by John E. Kleber)
The University Press of Kentucky / 2001

Pope Lick Monster. A half-man, half-goat creature has been rumored to live under the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle across Pop Lick Creek and S Pope Lick Rd. near Fisherville in eastern Jefferson County. Stories of encounters have abounded for more than three generations and have served as the mood-setter for multiple romantic encounters between teenage boys and girls, many involving alcohol and tests of "bravery" that require climbing onto the trestle. According to the legend, the creature hypnotizes trespassers into venturing out onto the trestle, thus luring them to their death before an oncoming train. Several people have been killed either on the trestle or by falling from it, and many more have been injured.

A 1988 film, The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster, by local independent producer Ron Schildknecht visualizes the fictional story of teens who venture into the goat-man's domain. The sixteen-minute film recounts the experience of growing up in 1980s Louisville. In it, three teens - brother and sister Ben and Katie and their friend Clancy - acquire a six-pack of beer and head to Pope Lick Rd. intent on testing their bravery. Ben ventures onto the trestle to drink the ceremonial beer and is hypnotized by the goat-man, only to be shaken sensible by the rumble of an oncoming train. Ben is forced to cling by his fingertips to the edge of the trestle as the train whistles by, then safely climbs back up. The goat-man has struck again. (p. 713)


The Monster at Pope Lick
Steve Rush
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.”

Illustration by Jerome Neukirch

“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.”

The area’s resident beast, as he appeared in the local movie, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” supposedly terrorizes anyone who enters his domain below the imposing train trestle past Jeffersontown near Fisherville.

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.”

(Photo Caption) The area’s resident beast, as he appeared in the local movie, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” supposedly terrorizes anyone who enters his domain below the imposing train trestle past Jeffersontown near Fisherville.


Ron Schildknecht and the Pope Lick Monster
Nicholas Korn
Visual Art Review / March/April 1989

The concept for Ron Schildknecht's film "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster" began with an attempt to combine several stories about a biologically impossible creature, a sheepman who haunts the region around Pope Lick Road. This teratogenous figure, a half-man, half-sheep, fathered on an unsuspecting ewe by a lewd and indiscriminate farmhand, is said to hypnotize young adventurers onto the railroad trestle as trains approach in the distance.

Sounding more like an adolescent prank than a verifiable report, it is not surprising that the local film maker found no documentation of any sort regarding the fable. The myth exists, not in the archives of libraries and newspaper registries, but in the excitable and credulous minds of students. Schildknecht first heard the story in high school and later learned the tale was not confined to his immediate circle of friends but enjoyed an extensive familiarity among teenagers in the region. No accounts of it exist in the annals of local folklore. The legend has spread by word of mouth, depending solely on hearsay to keep its tradition alive. That the account is based on such unreliable authority does not diminish its acceptance in the least. Strange tales never are measured by the facts but by their hold on the imagination.

"Most of the stories follow the same structure," explains Schildknecht. "There is always a newcomer and an initiator. It's one of those coming of age rituals, a dangerous admission to manhood. However, it's never the sheepman who really lures one onto the trestle, it's the initiator, the friend."

Photo by Janice Braverman

Nevertheless, in Schildknecht's film, the monster does appear and dazzles the eyes of a youth who has been taunted onto the track by his liquor swilling companion. The boy makes a narrow escape from an oncoming engine whose headlight shines as brightly as the sheepman's gaze. Whether the creature exists in the flesh or merely as a hallucination induced by the volatile mixture of alcohol and fear, the film refuses to answer. Schildknecht is more interested in presenting the legend than he is in explaining it away.

Schildknecht began shooting the film in April of 1986. After the first week, an unfortunate accident occurred. A young high school student fell from the ninety foot high trestle while kidding around with friends. He did not survive. Although Schildknecht had done thorough research on the history of the trestle, this was the first fatality he had heard of. It changed the shape and purpose of the film.

"Originally I was uncertain how the film should begin," explains the artist. "I had intended it to open with some kids leaving a ball game and going to the track, and was even considering an eerie prologue, with some dark shots of the trestle. After the accident, I felt more obligated to include some sort of warning about the danger of the place. That's why I decided to start and close the film with monologues by Ben [the lead character] from an older, more adult perspective."

Despite these monitory efforts, Schildknecht has recently been the center of local controversy. Even before "The Pope Lick Monster" was given a public viewing at the Uptown Theater in December, Schildknecht received numerous calls from concerned mothers and wary railroad officials. Many felt that the film glamorized the danger of the trestle, and questioned whether Schildknecht's treatment of the myth would, like the sheepman, lure more teenagers to the tracks. It may be appropriate to mention that since the film went public, the authorities have properly fenced the area to discourage trespassing .

What Schildknecht, perhaps, did not expect was that the qualities which would make his film of interest would also provide a source of protest. To inspire suspense and tension, the film combines the allure of legend with the possibility of danger. The device of placing characters in perilous situations is as old as the art of storytelling itself. It may be true that a story cannot exist without it. However, had Schildknecht avoided the journalistic urge to render faithfully the locations of his tale, he might have been spared the scrutiny and outrage.

The artist's most recent project covers the last twenty-four hours of the White Castle restaurant which stood not long ago on the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway. Working with a team of three photographers, Schildknecht captured the activities and comments of those present for the closing of what had become, for some, an institution. The work, however, remains unfinished. The necessary footage has been shot, but the film has not been processed due to lack of funds.

Independent film makers come few and far between; it's a slow, tedious, often financially unrewarding process. But Schildknecht has made a commitment to the medium, "I view myself as a storyteller," he says.


Film Brings Deadly Legend Alive
John Chattin
College Heights Herald / March 28, 1989

A half-man, half-sheep monster lured Ron Schildknecht to the Pope Lick train trestle in eastern Jefferson County – not to an early death like some area teenagers, but to complete a film about that confronts a legend, hidden behind the figure of a sheepman, that has turned harmful, sometimes fatal.

The 090-foot-high, 772-foot-long railroad bridge in the countryside near Louisville never attracted Schildknecht as a teenager. But six years after graduating from Western in 1980 with a communications major and film minor, he started shooting a film on the monster whose legend spans three generations.

However, some were concerned that Schildknecht’s film, not the sheepman’s legend, would attract teen-agers to test the trestle, a railroad track raised in the air by supports.

There were mention of lawsuits, legal responsibility, legality of filming and the addition of a warning statement to the film.

A 10-foot-high fence, put up shortly after the film’s premier, now guards the trestle which had been easily accessible; the trestle owners still consider the film a safety threat. And Schildknecht considers “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” representing the type of films he wants to make.

“The first death that I knew about happened one week after we started filming,” Schildknecht said.

“We started it (the film) in April 1986, and we shot about four or five days and got as much as we could,” he said. “And one week later a kid fell off and died three weeks later of multiple injuries.

“It gave me more of a reason why the film should be made.”

The trestle rises high over the small creek and moundy rises along one side of Pope Lick Road. The other side of the road climbs up an embankment to the trestle. The trestle and tracks are guarded by the new fence and a white sign with red letters, “Danger, Private Property Keep Off.” Scattered around the site are beer cans and liquor bottles.

“Chipper” is scratched into a support and scrawled, spray paint messages—“Mary 1985,” “JC I love and miss you,” and more – are joined by spray-painted warnings, “go Away,” Go Home, No Trespassing.”

Because of concerns for safety and threats of lawsuits, Schildknecht screened his film, the day before the preview, for railroad officials and a mother who less than a year earlier had lost her son to the trestle.

“She told me that ever since he was killed on the trestle she had been trying to envision what he went through the last moments of his life,” Schildknecht said. “And it wasn’t until watching the film until she really understood how he felt before he died.”

“I guess it’s a compliment in a bizarre sense.”

The fictional, dramatic film, “The Pope Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” tells of Clancy, a teen-ager, who is brought to the trestle by his friend, Ben, and is then attracted by the sheepman onto the tracks, where he escapes a train dangling from the trestle’s edge.

Schildknecht’s 16-minute film – costing about $6,000 most from his own pocket, and taking more than three years of off-and-on work to make because of the out-of-town actors and barriers to filming at the trestle – created its own monster.

Calls from railroad officials, lawyers and concerned parents deluged Schildknecht the day before the film’s premier at a small Louisville theater, The Uptown, last December. The day after the showing to about 400 people, a large headline on an article about the movie on the front page of The Courier-Journal newspaper proclaimed, “Trestle of Death.”

The trestle has its victims. Many are injured, some fatally. The last two deaths were in February, when a Spalding University student was killed by a train, and last May, when a 19-year-old died of injuries suffered a year earlier after jumping from a train on the trestle.

In its first five public showings, the premier and a subsequent four-night run at the same theater in January of this year, a warning statement of the dangers of trespassing on the trestle, given to Schildknecht by railroad officials, was read over the audio system. At a showing last Wednesday in Louisville no warning was read.

There was no mention of the showing in last Tuesday’s or Thursday’s editions of The Courier-Journal.

Unlike the Pope Lick film’s gritty, black-and-White- brashness, Schildknecht, tall and with stray strands of gray streaming through his black hair, speaks slowly and thoroughly. But he flashes the same intensity as his filmmaking.

It’s clear that Schildknecht, an artist-in-residence with the Louisville Visual Art Association for about two years, knows that railroad officials accuse him of coaxing teen-agers to the trestle. But he also knows his duties and goals as an artist and filmmaker.

“I see the film as bringing awareness to the community,” Schildknecht said.

“I’m not saying this is what the railroad has and they should be responsible for keeping out kids,” he said. “I’m just saying there is a legend that involves the trestle that is partly responsible for bringing kids out into the trestle.”

Bob Auman, a spokesman in Roanoke, Va., for Norfolk Southern Corp., the owners of the railroad, said two teen-agers were arrested at the trestle the night Schildknecht’s film was shown. After the film’s premier, the railroad company replaced a small chicken-wire fence, twisted and trampled, with a high, chain-link fence to bar entrance to the trestle.

“I don’t think the showing of that film is in the best interest of safety on railroad crossings,” Auman said.

Photo by Andy Lyons

“It wasn’t my intention to force the railroad to take an action,” Schildknecht said. “That was beyond any dream for them to do that. And I still don’t really think that was necessary.”

“Ron was simply doing what filmmakers do; he was simply reporting the legend,” Dr. Ed Counts, coordinator of media production and Schildknecht’s friend and former professor, said. “Ron didn’t create the danger; he simply told about it.”

Counts said Schildknecht’s story-telling and filmmaking flair, apparent when Schildknecht began attending Western in 1977, has established Schildknecht as one of the up-and-coming, independent filmmakers in Kentucky.

“You can tell this is really his medium,” Counts said. “He gets absorbed into a situation, but the seriousness and enthusiasm doesn’t take away from him having fun.”

“He’s enthusiastic, creative, energetic, has a good sense of humor – and this shows up in his work.”

Schildknecht worked on Count’s film “Everyone Loves Stories” in 1983 after a graduate assistantship at East Texas State University and a film teaching position at an Elizabethton, Tenn., high school.

In the past two years Schildknecht has completed a short video on Martin Luther King Jr. for the Brown School in Louisville and a video which has appeared on MTV of the Louisville-based band, the Synthetics.

He also shot film footage of a Louisville White Castle restaurant closing, which triggered a rally of people who declared it the death of a neighborhood landmark and legend. He plans to put it into a dramatically stylized documentary.

Counts, who showed his film, “The Prank” at Schildknecht’s film’s premier, said the Pope Lick film’s first showing captured the audience.

“It’s (the film) about how teen-agers are,” he said. “Ron did not compromise the script. It was gritty and realistic.”

The film begins with a harshly light monologue by Ben, who says, “You gotta go out there (the trestle).” It ends with a monologue, and Ben says, “Stay off the damn trestle!”

“If you look at the story in the film it’s about an older guy (Ben) looking back in his redneck days, telling you a story about how he led a friend of his (Clancy) out to the trestle onto the tracks and almost got him killed,” Shildknecht said. “He’s obviously looking back with the benefit of hind sight.”

Peer pressure is responsible a lot of the times for getting kids out there,” he said. “You’re led out onto the tracks not by sheepmen but by your friends.”

Schildknecht interviewed about 25 people, like the characters, Ben and Clancy, in his research for the film.

“What interested me were the stories people told when they went out to the trestle and the kind of things that happened to them,” he said. “Things like kids going on out there banging their hands on the hoods of their cars scaring their girlfriends, going out there chanting Pope Lick, Pope Lick.”

He portrays these in the film.

Schildknecht said there is no specific sheepman legend; sometimes the creature is half-goat, half-man, walks on all fours or walks on two legs. The film’s sheepman is a satyr-like creature on two legs with a face of a black ewe.

“The story is so tight among high school students that it rarely passes beyond them, he said. “It really depends on the imagination of the storyteller.”

“One guy told me in J-town (Jeffersontown) there wasn’t much to do back then (in high school), Schildknecht said, so playing at the trestle was a regular pastime.

The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” features Western graduates Ben Allgeier, Clancy Dixon and Beth Kirchner and a score by the music department’s Dr. David Livingston. It is partially funded by the Kentucky Heritage Foundation, of which Dr. Lynwood Montell, modern languages and intercultural studies professor, is president.

Schildknecht is now working on a 30-minute dramatic adaptation of Montell’s book, “Killings: Folk Justice in the Upper South,” and account of an area of Kentucky where people used killings to settle disputes and justified killing if there was a motive.

“I was looking for something on a wider Kentucky scale to tackle for this film,” Schildknecht said. “I thought this was by far the most interesting I came across in doing some type of dramatic piece, that’s unique to Kentucky, that’s still relatively unknown in the rest of the state.”

Montell said because of the controversial nature of his book, in which he is cautious about using actual names and sites, the film only in the scriptwriting stage, may meet mixed reactions, which Montell believes Schildknecht can handle after the Pope Lick film.

Schildknecht has always been drawn to strong, sometimes controversial, subjects like the Pope Lick film.

He filmed a video about Martin Luther King Jr., a modern interpretation of King’s dream, under the auspices of the Jefferson County school system which caused him and the students he was working with to question the school system’s right to censor.

In the film the school system said that no reference could be made to Jesus Christ or God, even in quotes from King’s speeches, or beliefs of non-violence, because it would offend those believing in the right to bear arms, Schildknecht said.

“I fought it as much as I could and finally did draw the line at one point, Schildknecht said. “I was asked to remove an image of a member of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) as a way of offending people involved with the Klan, and I said no, absolutely not.”

“Ron in an artistic sense is uncompromising,” Counts said, “and he is willing to take a risk.”

“Isn’t that what art is suppose to do? Make people aware of things they didn’t know about”


Film Revives Worries of Railroad Officials
Judy Bryant
The Courier-Journal / January 15, 1989

Railroad officials with Norfolk Southern Corp are repeating their concerns about a film they fear night encourage teens to trespass on dangerous trestles.

They complained last month when "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," by Louisville producer Ron Schildknecht, premiered at the Uptown Theatre on Bardstown Road. The 16-minute film is based on a legend of a creature, half man and haLt sheep, who lives near the 90-foot-high trestle near Pope Lick Road.

Now the film has been scheduled for a four-night run at the Uptown this week.

The state coordinator of a Kentucky rail-safety organization, who viewed the film last week, said he agrees that It appears to condone trespassing and lite-threatening behavior by teens.

"I don't like anything that comes across as approving actions like that," said Robert Wells, coordinator of Kentucky Operation Lifesaver and a district claim agent in Louisville for Norfolk Southern.

In the film, a teenager walking on the trestle hangs from a railroad tie while a train passes overhead. Railroad officials say It is virtually impossible to survive under those circumstances.

The trestle has been a popular gathering place for teen-agers. Two have died in accidents there In the past two years.

After the film's only public showing Dec 29, railroad police apprehended two people at the trestle, said Norfolk Southern Corp spokesman Robert Auman. Auman also said the railroad has begun installing a chain-link fence and "No Trespassing" signs at the trestle.

At the film's premiere, a warning from the railroad was read to the audience However, railroad officials complained that the statement was barely audible, and they asked Schildknecht to add the warning to the film's soundtrack.

Schildknecht, an artist-in-residence with the Louisville Visual Art Association, said yesterday he can not edit the statement into the 16mm film before next week. But he said he has offered to record the warning and play it through the theater's public address system at each showing or to project slides of the written statement onto the movie screen. Meanwhile, Auman and tells said they were surprised that the film is being shown again in Louisville, since Schildknecht had indicated plans to enter it in film festivals or show it in schools.

Schildknecht said he has had several calls in the past two weeks from people interested in the movie.

Other films in the 30-minute program planned at the Uptown are "Genesis and Catastrophe" and "Bank of Christ" by Peter Byck of Louisville, and "The Prank" by Ed Counts of Bowling Green The program will run at 7 pm Monday through Thursday.


Uptown set to show films by Kentuckians
The Courier-Journal / January 15,1989

The Uptown Theater, 1504 Bardstown Road, will show films by three Kentucky independent filmmakers tomorrow through Thursday at 7 p.m.

The films and their creators are “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” Ron Schildknecht; Genesis and Catastrophe” and “Bank of Christ,” Peter Byck; and “The Prank,” by Ed Counts.

“The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster” is based on a folk legend in Jefferson County and focuses on three teen-agers, a railroad trestle and the Sheepman, a half-man, half-sheep monster who lures people onto the trestle.

Two teen-agers have been killed at the trestle near Jeffersontown and Fisherville in the last two years. Some people expressed concern about the film when it was shown last month at the Uptown. They said that, instead of warning people away from the dangerous trestle, the film might encourage them to visit the area.

Schildknecht, a graduate of Seneca High School and Western Kentucky University, is an artist-in-residence at the Louisville Visual Art Association. He is completing a documentary on the closing of the White Castle on Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.

He recently received a Kentucky Film and Video Project grant through the Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Humanities Council to develop a narrative screenplay based on “Killings,” a book by Lynwood Montell of Bowling Green, Ky.


Letters From Readers
The Courier-Journal, Editorial Page / January 7, 1989

The Pope Lick Monster . . .

Regarding “Trestle of death,” Dec. 30:

The major concern about the film, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” seems to be whether it will encourage more kids to venture to the railroad trestle and risk their lives. Naturally, increased publicity will attract interest. But is the alternative – ignoring the legend – a better solution?

Little has been accomplished to date discouraging such activity, which has existed for over three generations. My interest in producing this film was to examine the reasons for such behavior and place them in the proper sociological context in hopes of dealing with the problem with a deeper understanding of the factors involve. In depicting high-school students engaged in rowdy behavior, I am saying that this is how it happens, these are the circumstances, and this is what it can lead to.

We should recognize that it is the responsibility not only of the railroad company and the police to protect the lives of our young people, but the parents and teachers as well.

The legend of the Pope Lick monster, previously a privately shared tale among teen-agers, is now immortalized for all to share. This is an opportunity for us to now act as responsible, informed citizens. There really is a monster, and it’s not a sheepman.

Ron Schildknecht, Producer
“The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster”
Louisville


Film Puts Pope Lick Trestle's Fatal Attraction in the Spotlight
Judy Bryant and Lisa Jessie
The Courier-Journal / January 4, 1989

There is no doubt in Sue LaRue's mind that the Pope Lick train trestle is dangerous. Eleven months ago, her only son was killed by a train while walking across the 772-foot long span off Pope Lick Road.

Still some teens visit and even try to cross the trestle in eastern Jefferson County, perhaps drawn by the legend of a bizarre half-sheep, half man or the challenge of walking across it.

"It's common when you're in high school" to go to the area, said Dennis Elbert, l9, a St. Xavier graduate who lives on Lincoln Road. "It's how teen-agers are. They think it's exciting, a cheap thrill, I guess."

Concern about safety at railroad tracks and crossings has been heightened by the Louisville premiere last week of the 16-minute film "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster." Made by local filmmaker Ron Schildknecht, it portrays a monster who purportedly lives near the trestle.

In the film, shown last Thursday at the Uptown Theatre on Bards town Road, the sheep-man lures a teen-ager onto the 90-foot-high span. Suddenly a train approaches and the youth narrowly escapes by hanging onto a railroad tie.

In reality, such an escape probably wouldn't work, railroad officials say.

"It's just not real life," said Bob Auman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern Corp., which owns the Pope Lick trestle. "It's about as real as all the guns and violence you see on TV."

There is no space to stand or lay on the trestle while a train passes. There are no walkways, handholds or ledges - other than the railroad ties.

Railroad officials say it usually takes a train five to eight minutes to clear the span. An average person could not hang from the trestle that long before the intense noise and vibration from a train passing overhead would sap his strength and cause him to fall, Auman said.

Also, a moving train can require as much as 1 1/2 miles to stop, said Charlie Castner, a retired CSX Transportation spokesman who is active in Kentucky Operation Life saver, a rail-safety organization.

Norfolk Southern objects to photographs or film footage that depicts people trespassing on railroad property, Auman said, and it routinely notifies film-makers and publications that distribute such material.

No figures are available on how many people have died at the Pope Lick trestle or at other trestles in Kentucky, Auman said.

A sobering memorial to Jack Charles Bahm II remains on a support to the Pope Lick train trestle. Bahm was killed by a train while trying to cross the trestle last February. Photo by Paul Schuhmann

Two teens have died in accidents there in the past two years. The most recent victim was Jack Charles Bahm II, LaRue's son, who was killed Feb. 18.

Statistics show that more than l,000 people were killed and twice as many injured in accidents on train tracks and trestles in the United States last year.

Teen-agers say the thrill of confronting that danger attracts people to the trestle. "It's just a challenge to cross it without a train hitting them," said Brigid Bakanowski, a senior at Seneca High. Bakanowski, of Shepherds Court, has never been on the trestle but knows people who have been.

"They realize that it's dangerous, but not how dangerous," said Chris Connelly, of Garden Lake Lane, a 1988 graduate of Trinity High.

St. Xavier students are "a little bit more aware" of the dangers since Bahm was a St. X graduate, said John Evans, a St. X senior.

Officer Gary Fields, spokesman for the Jefferson County Police Department, said police pass the trestle nightly and disperse teen agers from the area. Police have also issued citations for criminal trespassing, Fields said.

He said a "no trespassing" sign had been posted, "but the kids tear it down."

Some teens say the appeal of the area has waned, particularly since people have died trying to cross the trestle.

"People used to go out there," said Jeffersontown High senior Travis Ziegier, of Talitha Drive. "They don't go out there much any more."

Jenni Brummett, a senior at Seneca, said she doesn't think people try to cross the trestle as much.

"There is nowhere to go if a train comes," said Brummett. "That's it, I mean, you're dead."

Last week, after viewing "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," LaRue said she knew, finally, what her son experienced during his last moments on the trestle. She said the film realistically portrays the dilemma of being surprised by a train.

"I can exactly envision my son's death now," LaRue said. "I no longer have to wonder what it felt like."

She said the film also shows that there is no escape for anyone in that situation.

Schildknecht, a Seneca High graduate, said he made the film to capture the legend. No other public showings of the film are planned locally, said Schildknecht, who plans to enter it in film festivals.

He agreed with LaRue and railroad officials to incorporate a warning about the Pope Lick trestle just before the film's credits.

"The film is a celebration of folk lore, of youth and adolescence," Schildknecht said. "But at the same time I don't want to leave any doubts of the danger."


WAVE-3 TV News / December 30, 1989


Trestle of Death: Film Depicting Legend Stirs Fear of Life Imitating Art
Judy Bryant
The Courier-Journal / December 30, 1988

According to local legend, a hideous half-man, half-sheep creature with a hypnotic gaze lures people onto the Pope Lick train trestle in eastern Jefferson County.

Now concerns have been raised that a movie about the myth may do the same - adding to the death toll at the 90-foot-high, 772-foot-long trestle.

"The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," a l6-minute narrative film produced by Louisville filmmaker Ron Schildknecht, had its premiere last night before about 400 people at the Uptown Theatre on Bardstown Road.

No other public showings are planned, but Schildknecht, an artist-in-residence with the Louisville Visual Art Association, said he plans to enter the film in film festivals and hopes to find a distributor to show it in arts theaters nationwide.

But an attorney for Norfolk Southern Corp, which owns the trestle, said he'll talk with Schildknecht about first making some changes in the film.

"I think it sends the wrong message," said attorney Charles Greenwell "The more I see the film, the more I'm convinced of that ."

The film is based on a folk legend that Schildknecht said has existed for more than three generations among teen-agers who live near Jeffersontown and Fisherville.

Most variations of the legend proclaim the existence of the sheep-man monster that lives near the trestle off Pope Lick Road. Some versions say the monster chases people away from the trestle. But in Schildknecht's version, the creature lures youths onto the tracks with intense hypnotic powers.

At least one part of the film is factual: Area teen-agers have been drawn to the trestle, and two have died there in the past two years.

Jack Charles Bahm II, a 17-year old Spalding University student, was struck and killed by a train last Feb. 18 while walking on the trestle. In May 1987, l9-year-old David Wayne Bryant died of injuries he suffered a year earlier when he jumped from the trestle to avoid getting hit by a train.

An epilogue to the film, narrated by actor Ben Allgeier, alludes to the deaths and warns viewers to stay away. But the film opens with Allgeier explaining the legend and saying, "You gotta go out there."

A written statement from the railroad warning of the trestle's dangers was read to the audience be fore the premiere. The statement said that anyone on the trestle could be prosecuted for trespassing and warned that the trestle has no walkways, handholds or ledges.

Railroad officials and others also said the film is misleading because it suggests that it is possible to hang from the trestle to avoid being struck by a train.

In the film, a character named Clancy, a high school student, goes to the trestle at night with two friends after they stop to buy beer. As Clancy walks across the trestle, he imagines confronting the sheep man monster on the tracks. Suddenly, a train approaches and Clancy narrowly escapes by hanging suspended from the side of the trestle.

In reality, few people would have time to climb under the trestle be fore the train arrived, or the strength to hang on until it passes, officials say.

After a private screening Wednesday for railroad officials and Bahm's relatives, Schildknecht said he would consider eliminating the offending scene.

However, last night Schildknecht said he had decided not to change the film, because it poses little threat of attracting visitors to the trestle from outside the Louisville area.

If the film has more showings locally, Schildknecht said, he would incorporate the railroad's statement just before the final credits to help ensure that audiences hear the information.

Railroad officials complained that last night's statement was barely audible.

Schildknecht, a Western Kentucky University graduate, began working on the film in 1985. Most of the $6,000 cost came out of his pocket.

Most of the film was shot at the Pope Lick trestle. However, scenes that show Clancy and a friend on the trestle were filmed at another, safer trestle, he said.

Schildknecht said he contacted Norfolk Southern officials before he began filming, but was told the railroad would not cooperate unless he first obtained a $3 million liability insurance policy. He said he was un able to find an insurance company that would write such a policy, and so proceeded without the railroad's permission.

Bob Auman, a Norfolk Southern spokesman in Roanoke, Va., said the company "objects strenuously" to photographs or films "that show people trespassing on railroad property."

"It undermines our efforts on behalf of safety when movies like this are made," Auman said.

Schildknecht thinks the film could actually improve railway safety. He wants to show it to students in the Jefferson County Public Schools to help educate them to the dangers of climbing the trestle, although he has not yet talked with school officials about the idea.

Some people who saw the film last night predicted it could encourage teen-agers to visit the trestle.

"It seems like they were having fun there (in the film) the way they were cavorting around," said Neil Norman, 15, a sophomore at the Brown School.

But Norman, who said he had never been to the trestle and was unfamiliar with the Pope Lick legend, doesn't expect many will try to cross the span.

"Hopefully they'll be smart enough not to."


Happenings/East End
Pat O'Connor
The Courier Journal, Neighborhoods/East End / December 28, 1998

Special Events

A premiere of the movie "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," sponsored by the Louisville Visual Art Association and the Uptown Theatre, will begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the theater, 1504 Bardstown Road. Louisville artist Ron Schildknecht's film is based on a folk legend of a half-man, half-sheep creature that lives near the Southern Railway System trestle on Pope Lick Road near Fisherville in eastern Jefferson County. Admission is $2.

The association will have a public reception at The Water Tower, on River Road at Zorn Avenue, after the premiere.


Tomorrow's best bet: 'Pope Lick Monster'
Martha Elson
The Courier Journal, Food & Features / December 28, 1988

"The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," a 16-minute narrative film by Louisville artist and teacher Ron Schildknecht, will premiere at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Uptown Theatre, 1504 Bardstown Road.

The film is based on a folk legend among teen-agers near Fisherville in southeastern Jefferson County.

It focuses on a half-man, half-sheep creature that is said to live near the 100-foot-high railroad trestle on Pope Lick Road and the teen initiation rites associated with the legend.

The three-year project was funded in part by the Kentucky Folklife Foundation, with assistance from the Louisville Visual Art Association, the Kentucky Arts Council and others. Schildknecht, an arts council artist in residence, also is involved in producing a film about the recent closing of the White Castle restaurant at Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.

A short animated film, "A Day in the Life of a CPA" by Ellen Ter Beest, will also be shown. After the showing, a reception will be held at the Water Tower, Zorn Avenue and Upper River Road. Admission to the showing is $2.


Notes: Pope Lick Monster Film
The Courier Journal, Arts and Leisure / December 25, 1988

The premiere of "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster," Louisvillian Ron Schildknecht 16-minute narrative film about the folklore surrounding a train trestle in southeast Jefferson County, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Uptown Theater, Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway. Tickets are $2. The event is sponsored by the Louisville Visual Art Association, which will hold a free reception after the film at its Water Tower gallery, 3005 Upper River Road.

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