Louisville has amazing parks. In addition to Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee Parks; the city is filled with dozens of other smaller parks – most of which are filled with trees. This story is about a particular tree. The “Witch’s Tree” is located at the corner of Park and Sixth Streets in Old Louisville. The tree is a huge and gnarled tree, covered in burls. According to Kevin Smith, Supervisory Plant Physiologist with the United States Forest Service, “a burl is the result of hyperplasia, a greatly abnormal proliferation of xylem production by the vascular cambium.” In other words, some sort of bacteria, fungi, virus, or insect causes the tree to respond and forms the large, barky warts.
So why is this tree called the “Witch’s Tree”? Louisville Author David Domine’ in his book “Haunts of Old Louisville,” the “Witch’s Tree” was a gathering point for many people dabbling in witchcraft and voodoo. According to Domine’s book, in 1889, Louisville city planners planned to chop down the tree for the annual May Day celebration. The witches warned the city not to chop down their tree, but the city went ahead with its plans and chopped it down and crafted it into a maypole. The legend goes, that the witches, in their anger, conjured a tornado that destroyed parts of Louisville.
A tornado did hit Louisville. On March, 28th 1890 at 8:30pm a tornado hit the city. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, 100 people were killed and hundreds of homes and buildings were destroyed. According to data from the National Weather Service, the tornado was classified as an F4 and was on the ground for around 15 minutes, and was between 200 and 500 yards wide. The Courier-Journal called the tornado the “Storm Demon” in the Friday, March 28th morning edition.
Were the witches responsible for the storm? Who’s to say? But many believe that if you leave a gift or trinket when you visit the “Witch’s Tree” you will have good luck. You can see from the picture below, that there are all kinds of things in the tree. When I visited last October, there was even a parking cone about 15 feet up, stuck in the branches.
If you would like to visit the tree and leave a gift, the “Witch’s Tree” is part of the Old Louisville Ghost Tour. The tours happen seven days a week from March through November. This tour is a lot of fun and takes you through Old Louisville and includes a stop at the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, Central Park, and, of course, the “Witch’s Tree”. You can find ticket information here.