AN UNASSUMING yet historic building on the banks of the Licking River in Wilder, Kentucky has become a nationally famous story because of the tragic, strange and paranormal occurrences that have taken place there over the years. The “haunted house” currently is home to Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a local country music hot spot that is owned by the club’s featured performer, Bobby Mackey.
Author Douglas Hensley wrote a popular book on the subject – Hell’s Gate: Terror at Bobby Mackey’s Music World. Hensley spent five years researching the bizarre background of the nightclub and the building itself, which has a sordid history that dates back to the 1800s. In the back of the book are copies of 29 sworn and signed affidavits from club employees, patrons, Wilder Policemen and others, including Bobby Mackey’s wife, Janet Mackey, who writes in her affidavit that an unseen force threw her down a flight of stairs and tried to harm her in other ways.
Hensley summed up his observations in the book’s introduction: “The phenomena within and about Bobby Mackey’s Music World have yet to be satisfactorily defined by any explanation other than: it’s haunted.”
The old building that now houses Bobby Mackey’s was a slaughterhouse for over 40 years during the 1800s. The ample spilled blood from the slaughterhouse and its location on the banks of the Licking River – one of two rivers in the world that flow north – attracted a hoard of satanic worshippers who used the site for sacrificial grounds.
In 1896, the building became entangled in a sensational and grizzly murder when Pearl Bryan’s headless body was found nearby. The young lady’s head was never found, but speculation abounded that it was likely disposed of in the slaughterhouse’s basement well that was used to drain blood into the river when two local men who were active in the occult confessed to the murder. Alonzo Walling and Scott Jackson became the last two people hanged in Campbell County when they were sent to the gallows on March 21, 1897 for the murder of Pearl Bryan. With his last words on the gallows behind the Campbell County Courthouse – located near the slaughterhouse – Walling vowed to return to torment his executioners.
According to the Kentucky Post articles at the time, Walling and Jackson were offered life in prison instead of death if they told authorities where Bryan’s head was located. People familiar with the two murderers claim that they refused because they were terrified they would spark the wrath of Satan if they exposed the site of his sacrificial grounds. Reportedly, they offered Bryan’s head as a sacrifice to Satan, most likely in the slaughterhouse well. Local believers claim the well is a “gateway to hell” of sorts, a gruesome legend that lives on to the present day.
GHOSTS, HEADLESS AND OTHERWISE:
Bryan (often a headless figure), Walling and Jackson reportedly have been seen on numerous occasions at Bobby Mackey’s over the years, along with other spirits whose lives were entangled with the building in some way. In fact, several people have died unnatural deaths inside the building, which was alleged to be the site of several murders at the casino. During the 1950s, it became the Latin Quarter, another popular nightclub whose owners were arrested several times on gambling charges.
Later, the building became yet another rough-and-tumble nightclub, The Hard Rock Cafe (no relation to the restaurant chain), which was closed in 1978 by police request after several fatal shootings on the premises. Bobby Mackey purchased the building in 1978 and opened his Music World shortly thereafter.
One of the most frequently seen spirits is a young girl named Johana, a cabaret dancer during the club’s casino days, who reportedly poisoned herself and her mobster father inside the building after he murdered her boyfriend, club singer Robert Randall. Other spirits who have appeared at the club regularly are Johana and gangster Albert “Red” Masterson.
According to sworn affidavits, other witnesses and local legend, paranormal activity in the club is often preceded by the strong smell of rose perfume. The juke box at Bobby Mackey’s also has come on suddenly and played old tunes from the 1930s and 1940s – songs that were not loaded into the juke box! “The Anniversary Waltz” is a particular favorite, heard numerous times by many people. Chairs have moved inexplicably, rooms have gone cold and people have heard their names called, only to turn around and have no one there in the club.
CASES OF POSSESSION:
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the Bobby Mackey’s saga are the claims by several people that they have had spirits enter their bodies while in the club. Some of the sworn affidavits claim they felt cold chills run through their bodies, while others claimed to have taken on different personalities and even facial features while inside.
The most celebrated case of possession at Bobby Mackey’s is Carl Lawson, who lived upstairs above the nightclub as a caretaker for the club. Lawson, one of the main subjects of Hensley’s book, claims to have been attacked by several of the resident spirits and actually possessed by some of them as well, including Alonzo Walling. A supposedly successful exorcism of Lawson and the entire building took place at Bobby Mackey’s on August 8, 1991. It was performed by the Reverend Glenn Coe and witnessed by Hensley, who also recorded it all on videotape.
For a time, it appeared that the exorcism was successful, but in recent years, strange occurrences have begun once again at the old building. Bobby Mackey, who has refused to believe the paranormal activity was true from the beginning, nevertheless made plans to tear down the building and construct a new club on adjacent property after viewing the videotape of the Carl Lawson exorcism. However, a piece of the ceiling fell on him one day when he was discussing the demolition, and the adjacent property he purchased for the new club was rendered useless by the sudden appearance of a fissure about six inches wide and 60 feet deep that runs from the old slaughterhouse well to the middle of the adjacent property.
Mackey has never built the new club, and he continues to operate at his original club where he regularly performs a special song he wrote, “The Ballad of Johana.
Bobby Mackey’s On TV:
On televisionOn December 13, 1991 Jerry Springer interviewed Bobby Mackey, his wife Janet, his employee and the building’s caretaker Carl Lawson, and Reverend Glenn Cole about their experiences. Lawson and Cole claim that Lawson had been possessed and later exorcized by Cole for six hours on the site which took place on August 8, 1991. Lawsons’s videotaped exorcism performed by Cole was aired on the talk show.
On October 30, 1992, on his show, Geraldo Rivera interviewed Mackey, his wife, Lawson, and Cole, along with Hell’s Gate author Douglas Hensley and others.
The nightclub has been featured on the following paranormal television programs:
A 2006 episode of the National Geographic Channel’s documentary series Is It Real? features the reportedly haunted location.
The 2006 episode “Gateway to Hell” of the Discovery Channel’s docudrama series A Haunting features interviews with and re-enactments of the reported experiences of Bobby and Janet Mackey and Carl Lawson.
In 2008 there was a two part live interactive broadcast on livescifi.tv which claimed to show EVP and malevolent spirit activity.
The 2008 premiere episode of the Travel Channel’s ghost-hunting series Ghost Adventures features interviews with the owner himself, Carl Lawson, author Douglas Hensley, and some customers and staff of the club, as well as a paranormal investigation at the location, during which, Zak Bagans says he experienced three scratch marks on his back as well as capturing a shadow of a man wearing a cowboy hat. Later, the program also conducted a 3-night investigation with enthusiasts in a 3-part web series called Return to Bobby Mackey’s. The Ghost Adventures Crew returned once more in late 2010.
On November 16, 2011, the SyFy program Ghost Hunters broadcast footage of an investigation conducted by TAPS at Bobby Mackey’s. Early on in the segment, on-air comments were made by a senior researcher that people have “gotten many things wrong” in their accounts of the history of the site. The implication seemed to be that over the years, as media attention has returned again and again to the nightclub, the tales regarding Bobby Mackey’s have grown increasingly lurid as they’ve moved farther from established facts. The 2011 TAPS investigation failed to prove the presence of the preternatural at the nightclub.
Ghost Adventures- S01E01- Bobby Mackey’s Music World