This piece is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them by emailing us here.
This weekend, the 13th Annual Victorian Ghost Walk returns to Old Louisville for 3 days + we got the chance to talk with the founder, notable ghost story writer and tour guide, David Dominé.
Dominé has written 12+ non-fiction books covering everything from Kentucky cooking to architecture, but his books chronicling Old Louisville ghosts are the inspiration for the annual walk — including the 1 about his supposedly haunted 3rd Street home called, “Voodoo Days at La Casa Fabulosa.”
His latest book, “A Dark Room in Glitter Ball City”, released on Oct. 5, tells the true story of the cursed Victorian mansion in Old Louisville called the Richard Robinson house. Dominé recounts the 2009 murder that took place there and his connection to it all. Get a copy signed by Dominé today through Sunday at the Conrad-Caldwell House during the ghost walk events.
Now onto the 11 burning questions we asked him about ghost tours + his latest novel.
Q: How did you become an expert in Old Louisville ghosts?
A: Living in Old Louisville. I moved there in the 90s and fell in love with the neighborhood. I lived in a house that was supposedly haunted. That got me interested in the spooky stuff down there.
Q: Do you still live in Old Louisville?
A: I live in the Highlands now. I moved out around 2008 + I teach at Bellarmine University so it’s a 10-minute walk from my front door to my classroom, which is nice.
But I tell people in Old Louisville I’m not far away. I’m down there all the time.
Q: Is the house you live in now haunted?
A: No, I had one weird thing happen, but the house I lived in on 3rd Street was from 1895 and the house I’m in now is a stone house from the 40s. I only had one weird thing happen, but other than that, nothing.
Q: How often did you experience supernatural events giving tours?
A: I’ve never had anything on a tour happen that I would consider to be paranormal. I’ve had people take pictures and things have shown up on their pictures, but on a tour itself, I’ve never had anything strange happen.
I’m kind of a skeptic myself. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts. When a ghost walks up and shakes my hand, that’s when I’ll start believing in them, but I do love ghost stories. Ghost stories are a good vehicle to talk about history and architecture.
Q: What’s your favorite local ghost story?
A: There’s a church on 3rd St. and Ormsby. It’s the First Church of Christ Scientist, built in 1916. It’s right across from the Filson Historical Society. There’s a legend of a young woman called, “The Lady of the Stairs.”
She was supposed to meet her would-be fiance there one night — this was during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 — and he never showed. She paced all night back-and-forth and it turns out he was struck down by the flu. He was one of hundreds of soldiers at Camp Zachary Taylor that died. The woman thought she’d been abandoned and went home. The sad thing is she contracted the flu and died as well, so they both went to the grave never knowing what happened to the other.
So they say her sad ghost is still there today, pacing back and forth waiting for him to show up and take her away.
Q: Is there a time you’ve ever felt truly spooked or freaked out?
A: Not on a tour, but the house I used to live in. The woman who sold me the house told me it was haunted and I didn’t really take her seriously, but I moved in and the things she told me would happen, happened.
I began hearing footsteps in the middle of the night and the cats and dogs acted crazy like they were chasing things around. The woman who sold me the house, the last thing she said was, “Don’t hang a picture on the wall in the butler’s pantry near the kitchen, because if you do, the ghost will knock them down.”
The first thing I did when I moved in was hang a picture there, and by the end of the day, the picture was lying face-down on the broken tile floor.
I never saw a ghost, but everything short of it — smelling, seeing things move on occasion — just weird little things that I started to think, “maybe there is something to the paranormal.” There were a couple of times I got freaked out and left the house because it was so creepy. I wasn’t terrified, but it was weird.
It was Derby Night one year and I had gone to bed early. A friend called wanting to go out, but I told them I was too tired. He knew about the weird things happening, so about an hour before he called, I had been hearing strange noises and was going through the house trying to figure out what it was. As I was talking with him, I told him he could come over if he wanted and he said, “I wouldn’t stay in that old house with all that creepy stuff.”
I was going room to room turning off the lights and I turned off the last light, hopped into bed, pulled up the covers, and said, “If there’s something here and it wants me to know, it’ll let me know.”
Just like that. The light on the bedside table went on. So I got up quickly and left the house that night. I felt kind of foolish sitting out in the car with dogs for half an hour then went back inside and everything was fine.
Q: Is that why you moved?
A: No, it was all just that first year that it happened. We discovered everything that happened in the house was happening in the part where the maid used to live and work, so we put two-and-two together we thought well maybe the ghost, Lucy, must have been the maid or housekeeper and once we made that connection, everything stopped.
Q: Is there a mansion or area in Old Louisville you think is the most haunted?
A: There are a couple of places, but if I had to pick one, the Conrad-Caldwell house on St. James Court. That’s got lots of stories and I’ve talked to paranormal investigators who did investigations there and they say there are 6 different entities that have been documented there.
Q: Can you tell us your connection to the story in your new book?
A: When I moved out of my house on 3rd Street, there was a house around the corner I thought about buying. It was on the 14 hundredth block of S. 4th Street. The locals called it the Richard Robinson house. It was huge. It had like 11 bedrooms.
In the basement, it had the old wine cellar from when it was built in 1898-1899. I somehow got it in my head that I wanted a wine cellar. So, I went and looked at the house and it was a real fixer-upper, so I said no to that and moved to my house now in the Highlands.
A couple of years later, I got up and I turned the news on, and the Richard Robinson house popped up. Then a guy’s face popped up and it turns out it was the guy who bought the house. He had an appointment with a real estate agent right after I did. I decided against it and he bought it.
The night before, 911 responded to a call to that address and he was the one who called claiming his boyfriend was trying to break through the door to come inside and murder him. The police, in the process of talking to the 2 guys, heard rumblings of somebody knowing where a body was buried, so they went down into the basement and dug a body out from the dirt floor in the old wine cellar.
So of course, I sat through all the trials because I almost bought the house and I write about Old Louisville. I was there every day for 7 weeks for those 2 trials. It was fascinating to see the courtroom drama and learn about the dynamic of the 2 and the victim, but after the verdicts came down, that’s when people started hearing about the Richard Robinson House and the previous life it had.
In the 20s and 30s, there was a sanatorium there. A doctor was promising to cure cancer patients but he was a quack. He was ruined by the end and accused of killing patients. Then, the house seemed to take on the reputation of being a sinister place and some called it “The Destroyer of Lives,” because every 3 or 4 years the house would claim a life.
Q: Where locally can people grab a copy of the book?
A: All the local bookstores + Carmichael’s have signed copies.
Can’t make it out this weekend? Dominé has plenty of local events supporting his new book including An Intimate Evening with David Dominé at the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum on Oct. 21 with wine + Hors d’oeuvres.