Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hallowed and Hushed

Unknown. Hallowed and Hushed be the place of the dead. Step Softly. Bow Head.

Living in Harrodsburg my entire life, I have a sentimental attachment to Youngs Park, located on Linden Avenue, between the Mercer County Fairgrounds and Haggin Memorial Hospital. I have so many memories of playing in the park, eating picnic lunches and attending family functions. My Granny Devine lived within walking distance of the park and I’ve walked the short block from her home so many times, I could walk it blindfolded.

Youngs Park has always been one of my favorite places to escape to when looking for a nice, quiet lunch. Many times I have driven behind the park to the lower picnic tables and enjoyed a sandwich while watching the antics of the squirrels. The squirrels have become so used to human contact, they will sit within easy reach of picnic tables or cars, eagerly waiting for a scrap of bread or a French fry to be thrown their way.

Many of my fondest memories of Youngs Park occurred during my Girl Scout years and our annual summer Day Camp. One week of each summer was dedicated to numerous scouting projects with a different theme for each day. I can remember tie-dying T-shirts, painting pictures, cooking over a campfire, learning how to mark trails, just to name a few activities. During the summer of 1971, our favorite song to sing – and we sang it at the tops of our voices – was Three Dog Night’s “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” We thought we were so cool.

The highlight of the Day Camp would be the sleepover on Friday night. For the sleepover, the Boy Scouts would come and help us set up tents in the back portion of the park. Camping out was exciting and we looked forward to it every year. Campfires, homemade stews, and s’mores were all on the list of activities.

Another eager awaited tradition for the sleepover was the telling of ghost stories. Because most of the Girl Scouts ranged in age from 8 to 14, we were all susceptible to having the beegeezus scared out of us! And Youngs Park was the perfect backdrop for these scary stories because of the legend of the “girl who danced herself to death.”

I’ve heard the story all my life – an unknown young girl arrived at the long-gone Graham Springs Hotel and attended a lavish ball where she danced all night. She eventually danced herself to death, collapsing onto the ballroom floor at the feet of her partner. She was buried in an unknown grave on the Graham Springs property. It is only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve had the desire to check more into this legend.

Historic Graham Springs was located in the area of the current Physician’s Park and Haggin Hospital and was on the site of a natural spring. There were numerous springs in the Harrodsburg area and they were reported to have healing and restorative properties.

This Spring, that would eventually be called Graham Springs, was turned into a spa as early as 1807. In 1827, Dr. Christopher C. Graham purchased the Springs and in 1842 constructed the main hotel, Graham Springs Hotel. The hotel was a brick four-story building which Graham said would hold one thousand people.

Graham charged a fee of $20 per month to stay at the Springs and “take the waters.” Not only did guests enjoy and benefit from healing waters, they also joined in a lively social season which lasted from June until September. Balls and other entertainment occupied the guests while they drank the mineral waters. Graham claimed the waters helped to alleviate the aches and pains of people who suffered from such aliments as gout, rheumatism, dropsy, neuralgia, and “Autumnal fevers.”
Often called the “Saratoga of the West,” Graham Springs flourished until 1853, when it was sold to the United States Government for use as a military asylum for aged and invalid soldiers. Fire later destroyed main buildings and the place fell into disuse.

Sometime between 1842 and 1853, legend says a beautiful young lady appeared at the Springs. No one knew who she was, but it is rumored she came from “down South.” When arriving at the Springs, she signed the guest register with a fictitious name. After her dancing death, she became known as the “unknown lady,” although most people from Mercer County still refer to her as “the lady who danced herself to death.”

After her death and burial at the Springs, a monument honoring her was erected. Currently, the tomb is located between the road and the shelter house, with a sign bearing the words:
Hallowed and
Hushed be the
place of the dead.
Step Softly.
Bow Head.

As I child, I thought I saw the ghost of this mysterious lady on numerous occasions, but as I’ve grown older, I realize it was probably mass hysteria brought on by ghost stories around the campfire. Although, there was one night in 2004, as I was leaving work at the Haggin Hospital at three o’clock in the morning, I would swear I saw a woman dancing through the park. She appeared to be dressed in white and was walking near one of the large oak trees in the middle of the park. Thinking back, it was probably exhaustion or my mind playing tricks on me. But then again …

Added note: As recently as 2002, an article appeared in the Mercer’s Magazine claiming to have finally learned the identity of this unknown woman. This article can be read in its entirety at:

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank my brother-in-law, Don Rightmyer, from the Kentucky Historical Society for helping me find information on Graham Springs.