Ghosts of the Old Capitol Building

Kentucky achieved statehood on June 1st, 1792, and on December 5th of that same year, a commission recommend Frankfort to be the capital city of the Commonwealth. The legislature approved the commission’s recommendation three days later. The state capitol building as it stands today wasn’t built until 1910 and there were three buildings before the current building with only one still standing. The first capitol building was completed in 1794, but a fire destroyed that building in 1813. A second capitol building was completed in 1816, but, in 1824, that building also burned. A third building, which still stands today, was used for 80 years before the legislature outgrew it and the new capitol building was built in south Frankfort. The third building is where our ghost story takes us today.

The Old Capitol Building as it is known today had a front-row seat to a lot of big moments in Kentucky’s history. Lawmakers debated issues such as slavery and war. In the room that once housed Kentucky’s House of Representatives sits a copy of House Bill 36. The bill, dated September 12th, 1861 was legislation that officially made the Commonwealth of Kentucky part of the Union during the Civil War. Written across the top of the document is “The Bloody Bill,” possibly foreshadowing the upcoming battles that would take place across Kentucky in the years that followed.

Photocopy of House Bill 36 – “The Bloody Bill” – Courtesy: KET

The next year after the passage of House Bill 36, Confederate forces invaded Kentucky and took control of the Old Capitol Building, using it as a barracks leading up to the bloodiest battle in Kentucky, the battle of Perryville in October of 1862.

“The Battle of Perryville” as depicted in Harper’s Weekly – Courtesy: Public Domain

After the end of the war, the violence surrounding the Old Capitol Building didn’t end.

In 1899, Kentucky was in the process of electing a new governor. This election was marred with controversy and death. That year, William Goebel won the Democratic candidate for Governor. Goebel’s Republican opponent was, then Kentucky Attorney General, William S. Taylor. Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. Taylor defeated Goebel in the general election by approximately 2,000 votes. However, the Democrat-controlled legislature disputed the results, and even though the results of the election remained contested, a three-man board of elections voted 2 to 1 to certify that Taylor was the winner. He was inaugurated as the 33rd governor of Kentucky on December 12th, 1899. He would only serve as governor for 50 days.

Photograph of William S. Taylor, date unknown

On January 30th, 1900, William Goebel was shot in front of the Old Capitol Building.

Scene showing the shooting of Goebel – Courtesy: The Cincinnati Enquirer

The spot where Goebel was shot is only about 200 feet from the front door of the building. There is a marker where he fell after being shot in the bricks on the sidewalk.

Governor Taylor declared a state of emergency and called the militia to Frankfort and ordered the legislature to adjourn for a week. According to the Kentucky Historical Society, the Democrats in Frankfort were able to invalidate enough votes to declare Goebel the legitimate governor of Kentucky. A day after he was shot Goebel was sworn in as the 34th governor of Kentucky. As governor, Goebel’s only official act was to end now former governor Taylor’s proclamation, which removed the militia from Frankfort and called for the legislature to reassemble. Goebel would serve as governor for four days and died on February 3rd, 1900. Goebel is the only governor in the United States to ever be assassinated while in office. He is buried in Frankfort Cemetery.

Photograph of William Goebel, circa 1889 – Courtesy: Kentucky Historical Society
Coat worn by Governor William Goebel when he was shot is at the Kentucky History Center Courtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader – January 23rd, 2000

It’s reported that you can still hear the sound of gunshots coming from the rear of the Old Capitol Building. There is one occurrence of a security guard witnessing a portrait of Goebel fall off the wall on the anniversary of Goebel’s assassination. Guides have also reported hearing voices, even though they were alone in the building.

The stories of phantom gunshots, falling pictures, and disembodied voices are just a few stories that surround the Old Capitol Building. A piece of furniture in the building is said to hold a powerful curse.

The “Conjure Chest” – Courtesy: Brandon Roberts

The story connected to the chest, known as the “Conjure Chest”, is one of a family curse. It’s said the family of the man who built the chest cursed it so anyone who owned it after and put clothing into the drawers would die. Greg Hardison, creative engagement specialist with the Kentucky Historical Society says there are as many as 18 deaths connected with the “Conjure Chest” and their spirits are said to roam the grounds of the building.

Old Capitol Building – Frankfort, Kentucky

If you would like to see the Old Capitol Building for yourself and hear the spooky tales associated with it, the Kentucky Historical Society is hosting its “Haunted By History: Nightime Tour Of The Old Louisville State Capitol” on Saturday, October 29th. You can get tickets HERE. You can also visit the Old Capitol Building Tuesday through Saturday from 10am – 5pm. You can get tickets online or at the Kentucky History Center. Click HERE for more details.

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