“If Cuba Belonged to Us”

As U.S.-Cuba relations enter a new era, collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections offer a look back at America’s fascination with the island in the days before Castro.

Writing to his parents in Kentucky in the mid-1850s, E. S. Baker told them of an offer he had received to supervise a sugar house in Cuba, where his prospective employer owned three farms.  Americans, in fact, owned one-quarter of Cuban farms, Baker had learned, but “the Catholic and Spanish control restricts them too much.”  Profits from cotton, corn and sugar would be fatter, he believed, “if Cuba belonged to us.”  At the time, private armies of Americans known as “filibusterers” were complicating U.S. territorial designs on the island; Baker had been told of men secretly organizing in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas to go there and “disperse over the farms” in support of their countrymen.

Cuba travel brochure, 1950s

Cuba travel brochure, 1950s

Forty years later, in 1893, Grace Beecher Goodhue of Massachusetts visited Cuba.  As her ship arrived in Havana’s harbor at sunrise, she admired the “exquisitely delicate coloring of the plastered houses – Blue faded pink and the tiled roofs.”  While others went to bullfights and masked balls, Grace and her mother explored the pawn shops, but found little to buy as “the English have been here . . . and have carried everything off in the shape of silver.”   They managed to purchase some white linen for dresses, however, “much to the horror of the clerk who sold it to us” and who insisted that such cloth was for “nun’s dresses not for ladies.”

Another sixty years later, in 1952, journalist and Smiths Grove native Virginia Wood Davis made the excursion to Cuba by plane.  Reporting on her visit for the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News, she described the scenery, industry, street life, and even burial customs of Matanzas, the island’s third-largest city.  Fidel  Castro’s Cuban Revolution had yet to grasp power, but signs of strife were on the horizon:  in black paint on the sidewalk in front of a local college, Davis saw the words “Students:  Communism is not for you.  Do not listen to the Communists.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For other collections relating to Cuba, including the Spanish-American War, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Virginia Davis's luggage tag

Virginia Davis’s luggage tag

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Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

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Thanksgiving Dinner napkin (Catherine Simmons Anderson Collection)

As the yearly festival of over-indulgence in food approaches, here is evidence from some of the collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections that Thanksgiving is more about who’s around the table than what’s being served on it.

Overseas with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Mitchell Leichhardt of Bowling Green, Kentucky wrote his parents about his 1944 Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, cranberry jelly, dehydrated potatoes, peas, olives, finocchio (“Italian celery with a sassafras flavor”), coffee and ice cream.  “I hope it is the last one I’m away from home,” he told them.  “I thought of the big dinner you always have and wished that I could be there.”

Also during World War II, in 1943 Alma Sexton of Greenup County, Kentucky described the holiday just past to her soldier-husband.  “We didn’t have much for Thanksgiving,” she wrote of the family repast of chicken, “spud” and biscuits, but she was “wishing you was here so you could help us eat them.”

From West Point, Thomas Rawlings Woods wrote his mother after Thanksgiving in 1881.  “Thursday was a holiday.  We were released from quarters, and excused from recitations.”  The mess hall offered a “splendid dinner” but, he confessed, “I thought of our Thanksgiving turkey at home and would rather have slipped down and taken dinner with you than to have attended the grandest banquet in the land.”

A U.S. Army captain described President George W. Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to the troops in Iraq in 2003: “We were seated in the chow hall, fully decorated for Thanksgiving when all kinds of secret service guys showed up.  That was my first clue,” he remembered.  “Then, from behind the camouflage netting, the President of the United States came around.  The mess hall actually erupted with hollering. . . . There was not a dry eye at my table.”  As Bush worked his way around the hall shaking hands, the captain hurried through the food line, “got dinner, then wolfed it down,” so he would be ready to meet the President when he arrived at his table.

And here’s an excerpt from a poem by William Shakespeare Hays (1837-1907), Louisville journalist and composer, called “Eli’s Thanksgiving” (excuse both the stereotypical dialect and attitude toward in-laws):

Eli had Thanksgiving dinner, / ‘Twas his day to treat, / Cooked an’ stuffed a big fat turkey / Fo’ de folks ter eat. / Comp’ny sot aroun’ de table, / One dar brought her jaw, / Dun de talkin’ for de party– / Eli’s mudder’n-law.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on Thanksgiving and other holidays, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Far Away Places presents John Dizgun and “Istanbul: Crossroads of the World”

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John Dizgun, the new Executive Director of KIIS, talked about Istanbul, Turkey, the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires on the evening of November 17, 2016 at Barnes & Noble, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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Warren East Middle Library receives WKU Libraries School Library Grant

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Warren East Middle School was recognized on Friday, November 11 at the school for being this year’s winner for the School Library Grant sponsored by the Friends of WKU Libraries. This is the third year WKU Libraries has offered the grant to schools in the Barren River Area Development District. The grant is made possible with funds from Friends of WKU Libraries and is given out to one middle or high school annually with different purposes, including improving collections or technology, for professional development funds, to improve students’ research skills, and to offer reading enrichment opportunities.

Library Advisory Council members served as the selection committee for the grant. When reviewing the applications, the selection committee looks at financial need, the nature of the proposal, and the impact it will have on the student body.

Lee Ann Shearon is the Library and Media Specialist who wrote the winning application for the school. According to Shearon, the grant money will be used to improve the technology of the library by purchasing Chromebooks for research and other educational purposes.

“Many students do not have access to technology at home. We have to expose them at school and give as much access as possible to make them college and career ready,” said Shearon.

WKU Library Advisory Council members Laura Eason and Nancy Priest along with WKU Libraries Marketing Coordinator Jennifer Wilson attended an afternoon Veteran’s Day celebration to make the announcement and present the check for $1,000 to Ms. Shearon and Principal David Cloyd. For more information about the grant, contact jennifer.wilson@wku.edu.

 

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It’s Over at Last

John Potter's Armistice ribbon

John Potter’s Armistice ribbon

The world was overjoyed when hostilities in the Great War, after inflicting some 37 million casualties, ceased with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

Simpson County native James Lambert would later share his memories of the event.  “In the evening of that day, I was in London,” he recalled.  No vehicles could move, as “rejoicing men, women and children” crammed the downtown streets.  He marveled at the democratic nature of the celebration.  Men carried women on their shoulders, and girls kissed soldiers “right on the streets.  They were not women of questionable character either,” observed Lambert, “but some of the best and fairest ladies of the realm.”  Indeed, citizens of every age, class and occupation had turned out “with uplifted hands, with upturned faces, and with tears running down their cheeks, thanking Almighty God for peace.”

Serving aboard the troop ship USS Powhatan, Thomas O. Helm reported to his mother in Bowling Green that his ship had docked at Brest, and he “certainly did enjoy being in a French port when they signed the Armistice.”  Like Lambert, he remarked on the inclusive nature of the festivities.  The streets were full of parading citizens, singing and linking arms “regardless of whom they were.”  At night, “the harbor was beautiful,” wrote Helm.  “There were 25 transports and at least that many destroyers playing their search lights over the harbor. . . it was like riding down Broadway.”

Back in St. Charles, Missouri, Annie Raus described the local celebrations to the family of her cousin, Private Clem Phillips, then recovering in France from wounds.  “Everybody is so happy we were all so excited we didn’t know if we should laugh or cry.”  The noisy parades passing by had interrupted her washing day and made it impossible to “stay at the tub.”

And in Bowling Green, Martha Potter took out her scrapbook of son John’s overseas Army service and carefully added the red, white and blue ribbon he had worn on his coat the night the Armistice was signed.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more on the end of World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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An Election Prediction

Henry Clay

Henry Clay

With its use of catchy slogans (“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”), rallies, songs, banners and ribbons, the 1840 presidential contest between incumbent Martin Van Buren and the Whig Party’s William Henry Harrison marked the beginning of the modern era of campaigning.  Then as now, predictions about the outcome also enlivened the process.

That fall, Henry Clay sat down at his Lexington, Kentucky home, Ashland, to forecast the election results in response to a request from the Tippecanoe Club of Rushville, New York.  At the time, there was no single Election Day:  states voted for their presidential electors between October 30 and December 2, and the electors then met to vote for the next chief executive.  The Whigs had done well in most down-ballot races held in the preceding months, and Clay–who had lost the Whig nomination to Harrison, one of five tries he would make for the presidency–was in a good position to assess the race.

He got things nearly, but not exactly right.  Of the 26 states in the Union, Clay believed that Van Buren “would not obtain the votes of more than six.”  (He got seven).  Although down-ballot elections in Illinois had been disappointing for the Whigs, Clay was confident that “her vote will be cast in Nov. for W. H. Harrison” (He was mistaken).  He also conceded Maine to Van Buren (Harrison, in fact, won the state).  Otherwise, despite his lack of computer models and sophisticated polling, Clay would not have been embarrassed to compare his predictions with the actual result:  Van Buren’s 7 states brought 60 electoral votes, but Harrison’s 19 states and 234 electoral votes gave him the victory.

Clay nevertheless knew that voter turnout (or lack thereof) could make a fool out of any prognosticator.  “Cheering and bright as the prospects of success are,” he wrote, “it might be fatal to the salvation of the Constitution and the Country, to relax in honorable exertions. . . .  The Whig, therefore, who. . . neglects to perform his duty, is guilty of a double treachery–a treachery to his Country and a treachery to his Whig brethren in other parts of the Union, who are exerting all their energies to ensure success to our glorious Cause.”

Henry Clay’s letter to the Tippecanoe Club is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections about Henry Clay and about other presidential elections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Don’t Hate 1908

Chicago Cubs player, 1908The last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series is a distant age for most, but for those browsing the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, it’s a time easily recalled.  During that year, for example:

Architect Brinton B. Davis was overseeing completion of Bowling Green’s new City Hall at 10th and College Streets.  The cost:  a little over $25,000.

John Marion Robertson, manager of the Bowling Green Opera House, issued a complimentary ticket to Confederate veteran John W. Stark for a performance of “On Parole,” a play about the Civil War that included “scenes in which you,” he wrote Stark, “no doubt, took part.”

A friend wrote Hopkinsville’s Charles Hisgen about the state of the train station. “If we can get that railroad lot cleaned off . . . also coal yard & a new modern passenger depot, when a stranger arrives in Hopkinsville he will think the town amounts to something.”

Phineas Hampton “Hamp” Coombs (evidently not thinking about baseball at all) sent a Valentine by telegram to his wife Lattie.  “I send my love to you by wire,” he crooned.  “Sweetheart, for you my heart’s on fire.”

Butler County physician Dr. William Westerfield recorded in his diary that late October winds were aggravating “forest fires in Muhlenberg Co. causing considerable damage burning over corn fields, fencing etc.”

John Blakey Helm wrote his father from Princeton University about returning to Bowling Green at the school year’s end.  “I expect you had better send me about thirty dollars, which I think will bring me home.  I haven’t anything else here to pay for but have only a dollar and a half.”

And here’s an anecdote about President Lyndon B. Johnson (born in 1908) who, many agree, understood and wielded political power better than any modern chief executive.  At the conclusion of an event at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a military officer informed the President that “your helicopter is ready.”  LBJ, stone-faced, replied “Son, they’re all my helicopters.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections harking back to 1908, and search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more.  Then sit back and wonder if the “last time the Cubs won” clock will be reset to 2016. . .

Hamp Coombs's 1908 telegram

Hamp Coombs’s 1908 telegram

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Kentucky Live! presents Maggie Green and “Tasting Kentucky: Favorite Recipes From the Bluegrass State”

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WKU Libraries featured Maggie Green, a seasonal cooking expert from Lexington, for its monthly speaker series “Kentucky Live!” on the evening of November 10, 2016 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Bowling Green, KY. She talked about her new book Tasting Kentucky: Favorite Recipes from the Bluegrass State, in which she includes 102 recipes “both simple and sumptuous” from some of the finest restaurants, inns, cafes, and bed-and-breakfasts across Kentucky. She signed her book at the conclusion of the event.

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Kentucky Live! presents Sean Kinder and his new book “Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm”

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Sean Kinder, Associate Professor from the Department of Library Public Services at WKU Libraries, talked on his new book Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm, on the evening of Thursday, October 13, 2016 at Barnes & Noble (1680 Campbell Lane).

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Far Away Places presents Christine Ehrick and “Radio and the Gendered Soundscape: Women and Broadcasting in Argentina and Uruguay, 1930-1950”

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Christine Ehrick, Associate Professor of History at the University Louisville, talked about “Radio and the Gendered Soundscape: Women and Broadcasting in Argentina and Uruguay, 1930-1950” on the evening of Thursday, October 20, 2016 at Barnes & Noble (1680 Campbell Lane).

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