LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - At the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 6th Street in historic Old Louisville stands a gnarled old tree, but it is the tale surrounding the tree that has grown in popularity over the years.
"This is something that they call the Witches' Tree," exclaimed author David Dominé.
As the story goes, the creepy tree stood at the favored meeting spot for those who practice the so-called black arts.
"According to local legend back in the day, there was a tall maple tree that stood here," Dominé said.
That tall maple tree stretched its branches over the site until the spring of 1889. It was then a city committee selected the maple to be the tree used in the traditional May Day Celebration. The tree was set to be chopped down to provide the May pole for the festive event.
"They warned the city that if they chopped down their favorite tree, there would be a price to pay," Dominé continued.
The tree came down, and the celebration went on, but at what price?
"Everyone forgot about it until 11 months to the day," Dominé said. "Sure enough, Louisville was hit with its worst calamity ever. They say this was one of the most devastating tornadoes in American history. It destroyed half of downtown, killed upwards of 100 people. Some of them were people on the planning committee that had chopped down their tree."
The date was March 28, 1890. Legend has it the witches brewed up the storm and the destruction as a big payback to the city and the May Day Committee.
"They sent it into town along Maple Street for a bit of symbolism," Dominé continued. "Then they say the tornado took a strange right turn and came through Old Louisville. A bolt of lightning shot out and hit this stump, and on this spot, this tree sprung up."
The gnarled old tree that stands there today is the tree that sprouted after the 1890 storm.
"This is definitely the most characteristic tree in the neighborhood," laughed Dominé.
Just steps away on Floral Court is the site of another tree that stood long ago but only its sinister history is left behind today.
Pointing to a fountain Dominé said, "This is the site of what use to be called the killing tree or the hanging tree, depending on who you talk to."
Lynching is a stain on Kentucky history, but does the legend of the tree still haunt one of Louisville's oldest walking courts?
"According to local history, there used to be a tall cottonwood tree that stood here," Dominé said. "There are rumors that back in the day, it was used for lynchings. There's a lot of ghosts that seem to indicate people died from hanging," Dominé' somberly explained.
Deaths in the old tree were by suicide, as well. The most famous suicide was documented in The Louisville Times on June 28, 1901. It was the famous death of Sam Turner.
Dominé set the gruesome scene: "They said a crowd of 500 people turned out here on Floral Terrace to watch them take down the body."
But even with its branches cut down, some still claim they see bodies swinging in the air above the site of the fountain that stands where the old cottonwood tree once stood.
Signed copies of David Dominé's America's Most Haunted Neighborhood are available at local book sellers such as Carmichael's and A Reader's Corner and online at amazon.com.
Every night year-round, at 7:30 in the Old Louisville Information Center in Central Park, walking tours are offered of America's Most Haunted Neighborhood. The tours last 20 minutes and cost $20 per person. For more information, click here or call the Old Louisville Information Center at 502-635-5244. You can also visit the America's Most Haunted Neighborhood page on Facebook by clicking here.
For additional information about events and tours, click here.
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