The Witches’ Tree is Your Legend Tripping Destination this Walpurgisnacht!

Witch's Tree Legend Tripping

There is a cursed freak of nature rooted at the corner of Sixth Street and Park Avenue that is at the heart of a petrifying legend connected to witchcraft, Walpurgis Night and May 1st!

Rising from the earth, rooted deep in the dark soil, to tower majestically over us like silent watchers of human history, they can live for hundreds, even thousands of years. With their spindly branches reaching out like grasping limbs, they seem naturally predisposed to anthropomorphic qualities and personalities of their own. Popular culture has fed our nightmares with images of spooky trees like Ray Bradbury’sThe Halloween Tree”, the apple hoarding trees in “The Wizard of Oz”, the gnarled Hellmouth that births the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’sSleepy Hollow” and the child devouring tree from “Poltergeist”.

In grade school I was obsessed with a book called “The Secret of the Sachem’s Tree”, a Halloween folktale set in colonial America that recounts the legend of the Charter Oak in Hartford, Connecticut on Oct. 31st in 1687.  The potent blend of history, witchcraft and folklore was a lightning rod of curiosity to my prepubescent brain. It would be decades later before I discovered that Louisville had its’ own haunted tree with a supernatural history that dates back over a century.

Witch's Tree Legend Tripping

The gnarled, mangled thing growing at the corner of Sixth Street and Park Avenue in Old Louisville simply projects malevolence worthy of a good legend, and indeed it has one. The story goes that an old maple tree once stood at the same spot in 1889 and it had become the favorite spot of a coven of witches to gather after midnight to practice ancient magic and perform profane rites. The locals, hoping to drive the witches away, conspired with the city planning committee to chop the tree down and use it for a May pole in the city’s May Day Celebration.

The witches warned the city council that it would face their unnatural wrath if they followed through with their May Day plans, but the wtiches’ warnings were ignored and the tree was chopped down on Walpurgis Night, one of the most significant nights of the year in a witch’s calendar, when the veil between the natural world and the supernatural realm is the thinnest and a witch’s powers are at their peak. “Beware the eleventh month,” they warned the locals as they cursed the city for sacrilege against their favorite place of Sabbath.

Eleven months later, on March 27, 1890 at 8:30 PM, the witches summoned a demon storm in the form of a 500 yard wide tornado that cut a path of destruction through Louisville unlike anything in recorded history. In a span of only five minutes the storm demon destroyed the Union railroad on Seventh St, the Waterworks tower that supplied drinking water to the entire city and dozens of churches, residences and stone warehouses. Over 100 citizens lost their lives that day and hundreds more were gravely injured. One of the more tragic incidents was the destruction of Falls City Hall on West Market St which collapsed burying about 200 people including 50-75 children and their mothers who were taking dance lessons inside. Many suffocated in the wreckage or died from injuries caused by the falling bricks and mortar.

At the center of the maelstrom, a bolt of lightning struck the stump of the witches’ favorite maple tree and another more sinister tree sprung up from the charred remains. This malignant, misshapen new arboreal creation would serve to remind Louisvillians of the curse and the price that must be paid when interfering with the powers of darkness.

Today the Witches’ Tree is still a beacon of intense interest and superstition that draws travelers and wayfarers daily. Many stop to gaze upon its’ bulging knobs and twisted bark out of morbid curiosity while others cross the street to avoid its’ sinister presence. Any day you visit you’re likely to find the tree covered in a variety of religious artifacts, crosses (sometimes inverted), beads, bibles, pictures of Jesus, stick men and Voodoo dolls, upside down horseshoes intended to repel witches and novelty Halloween trinkets.

Rumors persist that modern witches still visit the site and there are many who clearly believe it still emanates a centuries old power. Who knows what you may witness at the witching hour on Walpurgis Night or on the evening of May Day?

The Phantom of The Ville

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