Seeking out the strange and bizarre in your world is a hallmark of youth, often represented in pop culture by a group of scrappy kids surveilling the area for adventure. Just think “Stranger Things” or “The Outsiders” for evidence of just that scenario. Getting on your bike and hunting for things in the woods or in the city near your house is fun, because you never know what you will find, and you never know how those discoveries will spark your imagination. Fortunately, Louisville is not shy of odd artifacts and weird landmarks, from a plethora of trees carved to resemble various animals to monuments and abandoned projects filled with mystery and potential. We have a few to get you thinking.
Darrell Sweet Tribute
You may not expect to find a tribute to a classic rock drummer in New Albany, but there is one. The Scottish band Nazareth made their name with raging ’70s proto-metal anthems like “Hair of the Dog” or “Love Hurts.” That fame lasted for decades thereafter, propelled by covers by prominent acts like Guns N’ Roses, which led the band to New Albany at the turn of the last century. Prior to a gig at the New Albany Amphitheater, drummer Darrell Sweet complained of chest pains, which as you might guess was the precursor to a heart attack. Sweet was rushed to Floyd Memorial Hospital where he drew his last breath on April 30, 1999. His loss is immortalized at the base of the amphitheater with a plaque memorializing his life.
The Witch’s Grave in Eastern Cemetery (641 Baxter Ave.) near Cave Hill Cemetery in the Highlands illustrates as a commitment to magic and Satan or an intense foresight into trolling folks. Located towards the back of the graveyard, the tombstone is adorned with a pentagram and the line “I’ll Live Again.” Attributed to Ada B. Armstead a mother who lived from February 24, 1895 until August 29, 1985, the text on the tombstone may tell a less dark story, as a pentagram is a Wiccan symbol, and the “I’ll live again” line working equally towards rebirth, a concept common to many religions. Regardless, it’s a neat and creepy find in an already eerie location.
Capone’s Pump Station
The Ohio River Trail on the Louisville Bike Loop is like a dream come true for anyone looking for urban exploration; it feels like you’re doing something off the beaten path without actually ever doing so. Part of the trail runs past the Shawnee Golf Course, which used to be the grounds for Fontaine Ferry Park, an amusement park that closed in the early ’70s. Near the river you’ll find the foundation of a building that seems completely out of place. Why would there be a house there, so close to the river? Local lore is that it was a way station for Al Capone to hide in, although evidence points instead to it as a pump house for the swimming pool that would’ve been there. Either way it feels like you’ve stumbled on something weird, like the hatch in Lost.
The Hill Sisters Parking Lot
You may not realize it, but you’re celebrating a Louisville native everytime you sing “Happy Birthday.” Composed by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, the song is one of the most played in the world, written right here in Louisville. To commemorate their legacy, there is a plaque hidden away, quietly tucked into a corner in a parking lot under I-64 near the landing for the Belle of Louisville. It’s a nice treat if you hit up the Ohio River Trail heading west.
There is junk art and there is Junk Art, and Hubcap Lady may actually fit either category. True to the description, the Hubcap Lady is an enormous statue of a woman constructed primarily from hubcaps. Located in Jeffersonville near a waste treatment plant, the statue seems to be like the Lady of Justice, replete with scales and all. It’s an incredibly elegant sculpture and an awesome way to repurpose what would otherwise have been garbage.
If you’ve ever driven down River Road near Butchertown, you’ve seen the Heigold façade, which is the front portion of a house that leads apparently to nowhere. The Heigold façade was originally part of a full structure in what was then known as The Point, or Frenchman’s Row, before that neighborhood was upended by the redirecting of Beargrass Creek. After that the façade was moved to its current location as a reminder of our rich cultural history. It’s a neat building to look at, with a host of carvings of important Louisville natives.
Abandoned Amusement Park in Charleston
Not far from Louisville in Charlestown, Ind., lies the remains of the Rose Island Amusement Park, which went out of business after the 1937 Flood wrecked the area. A lot of the foundations for the buildings and some of the rides are still there, now worn by age and weather. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like you’ve just stumbled into some sort of post-apocalyptic future. Not only that, but it’s a rewarding treasure hunt to find something so exotic in an otherwise innocuous place.
Eleven Jones House
Embrace your inner Goonies kid at the Eleven Jones Cave. Located in the wooded area near Beargrass Creek behind St. Xavier High School, the cave is said to have contained buried treasure by The Jones Gang, a band of bank robbers, thieves, and murderers. You probably won’t find any buried treasure, although we can always hope for a booby trapped pirate ship full of gold. Beware though, as studies indicate that the deeper you go into the cave, the more toxic the air is; it’s a weird and dangerous place hidden in the heart of the city.
Freight Subways Downtown
Buried under the street of downtown Louisville are the remains of an extensive series of freight tunnels used prior to WWII. Long out of use, the tunnels serve as a reminder of our ever-evolving urban landscape. It’s hard to imagine what might be down there right now or how you would even safely do so, but it’s easy to picture all sorts of weird underground dwellers making a home in the dark.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Waverly Hills Sanatorium (4400 Paralee Lane), is perhaps the quintessential destination for anyone seeking something spooky. The former tuberculosis hospital remained unused for decades, accumulating myth and legend along the way. Historically, it’s considered one of the most haunted places in the world, which certainly fit my teenaged experience. Now the sanatorium serves as a haunted house, famous for appearing on “Ghost Hunters International” and other similar television shows.