Monthly Archives: August 2018

A Connecticut Yankee in Kentucky

"I am still in the land of Old Kentuck": Noah Pond from Trigg County, 1836

“I am still in the land of Old Kentuck”: Noah Pond from Trigg County, 1836

“The folks here are very different from what they are in Connecticut.”  It was 1836, and the economy in his home town of Washington, Connecticut had impelled Noah Pond to sign on for a 22-month stint as an itinerant seller (read: peddler) in Kentucky, based in the Trigg County community of New Design.  His letters home offer us a fascinating picture of this frontier community as seen through the eyes of a curious but homesick Yankee.

In Trigg County, Pond found immigrants from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Dutch, Scots-Irish, English and “now and then a Spaniard.”  He also found a county of slaveholders, and noted with interest the habits of the 16 enslaved Africans who labored on the farm where he boarded.  Witnessing their informal marriage customs, their Christmas and Easter holidays, and the latitude given them to farm small plots of their own, Pond indulged the conceit that they were “better off than the poorer class of people in the east.”

Generally impressed by local farming practices and prices, Pond saw the chance for an enterprising settler to make good.  For the most part, however, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.  He had to turn on the charm to get a Yankee-hating old Dutchman and his wife to buy some of his goods, and was outraged at the costs, both in travel and treatment, of a doctor’s care when he fell ill.  He found teachers and preachers in short supply— “I can preach better myself than the Priests can,” he wrote, “for they are nothing but Farmers”—but perhaps Pond’s biggest complaint was the fickle Kentucky climate.  “The weather is so changeable here,” he wailed, “that it will freeze a man to death one minute and roast him the next go to bed at night half froze and before morning you will be hot enough to roast eggs.”  He concluded that one needed a “constitution like a Horse to stand it.”

Noah Pond’s letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections on frontier life in Kentucky, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Notice to Vacate

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson's passport photo

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson’s passport photo

As students descend on WKU and set up housekeeping in residence halls and apartments, let’s hope that none has the experience of a former faculty member during one of his many overseas adventures as a visiting professor.

Carlton Jackson (1933-2014) taught history at WKU for more than four decades.  An enthusiastic traveler, Jackson accepted several Fulbright professorships and visiting lectureships in countries such as Finland, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.  In the fall of 1978, he and his family headed for Shiraz, Iran, where Jackson was to serve in an endowed professorship at Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University).

Jackson leased a house in September, but only a month later was preparing to vacate.  “The electric supply in the house is faulty,” he complained to the University’s representative, “and extremely dangerous. . . . The wires are exposed, and would electrocute anyone who touched them.  One of the plugs has a piece of newspaper stuffed into it, creating a real danger of fire.”  As if that wasn’t enough, the house’s proximity to a nearby farm field attracted “huge amounts of mosquitoes, flies, and other biting and possibly disease spreading insects.”  And then there was the rodent population.  The house “is full of rats and mice,” complained Jackson.  “Each night, several of them come through the bedrooms and get on the curtains and Venetian blinds.”

And finally, there was the danger that this whole house of horrors might explode: there was “a serious leakage of gas in the front yard” that was seeping into the family’s bedrooms at night.  Jackson was unimpressed with the representative’s assurance that “It’s been there for two years, and goes up in the air.”  With a friend’s help, Jackson had contacted the gas company, and while the problem was quickly fixed he had become convinced that the landlord had no intention of making the house habitable.

Ultimately, however, it was the Iranian Revolution that cut short Jackson’s time at the University and sent him home, one hopes, to better housing.  “I only taught two hours at this position,” he would later write ruefully in his vita.  “I had to leave early for reasons that are well known.”

Carlton Jackson’s papers are held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections and are expected to be fully processed by the fall. . . the 40th anniversary of his brief stay in these less-than-palatial accommodations.

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Owensboro Student Completes Internship in Special Collections

Hello, my name is Noah Hancock, and I am a history major here at WKU. I have had the opportunity to experience, learn, and work with historical materials through a

Noah Hancock, a WKU senior from Owensboro, has just completed an internship in Manuscripts, a unit of Library Special Collections.

summer internship in the Department of Library Special Collections in the Kentucky Building. This program allowed me to acquire skills and knowledge necessary to carry out tasks, such as organizing documents, reading and transcribing holographic letters, digitizing information, and entering data into TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Jonathan Jeffrey was very helpful, and he taught me the general processes of how the collections are acquired, accessioned, cataloged, and made accessible to the public both in person and online. For instance, one of the first things I learned was that the items in a collection are arranged in chronological order, which helped me to file and sort documents easier. One of the projects I worked on throughout the summer was a large collection of photocopied Civil War letters, diaries, roll calls, statistics, and records from both the Union and Confederate Armies. There were over twenty boxes filled with vast, indispensable information for research relating to the Civil War.  Dr. Kenneth Hafendorfer, Louisville, Kentucky, collected this material when writing his Civil War books.

While sorting these documents, I came across some original, personal letters written by certain Civil War soldiers to their respective family members. These letters were dated and had names and locations of where they were stationed. Some letters were short, others were long, with details regarding camp life, troop movements, combat actions, health conditions, and some even requested that items be sent from home. The letters contain information on a variety of subjects that were important many years ago. I found this intriguing, because they provide insight into historic topics, such as the controversy regarding slavery.

Moreover, I was assigned the task of reading and typescripting some of the letters, and creating finding aids with summarized descriptions. With Jonathan’s assistance, I uploaded the transcribed documents to TopSCHOLAR. Lastly, I cataloged them into a system called KenCat, the Department’s collection management system. This program allows, the Library to keep track of all documents and materials within the collection.

I greatly appreciate Jonathan’s help and mentorship throughout the summer! The internship opened doors for me to experience and explore new possibilities; it also enabled me to use my knowledge and skills. It will no doubt be beneficial in my future career endeavors.

If you would be interested in an internship in the Department of Library Special Collections, contact Department Head, Jonathan Jeffrey, at 270-745-5265 or jonathan.jeffrey@wku.edu

Blog post written by DLSC intern Noah Hancock.

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Nixon and Cox

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

President Nixon and William H. Natcher

When, on October 21, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and triggered the resignations of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General in protest, the upheaval became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”  Charles Lowther, then a history student at WKU, wrote to several members of the U.S. Congress expressing his outrage at Nixon’s action.  The replies he received reflected a common fear that the country was in the midst of a deep political crisis.

“Removal of Mr. Cox was a serious mistake,” replied Kentucky Congressman William Natcher (D), aware that House Speaker Carl Albert had directed the House Judiciary Committee to assess whether there were grounds to impeach Nixon.  Kentucky Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston (D), shared Lowther’s concern but, like Congressman Frank Stubblefield, assured him that Congress would maintain its investigations “to insure that we continue to have a government by law, and not by men.”  Kentucky Senator Marlow Cook (R) advised that he had co-sponsored a bill to allow the removal of a special prosecutor only on authorization of Congress, but pledged to retain his objectivity in the event he was called upon to “sit as a juror in an impeachment trial.”  Edmund Muskie (D) of Maine acknowledged Lowther’s letter as one of thousands he had received “urging Congress to act to reestablish the principle that no office in our government—and no office holder—is above the law.”

And finally, North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin (D), chairman of the Senate committee investigating the activities of Nixon’s reelection campaign, sought to refute any accusation of political bias by pointing out that his committee had been constituted by unanimous vote of the Senate.  Evidence uncovered so far, he suggested in language betraying both anger and sadness, “tends to show that men, upon whom fortune had smiled benevolently and who possessed great political power and great governmental power, undertook to nullify the laws of man and the laws of God for the purpose of gaining what history will call a very temporary political advantage.”

These letters to Charles Lowther are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Slice of Summer

Virgie Talbert's watermelon party invitation

Virgie Talbert’s watermelon party invitation

On this August 3, National Watermelon Day, we wonder what Kentucky summers would be without this delectable treat, or the role that it has historically played in socializing and courtship.  We’re sure that in 1899, Virgie Talbert of Nicholasville didn’t pass up John Chambers’s invitation to a watermelon party in Wilmore, Kentucky.  Nor did 20-year-old Josephine Walker decline her share of sweet slices at the 1884 Adair County Fair.  Sometime in the 1890s, Lucye Wolcott of Muhlenberg County teased her young suitor about a competitor’s bid for her company.  “Mr. Morgan invited us over to share his lovely melon,” she coyly reported, and “naturally we did not decline.”

In 1863, 11-year-old Elizabeth Gaines moved with her family from Bowling Green to a farm near Hadley, Kentucky.  After getting used to her new rural surroundings, she grew to enjoy fishing, hunting for wild nuts and grapes, and horseback riding.  One day, she and her friend Mary rode by the farm of George Washington Cherry, the father of WKU’s first president, Henry Hardin Cherry, where they spied a large watermelon patch.  Mary decided she wanted one, and sent Elizabeth over the fence to retrieve it.  When she returned, the two girls “burst it open” and devoured it.  At first, Mary teased Elizabeth into believing that the elder Cherry would find out and complain about his purloined melon, but later assured her worried friend that he would not take offense at their impromptu feast.

Click on the links for finding aids to these collections that feature watermelons, part of the Manuscript & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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