Bobby Mackey's: Investigating Kentucky's Own "Portal to Hell"

The Restless Spirits of Bobby Mackey’s: Investigating Kentucky’s Legendary “Portal to Hell”

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Ask anyone with even a passing interest the paranormal about Kentucky’s most haunted locations, and there’s a good chance they’ll list Bobby Mackey’s pretty close to the top. Over the years, the Wilder, Kentucky honkey-tonk has been a place to catch some authentic country music, do a little line-dancing, and very likely get the living hell scared out of you.

Bobby Mackey’s Music World has become a thing of legend as far as American hauntings are concerned, thanks in part to television shows like Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters, not to mention the countless paranormal investigators who’ve spent hours exploring the night club’s dark corners in search of evidence of the other side. Now, it’s our turn.

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There’s always been a lot of argument as to who exactly who the ghosts haunting Mackey’s might be, but then, what’s a good ghost story without a bit of speculation, right? In case you’re unfamiliar with the spooky tales that emanate from Kentucky’s very own portal to hell, we’ll start with the short history lesson.

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Long before it was ever billed as the “most haunted night club in America”, Bobby Mackey’s already had a history drenched in blood. Literally. Built in the 1850s, the building originally served as of the busiest slaughterhouses Northern Kentucky.

Today, the basement is the only portion of Bobby Mackey’s that existed during its run as a slaughterhouse, but it’s also one of the reasons that the club is so infamous. In the center of the basement is semi-sealed well where the freshly-spilled blood of slain animals once drained into the earth. According legend, this bloody pit became the focal point for local occultists, Satanists, and ritual magicians, who would use the dark energy of the “portal” for many years after slaughterhouse closed its doors in the 1890s.


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Through its many incarnations as a slaughter house, mob den, and country music joint, Bobby Mackey’s has seen its fair share of death, murder, and even demonic possession, but it’s really the restless spirits that have given the nightclub its status as a haunted hotspot. One of the most famous ghosts is that of Pearl Bryan, a 22 year-old woman who was murdered in 1896.

Pearl was the daughter of a wealthy local farmer, and because of that, had plenty of suitors to choose from. Unfortunately, she took a liking to Scott Jackson, student at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in Cincinnati. As it happens, Jackson was, allegedly, a card-carrying member of one of the mysterious occult groups mentioned earlier. Eventually, Pearl became pregnant, and the unwed couple planned a trip to Cincinnati for an abortion, but things didn’t go as planned.

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Jackson and his roommate, Alonzo Walling, decided that, as dentists, they were well-versed enough in human anatomy to perform the procedure themselves. After dosing Pearl up with a hefty amount of cocaine, the two men crudely prodded her with dental tools for hours. When they became aware that the procedure had been botched, they hauled the frightened girl to Fort Thomas where she was murdered, and her body was dumped two miles from the abandoned slaughterhouse. Well, part of her body, anyway.

According to the legend, Pearl’s head, which had been completely removed so as not to identify her, was used to perform a Satanic rite inside the same building where people now line dance to Nelly’s hit song “Country Grammar”. Both men were eventually caught and sentenced to hang in Newport in 1887.

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By the 1920s, Bobby Mackey’s had become the favorite speakeasy for Cincinnati mobsters to congregate, but it wasn’t until the ’50s, when it became a nightclub called the Latin Quarter, that the property added another spirit to its roster.

Johanna was said to be a dance hall girl performing at the Latin Quarter, and she was one of the most loved, too. At least until she killed herself in the basement dressing room.

As the story goes, Johanna had fallen in love with local singer Robert Randall, and eventually became pregnant with his child (noticing a theme?). When her father, who was the owner of the Latin Quarter, discovered the secret, he called in some favors with a few shady characters and had Randall killed. Distraught, Johanna poisoned her father and then took her own life.

To date, the spirit of Johanna is one of the most active ghosts haunting Bobby Mackey’s. In fact, we had our own experience with Johanna during an investigation last year.


Even if you’re there for a night of bull riding and honkey tonk fun, the paranormal activity at Bobby Mackey’s is pretty much unavoidable. Rest assured, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to bump into one of the resident ghosts. Most often reported are the feelings of phantom fingertips running across an arm, the faint mumble of disembodied voices, and mysterious photo anomalies.

During our own investigation, we even captured what ended up being one of clearest and most chilling EVPs I’ve ever heard. While leading us into the basement, Nick Groff, creator of the Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures and star of Destination America’s upcoming Paranormal Lockdown, asked the spirit of Johanna if she enjoyed live music, which, for anyone who’s ever been to Bobby Mackey’s, knows is a nightly occurrence.

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Having been the daughter of a club owner and the lover of a singer, it’s safe to assume that Johanna was surrounded by music for most of her life. Moments after Nick asked the question, a very clear, very distinctly southern, female voice chimes in on the recorder and answers, “I love it when the band plays”. We were, suffice it to say, blown away by the response… but that wasn’t the only strange thing to occur that night.

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Near the end of the evening, a small group, including myself and Nick Groff, had gathered in one of the basement’s rooms. It was a room often attributed to activity blamed on the spirit of Scott Jackson himself, and many in our group reported feeling sick, lightheaded, and generally out of sorts the longer they remained in it.  We’d been having had such good luck with EVPs that night Nick decided to do another session, this time with the intention of making a connection with Jackson himself.

As we were sitting quietly in the dimmed room, I watched as, out of nowhere, the man I was standing behind was violently shoved past me. His left shoulder lurched back first, followed by the rest of his body, until he was pressed up against the wall behind me. No one had pushed him. No one living, anyway.

The rest of the startled group quickly turned to see the terrified man against the wall, whose face had turned completely white. He nervously told the room that he’d felt a very strong force on his shoulder before being aggressive slammed into the wall. His girlfriend, who was now visibly upset, began to cry, and as an uneasy feeling washed over the group, we decided to leave the area.

We’d been asking to make contact with a man who was hung for violently murdering his girlfriend, so it wasn’t out of the question to think he would be just as violent in the afterlife.

Planet Weird's Dana Matthews and Greg Newkirk with Ghost Adventures' Nick Groff and Ghost Stalker's John E.L. Tenney

Planet Weird’s Dana and Greg with Ghost Adventures’ Nick Groff and John E.L. Tenney

What I didn’t realize at the time was that, just to the left of me,  a group of young men who’d attended the previous Ghost Adventures visit to Bobby Mackey’s years before, had also been the recipients of a negative experience themselves, and this time decided to come prepared with a vial of holy water. Just before our experiencer had been violently shoved, the group of young men had been spraying their bottles against the same wall.

Coincidence? Maybe, but interesting none-the-less.


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Our investigation of the “most haunted nightclub in America” resulted in some fascinating paranormal activity, and the location is so legendary that for those of us who love all things spooky, it’s well worth a visit.

Sure, some of the legends might be a bit exaggerated, but then again, which ones aren’t? Bobby Mackey’s Music World is an iconic haunt with a rich history, and there’s no denying that hundreds (if not thousands) of people who have visited claim to have had their own unexplainable experiences, regardless of the building’s questionable background.

Seeing is believing, and after experiencing the strange events that night, I can honestly say that there’s something strange going on in the basement of Bobby Mackey’s. But hey, don’t take my word for it… go find out for yourself.

Want to spend a night investigating Bobby Mackey’s with the star of Paranormal Lockdown? You’re in luck! The Nick Groff Tour is planning on heading back to Kentucky’s own Portal To Hell later this year. Check out the official Nick Groff Tour website for details! Can’t make the event? Don’t worry, Gatekeeper Paranormal host regular tours of Mackey’s every weekend!


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