The Red River Gorge Ghoul
Red River Gorge is a famous bouldering/climbing hot spot to the southeast of Lexington, KY. I only took up bouldering (climbing without ropes) a little less than a year ago but quickly fell in love with the sport and have progressed in strength and skill to become a solidly intermediate level climber. I will be heading down to the Gorge this weekend and had been doing some research online when I stumbled across a few stories that mentioned a so called “Red River Gorge Ghoul or Ghost.” The stories were all quite similar and suggested that this particular ghoul is the vengeful soul of one Jasper Soderburn or J. Soder, a white supremacist/klansman of ill repute from right around the turn of the century. In addition to his virulent racism this J. Soder dabbled in some fairly abhorrent religious/occult practices and was said to have been almost expelled (or actually expelled) from the Klan because of them.
Apparently Mr. Soderburn had run afoul of the law for reasons unknown (not because of his klan affiliation I should add) and was literally on the run in the area near and within the Gorge. His pursuers were a local sheriff and a posse of men (all coal miners) recruited from around the community. The details are unclear, and honestly to me the the entire story seems exaggerated and possibly made up from whole cloth. I can say the two references I did find agreed on the overall basic points, but beyond that they diverged fairly significantly. In any case the story goes that at some point the men cornered Soderburn on the edge of a cliff, words were exchanged, guns pulled, and Soderburn slipped and fell to his death.
Here is where things take a bit of a turn for the weird. His body was never found and no funeral held. The posse of men (either 6 or 9, my references disagreed) all met with very unfortunate deaths including the sheriff who was found dead by suicide(hanging) in his small cottage just a year later. He had become unhinged shortly after the Soderburn incident and was reported to mutter strange things about “a curse” and “someone coming to get me” and all manner of bizarre rantings. My opinion this whole part of the story was bullshit, but kind of eerie for sure.
Long story short the ghost of Soderburn is said to haunt the Gorge area. He operates out of the shadows (your own shadow specifically) and emerges from it at very inopportune moments to trip up unsuspecting climbers and send them plunging to their deaths. Because he only lives within your shadow he is virtually impossible to spot until it is too late. He can be identified only by the strange shape of his own outline and its long pointed Klansman hood. See my original picture above and some digitally digitally manipulated throughout for the “evidence.”
Author’s note: Since the publication of this story several people have messaged me privately (no one wants to comment it seems, or clap for that matter) and asked if this was a true story. These are indeed real, undoctored (other than as described) pictures of me bouldering at Red River Gorge in Kentucky, though that is not the question they are asking. They want to know about the veracity of the tale of Jasper Soderburn and the legend of the Red River Gorge Ghoul. Some have requested the references I mention in the post and others have pointed out that they see no connection between the man and his life and the form the Ghoul he is supposed to have taken. The references I used for source material are “History of the Red River Gorge Kentucky 1890–1915. Timlin, S., Clifton, E.R., University of Tennessee Press:1941. and “The Ku Klux Klan in Central Kentucky-Middle Period, Coleman, D., Andrews University Press:1975.” As to the shadow dwelling form of his ghost I have no idea the origin of that particular aspect of the legend, and cannot even hazard a guess. If anyone comes across any clues either in the references I sited or from any other source please let me know.
Dan D. 07/14/18