A lone grave is surrounded by an old iron rail at the edge of a parking lot, around where Paroquet Springs once stood, in Bullitt County, Kentucky. The plot has no tombstone or marking, beyond a recent historical marker. No one knows who’s buried there, but the many versions of its story all state the lady of the grave died from a broken heart.
The old iron railing was replaced with new, stronger fencing in recent years, but still, we may never know who lies therein with any certainty.
The Paroquet Springs Spa and Resort was known for sparkling blue sulfur water. A magnificent summer resort was constructed at Parakeet Lick, so named for the flocks of colorful birds that were once there. By 1839, the facility could accommodate around 250 visitors. It expanded again into the 1840s, when it was at the height of its popularity and became a staple of nearby Shepherdsville. The original name “Parakeet” eventually became, “Paroquet.” It remains debatable as if the spelling change was due to French influence, or if that was just the Victorian spelling of “parakeet.”
Paroquet’s fame grew so rapidly that it even inspired its own waltz. The Paroquet Springs Waltz was composed around 1843, by Louisville resident W. C. Peters.
Healing water spas and resorts were commonplace in early Appalachia. They were believed to provide relief from many common ailments and epidemics of the time, and most local businesses benefited from the constant stream of visitors. Families, who could afford to do so, often frequented these establishments the way families vacation today, whether anyone was ill or not. Many believed the healing waters had preventative value.
Alfred Rudolph was a businessman from Pensacola, Florida. He brought his family to the resort during the summer of 1878. Alice was his only daughter, renowned for her beauty and vivacious nature. The blue-eyed, blond-haired beauty was spoiled by her doting parents. She’d never experienced genuine disappointment in all her 17 years.
Robert Findley was a man who swept young Alice away at the Paroquet resort. The rising young attorney was well known in Louisville society circles. He was the physical opposite of Alice, his hair was dark and his skin was swarthy. Unlike Alice, he was also shy. The two opposites were attracted to one another from their first meeting. Others at the resort were amused by their affection and attentions towards one another.
The couple spent nearly all of the three summer months together, as much as was allowed during the proper Victorian period. Findley carved their initials together on a beech tree by their favorite meeting place. He proposed and she accepted. They even arranged a marriage date three months later. During that time, they agreed he would arrange for a marital absence from his firm for their wedding and honeymoon. She was to plan the event.
The Rudolph family returned to Florida and Alice immediately began planning the ceremony. Findley frequently sent letters of his undying love and adoration. The day soon came when he was expected to arrive via train.
Her father and the family driver went to the train station to await his arrival. The train came and left, but there was no Findley. Her father returned alone, but not without news. A letter came on the train for Alice. The envelope only contained a newspaper clipping. Someone had used a lead pencil to scrawl on the back of clipping. They asked, “Can you congratulate us?”
The clipping mentioned a couple who wedded on the prior Thursday. Robert J. Findley had married Miss Lillie B. Thompson at 3 o’clock that afternoon. They then left that evening for an extended honeymoon in the East.
Alice was utterly devastated. She couldn’t believe she’d fallen for his deceit or that she’d fallen so foolishly for him. She began a downward spiral. Her health failed. She grew frail and weak. Her parents took her to visit many other healing resorts, but none helped. They took her to the best physicians throughout the southeastern United States, even as far as New Orleans. It was no good. The expert told them her despondency and health had gone too far, and they had around two more weeks with her.
They returned home without a cure for their dying daughter. She called them into her room several days later and said she knew she was dying and it wouldn’t be long. She wanted to be buried by the beech tree, where Findley carved her name.
The grave once had a white marble headstone, but it has long since disappeared. The tombstone read, “Alice, aged 18, died of a broken heart.”
There are countless variations to this story, and many sources state the site is over 160 years old, but the grave is actually closer to 120 years old. The Alice Rudolph version was used because it contained the most detail, it circulated in newspapers around 1900.
Other versions place the story much farther back, even before the Civil War. In the early version, it’s said that Charles Scott married Alice Bedford just before he left to fight in the Mexican-American War. He died at the Battle of Vera Cruz and Alice pined away for him. She asked to be buried by the tree where he carved their name before her death in 1847. Some lesser-known accounts say the person buried there was being a man. There is one story that involves a wealthy Mississippi family.
One brief account circulated in 1874 that didn’t mention names at all. It was about the daughter of a wealthy and prideful father, whose family visited Paroquet in the late 1840s. As the days grew warmer, the girl fell in love with a young man who was not in her social class. She knew her father would never consent to a relationship, so they began secret meeting along the edge of a forest, beneath an ancient oak.
Their meetings were regular, usually daily, until her parents discovered her whereabouts. Her father immediately forbade any further communication between her and the young man. To add to hear heartache, her parents decided they all needed an extended European vacation.
She was taken to the finest resorts, but it did no good. The family kept her abroad for several years, until her health declined to the point she was unable to travel. She was brought to New Orleans where she was given in an arranged marriage. She barely survived the honeymoon. She begged her husband to bury her at Paroquet Springs on her deathbed. He eventually consented, but was just a petty and resentful as her father. She was buried with a wrought iron fence surrounding her grave, but he would not give her a plaque or a headstone. Visitors to Paroquet tossed roses upon the grave after her burial, but no one ever truly knew her story.
Whatever the origins of the lone grave were, we do know what happened with the Paroquet hotel. The resort was a great success during the 1840s, but fell out of the limelight by the 1850s. The Civil War was havoc on the resort. Union forces encamped at Paroquet, believing the bridge in Shepherdsville was a pivotal location for the Confederacy. They tore down many of the outer buildings and felled many of the resort’s trees.
The structure never recovered its popularity, despite numerous attempts to promote what remained of the shaded land and therapeutic waters. Fate intervened again in 1879, when the hotel burned to the ground. The mineral water was bottled and sold after that, but that also stopped in 1915.