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Working up the nerve for possible encounter of the spectral kind — on Ghost Tour at Bobby Mackey’s

Bobby Mackey's place in Wilder, infamous for its resident ghosts

Bobby Mackey’s place in Wilder, infamous for its resident ghosts

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune contributor

We all stood together, hand-in-hand, because we felt it had to be done. Because even if you don’t believe, it’s still better to be safe than sorry, right?

“Dear Lord,” I said, “please protect us from whatever may be in there, from anything that could hurt us, or attach itself to us. Please do not allow anything to follow us home, or to follow us in any way. Please protect us, as well as these two New Yorkers who have come a long way to see this place, and let us all come back safe from our visit here.”

I stopped. I figured that was enough. Then I thought about it again, and I added a last line.

“Oh – and Lord, one other thing,” I said. “It’s about my wife. She said if I brought a ghost home, she’d divorce me. So, um, please don’t let that happen.”

The others joined in. “In Your name we pray, Lord – amen.”

Behind us, the sun set in the distance, casting an eerie glow over the lot and woods just a stone’s throw from one of (allegedly) the most haunted places in the world.

Welcome Wilder’s Bobby Mackey’s Music World, home of the weekend honkytonk, but more famously, home to several ghostly stories and the Bobby Mackey Ghost Tour. Television shows say the place is wicked haunted. Former workers and current staff say they’ve seen spectral sites and even been touched or scratched.

Of course, the intrepid journalists that we are, we wanted to investigate for ourselves. We wanted to seek the truth. So that’s just what we did.

But it did take a bit of convincing.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Tim, the photographer, asked when I had proposed the idea a week earlier.

“Of course,” I, the intrepid reporter, replied. “You’ve seen all those TV shows, right? You just say a prayer before you go in, and you’re fine. Nothing will come home with you. Nothing will curse you. No worries.”

But Photographer Tim seemed unconvinced.

Then I told him I’d buy him a pizza dinner that night.

“I’m in,” he said.

And that was how we ended up at Bobby Mackey’s just before sunset, praying with two New Yorkers, all of us kind of hoping we’d catch just a glimpse of something otherworldly.

* * * * * * * *
Andy Mac and Carrie Cross are serious about this stuff.

On the night of our hunt, we met the twin siblings just outside of the bar, before we are all due to go in and begin the tour.

They were in the middle of a cross-country trip, hitting legendary paranormal spots along the way. The previous night, they’d toured Gettysburg. “Our hotel room was once used as a sniper’s nest,” Carrie said with wonder. “We saw some interesting things.”

She hails from Buffalo, while her brother lives in Brooklyn. But on the night we met, they were in Kentucky, exploring the best scares the Bluegrass had to offer.

But you don’t have to be a serious ghost hunter to enjoy Bobby Mackey’s. For $35, anyone can schedule a two-hour tour, which includes the opportunity to go upstairs and downstairs in the legendary nightclub. For the more serious-minded paranormal investigator, you can also reserve a five-hour tour and bring your own recording equipment. Tour guides say the busiest times are the weeks leading up to Halloween.

“We’ve always been into the paranormal, ever since we were kids,” Carrie said.

“Since we were a very young age,” Andy included in that typical twin fashion. It seemed they could finish one another’s sentences. “So once we saw this club was on the way, we knew we had to come by.”

After our pre-tour prayer we walked into the bar, and we first noticed the sign that says the site could be haunted.

“Warning to our patrons,” it reads. “This establishment is purported to be haunted. Management is not responsible and cannot be held liable for any actions of any ghosts/spirits on these premises.”

I made a note on my pad: Cannot be held liable.

We walked on, past a long hallway that runs to the bar area. We hung a right and went past a non-functioning ATM to the souvenir shop, where our tour guide was waiting for us. T-shirts lined the walls, along with albums and other trinkets. There were books. One was called Hell’s Gate: Terror at Bobby Mackey’s Music World.

Still, music is a big part of the venue. Every Friday and Saturday night, Bobby – a country music singer for more than 40 years – takes the stage at 10 p.m. and performs with his band. His CDs and records were also on sale.


On the tour with guide Kim Short, an investigator with the Gatekeeper Paranormal Group and a true believer (Photos by Timothy Sofrankdo)

Kim Short stood at the register. Short is an investigator with the Gatekeeper Paranormal Group in Cincinnati, but she also doubles as a tour guide for the nightclub. She’s seen it all, she said. And she’s a believer – even if most of the things you hear about the joint aren’t true.

“The hauntings date back to the 1700s,” Short told us, back to when slaves were punished on the property.

For decades, the nightclub stood as a place for ne’er-do-wells. From the 1920s to the 1950s it was The Primrose Country Club, where the mob ruled with liquor, gambling and prostitution. Then it became The Latin Quarter, a fine dining establishment and casino. That gave way to a biker bar, known as the “Bloody Bucket,” where literally buckets of violence were said to occur before Bobby Mackey bought the place in 1978.

Short then went on to debunk some misconceptions we may have heard:

* Bobby Mackey’s was not a slaughterhouse. Ever. Its original purpose was more akin to a modern-day butcher shop.

* The basement contains three wells, which were not used in draining blood from any slaughterhouse – they were used to aid in the distillery process when the building was used for that purpose.

* There has never been any proof found of Satanic symbols, sacrifice or any other rituals taking place on Bobby Mackey’s property.

* The gruesome story of Pearl Bryan did not occur on the grounds, either. The killing of Bryan by two Cincinnati dental students actually occurred four miles away. While it was true that her head was never found, it was not – as far as anyone knows – thrown down one of Bobby Mackey’s wells.

* Johanna, a dancer in the 1940s, was supposed to have fallen in love with someone her mob father did not like. She supposedly killed herself – but no evidence has ever been found of anyone working there by that name.

Most of the tours consist of the history of the building, followed by some local folklore about some of the people who lived and worked here, followed by periods of deep silence, where the more investigatory-minded can try to catch haunted voices on personal recorders.

Once I heard we were going to get really quiet, I had one thought: Maybe that pizza dinner was a bad idea. My stomach turned.

I kept that thought to myself, but decided to ask another.

“Can you be a skeptical reporter and still tap into the paranormal?” I wondered aloud.

Short said you could, that it didn’t matter if you’re a true believer. If something was out there and wanted to be seen, we would see it. If it wanted to be heard, we would hear it.

“You need to be open, but not expecting,” Andy told me.

Got it, I thought. I still wasn’t sure what I believed. But I realized I should not have had that last slice of pepperoni at supper.

* * * * * * * *

We spent several minutes near the bar and in the bull room, the room that houses the famous electronic bull that honky tonkers love to try and ride on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Bobby Mackey’s is known for their redneck engineering work,” Short reported, and we saw exactly what she meant. The whole building seemed to be leaning one way or the other, with warped boards and exposed pipes and wiring. As a veteran of other ghost hunts, I knew that all the exposed wire and piping can really mess with your technology, and more importantly, affect how you feel.

All that energy can make EMF readers – which measure the electromagnetic field of an area – go haywire. But even more interesting, the exposed energy can also cause one to feel nausea, or even panicked. Your body doesn’t know how to react, and it can cause a serious feeling of dread.


It would explain a lot of Bobby Mackey’s alleged experiences, I thought, as I looked up to the ceiling, where wires and pipes jutted everywhere.

Short led us around the bar, on through to the stage and dance area, and back to a large safe before coming back around to the pool tables.

Here are some of the spirits, according to Short, you may find, if you believe in this sort of thing:

* Two women on the main floor, (one of them hums).

* A little boy in the supply closet, who can appear as an orb in your photos.

* A headless woman in the bathroom (yes, the women’s bathroom).

* Johanna the dancer.

* On the top floor, the ghost of former employee Carl Lawson, who people leave cigarettes and booze for.

* A little girl in the basement.

* Another, more angry spirit, who causes trouble, down in the basement.

Short cut the lights and we were able to listen to the silence for a while. I heard nothing, really, and I just became focused on taking a selfie in the dark.

I turned on my electronic recorder, and I decided to ask some of the spirits to say hello. I heard nothing. I felt nothing.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little disappointed. Honestly, the scariest thing I think I saw was the top floor, which looks like it hasn’t been touched – or cleaned – in decades. Much of the building looks like it should be condemned.

“Hey,” Photographer Tim whispered to me.


“My flash is acting up,” he said.

“Okay …”

“Not only that, but my camera is messing up, too. I didn’t set it this way.”

We thought about the possibilities.

Then we stopped thinking. There were a lot of possibilities, some of which were not good. Maybe – sometimes – it’s just better not to know.

* * * * * * * *

Tim would just have to make do.

Many paranormal investigators say it is common for electronic equipment to go haywire when around spirits. Batteries will go dead in seconds. Backups batteries will do the same. Pictures in cameras will go missing.

Then again, Tim’s camera could just be overworked.

By the time we made it to the basement, we wondered what – if anything – may come out of the investigation.

Tim continued to shoot pictures, using his flash as best he could. I also tried to take pictures with my iPhone.

Like our New York friends, we would quickly check our pictures to see if we’d gotten any ghosts or other photographic evidence.

We did not.

It was time to head out – and down – for the basement. “We get all kinds of stuff here, all hours of the day,” Short said.

We crunched our way down the gravel driveway toward the basement, which can only be accessed from the outside.

We opened the door with a creak.

“It smells like Grandpa’s blacksmith shop,” Andy said. He went on to explain how his grandfather owned the very last blacksmith shop in Buffalo, N.Y.

And what exactly does that smell like? Musty. Old. Nasty. There was a faint aroma of something that had burned. Yet the place was damp, moldy, like it was being kept just long enough before it rotted.

Several dressing rooms offered spooky places to hide, as did the three-foot by 18-inch deep well – supposedly the Gateway to Hell – which was really just used for distilling. We peered in and took some pictures. Then Tim and I stepped back into the deepest room inside the basement – one that was filled with toys.

The rest of the group followed.

Short explained how some say the spirit of a little girl haunts the room, and that sometimes she likes to play with the toys, like the big, blue ball that happened to be sitting in the center. Short whipped out a K-II Meter, another electromagnetic field measuring device, which lights up when there has been a change in energy. The color red indicates a spike in that change – what some think may indicate a spirit’s presence, or even an attempt at communication.

“It is said that if the spirit gets close to it, it will set it off,” Short said, placing the K-II on a small table. “We’ve asked spirits questions to light it up to red and they will do it.”

“So – red indicates the presence of a spirit?” Carrie asked.

Immediately, the device lit up to red. Neither Short, nor anyone else touched it.

“There it goes to red,” Andy said.

“Is there someone down here with us?” Short asked the dark, still air.


“Can you light it up to red for us?”


“Thank you,” Short responded.

It was impressive to see. We got bolder. We picked up the ball, sat it in front of us, and asked if the spirit could move it.

We waited. And then, we heard a small, gurgling sound.


There’s a child ghost here somewhere. Or not?

“That’s my stomach,” Short said, laughing. “If anyone was wondering, I’m hungry.”

The room fell apart in laughter. And I thought I was going to spoil the investigation with my pizza-digestion sounds. The tour guide beat me to it.

We settled back in.

“Are you still in here with us?” Short asked. “Can you light it up red again if you are?”


“Thank you. Are you a child?”


“Thank you. Can you move the ball?”

Silence. Nothing.

“Can you move the ball?”

We waited. Again – nothing.

Carrie leaned over. “My daughter is the same way,” she whispered. “Kids don’t perform on demand.”

* * * * * * * *

We walked out of the toy room, energized by the possibility of communication.

As we left the basement, several of us talked about various television shows that we liked, as well as other ghostly topics.

“I hate the thought of a little girl down here,” Carrie said. “As a Mom, it just breaks your heart, you know?”

I nodded. I didn’t like thinking about that, either.

Only then did I notice the rustling sound that kept occurring on the far, opposite end of the basement. I turned to Tim.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

He nodded.

We both peered down the hallway, staring into blackness. We took pictures with our cameras and then, reluctantly, followed the others, who were leaving us behind.

It was time to go back up.

* * * * * * * *

With our two hours coming to a close, we climbed back up to the main floor and re-entered the club. We walked back to the dance floor and the stage area and sat down, recorders on, to try and catch some otherworldly voices.

Once again, Short pulled out the K-II Meter.

“Can anyone light up my K-II to red?”


“Thank you.” She then sat a sensitive flashlight on a table, one that could only be turned on by touch. “Can you turn on my flashlight?”

The light snapped on.

“Thank you. Can you turn it off?”


“Thank you. Are you a woman? If you are, can you turn it on?”


“Thank you. That’s very bright. Can you turn it off?”

Silence. Stillness. Nothing.

“Can you turn it off?”

No change. The light still glowed.


“Oh my,” Andy said, noticing the K-II. “That’s going red something fierce.”

Apparently the energy in the room had greatly increased.

“Do you like playing with my flashlight?” Short asked.

No response.

Other questions followed: Are you female? Male? Do you have a child? Are you a child? When were you alive? Do you like the country music here? There were no answers. And the K-II wasn’t getting any further readings, either.

Finally, one question seemed to register.

“Do you want us to leave you alone?” Carrie asked. “You want us to go and leave you in peace?”

The K-II Meter quickly went to red – and stayed there.



Okay, I thought. That’s good enough for me.

Time to go.

And like that, we said our goodbyes to the darkness and shuffled out. Our investigation had come to an end.

* * * * * * * *

Outside, we took each other’s hands again.

“Lord, please protect us,” Andy said, asking once more that none of us take any spirits home.

I wondered if any of the four of us were really that scared anymore. I didn’t feel scared at all.

“Hey – sometimes you find evidence and sometimes you don’t,” Andy said.

With that, we parted ways with our new friends.

They had a long journey to get to their next adventure.

“Safe travels,” I shouted, as we watched them drive away.

* * * * * * * *

On the drive home, Tim and I were convinced – there was nothing that happened on our tour that would indicate that Bobby Mackey’s was haunted. Some strange things occurred, yes, but nothing definitive. We did not see anything. We did not feel anything.

True, we may have heard a thing or two. And we did feel a bit creepy in certain areas of the joint.

Days later, we went through our photos and audio. We found nothing odd and heard very few sounds we could not identify. We even decided to go back again for a completely new tour, just to compare.

It was much of the same.

Are there spirits at the club? It’s possible, but Tim and I found no evidence of them. No real evidence, anyway.

“So, about the camera,” Tim said. “It was frustrating. I couldn’t just figure out how to turn off the multi-flash feature. I had to reset the whole system when we came back. It’s just curious that it would have to happen there.”

So the question remains: What, if anything, lurks in the darkness at Bobby Mackey’s Music World?

We thought about the possibilities.

Then we stopped thinking. There were a lot of possibilities, some of which were not good. Maybe – sometimes – it’s just better not to know.

Maybe it’s just better to go for pizza.

So we stopped talking and that’s what we did.

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One Comment

  1. Autumn Messerly says:

    wow. do you think that the flashlight thing was Johanna or Pearl Bryan? I think it was Johanna because Pearl was headless. I heard that Pearl Bryan is the headless ghost at Bobby Mackey’s Music World. So, the headless ghost in the ladies room is might be Pearl Bryan. Johanna is a friendly spirit. Actually she warns people about the evil spirits. And the evil spirits is possibly Alonzo Walling and Scott Jackson. Alonzo said before he died that he would come back and haunt the place forever. Jackson has been seen and described as a ghost with a ‘handle-bar mustache’. He is also one of the evil spirits at Bobby Mackey’s.

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