The Mysteries of Octagon Hall: a home to history and haunting’s




As the first chill of autumn settles into evening air and the land begins its nightly journey into darkness, one can almost sense something otherworldly,  a presence, as if the past and present were moving toward each other in the stillness.    Most people from this area of Kentucky know that they live on a land rich with history and tradition, but many do not know or want to recognize that the past may be with us in ways we can scarcely believe or imagine.  We think we see a shadow flit past us, hear a voice that seems to have no source or feel the touch of an unseen hand when we least expect it. We laugh at ourselves and our reactions, but underneath we have a nagging sense that we just may not be as alone as we think in this old world of ours.   At no time of the year is this feeling more apparent than during the seasonal holiday we call Halloween.

Most of us do not know that the Halloween celebration is ancient in origin dating back to pre-Christian Europe, where it was a celebration of the end of the harvest season.    Our distant ancestors believed that this was a time when the veil that separated the world of the living from the world of the dead was thin and that on a certain day, the spirits of one’s ancestors and others would return home to bless or possibly curse the living.  To welcome these family spirits, food and drink would be placed on the door step or an empty place would be set for them at the family table with food.  Like many such traditions, the meal evolved into a social event where neighbors would come over, often in costume, and celebrate.  The original name for the season was Samhain pronounced “sow-when.”   As Christianity became the dominant religion, the church adopted and incorporated these older traditions and made them fit their theological stance.  Samhain the harvest festival eventually became “All Hallows Eve” which evolved into what we know as Halloween, a time of playful make-believe with a dose of ghostly good-will.

Here in Southern Kentucky, the belief in ghosts and haunted houses is as old as the first European settlement, and many a child has starred in wonder as a parent or grandparent relayed tales of things that went bump in the night.  Telling ghost stories was a way to talk about events in one’s local history and give moral lessons in a manner that would be remembered.  Often old homes, abandoned and desolate, were considered to be haunted and therefore to be shunned by child and adult alike.  Places where terrible events such as murder, suicide and tragic deaths occurred were considered to retain some of the trauma of those events as a reminder for all who might venture there. This belief about haunted places is common to almost every culture around the world.

One such place is The Octagon Hall Museum and Confederate Studies Archive located on 6040 Bowling Green Road just north of Franklin, KY.  This antebellum, eight-sided, three story brick home, one of only four brick eight-sided homes remaining in this country, began construction in 1847 and was completed in 1859.  It was built as the residence of Andrew Jackson Caldwell and his family. As the Civil War spread throughout the new nation, Caldwell a slaveholder, whose brother was a colonel in the rebel army, threw his support firmly behind the Confederacy.  It was known that any Confederate soldier who could make it to the Caldwell’s’ farm would receive shelter and medical care and be hidden from the Union forces that were often following in hot pursuit.  There are stories of wounded soldiers dying from their wounds while hiding in the attic.  In February of 1862, the famous “orphan brigade” fled Bowling Green and headed for Nashville, Tennessee. It is estimated that twelve thousand rebel troops were camped on the property during one night and, within a day; an estimated force of eighteen thousand Union troops chasing them also camped on the Caldwell farm for several days.  It is documented that several soldiers never physically left with their comrades and at least two soldiers lie buried on the property.

The Caldwell family had its own tragedies to accommodate with the deaths of family members and especially with the tragic death of seven-year-old Elizabeth Caldwell.  Elizabeth, while playing in the basement “winter” kitchen with her cousin, caught her dress on fire and burned to death.  She is buried in the family plot yet many people have learned that Elizabeth may still be present.  Many of the stories of ghosts surrounding the property are considered to be associated with the Caldwell family, including the smell of flowers and then the stench of decay on the anniversary of Andrew Jackson Caldwell’s death.  The local police have been summoned as motion detectors triggered alarms on many occasions, only to find the house locked and secure. Children who have toured the house have reported seeing other children in historical costume playing in and around the home yet no adult witnessed the presence of these children.

In 2001, after several owners and being used as rental property, the Byrd family purchased the property and began to renovate the house, turning it into a museum (501C3 non-profit) that features the Civil War history of the home and region with many rare Civil War artifacts from the Bowling Green/Franklin area, as well as from other areas of Kentucky and Tennessee.   Billy D. Byrd, executive director estimates that Octagon Hall receives between five and six thousand visitors a year.

Like many old homes, the act of renovating a structure seems to awaken something that make its presence known in a myriad of ways.  The Octagon House was no exception and the Bryd family soon realized there was something really odd going on as they worked to build their museum.  Beds which were part of the historical exhibits were found to contain the impression of a body having been lying on it, though no one had.  Shadowy figures appeared on the staircase and doors opened and closed on their own.   The author of this article personally witnessed this odd door phenomena while on a historical tour of the house one afternoon in 2007.  Upon examining the door, I could find no device or wire to suggest trickery and hence I have no explanation for what I experienced.

As the renovation continued, disembodied voices appeared on digital recorders placed in the rooms to catch them.  These voices which were not heard by the researchers at the time they were recorded seem to come from nowhere and provided answers to questions posed by the researchers or simply made statements like “Leave that alone!”   Near Elizabeth Caldwell’s grave a young girl’s voice was recorded crying ”Mommy” while no child was physically in the area. These disembodied voices are called EVPs or Electronic Voice Phenomena which some people suggest are the voices of those on the other side of the veil of existence.  The Byrd family, initially resistant to the idea of exhibiting a haunted house, eventually accepted the phenomena and began to reach out to those who investigate such events.  As of the date, over sixty-two  “paranormal” groups have researched the property and come away with a wide variety of experiences and evidence including ghostly photos of an adult male in the window, ghostly children playing in the driveway and apparitions in the basement.   The Hall’s haunted residents have been the subject of documentaries for PBS, The History Channel as well as The Discovery and Sci-Fi Channels.

So what is going on?  I don’t think any responsible, open-minded person in this period of history can speak on these matters with any sense of absolute conviction.   No one knows just what exactly is going on except that something is happening.  Whatever explanation you wish to give to the experience of the ghost, whether psychological, metaphysical or theological, I think the jury is still out on this almost universal human experience.  We may one day have the technological means to prove or disprove the existence of  ghosts, just as we have found a way to measure and quantify the presence phenomena like radio waves, gravity or gamma rays, to name a few.  Until that day, we can all go to places like the Octagon House, as sincere students of history or as curious investigators of the unknown.   Either path you take, The Octagon Hall Museum and Confederate Studies Archive will be a fascinating stop on your journey of discovery. Check out their website at for tours and for further information, you can call (270) 586-9343. The Museum is open Wednesday – Saturday, 8am-11:30am and 1pm – 3:30pm.   “Haunted” tours are held every weekend however, the Hall is closed on all major holidays except Halloween.

A Sunday Morning Casual Chat with the Dead. Direct, and Clear. Finally.

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The Palace Theater

The Palace 

By Jay Gravatte

At the turn of the century, many theaters lined “movie row” as 4th Street in Louisville, Kentucky was then known. All along the strip, movie houses sprung up to provide audiences with a splendid atmosphere of luxury they could only imagine in the movies. Many famous cinemas from that by gone era are no more, names like the Majestic, the Casino, and the Rialto are but a distant memory. Few recall the “Hollywood glitz and glamour” era. Today, all have fallen aside to history and parking lots. Where once these temples to the silver screen stood, the music, laughter, and tears are now silenced …. Save from one, The Louisville Palace Theater.

The tile facade building stands as it has for almost 80 years, its dazzling neon marquee a final reflection of a bygone time when Downtown Louisville and 4th Street was THE place to see and be seen. When the theater opened as Lowe’s Theater on September 1st 1928, very few theaters in Louisville could rival its opulence and luxury. Designed by John Eberson, the magnificent theater cost an estimated $1.2 million dollars. With the many fountains, tapestries, and statues all harkening to the Spanish revival motif, movie goers were transported to another place. Floating clouds and glistening stars lining the make believe sky on the ceiling awed theater patrons. In the mid 1950’s, due to business deals the theaters name was changed to United Artists Theater, however to almost everyone in Louisville, it was still known as Lowe’s. Along with the modernism of the 1960’s, more changes came to the Palace; the balcony was sealed off to provide additional room for another movie theater called the Penthouse in 1963 and an escalator was installed. The 1970’s brought lasting changes as well, with the rise of suburban living and the decline of downtown, the audiences once gathering there dwindled and the Palace ran its final reel in early 1978.

In August of 1978, two investors purchased the building and reopened it in November of 1981 as the Louisville Palace night club. Due to labor disputes and financial mismanagement the nightclub closed in 1985. In 1991, an investment group from Indianapolis Indiana, Sunshine Theater Co. gained the controlling interest, and began a massive renovation and refurbishing of the theater to its original splendor insuring that it is one of Louisville’s foremost entertainment experiences to this day.

This is where the story then takes a more intriguing turn. There is a legend to the Palace that dates back to the 1990’s restoration and reopening. It was during this time that workers began to see a man at a variety of places around the building. An older man, wearing work clothes, his hair in a flat top and wearing older style glasses. One worker swore that as he walked across the stage he saw the older man sitting in the balcony, leaning over looking at him. Another, while painting the ceiling on scaffolding, had fallen asleep. He related that he heard a voice in his ear telling him to “wake up”. Which he did, looking around he noticed that he was near the edge of the scaffolding, about to roll off. Had the spectral voice apparently saved him from plunging to his death? Other workers have avowed they have heard whistling, and have seen a name scribbled in the dust in the basement. Maintenance problems seem to be among the most common activities. At odd times the projectors will malfunction, doors will open, and unseen footsteps are heard walking, making the rounds late at night.

Interestingly enough, the chief engineer of The Loews United Artists Theater, a man named Ferdinand “Fred” Frisch, died of a massive heart attack in his basement office on October 27, 1965. Mr. Frisch had worked at Loews for almost 40 years, having relocated to Louisville from New Jersey and the merchant marines. Could this be his ghost roaming the theater he knew so well? On a wall in the basement, near where his office was once located there is a picture of Fred Frisch. Many workers that have encountered whatever spirit roams the Palace say that the man in the photo is their spectral visitor. The work uniform, the flat top hair, the glasses all identical.

In that photo of Mr. Frisch, you can see him sitting at his desk wearing the same glasses, same haircut and work shirt he always wore. You might be wondering how that picture ended up hanging in the basement. Well….. I have to admit, I gave a copy of his picture to them… I mean, doesn’t almost everyone have a photograph of their grandfather……..

Oh, and what is the name in the dust you might ask? Why, it’s “Ferdinand” of course.

Interior publicity shot of “The Palace Theater”
Fourth Street, Louisville Kentucky
















Evansville, Indiana

The Willard Library was not believed to be haunted until 1936, when a maintenance worker quit his job, claiming that he had continuously encountered a spectral lady in gray in the building’s basement. Since then, many of the staff members and visitors to the library have encountered the unknown. Most of the reports are of actual sightings of the elusive “lady”, while others report cold spots and the phantom smell of perfume. The Lady has been seen near the restrooms, near the elevator and in the Children’s Room in the basement.The library opened in 1885 and apparently the ghost, whoever she is, dates from that time period because her clothing matches costume of that era. Despite visits from psychics and ghost researchers, no one has been able to learn the identity of the spirit who haunts the building.

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The Willard Library, circa 1915
(illustration courtesy of Mark Marimen)

Most interesting in the case is the fact that the Lady was once captured by a security camera that was set up near the restrooms. There is no doubt that she still lingers in the library.

The Willard Library is located in Evansville, Indiana, in the southwest comer of the state. The library is located at 21 First Avenue in Evansville.


The Strange History of the Culbertson Mansion and Carriage House

   Joellen Bye admits she was not the best student growing up. But, after accepting a job at the Culbertson Mansion in 1977, she read everything she could get her hands on about New Albany’s most famous landmark and those who occupied it.

“It sparked my interest,” she said of spending her days in the mansion. “It turned on my switch. I’ve learned more here than I could ever learn in school.”

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