Hunter_S._Thompson,_1988_cropThere are 22 murals on buildings scattered throughout the city of Louisville honoring Hometown Heroes.

They honor personalities as diverse as professional boxers such as Muhammad Ali and Rudell Stitch, media figures Bob Edwards and Diane Sawyer, and jockeys and scientists.

Yet one Louisville-bred face notoriously connected to this city is missing from those murals.

In July 1937, Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville and grew up at 2437 Ransdell Ave. in the Highlands neighborhood.

While his emotions about the people of the city were mixed (because many had similar mixed emotions about him) Thompson wrote often about Louisville. One of his early pieces was about our Derby, the story that resulted in the term “gonzo” reportedly first used by the Boston Globe to describe Hunter’s journalism.

In the spring of 2014, downtown Louisville will finally have the gaze of Duke upon it.

A project once solo-led for many years by local poet (and friend to Hunter) Ron Whitehead, the wheels are finally turning, location secured, image chosen and unveiling date soon set.

Since Thompson’s death, Whitehead has kept the Hunter S. Thompson Louisville legacy alive.

“Hunter crossed over February 20, 2005,” says Whitehead. “The next day I wrote my Hunter Tribute. I also wrote a dozen suggestions for Louisville to honor Hunter. The giant banner is one of those suggestions.”

Whitehead was part of three Gonzo Festivals started at the Monkey Wrench.

Dennie Humphrey, owner of the Monkey Wrench, had a a mural of Hunter painted on the side of his Winter Ave. bar years ago after another plan didn’t work.

“It started with an idea to build a statue for Hunter on my property after we fought CBS Corporation to take down a monstrosity of a sign,” says Humphreys. “Joe Wendling and I said we should start a celebration for Hunter. I asked Ron if he would be part of it because of his friendship with Hunter, and that’s how we all came together.”

It was Humphrey along with Whitehead, Mike Maloney (Mayor’s office Special Events Manager), and local poet Jake Mahaffey who formed the team that worked to get the downtown mural approved.

The building from where Hunter will forever keep an eye on things can’t be named just yet.

Whitehead told me, “All I can say til after our meeting later this week is that the building is on East Main Street across from The Yum! Center. It’s a perfect location.”

One of the busiest areas of downtown. Whitehead says the building owner has given full go-ahead.

Hunter’s great life-long friend Ralph Steadman (who Hunter met at the Kentucky Derby; their meeting is famously documented in The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved), sent Whitehead twenty portraits to choose from for the mural. The team agreed on one, which won’t be made public until the mural revealing next spring.

Even when Hunter was alive, Whitehead led local tributes to the author, including a 1996 gig that lasted four hours and included Hunter himself, Johnny Depp, Doug Brinkley, Warren Zevon and many others.

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, presented Hunter with a key to the city and the whole lot of them (including Hunter, Depp, Whitehead, Zevon, and Brinkley) were made Kentucky Colonels.

Some believe Hunter didn’t care for Louisville, and perhaps has been why his face is vacant when we look skyward, but Whitehead says that’s not true.

Hunter, he says, didn’t care for the way he was treated while here (documented in the book The Life Of Hunter S Thompson written by Rolling Stone and Hunter’s long-time editor, Jann Wenner).

Whitehead shared with me this quote written by a 20-something Hunter in a letter home,

If I could think of a way to do it right now, I’d head back to Louisville, sit on the porch drinking beer, drive around Cherokee Park for a few nights, and try to sink back as far as I could into the world that did its best to make me. It’s not hard to get tired of interminable palms and poinciana, and I could do at the moment with a single elm tree on a midnight street in the Highlands.

According to Whitehead, plans are for the banner to be revealed the week prior to Thunder Over Louisville with a downtown festival, concerts, celebrity appearances (all the 1996 tribute folk who are alive will be invited) and national media coverage.

Humphrey says the Monkey Wrench will be part of that celebration and continue Hunter tributes for years to come, “Hunter is Hunter, he changed the world. Being part of a moment in history with respect to Hunter means everything to me, and who I am as a Louisvillian.”

Jason Sitzes
Jason Sitzes is a freelance writer/editor living in Austin via Louisville, New Orleans, Knoxville and his home town of Columbus, Ind. He’s published short stories; written for many publications including, locally, LEO; travels around the nation with various writing workshops; and is addicted to college basketball.