The best books on Kentucky weirdness

Who am I?

As a lifelong Kentuckian with a lifelong fascination for history, true crime, biography, and the supernatural, once I started writing, I pursued these and related topics. The writer Charles Fort’s research methods interested me: he read old newspapers looking for forgotten stories. That seemed a good way to find little-known information. I am a lecturer in the English Department at Eastern Kentucky University and have spent two decades reading old newspapers issue by issue between classes and taking notes on possible stories. The books on my list also include much detail on entertaining obscurities, and I hope you enjoy them. 

I wrote...

Kentucky Book of the Dead

By Keven McQueen,

Book cover of Kentucky Book of the Dead

What is my book about?

The Kentucky Book of the Dead is a compendium of bizarre but documented morbid moments from the state’s history including true ghost stories, strange modes of death, old-time embalming techniques, epitaphs, grave robberies, preserved bodies, and people who accurately predicted their own deaths

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The books I picked & why

Trapped!: The Story of Floyd Collins

By Robert K. Murray, Roger W. Brucker,

Book cover of Trapped!: The Story of Floyd Collins

Why did I love this book?

This book is the frightening tale of Floyd Collins, the Kentucky cave explorer who in 1925 violated one of the cardinal rules of spelunking: don’t go alone.

His leg was pinned by a falling rock, and rescuers’ ultimately tragic efforts to feed and free him became a worldwide sensation. The book resonates with me because the incident well illustrates the best side of humanity (the dangerous rescue attempt) as well as the worst (persons who exploited Collins’s plight for personal gain). 

By Robert K. Murray, Roger W. Brucker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trapped! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"When Floyd Collins became trapped in a cave in southern Kentucky in early 1925, the sensationalism and hysteria of the rescue attempt generated America's first true media spectacle, making Collins's story one of the seminal events of the century. The crowds that gathered outside Sand Cave turned the rescue site into a carnival. Collins's situation was front-page news throughout the country, hourly bulletins interrupted radio programs, and Congress recessed to hear the latest word. Trapped! is both a tense adventure and a brilliant historical recreation of the past. This new edition includes a new epilogue revealing information about the Floyed…

Book cover of Weird Kentucky: Your Travel Guide to Kentucky's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets

Why did I love this book?

This is a lavishly illustrated collection of old and new oddities from around the state, including cryptids, ghosts, cave mummies, UFOs, roadside attractions, the Melungeons (what’s a Melungeon? Read it and see), and the famous Blue People.

I was attracted by the entertaining writing style, the inclusion of both documented fact and folklore, and biographies of historical characters.

By Jeffrey Scott Holland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weird Kentucky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Best Travel Series of the Year 2006!"—Booklist

What’s weird around here?

That’s a question Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman have enjoyed asking for years—and their offbeat sense of curiosity led them to create the bestselling phenomenon, Weird N.J. Now the weirdness has spread throughout key locales in the U.S. Each fun and intriguing volume offers more than 250 illustrated pages of places where tourists usually don’t venture—it’s chock-full of oddball curiosities, ghostly places, local legends, crazy characters, cursed roads, and peculiar roadside attractions. What’s NOT shockingly odd here: that every previously published Weird book has become a bestseller in its…

Book cover of Dark Highway: Love, Murder, and Revenge in 1930s' Kentucky

Why did I love this book?

Dark Highway is the best piece ever written on one of the state’s most fascinating murder cases.

In November 1936, Gen. Henry Denhardt, prominent politician and former lieutenant governor, was suspected of shooting his fiancée Verna Garr Taylor (“the prettiest woman in two counties”). DAngelo uses an impressive array of sources to recreate what almost certainly happened.

The case strikes me as especially enigmatic since an elderly woman claimed to be the only surviving person who knew the truth behind the murder but swore she would never reveal it. As I recall, she died just after the book was published in 2016, so if she had information of value it is lost forever.

By Ann DAngelo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dark Highway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On a cold November night in 1936, the body of beautiful businesswoman Verna Garr Taylor is found in a ditch along a lonely highway in rural Kentucky. Verna has been shot through the heart, and fiancé, former lieutenant governor and brigadier general Henry Denhardt insists she committed suicide.

But the clues left behind point to murder, and General Denhardt quickly becomes the target of investigators. The general's sensational murder trial draws reporters from all over the country to the small Kentucky community. The case is featured in the New York Times, the London Herald, Newsweek, Time, Life, and other national…

Wicked Lexington, Kentucky

By Fiona Young-Brown,

Book cover of Wicked Lexington, Kentucky

Why did I love this book?

Of the many strange stories from Kentucky, this book concentrates on ones from Lexington/Fayette County with a witty writing style that strikes a balance of history and humor.

Young-Brown covers several remarkable duels, frontier violence, racism, and the notorious prostitute Belle Brezing. One of the most remarkable stories concerns Col. William Breckinridge, a congressman who delivered lectures to young women on the importance of chastity yet was involved in a sex scandal that destroyed his career.

Historical true crime is well-represented by the story of golf pro Marion Miley, whose 1941 murder could be the topic for a book of its own.

By Fiona Young-Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wicked Lexington, Kentucky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Filled with tales of infamous duels, cheating congressmen, and much more, Wicked Lexington, Kentucky offers the first collection the city's rowdy and ruckus history .

Despite its illustrious beginnings as the "Athens of the west," Lexington has always had a darker side lurking just beneath its glossy sheen. It didn't take long for the first intellectual hub west of the Alleghenies to quickly morph into a city with the same scandalous inclinations as neighboring Louisville and Cincinnati. From Belle Brezing's infamous brothel of the late 1800s, frequented by some of the city's most prominent businessmen, and once pardoned by the…

Wicked Western Kentucky

By Richard Parker,

Book cover of Wicked Western Kentucky

Why did I love this book?

Eastern Kentucky’s long history of violence is well documented, so it is time the other end of the state is also represented.

Parker’s book examines the frontier serial killers the Harpe Brothers, feuds, moonshiners, and the Night Riders who terrorized farmers in the Black Patch tobacco wars—domestic terrorists not unlike the KKK. In modern times, we have the chilling story of Rod Ferrell and his murderous vampire cult.

My favorite story is “Murder Mansion,” about a 1948 Bowling Green crime with outlandish twists and turns. 

By Richard Parker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wicked Western Kentucky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Western Kentucky has always had a dark side, despite being the Birthplace of Bluegrass Music. Mary James Trotter, an arrested moonshine-selling grandma, remarked to a judge that she simply had to sell a little liquor now and then to take care of my four grandchildren. Rod Ferrell led a bloodsucking vampire cult in Murray, Kentucky, and traumatized parents of the 1990s. In the early morning of July 13, 1928, at the Castle on the Cumberland, seven men were put to death in Kentucky's deadliest night of state-sponsored executions. Join award-winning author Richard Parker as he takes you on a journey…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Kentucky, violence, and curiosity?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Kentucky, violence, and curiosity.

Kentucky Explore 59 books about Kentucky
Violence Explore 70 books about violence
Curiosity Explore 17 books about curiosity

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