Author Archives: Lynn Niedermeier

At Home With the Lucases

Nathaniel Lucas Home, Warren County, Ky.

Nathaniel Lucas Home, Warren County, Ky.

Tucked in with a large collection of genealogy research on the Helm family (think WKU’s Margie Helm Library) recently donated to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections was this little sketch, made in 1883 by an English visitor to Warren County.

Located a few miles north of Bowling Green, the home belonged to Nathaniel Henry Lucas (1818-1908) and his wife Mary Barton (Maury) Lucas (1832-1907). The land was originally part of a grant to Nathaniel’s grandfather and namesake, Captain Nathaniel Lucas.  During the Revolutionary War, Captain Lucas wrote a letter to his wife-to-be on the eve of the Battle of Yorktown that is one of the oldest items in our collection.

The first house on the property burned during the Civil War, but soon afterward Nathaniel and Mary built this home in which to raise their family of six children. Their daughter, Virginia “Jennie” Lucas, married Margie Helm’s uncle, James W. “Jimmie” Helm in 1879; one of two couples participating in a double wedding ceremony in Mammoth Cave, they had ten children, ensuring that many members of the Helm, Lucas and related families could look on this substantial home as part of their heritage.  The house remained in the Lucas family until 1956.

Click on the links to access finding aids for collections relating to the Lucas family, including the sketch of their family homestead.  For more on the Helm, Lucas and other Warren County families, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Code

John Rowan; The Code reduced to writing in 1858

John Rowan; The Code reduced to writing in 1858

This week in 1804 saw one of the most famous duels in American history when, on July 11, Vice President Aaron Burr faced down his bitter rival, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, who died the next day of his wounds, had offended Burr’s honor by attacking him relentlessly during his attempts to secure renomination to the vice presidency and then to win the governorship of New York.

One of Kentucky’s most famous duels occurred on February 3, 1801 between John Rowan, the rising lawyer and politician of “Federal Hill” fame, and Dr. James Chambers.  Both men were prominent citizens, but their affair of honor began with a rather seedy encounter in a Bardstown tavern.  Chambers was irritated that night over his losses at cards, and Rowan, by his own admission, had had too much to drink.  They first argued over the card game; then Rowan, who had excelled in the classics as a student, disputed Chambers’s claim to possess greater proficiency in the “dead languages.”  This was enough for Chambers to issue a challenge, coupled with the threat that if Rowan did not accept, “he would publish him as a coward in every paper in the State.”

On the day of the duel, the men faced each other in the woods outside Bardstown.  Each took careful aim at the other, but missed.  A second round ensued, and Rowan wounded Chambers in the chest.  Then, as Frances Richards notes in her biography of Rowan, “the peculiar code of duelling” kicked in. Rowan gallantly offered to summon his carriage to take Chambers back to town. When Chambers died the next day and Rowan was arrested, even some of Rowan’s fiercest enemies “objected to having a man whose difficulties had been settled according to the ‘code,’ punished by law.”  In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rowan claimed that the dying Chambers himself had “begged his friends not to prosecute me.”   Commonweath Attorney Felix Grundy reportedly resigned rather than bring his boyhood friend to trial.  Ultimately, the charges against Rowan were dropped.  He went on to become Kentucky’s Secretary of State, a member of Congress, a state legislator, and a judge on the Court of Appeals.

Click on the links to access finding aids for collections relating to the Rowan-Chambers duel, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections relating to duels, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Aviatrix Comes to Bowling Green

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was on the final leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe when her plane disappeared over the Pacific on July 2, 1937.  Amid recent news of yet another claim that she might have survived her presumed crash into the ocean, we recall Earhart’s visit to Bowling Green only 18 months before she met her mysterious fate.

On January 20, 1936, Earhart took the stage at WKU’s Van Meter Hall.  The previous January, she had flown solo from Hawaii to California, and in May 1932 had become the first pilot to reproduce Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic.  As she talked about her adventures, the reporter for WKU’s College Heights Herald was charmed.  “The slender aviatrix who, had she been attired in flying togs, might have been mistaken for Colonel Lindbergh, was simplicity itself, direct in manner with no affectations or pretensions and yet with a quality that won her audience.”  Earhart’s stage presence and presentation were delightful, but what really captivated the reporter was her humor, which “played in her serene, frank eyes full of intelligence and friendliness” and in her smile–“generous, jolly and wide.”

Earhart had driven from Lexington to speak and would soon depart for Nashville, but she was convinced that flying was safer than automobile transportation.  Driving “at a speed above 40 or 45 miles an hour,” she said, as reported in the Park City Daily News, “is more dangerous than flying in a plane at a speed of 150 to 200 miles per hour.”  The keys to success in flight, she maintained, were preparation and stress management.  For a pilot, hot chocolate, not coffee or tea, was the best tonic.

Among the audience of 900 at Van Meter Hall was Martha Potter, who had noted Earhart’s January 1935 Pacific flight in her diary.  In a letter to her grandchildren, she told them about seeing the famed aviatrix “who flew across the Atlantic by herself.  She was most interesting,” Martha wrote.  “I wish you could have heard her.”

Martha Potter’s diaries and letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“In Honour of Dominion Day”

Invitation to Dominion Day ceremonies; Clara Hines's postcard of Old Fort Henry

Invitation to Dominion Day ceremonies; Clara Hines’s postcard of Old Fort Henry

With its official emblem and half-billion-dollar budget, the 150th anniversary celebration of Canadian Confederation will bring extra colour to this year’s July 1 Canada Day holiday.  But in 1953, with the country yet to reach its 100th year, observance of Dominion Day (as it was then called) was not centrally orchestrated, and communities put their own unique stamp on the occasion.

That summer, Clara Hines and her husband Duncan Hines, author of the popular restaurant and hotel guidebooks Adventures in Good Eating, Lodging for a Night and Adventures in Good Cooking, left their Bowling Green home for a series of business meetings, interviews and promotional appearances in Ontario and Quebec.  As might be expected, they were eager to try the local cuisine.  They found a favorite in Montreal’s Cafe Martin, where, Clara wrote in her diary, the manager “was overcome when we left and Duncan gave him his card.”  Clara’s other passion was shopping.  Between meals, her exploration of local antique stores and her visits to the iconic Canadian department stores Eaton’s and Simpson’s took up more space in her diary than the usual tourist-style narratives.

On July 1, 1953, Clara and Duncan were invited to Dominion Day activities at Old Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario.  Situated on the St. Lawrence River at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, Kingston was of vital strategic importance during the War of 1812 and the fort had been erected to repulse an American attack. Accordingly, martial themes predominated during that day’s celebration of Canada’s 1867 act of Confederation.  “It was all a military show,” wrote Clara, “& they used the original drills of 1867 & the original uniforms and artillery.”  The demonstration of military tactics from the era included a mock battle with a gunboat and fireworks.  “This was all quite interesting,” was Clara’s assessment, “and something we are not likely to see again.”

Clara Hines’s diaries,which include a record of her three trips to Canada, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections with a Canadian connection, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Full Disclosure

Edward Crossland and his bio

Edward Crossland and his bio

It was an impressive resume, probably written for the Congressional Directory, that Edward Crossland (1827-1881) composed on letterhead of the 42nd Congress of the United States.  Elected as a Democrat in 1870 to represent Kentucky’s First Congressional District, the Hickman County native was a lawyer and former state representative who had resigned a judgeship in order to go to Washington.  Among his accomplishments, Crossland carefully noted the margin of his electoral victory–7,930 votes to 2,980–over his GOP opponent.

As is common in a mid-term election, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Party had lost seats in the House, but retained its overall majority.  Also expected, perhaps, was Crossland’s omission, in these first years of Reconstruction, of some dramatic biographical details: as an officer in the Confederate Army, he had seen battle in Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the last being under controversial Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” in U.S. Grant’s words) as he tried to defend Selma in the last days of the Civil War.

Crossland’s non-disclosure of his military career might have led to a flurry of cable news comment today, but there was no cause for concern among his supporters in the South, where Democratic candidates successfully ran against Radical Republicans and their civil rights agenda.  On March 11, 1871, in fact, the Hickman Courier expressed relief at the news that Crossland had been duly sworn in as a member of Congress.  “Many leading men in this District,” the editors reported, “entertained serious apprehensions that Radical vindictiveness would seek to exclude him from the seat to which our people had elected him.”

Edward Crossland’s handwritten biography is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other Kentucky political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life

On May 23, 1863, Illinois volunteer George Messer, nursing a swollen ankle and the first signs of scurvy, penned a letter to his wife from Camp Hobson near Glasgow, Kentucky.  Some of his news, he admitted, “may appear somewhat ridiculous but it is nevertheless true.”  He and his comrades had been ordered to surrender their tents in exchange for new ones.  He then described the wedge-shaped tents that appear in so many images of Civil War encampments.  Each soldier carried one half of the tent, a two-pound sheet of canvas about six feet square.  When buttoned at the top, supported with poles or saplings, and anchored to the ground, they formed a rudimentary shelter for two men.  Judging these accommodations to be more fit for canines than humans, the soldiers quickly dubbed them “dog tents.”

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

Messer noted sarcastically that when his regimental commander required the men “to appear like Gentlemen on all and every occasion,” yet made them haul and use these “low and unhandy” tents, “it is more than enough to cause the soldier to be pleased and satisfied.”  His mates had made sure to communicate their “satisfaction” the next morning while preparing for roll call.  “You never heard such barking as the boys made,” he wrote, “they imitated from the Bull dog down to the little Rat terrier and they would frequently break out into a fight in imitations of dogs.”  A couple of unpopular promotions had also rankled the men, but Messer admitted that the wisest course was “to quietly submit” to these recent affronts.  In such circumstances, however, he found the rumors of a military draft disquieting. Imagine the barking then, he implied: “There is enough of the soldiers dissatisfied now and those that would be drafted into the army would be more so.”

George Messer’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and typescript.  For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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It’s Donald Day!

No, not that Donald.  June 9 is National Donald Duck Day, marking the screen debut in 1934 of the sailor-suited and often “fowl”-tempered Disney cartoon character.

Cartoons created by both professionals and amateurs can be found in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Some, like the sketches of Kentucky governor James Proctor Knott, could be both artistic and satirical.  There’s also Richard Outcault, who sent a get-well wish to his friend’s young daughter via his famous creations, “Buster Brown” and his dog “Tige.”

Buster Brown and Tige

Buster Brown and Tige

And there’s Bill “Whitey” Sanders, cartoonist for WKU’s College Heights Herald and later longtime editorial cartoonist for the Milwaukee Journal, who depicted the joys of student life.

Whitey Sanders, College Heights Herald, Nov. 19, 1954

Whitey Sanders, College Heights Herald, Nov. 19, 1954

And there’s WKU art professor Ivan Wilson, who passed the time during a long illness drawing whimsical cartoons featuring himself and his good friend, English professor John H. Clagett.  The two enjoyed hunting, fishing and hiking together, and apparently Wilson also grabbed some shears from time to time and trimmed Clagett’s hair (no word on whether the mane was a comb-over).

Ivan Wilson and John Clagett

Ivan Wilson, barber, and John Clagett

And there’s Staff Sergeant Jay Maschak, serving in 1990 with the 101st Airborne during Operation Desert Shield, who drew his own version of Donald Duck for his pen pal, Elizabethtown, Kentucky Girl Scout Kelly Butler.

Jay Maschak to Kelly Butler

Jay Maschak to Kelly Butler

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more collections about artists and cartoonists, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Over the Waves

Marconigram to Clara Louise Robertson

Marconigram to Clara Louise Robertson

On this day (June 2) in 1896, Guglielmo Marconi filed British Patent No. 12,039 for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals, and an Apparatus Therefor,” inaugurating the era of wireless telegraphy and making the Italian engineer’s name synonymous with the magic of “ship-to-shore” communication.

Sometimes, that magic was dark, the most haunting example being distress calls from the doomed Titanic in the early morning of April 15, 1912 that rescued those lucky enough to survive the sinking.  But more often, it was tinged with romance, as Clara Louise Robertson experienced after a tour of Europe in 1930.  The 22-year-old Louisville, Kentucky native was aboard the RMS Cedric, headed home to complete her studies at the University of Louisville.  While in Europe, she had become friends with Laszlo Gombos, a young Hungarian lawyer, and he was clearly smitten.  “Maybe you will forget me soon,” he had written earlier, “but I want to emphasize that I myself shall neither forget you nor shall I change my opinion on you.”  His hope was to find a job in the American South, and if successful he intended to meet her “immediately” upon his arrival.  But until then, there was the “Marconigram,” delivered from “Lancelot” to his Guinevere: Pleasant journey kindest regards.

Clara Louise Robertson’s Marconigram is part of the collections 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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When “Fake News” Was Fun

The world of classical studies was abuzz in November 1961, when American archaeologist and antique dealer Christopher Wakefield announced the discovery at the Citadel of Mycenae in Greece of a grave containing two skeletons and a trove of gold and bronze artifacts.  Describing the find in detail, Wakefield reported that an arm band on one skeleton identified it as that of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who, according to myth, perpetuated an ancient curse when he killed his mother and her lover after they had dispatched his father.  Wakefield delivered his stunning news in a letter to Laban Lacy Rice, a Dixon, Kentucky native, former president of Cumberland University, and himself a scholar of ancient Greece.  Rice sent the letter to the Associated Press, and from there the story flashed across newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Authorities in Athens, however, quickly denied any such discovery, and news outlets more cautious than the AP raised eyebrows at the claim.  Then came the real story: the whole thing was a “classical hoax” perpetrated by Rice himself.  After reading a book on such ruses, Rice had invented “Christopher Wakefield,” right down to his phony stationery, and written the letter himself.  He filled the account of Orestes’ tomb with such archaeological detail that many American scholars took the bait; some even claimed to know the fictional Wakefield personally.

The joke surprised Rice’s fellow citizens in Lebanon, Tennessee, who knew the erudite 91-year-old—the multilingual author of several books, accomplished amateur astronomer, and expert on Einstein’s theory of relativity—as being somewhat on the humorless side.  But Rice calmly regarded the prank as one of many intellectual challenges he had successfully attempted during his long life. Mirroring this academic trickery was his skill at athletic deception: during his student days at Cumberland University, he had been a star curve ball pitcher.

The papers of Laban Lacy Rice, including the story of his “classical hoax,” are 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.

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht's portrayal of the "classic hoaxer"

Evansville Courier cartoonist Karl Knecht’s portrayal of the “classic hoaxer”

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“The Approbation of His Tutoress”

Asa Young's good report

Asa Young’s good report

“This is to show that Asa Young is head in the first class and merits the approbation of his tutoress.”  Dated December 14, 1850, this handwritten and decorated slip of paper would have been, like all good news, proudly delivered to the young schoolboy’s parents in Barren County, Kentucky.

Collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections show generations of Kentucky students receiving an “A,” “B” or “C” for their three Rs, but their report cards also judged them on habits and values deemed crucial to their development as adults.

Bowling Green student William J. Potter‘s third-grade report cards for 1908-09 recorded his days present, absent and tardy, and gave numerical grades for his classroom work, but included a “Verbal Merit Report” evaluating less tangible attributes like “Progress,” “Effort” and “Deportment”–which, parents were advised, was “a better index to what your child is doing in school than the scholarship report.”

Charles Ranney‘s second-grade report card for 1930-31 at Hartford Graded School was full of “As” for scholarship, but also required his teacher to evaluate “Interest” (from “Lacks Interest” to “Very Interested”) and “Conduct” (from “Rude,” to “Annoys Others” to “Inclined to Mischief” to “Very Good”).

Myrtle Chaney‘s seventh-grade report card from Logan County in 1922 was even more exacting in its standards.  A bad attitude toward school work might get a check mark beside “Indolent,” “Wastes Time,” “Copies; Gets Too Much Help,” or “Gives Up Too Easily.”  Less than good behavior could peg one as “Restless; Inattentive,” “Whispers Too Much,” or “Discourteous at Times.”

Margie Helm‘s 1908 report card from Auburn Seminary was set up like a ledger, with her subjects listed down the middle between the “Right Side” (a choice of “Fair,” “Good” or “Excellent”) and the “Wrong Side” (a choice of “Poor,” “Very Poor” and “Failure”).  As was common, the back of the report card preached about the value of a parent’s contribution in securing regular attendance and study.

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Occasionally, however, the year-end evaluation reminded everyone of their fallibility.  Sarah Richardson‘s 1958 report card from College High cast her in an approving light, but the document somewhat undermined its credibility with the heading “COLLEGE HIGH RPEORT CARD.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For others relating to schools, students and report cards, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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