The earliest mention of the Pope Lick trestle can be found in an article from The Courier-Journal in December 1909. The Courier-Journal, a local newspaper that has been in print since 1868, now has online archives for issues dating back at least a hundred years. This particular article contains no mention of a legend or a monster; instead, it announces a train wreck caused by a broken break beam.
As far as the archive is concerned, this is the only mention of the trestle up until the 1980s. There is no easy way to tell how many times journalists wrote about the trestle within that 70-year period in articles that have not yet been archived. Furthermore, what simply travels by word-of-mouth is not always deemed particularly newsworthy. If there were more accidents like this one, especially any resulting in injury or death, a rise in superstition surrounding the area would not be surprising. Unfortunately, this area has a history of such accidents. I will be detailing the specifics of these incidents later on.
As uncomfortable as the topic is, an important part of the history of this particular legend is bestiality. How else would one explain the existence of a creature that is part man and part animal? Regardless of the scientific reality of such an act actually producing offspring, the idea has existed for a long time. For an example of how this idea may have made its way into Kentucky folklore, we might examine southern poet James Dickey. Published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1966, his poem “The Sheep Child” examines the hypothetical existence of a creature that is half-man and half-sheep (Hummel, 2007).
I have also heard that the Pope Lick Monster escaped from a circus train, but I have found little about this theory aside from a version that was created relatively recently for a local Halloween event called Danger Run. While this indeed counts as variation of folklore, this version was designed to be marketed, and I personally believe that strips it of some of the authenticity that genuine experiences at the original location have. Supposedly, he can mimic voices, or his own voice has a hypnotic, siren-like quality to it. According to legend, these are the methods the monster uses to lure his victims onto the tracks. Even if they were not drawn by the voice of a monster, plenty of people have been drawn to the trestle, which gives this legend a life of its own.
Ron Schildknecht and I discuss origins, and how, as Schildknecht puts it, “it became more of an experience than an actual myth.”