The Pope Lick goat man is an urban legend of sorts centered around a railroad trestle in eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky, just outside of Louisville. Legend holds that the goat man, a predictably half-man, half-goat monster, haunts the area around the trestle. Sightings of the monster originated in the late 1940's or early 1950's, and most who claim to have seen the goat man describe it as having the fur-covered body of a man, but the head of a goat. While Bigfoot is currently the best known "wild man", goat men have been reported in various parts of the country (primarily the southeast- Virginia and North Carolina, for instance) for decades. Certainly there are similarities between the Pope Lick goat man and other, better known beasts, such as the Jersey Devil of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Opinions differ about the goat man's origins and intentions. Some versions of the legend hold that the goat man is an ill-tempered beast that seeks only to be left alone. A group of Boy Scouts camping nearby reported being driven from their camp site by a screaming beast that threw rocks at them. Some claim that the screams or calls of the goat man are in imitation of the whistle of the train that passes through his territory, which is said to extend to the Jefferson Memorial Forest to the south. During the earliest days of the legend, it was claimed that the goat man was responsible for the mutilation of livestock from farms in the surrounding area.
The more disturbing part of the goat man legend is its intersection with the truly tragic history of the Pope Lick trestle. The trestle, which overlooks Taylorsville Road, just past Interstate 265, rises 90 feet in the air, and extends over 700 feet. Since it was built, crossing the trestle has been a popular dare for local teenagers, and even visitors from other parts of Louisville.
This is in no way a good idea.
Due to the somewhat odd acoustics of the local area (which is somewhat hilly and wooded), it is almost impossible to hear a train coming until it is right on top of the trestle. There are no walkways, railings, or ledges. The vibration of a passing train, as well as the duration (it can take eight minutes or more for the train to clear the trestle), is more than enough to shake any would-be daredevil loose from the railroad ties. No records have been kept regarding the exact number of people who have died attempting the crossing, but two Louisville men were killed in the late 80's- one killed instantly when he was struck by the train, and one who died months later from complications related to his fall from the trestle.
The deaths stemming from the trestle are no urban legend; they've been a part of life around the trestle for three generations (my great aunt walked the trestle- successfully!- as a young woman). Police now sweep by the trestle every night to try and ensure that teens do not attempt to climb it, and will issue trespassing citations to anyone who is caught- but attempts to visit the trestle continue.
Here the goat man legend rears its head again. Some versions of the legend hold that the goat man is actually a grotesque guardian angel- that his cries and shouts are meant to scare away anyone foolish enough to climb the trestle. Other versions of the legend hold that the goat man himself is responsible for the deaths- that he lures young people to their deaths, drawing them out onto the trestle before they realize what has happened. Some claim that teens have fallen to their death when there was no immediate danger, having mistaken the goat man's whistle-like cries for an oncoming train. Others hold the legend itself responsible, claiming that teens continue to risk the danger of the old trestle precisely because they want a chance to see the legendary Pope Lick goat man.
The Pope Lick Goat Man Project
In 1984 Ron Schildknecht, a Louisville would-be filmmaker, began work on "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster", a short film about three friends who witness the mesmerizing power of the Pope Lick monster (which is depicted in the film as more sheep than goat, counter to local tradition). Released in 1988, the film was criticized by Norfolk Southern Corp., the owners of the railroad trestle, who felt that the film would encourage young people to visit the trestle. In the film, the protagonists are shown surviving by hanging from the trestle- something not possible at the actual Pope Lick crossing. The film's release generated significant attention in the local media, coming as it did shortly after the two deaths linked to attempts to cross the Pope Lick trestle.
In recent years, actual sightings of the goat man have been rare. Most claimed sightings occurred during the early 50's, and this fact combined with the early animal mutilation and reports of weird howling have lead some to dismiss the goat man as nothing more than the intersection of a long-dead greedy coyote and the predictable curiosity of teenagers. Others claim that the monster (if monster he is) has moved south to the Jefferson Forest, to escape increasing development along Taylorsville Road.
Whatever the truth of the legend, the Pope Lick goat man continues to linger in the popular imagination of local residents. McArthur Grant recipient Naomi Wallace, a Kentucky playwright, premiered a play at Actors Theater of Louisville entitled The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek set in the era of The Great Depression, and employing as a plot device the idea of the characters trying to cross a 100-foot high trestle. While the goat man does not make an appearance, and the play is meant to be set in a more or less "generic" Depression-era location, the connection to the actual Pope Lick trestle and its decades of history is fairly clear to anyone who knows the area. On a somewhat less literary front, councilors at the nearby Cedar Ridge Camp, a Presbyterian summer camp, continue to use the legend of the goat man to discourage their young charges from wandering into the woods at night.
So it seems unlikely that the Pope Lick goat man will be found to be a marvel of cryptozoology anytime soon. But the legend, intertwined with local history as it is, will no doubt persist as long as the Pope Lick railway trestle endures.
Special thanks to mauler, whose writeup Funny Pope Related Words reminded me of Pope Lick and its goat man. For the record, I don't know why the area (a creek, specifically) is called Pope Lick- my father once (boringly) suggested that there was a natural salt lick there on land owned by a man whose name was "Pope". I prefer to continue to believe that some truly atrocious breach of Vatican etiquette occurred in the vicinity. The truth is out there.
Germantown Films, where you can purchase "The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster" http://www.germantownfilms.com/
Plue a good measure of oral history, collected from family members and friends over the years.