New Thrills and Grave Secrets at Kentucky Kingdom!

Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay Waterpark are now back under local ownership with some new thrills to chill your bones during the heat of summer, but the Kentucky Fairgrounds also holds a haunted secret from our colonial past that very few theme park visitors are aware of!

Summer is here and Kentucky Kingdom has returned from the theme park graveyard with a fresh coat of paint and some new multi-million dollar attractions. As much as I loved having an abandoned amusement park sitting in the middle of the Ville (where I liked to imagine the Funland Robot from “Scooby Doo Where Are You?” running amok night after night), it’s a much greater pleasure to know that the park is back under local ownership.

Long Live King Louie!

This week I took my first seasonal trip to the newly refurbished park to get a peek at the new Lightning Run roller coaster and some of the other new additions to the park. I also stopped by the nearly 200 year old, haunted cemetery on the property.

What? You didn’t know there was a haunted, Civil War era cemetery right next to Kentucky Kingdom in the middle of the lot used for the Thrillway during the Kentucky State Fair?

It’s true, and you can see it for yourself. When you reach the front gates of Kentucky Kingdom, go to the far right end where the Season Pass Processing area is located. Just fifty yards east through the parking lot you’ll find the gates of the Oldham Family Cemetery.

During the Civil War, the area that now makes up the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center was owned by the Samuel Oldham Plantation. It was called “Fair Hope” Plantation. The first grave you’ll encounter as you enter the cemetery gates is marked the “Oldham Family Cemetery,” which claims to hold the grave of “Samuel Oldham, Revolutionary War Patriot, 31 October 1779 – 31 January 1833” and his wife, “Ann Lipscomb Oldham, 17 November 1755 – 27 April 1822.” That’s right, Sam Oldham was born on Halloween!

As part of his last will and testament, Samuel Oldham stated that two acres should be “set aside forever in trust as a burial site for all the white and black members of his family.” The Oldham family were pre-abolition slave owners, so according to the document, both family members and slaves are buried on the property. The State of Kentucky has determined that Oldham’s definition of “forever” means literally forever, and so the cemetery has been declared an Exempt Cemetery, meaning that it’s illegal to change, move or encroach upon the land there.

It’s an interesting enough bit of historical curiosity to know that a Civil War era graveyard exists close enough to Kentucky Kingdom that you can hear the screams of thrill riders from the cemetery, but according to a 2006 Courier-Journal article by Byron Crawford, it’s also haunted!

There are names of quite a few young children on the crumbling gravestones amid the lot, and according to Fairgrounds workers and grounds people, some of them might still be hanging around. A grounds keeper named Tom Lee, who has since passed away himself, claimed to have heard a baby crying in the cemetery and then saw the spectral child himself.

He said it was “wearing a long christening gown with a bonnet on,” and that it was hovering above the ground. Then he said it floated towards a stone, which it appeared to pass right through before it stopped crying and disappeared. Longtime grounds maintenance supervisor, Dennis Thorpe, confirmed the story and said that he also has heard the disembodied cries of a child coming from the graveyard.

Other ghostly stories of an older man wearing a long coat and a fedora that disappears into thin air have been reported on numerous occasions in the Fairgrounds’ greenhouses across the other side of Interstate 65.

I heard no cries myself on a steamy hot afternoon this week when I stopped by to pay my respects. The only sounds I heard were the screams coming from Lightning Run inside the park. My goal for the afternoon was to check out the new park and experience the new steel coaster for myself.

As a longtime fan of magic and illusion, no one should know better than me that looks can often be deceiving. It’s a lesson I got a refresher course in as I approached the entryway for Lightning Run. My first impressions were that it didn’t really look that big or seem to be traveling all that fast. I was confident that I would easily conquer the blue hills, twists and turns of Lightning Run without much of a shock to my system. As soon as we crested the first hill, all of my false bravado disappeared like the ghost baby in the Oldham Family Cemetery.

Lightning Run is much, much more intense than it appears. This steel blue beast is not to be taken lightly! In fact, it delivers more “air time,” that zero gravity feeling of weightlessness that makes you feel like you’re floating out of your seat, than just about any coaster I have ever ridden. Louisville is lucky to have such a brilliant new thrill machine.

I was also fairly impressed with how nice the rest of the park looks in its reopening season. The waterpark is nearly double its original size. From the top of the Giant Wheel at 150 feet I looked across Hurricane Bay and realized that one of the new water slides, Deep Water Dive, actually stood about 20 feet higher than the Giant Wheel, with a 70 degree drop angle. No thank you!

I was glad to see that someone captured a giant great white shark and hung it up for everyone to take photos with as you enter the Family Wave Lagoon. I would hate to think that thing was still swimming around in there!

It’s a great gesture on the part of the park owners that drink stations are set up across the park where, if you have a Season Pass (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t!), you can get a soft drink for only one dollar. It’s also really nice that all the water fountains near the restrooms have a contraption where you can fill up an empty bottle with cold water. It’s important to stay hydrated on hot summer days.

There’s a nice area of rides for small children, some of which are still being completed, like the Tea Cups ride I took a photo of. This year they also have a live sea lion show featuring rescued sea lions and a 5D theater featuring a condensed version of the animated children’s film, “Rio,” with moving seats that make you feel like you’re part of the movie.

So if you’re planning to visit Kentucky Kingdom this summer, enjoy Lightning Run and all the new attractions, but as you’re leaving for home in the evening when things are starting to quiet down, perk up your ears. Is that crying baby you hear coming from a tired infant who has been playing in the park all afternoon or is that crying coming from somewhere else?

The Phantom of The Ville

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