Hell’s Gate: Bobby Mackey’s Music World

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Location: Wilder, Kentucky

Bobby Mackey's Music World

Bobby Mackey's Music World

Hells Gate or Bobby Mackey’s Music World is considered one of the most haunted places in America.  Today, it’s an old Honky Tonk club that claims to have many malevolent spirits lurking about.  The property which the club is built on has had a very terrifying, bloody past.  Originally a slaughterhouse which opened in the 1850’s stood here.  In the floor of the slaughterhouse was a well which was intended to catch the draining blood and other fluids from the slaughtered animals.  After the slaughterhouse was closed in 1890 there were rumors of a satanic cult that worshiped in the building which was not surprising considering it was the perfect spot to slaughter and hide the remains of animal sacrifices.  This small group of devil worshipers was exposed in 1886 and were the subjects of one of the most notorious trials of the time.

Pearl Bryan was the youngest of twelve children born to a wealthy farmer in Greencastle, Indiana. She was very well liked, well taught and extremely beautiful so it was not surprising that had many suitors. In 1885 her cousin, William Wood, introduced her to a good friend he had met in medical school and a courtship ensued.  Scott Jackson was a well liked young man from a family which was just as prominent as the Bryan family.  He was attending Ohio College of Dental Surgery at the time and was immediately accepted into the family as an acceptable suitor for Pearl.  Little did they know that he was a member of the small group of alleged satanists that worshiped in the old slaughterhouse in Wilder.  Jackson seduced Pearl before they were married and she became pregnant.  When Jackson was told of the situation her told her to get an abortion.

Portrait of Pearl Mackey

Portrait of Pearl Mackey

On February 1, 1886 Pearl left her parents house under the ruse that she was off to Indianapolis.  They had no idea it would be the last time they would see their beloved daughter alive.  Pearl who was now 5 months pregnant was actually heading to Cincinnati to meet with Jackson and his roommate, Alonzo Walling.  Abortions were highly illegal at the time and it was difficult to find a doctor who would perform the abortion so Jackson and his friend decided to complete the task themselves.   Pearl was given a high dose of cocaine (the identity of the substance was later discovered in Pearl’s autopsy) to either chemically induce the abortion or to dull the pain.  Then, Jackson decided to try to abort using his dental tools which didn’t work either.  Once they realized that they had botched both attempts on Pearl, they decided to leave Cincinnati and cross the river into Kentucky where they found a secluded field near Fort Thomas.  Pearl was frightened and hemorrhaging, and it was in that field where Walling and Jackson decapitated Pearl.  Later, the autopsy proved that she was still alive when they decapitated her.  The men left the scene of the murder, taking her head along with them.  Rumor suggests that they may have taken it so it could later be used in a satanic ritual.

Pearl’s body was found less than 2 miles from the slaughterhouse where she was identified by a distinctive pair of shoes she was wearing at the time of her disappearance.  Pearl’s hair was found in one of Jackson’s suitcases which proved that they had scalped her whether or not she was still alive when it happened.  During the trial in 1887, Walling told the court that Jackson’s idea had been to chop her up and leave her body in the Cincinnati sewers.   They were both found guilty of the brutal crime and sentenced to death.  Both were offered a plea agreement reducing the sentence to life imprisonment if they would reveal the location of Pearl’s head.  Neither man accepted the agreement and her head has never been found.  Most people believe it was dropped down the well inside the slaughterhouse.

Slaughterhouse previously on the grounds of Bobby Mackey's Music World

Slaughterhouse previously on the grounds of Bobby Mackey's Music World

On March 21, 1887 the sentences were carried out and both men were hung behind the courthouse.  Before their execution they threatened that if they were executed, they would haunt the slaughterhouse for all time.  Theirs were the last hangings to take place in Campbell County.  Many of the people involved in the case later met with untimely deaths so some speculated that they had cursed the people involved in the trial .  Afterward, the slaughterhouse lay empty for several years eventually it was torn down and a roadhouse was constructed on the site.

During prohibition in the 1920’s, the roadhouse was used as a popular gambling joint.  According to legend, during this time many people were murdered here and dumped elsewhere to keep attention away from the illegal gambling and liquor distribution.  None of these murders where ever solved though.  Once prohibition ended, the property was purchased by E.A “Buck” Brady who turned the old roadhouse into a casino named the Primrose.  As the Primrose started to thrive, mobsters from Cincinnati noticed Buck’s success and decided to move in and offered him a “partnership”.  When he refused the offer, they began to harass his customers and vandalize the property.  Brady became so fed up with the situation that he was involved in shooting a small time gangster named Albert “Red” Masterson.  He was charged and upon his release, he gave up and sold the tavern.   Upon his departure, he vowed that the place would never thrive as a casino again.  A number of years later, Brady committed suicide.

Apparently Brady’s curse came to pass in the 1950’s when the casino was sold and renamed Latin Quarter.  The new owners were arrested on gambling charges many times and the tavern became a place where many shootings and other illegal activities took place after dark.  During this time the owner’s daughter, Johanna, worked as a dancer at the casino.  She fell in love with a man named Robert Randall who worked as a lounge singer in the bar.  Johanna’s father did not approve of the relationship and when Johanna refused to stop seeing him, her father had him murdered.  Johanna was so enraged that she poisoned her father with arsenic and soon after took a large dose herself in the basement of the roadhouse.  Later it was discovered that Johanna was 5 months pregnant at the time of her suicide.  Her revenge was not served as she hoped though, since her father lived through the poisoning.  Before she died, it is believed she wrote a notorious poem on the wall in the attic which has been named “Johanna’s Poem”.  According to rumor, Johanna still haunts the bar today.

In the 1970’s the roadhouse became a Hard Rock Cafe.  It was closed down in 1978 after a number of shootings resulting in death on the property.

In 1978, the place was bought by a country singer named Bobby Mackey.  Ironically, his full name was Robert Randall Mackey, exactly like Johanna’s murdered lover.  He fell in love with the old building immediately, but his wife Janet was a bit leery of the place.  Soon he opened a bar on the property named Bobby Mackey’s Music World.  Upon opening, the bar/dance club immediately began to draw a crowd.  Though the honky-tonk club was thriving its tainted past did not go unnoticed.

Carl Lawson, the first employee hired by Mackey as a caretaker/handy man lived in the apartment upstairs.  He spent most of his time at the tavern and soon began reporting strange and terrifying anomalies.  Most of the people around the club laughed and called him crazy.  Soon others began experiencing the same things though and changed their attitudes. Lawson told  Douglas Hensley the author of the book “Hells Gate” “I’d double check at the end of the night and make sure that everything was turned off. Then I’d come back down hours later and the bar lights would be on. The front doors would be unlocked, when I knew that I’d locked them. The jukebox would be playing the ‘Anniversary Waltz’ even though I’d unplugged it and the power was turned off.”

Lawson was the first to notice dark malevolent spirits behind the bar that seemed to be wearing cowboy hats, others were present at the time but he was the only one to notice the dark men.  Later he began to have visions of Johanna. She spoke with Lawson often and he could speak back to her.  He also noticed strange sounds and noises.  It seemed that the spirits were stronger in the basement by the old well left behind from the bloody slaughterhouse in the property’s past.  Lawson was aware of the well’s dark history of satanic rituals and had shared that information with others.  Around this time, the locals began to call the well Hell’s Gate.  Soon, others around the property began to experience strange things as well.  Objects would be moved or thrown on their own and disembodied voices were heard along with laughter and other strange sounds.

Mackey became annoyed with Carl and told him to keep his mouth shut.  He had never believed  in “ghosts” and he certainly did not want it getting around that the place was “haunted”.  One day Mackey’s wife Janet confessed that she too had been experiencing the strange anomalies.  She told her husband that she felt an overwhelming presence there.  She smelled the strong scent of roses which is said to be Johanna’s favorite scent.  She even claimed to have seen ghosts on the property.  Encouraged by her revelation, many people began coming forward, telling of their own strange experiences.   Even stories of a headless ghost in period clothing emerged.  Mackey began looking into the building’s past and found information about Pearl’s murder.  In 1994, Mackey tried to have the building exorcised but the exorcism failed.  Someone even tried to sue Bobby claiming that a ghost in a cowboy hat had attacked him in the restroom.  Eventually, those charges were dismissed.

Bobby Mackey’s Music World is definitely a place for the brave to venture into.  If you are looking for ghosts, many claim you will not leave the club disappointed.  The basement is open for tours during normal business hours so unless you’re too scared, you can experience Hells Gate for yourself.

Related Links:

Official Site

Bobby Mackey wiki

Prairie ghost

associated content

cinematic haunts

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1 comment for “Hell’s Gate: Bobby Mackey’s Music World

  1. whatever,
    October 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I know this probably doesn’t matter now, but i’m doing a report on the pear bryan story and this caught my eye.
    the sentence, “On February 1, 1886 Pearl left her parents house…”
    well, it’s actually 1896.

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