He Touched the Heart as Well as the Funny Bone

As we celebrate Black History Month, Library Special Collections would like to spotlight one of Bowling Green’s best known sons, Reuben Crowdus, aka Ernest Hogan.  Coincidentally, local attorney and historian Ray Buckberry has recently donated a nice gift of research material about Hogan and sheet music written by him to Special Collections.  Buckberry was the chief person responsible for researching and orchestrating the effort to get a historical marker erected for Hogan at the L&N Depot in 2009.  Here we re-print a short biography of Hogan written by Buckberry for the publication Mt. Moriah Cemetery:  A History and Census of Bowling Green, Kentucky’s African-American Cemetery (Landmark Association, 2002)

Reuben Crowdus was born 17 April 1865 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Not much is known about his early life, although indications are that he left home at an early age, joining a traveling minstrel show.  One of his first jobs is said to have been as a plantation singer in a low-rent, tent-show version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a show that launched the careers of many black entertainers.

In 1891, Crowdus adopted his stage name “Ernest Hogan” and later began referring to himself as “The Unbleached American,” utilizing both references throughout his career in show business.  He wrote the lyrics, music, or both, for approximately 35 published songs.  The 1896 sheet music for a song written by Hogan contained a notation that the music is to be performed “with Negro rag.”  This was the first use of the word “rag” on a song sheet and many thereby credit Hogan as writer of the first piece of ragtime music.

His first big solo starring role in New York City came in 1898, with the show “Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cakewalk.”  This was the first black show to play in a first class theater on Broadway.  A Chicago paper reported that Hogan “is firmly established as the greatest colored comedian of the age.”  The rising star organized a group of about 20 experienced entertainers in 1905, and called the “The Memphis Students.”  Their opening show in New York was so successful it was held over for 5 months.  This show has been referred to as the first public concert of syncopated music in history.

A long-cherished dream was realized when he mounted his own musical comedy “Rufus Rastus,” opening on Broadway in 1906.  A critic commented that the depth Hogan brought to his new role took him out of the ranks of “darky comedian” forever in that he had learned to “touch the heart as well as the funnybone.”

Hogan became seriously ill and, in 1908, his business friends produced a benefit show in his honor.  The show lasted four hours and a noted black performer remembered it as the “greatest assembly of colored actors ever to appear in the same theater and on the same stage in one night.”

On 20 May 1909, Hogan died.  His remains were returned to Bowling Green for burial in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  By Hogan’s request, the local band participating in the service at the Methodist Episcopal Church, played only his favorite ragtime tunes.  At the cemetery, the many floral displays were said to represent the most flowers ever received for any funeral in Bowling Green.

Hogan had an infectious and crusading spirit, talent and generosity; he was appropriately referred to as “a Moses of the colored theatrical profession.”

To see the finding aid for the Ernest Hogan research material, click here. To see other material in our collections about Hogan, search KenCat or TopSCHOLAR.

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“Canned” Biscuits

Domestic science program, African-American school, Versailles, Kentucky.

Early in the 20th century, segregated schools labored under the “separate but equal” doctrine, which in practice relegated African-American students to underfunded and inferior facilities.  As principal of the Simmons School of Versailles, Kentucky, Principal Thomas J. Smith struggled in 1908 to establish a department of domestic science.  Seeking support from white as well as African-American citizens, he reached out to Philip J. Noel of Bowling Green, Kentucky, a native of Harrodsburg whose insurance business regularly brought him to Versailles.

Smith sent Noel a solicitation card that outlined the aims of the department.  Among them: “To teach the girls the dignity of work in the home;” “To supplement what mothers have already taught them”; “To encourage girls to care for their kitchens and stoves as for their parlors and pianos;” and “To teach the most healthful methods of preparing common foods.”  Fifty girls in three classes received instruction in music and drawing as well as cookery.

With lumber supplied by the school board, Smith had planned and constructed a practice kitchen and dining room, but domestic science, of course, required more specialized teaching aids.  Money was needed to buy the foods that the girls would practice cooking and serving, and with prices so high, Smith complained, it was difficult to keep an adequate supply on hand.  As for the equipment, the program, like a country cook, had to start from scratch.  “We began,” Smith wrote, “by getting an old stove from the ‘Junk Pile,’ the teacher’s platforms were made into tables, paper was used for biscuit boards and tin cans for rolling pins.” 

Reverse of card describing domestic science program

Professor Smith’s letters (along with his thanks to Noel, who contributed $25, a sum that would carry the purchasing power of more than $700 today), are part of the Noel Collection, currently being processed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  To search our collections, use TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Molded in the same mint”

Mrs. Victoria Mayo, the wife of a Bowling Green, Kentucky barber, had recently settled a medical claim with her insurance company.  Hoping to get a testimonial from a satisfied customer, Kentucky Central Life and Accident sent her a postcard encouraging her to “talk up” the company and perhaps refer other business.  She wasn’t completely averse to the idea, but she did have a few bones to pick, which she outlined in her reply to the Louisville office.

The benefit paid during her illness had been welcome, she wrote, though she was forced to nudge “your agents here that it was due me before I could get it.”  Then there was the matter of the remittance of her premium.  Why was it necessary to send payments to Louisville?  Could she not just pay at the Bowling Green location?  In fact, why couldn’t an agent collect in person?  “I am a very stout woman,” she declared, and “am not able to go up the steps of your office here.”  And then there was the word on the street about the company’s responsiveness to claims.  Mrs. Mayo had always thought favorably of her insurer, but warned that “most every one I speak to will say, ‘Why that KY. CENTRAL won’t pay.'”

And there was one more thing that “I wish to understand,” she noted.  Although she “naturally supposed it was for me,” the postcard she had received lacked the appropriate salutation.  As 61-year-old Mrs. Mayo knew, white America’s practice of using only first names when addressing African Americans was a persistent assumption of superiority and privilege that evoked the nation’s slaveholding past.  When Kentucky Central’s agents “approach a colored person,” she asked, “why must they be addressed as ‘Vic,’ May or John, why not Mrs., Miss, or Mr.  Our money was molded in the same mint as that of any other race and goes just as far and we demand the same respect.” 

One wonders if Kentucky Central took heed, for it was 1912 when Mrs. Mayo wrote this letter, and many decades of Jim Crow and civil rights struggles lay ahead.

A typescript of the letter is in the Noel Collection, currently being processed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  To search our collections, use TopSCHOLAR or KenCat

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Kentucky Club Woman, Official Organ of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Club

This rare newsletter, The Kentucky Club Woman: Official Organ of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs is representative of the collection focus of Special Collections Library. We hold materials that are either irreplaceable or unusually rare and valuable. We also maintain items in a secure location with environmental controls to preserve the items for posterity. This newsletter was produced by the Kentucky State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs which was organized in 1903. They boasted a membership of 2,500 women in 112 clubs. The Kentucky clubs specialized in “fostering day nurseries, hospitals, old folks homes; homes for delinquent girls, building club houses and community centers.” We are the only holding library for this issue. Find this and other one-of-a-kind items by using the One Search box, TopScholar and KenCat.

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Versailles in an uproar

P. J. and Blanche Noel; and a warning about “fake news”

In mid-1918, the Germans launched a series of offensives along the Western Front in a last-ditch attempt to secure victory in the Great War.  The fighting was ferocious, but on the afternoon of July 25 the news broke in Versailles, Kentucky that the German crown prince and his massive army of several hundred thousand were now captives of the Allies. 

Visiting Versailles was Philip J. Noel, Sr. of Bowling Green, who was busy setting up a local office for his network of insurance agents.  Like many other Kentuckians, “P. J.” had followed the war news with dread; he was saddened by the recent combat deaths of former president Theodore Roosevelt’s son Quentin and, closer to home, the loss of the nephew of a former county sheriff.  But now, with this spectacular capitulation of the enemy, perhaps peace was at hand; indeed, wrote P. J. to his wife Blanche, the news had unleashed a tide of pent-up relief.

“Well, I never saw anything like it.  Versailles was in an uproar,” P. J. reported the next day.  On the news of the Crown Prince’s capture, “everything turned loose”: bands played, people marched, and revelers discharged pistols and shotguns until after dark.  Members of the local African-American community “got into wagons and marched all over town”—especially relieved, perhaps, because a week earlier fifty of their number had departed for Army service.

But then things got out of hand, no doubt exacerbated by the popping of gunfire and some generous toasts of whiskey.  A runaway horse and buggy, its two young lady passengers having bailed in the nick of time, ran straight into an automobile.  The buggy flipped and was dragged along the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians.  P. J. had to leap from the car in which he was sitting and duck into a hotel in order to avoid being struck.  On the heels of this mishap came four drunken men in an automobile, which also flipped and injured three of them.  Next came two fights: one that hospitalized one of the participants, and another between a restaurant owner and a rival confectioner. 

Then came the knockout punch.  No sooner had the dust settled, P. J. wrote, than “we all wake up to find out that the Crown Prince had not been captured and it was all a mistake.”  If only the citizens of Versailles had read that day’s Bourbon News from nearby Paris, Kentucky, warning about “wild grapevine” stories of the Crown Prince’s defeat.  Until verified by the paper’s “reliable sources,” sniffed the editors, such news had to be taken with “a pinch of salt.”

P. J. Noel’s letter is part of the Noel Collection, currently being processed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat, and click here to view our World War I collections.

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Food, Glorious Food!

Food is one of the necessities of life.  It is no surprise that Library Special Collections—which documents the Commonwealth’s culture—has quite a few items related to food.  To celebrate this culinary material, an exhibit titled “Food, Glorious Food!” has been installed in the Jackson Gallery, on the second floor of the Kentucky Building.  The exhibit will run through June 26.

Our exhibit panel features a photograph from Library Special Collections of a big cookout held at the top of WKU’s hill in 1915.

Each case within the exhibit represents different aspects of Kentucky’s culinary heritage.  Chief amongst the cases is one that highlights the collection’s cookbooks.  In 2003 the Kentucky Library was the beneficiary of a large number of cookbooks from the estate of Jeanne (Leach) Moore, a Morgantown native.  This collection included over 1,500 titles that were added to the collection.  This was expanded significantly with a gift from Albert Schmid a few years later.  Without a doubt, Library Special Collections boasts one of Kentucky’s most significant cookbook collections.  This case features the variety of cookbooks found in the collection ranging from an 1823 early-American cookbook to children’s guides to cookery.  Because of the depth of this collection, cookbooks are used throughout the exhibit.

Walgreen’s menu, ca. 1944.

Another focal case features menus from restaurants across the state, ranging from dime store soda fountain menus to those from fine Louisville restaurants.  These items are cultural treasures, as they share fares available at various food establishments, costs of items, logos and trademarks, and colorful graphics.  This case also includes examples of matchbooks, once a ubiquitous give-away at restaurants, postcards, and business cards.

A toy stove that once belonged to Marjorie Claggett. Courtesy of Kentucky Museum

One case includes material related to stoves and ranges.  Generally a stove uses coal or wood for a fire source, and a range uses electricity or gas.  This case features cookbooks from several appliance companies, photographs of these appliances, and promotional material issued by various manufacturers.  Included is a photograph of the showroom of the Louisville Tin & Stove Company which shows many of the company’s wares on display.  Also included is a catalog from the same company which indicates the great array of stoves and other items produced by this concern.  The last two items were donated by Pam Elrod.  The highlight of this case is a miniature toy stove donated by Marjorie Claggett and appears courtesy of the Kentucky Museum.

Other cases feature images and publications from Western Kentucky University food science classes and other campus food related activities; labels and other items of food packaging; material highlighting some Kentucky food specialties such as cream candy, Hot Browns, derby pie, and mint juleps; and large posters and photographs that document certain aspects of food in the Commonwealth.

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Tobacco Warehouse

A rare and apparently unrecorded broadside, recently acquired by the Department of Library Special Collections, describes a public meeting in Hickman, Kentucky. From this meeting, a committee of five men were appointed to approach the Kentucky legislature about the creation of a state tobacco warehouse. They wanted to “memorialize” or remind the Legislature of the heavy charges which are imposed at New Orleans and present Hickman, KY as an alternative. Hickman, they note is a desirable location that is easily navigable all year round. They record that Hickman’s shipments for the year, 1846 are: 3000 hogshead of tobacco, almost 20,000 bushels of wheat and 1350 bales of cotton. Senator Thomas  James presented to the Kentucky Senate this memorial for the people of Hickman and Fulton County. Hickman, the county seat of Fulton County, is situated on the Mississippi River in western Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase region. There is no evidence, in later Senate journals that the Legislature chose Hickman as a state shipping center. However, tobacco, cotton, timber, and other products were shipped both by rail and by steamboat from Hickman and it gained increasing prominence as a transportation center.

See this and other broadsides at kencat.wku.edu

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Barrels, Mash and Sugar

Abandoned still, Elliott County, Ky.

The “Great Experiment” began on January 17, 1920, the day the Volstead Act took effect in the United States.  Better known as Prohibition, it banned the production, sale and transport of “intoxicating liquors” and instantly turned many thirsty Americans into outlaws.  Thanks to an enterprising Iowa whiskey maker, it’s now designated as “National Bootlegger’s Day.”  Even better, it’s also the birthday of Al Capone, boss of the “Chicago outfit” of gangsters who made his name in the bootlegging business.

The history and folklore of bootlegging and moonshining (or, as we more delicately catalog it, “illicit distilling”) is well represented in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  In addition to books and historic photographs, research projects created by students are housed in the Folklife Archives.  For example:

A 1970 paper by Mike Harmon profiled the moonshiners “Google” and “Red.”  Both took pride in the quality of their homemade whiskey, although Google, who never drank, professed to be much better at his craft than Red, who did.  A commercial fisherman, Red set up his still on the Ohio River and transported his materials there by boat.  He recalled fishing on the river one day and glimpsing as many as a dozen working stills along its banks.

A 1972 paper by Virginia Antonini gave a portrait of “Jim,” an Indiana farmer who made moonshine to supplement his income.  While running some of the moonshine to a farmer’s market in Louisville, his wife was stopped by the “revenue men,” but talked her way out of trouble by explaining that selling “shine” was the only way she could buy shoes for her children.  Virginia also talked to her own mother, who recalled making “home brew” from malt, water, sugar and yeast, and learned of the technique of a Louisville restaurateur who added food coloring to moonshine to pass it off as aged whiskey.

A 1972 paper by Joe Griggs profiled E. Y. (“Uncle Yegi”) Hurt of Todd County, Kentucky.  Living in a house built on blocks allowed him to set up a still underneath, accessible though a hole in the floor of his dining room (the same room where the preacher came for dinner).  He also told of Prohibition-era bootleggers, such as the woman arrested in a car with 60 gallons of whiskey.  The confiscated evidence was “put in the basement of the Court House where it mysteriously evaporated” before the trial. 

A 1994 paper by Michelle Jackson included an interview of Clay County, Tennessee sheriff Jerry Rhoton.  Interestingly, he observed that illegal stills in his jurisdiction were now more likely to be dismantled and preserved than destroyed, and some were even put on display during civic celebrations as part of the region’s heritage—a testament to the interest in moonshining of folklorists and students of material culture.  Like other student writers, Jackson also outlined the process of distilling, a low-tech enterprise that required only “a few barrels, some corn mash, sugar, copper tubing, yeast, and a fresh water supply.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these materials.  For other resources about distilling (legal and illegal) and Prohibition, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Love’s Telegraph

William H. Gough’s diary entry

In the pocket notebook of William Henry Gough (1826-1910) were many of the things that occupied the mind of a young man: money matters, his lessons at Mt. Merino Seminary in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, and later his duties as a surveyor and sheriff of Meade County.  But given its intricacies, he also devoted two pages to the workings of “Love’s Telegraph,” the rules regarding transmission of one’s intentions in matters of courtship and romance.  Most valuable was the way one could avoid any need to explain oneself in words–those awkward stammerings, repeated entreaties, apologies, and other messy emotional declarations that go with the business of finding (or avoiding) a potential mate.  Here was the tutorial:  

If a gentleman wants a wife he wears a ring on the first finger of the left hand, if he be engaged he wears it on the second finger, if married on the third and on the fourth if he never intends to be married.

When a lady is not engaged she wears a hoop or diamond on her first finger; if engaged on her second, if married on the third and on the fourth if she intends to die a maid.

When a gentleman presents a fan a flower or a trinket to a lady with the left hand on his part and overtures of regard should she receive it with the left hand it is considered as an acceptance of his esteem but if with the right it is considered as a refusal of the offer.

Thus by a few simple tokens explained by rule the passions of love are expressed and through the medium of the Telegraph the most timid and diffident man may without difficulty communicate his sentiments of regard for a lady and in case his offer should be refused avoid expressing the mortification of explicit refusal.

William H. Gough’s notebook is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Long white ears, killer coffee, and cardboard cartons

For many travelers, the first step of a journey involves navigating a busy airport.  During World War II, passengers faced additional stress when civilian air travel took a back seat to military priorities.  This was doubly true for airline employees, who coped with challenges that went far beyond the ordinary joys of dealing with the public.

One such employee was 25-year-old Kate Hopkins, an American Airlines ticket agent in 1943 at Detroit’s City Airport.  Her letters to boyfriend Thomas Tichenor, a Kentuckian serving in the Navy, give us a unique perspective on wartime air travel through the eyes of a clever and observant young woman.

Kate often found herself on the overnight shift–an assignment that, while wearying, gave her an opportunity to use her people-watching skills.  After one such night, she wrote poignantly to Thomas about “the little sailor and his girl who sat locked in each others arms for a full forty minutes before his flight left, while his mother very quietly sat beside him, waiting to bid him good-by; about the little girl–she couldn’t have been much more than nineteen–who was going out alone to meet her husband, a Ferry pilot, in Spokane–and her family who came to see her off.”  When the flight was announced, “her Father said ‘Well Ruthie–’ with all the pride and eloquence and love that only a Father could put into those two words, because what else could he say?” 

Ferry pilots–members of the Air Transport Command, largely made up of civilians who flew aircraft from manufacturing plants to training facilities and ports for shipment overseas–were frequent airport patrons.  Some of them, Kate observed, “are nice–others tough–some, surprisingly young and all very interesting.”  One of them “came in last nite with an enormous plush Easter bunny–its long white ears protruding from a paper sack–He’d brought it back from Wilmington for his little girl.” 

Kate grew accustomed to watching irritated Ferry pilots call the nearby base to complain when their ground transportation was not waiting.  On other occasions, she became the object of customer ire.  Determining that a passenger was too drunk to fly, she feared “he was going to hit me” when she declined to ticket him.  She “finally eased him away from the counter” by inviting him to spend his unscheduled six-hour layover trying “some black coffee at the airport restaurant–that I knew was vile enough to cure or kill him.” 

On still other occasions, the drama escalated.  In the middle of one night, Kate received a message asking to have a cab waiting for an incoming flight “to take a Lieutenant and his eleven day old premature baby to Ann Arbor.”  To her disgust, she could find no driver interested in the life-and-death mission unless they could also find a paying fare for the 40-mile return trip.  As negotiations continued, the plane landed and “the captain himself escorted the Lieutenant and the baby, which he was carrying in a cardboard carton not much larger than a shoe box, to the cab.”  The captain also grew furious with the cab driver, “especially when he’d flown at 2,000 feet all the way from Buffalo because every time he went higher the baby turned blue. . . . We finally got things arranged,” Kate reported, “to no one’s satisfaction.”

More often than not, however, Kate maintained her equilibrium.  After checking in a line of difficult customers, she ticketed a young corporal who “was on an emergency furlough trying to get to San Francisco to see his six months old son who he’d never seen.”  The baby was sick, as was his wife, exhausted from trying to run their ranch and summer camp by herself.  But the soldier never lost his smile, and “was such a big person about it all,” wrote Kate, “that I felt awfully silly after all the minor irritations I’d had that day.” 

Kate’s letters are part of the Tichenor Collection, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to access a finding aid. Travel through our other collections (and have mercy on the person “behind the counter”) by searching TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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