Monthly Archives: August 2017

Mrs. Hoffman

Mary Hoffman's Confederate service

Mary Hoffman’s Confederate service

If it wasn’t for her five children, perhaps she would have tried to enlist, disguised as a man.  Although Mary Elizabeth Hoffman never joined the unique ranks of such warriors, she didn’t allow her sex to defeat her personal crusade on behalf of the Confederacy.

Born in Boyle County, Kentucky in 1825, Mary saw her husband William, a son, and three brothers enter Confederate service during the Civil War.  At home in Cynthiana, Mary jumped into the fray, delivering food, messages, aid and comfort to local rebels.  Though auburn-haired and fair-skinned, she often managed to pass through Union lines posing as an African American.  When some Confederate soldiers at a nearby hotel were cut off from their command and in danger of capture, Mary secured their horses, removed the incriminating weapons and uniforms from their saddle bags, and with the help of another Southern sympathizer later reunited the gear with its owners.

In April 1862, Mary resolved to head south to check on the welfare of her soldier menfolk, an undertaking that involved passing through numerous blockades and towns under martial law.  With a stash of letters concealed in her clothing, she was denied a pass at Chattanooga, but wagered the commandant in charge that she would get through anyway.  She did, by way of a midnight boat trip and a mule ride over mountainous terrain.  When she arrived at her husband’s camp, she spent several months ministering to his wounded comrades.  On the way back, she earned a pass from the commandant she had outwitted on the trip down.

In February 1863, however, Mary was arrested in Lexington and detained by the federals.  Once again, she donned a disguise, climbed out a second-story window, and escaped.  The Yankees caught up with her again and sent Mary and her husband, now discharged from service, north of the Ohio River where they would presumably make less trouble.  They were eventually paroled and returned to Cynthiana, where Mary’s husband met an early death after an altercation with a Union soldier and Mary, who died in 1888, would be remembered as a determined soldier of the South.

Click here to link to a collection describing the exploits of Mary Hoffman, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on Mrs. Hoffman

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

“A Memorable Day for Oakland”

Prof. Langley and the Shakers report on the eclipse, 1869

Prof. Langley and the Shakers report on the eclipse, 1869

As we all know, a total eclipse of the sun will pass over southcentral Kentucky in the early afternoon of August 21, 2017.  The last time such an event occurred in this area was August 7, 1869, and the tiny Warren County community of Oakland was expected to provide a prime viewing spot.

Four days before the eclipse, Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, an eminent astronomer and later Secretary of the Smithsonian, arrived by train with a colleague to set up his observation post at Oakland.  Finding only a few houses in the vicinity of the station, he moved two small sheds to a field near the tracks and procured a telegraph connection.  He set up his telescope and other instruments, conducted some practice sessions, and prepared for the big event.

But Langley’s splendid scholarly isolation was not to last.  “On the afternoon of the 7th,” he reported, his station was overwhelmed by “all the inhabitants of the adjoining country, white and black, who crowded around the sheds, interrupted the view, and proved a great annoyance.”  As if that wasn’t enough, just as the eclipse neared its total phase, a special train pulled in carrying onlookers from Bowling Green and–of course!–a brass band.

Langley soldiered on with his work.  He calculated the duration of totality, when the moon completely obscured the sun, as lasting only a second or two, far less than the 30 seconds he expected.  Nevertheless, he was able to see the sun’s corona “visible through the darkening glass as a halo close to the sun, whence radiated a number of brushes of pale light.”  He felt particularly fortunate to get a 15-second view of “Baily’s Beads,” the effect produced when the disappearing sun backlighted the moon’s uneven surface–“like sparks,” he reported, “upon the edge of a piece of rough paper.”

In Bowling Green, druggist John E. Younglove noted the eclipse in his meteorological journal.  Though brief, the totality was sufficient to “observe the Corona with its variegated Colors.”  The eclipse also merited an entry in the daily journal of the Shaker colony at South Union–“nearly total here.”  Writing a history of Oakland in 1941, Jennie Bryant Cole conceded that the astronomers’ better position “should have been about one mile farther up the railroad”; nevertheless, when the “country people came in” and the crowd and brass band arrived, and when the stars suddenly came out in the afternoon and the chickens went home to roost, it was a “memorable day for Oakland.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections relating to the eclipse of 1869.  For more firsthand accounts of eclipses, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

And click here to join our “Tell Us About Your Eclipse Day” project!

Comments Off on “A Memorable Day for Oakland”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

“Desirous Not to Die Intestate”

Kentuckians make their wills

Kentuckians make their wills

During this National Make-A-Will-Month (yes, it’s a thing), we note the many historic examples of these solemn documents in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Our collections of family papers often include wills and associated estate documents from Warren County and elsewhere.  Our large collection of Warren County Equity Court cases includes lawsuits involving estates and a copy of the will that started all the trouble.

We also hold a collection of miscellaneous wills made primarily in Warren County but also in Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.  The oldest, made by local man Daniel Shipman in 1798, is one of several noncupative, or verbal wills: too sick to write out or sign the document himself, Shipman made his wishes known to two witnesses, who presented their memorandum to the County Court and attested to its truthfulness.

Like many antebellum wills, Shipman’s includes a bequest of slaves, but African Americans who had escaped bondage also made wills.  The collection includes the 1853 will of Archy Barclay, a “free man of color” in Bowling Green, who gave “my body to the dust and my spirit to God,” then the rest of his possessions to his wife and children.  Of note is his designation of Samuel A. Barclay, possibly his former master, as his executor.  Henry Bibb, another free man of color, made a will in 1855 leaving his property “to Harriett Gray, a woman of color formerly owned by Joseph Gray of Russellville.”

Women’s wills in the collection are usually those of widows desirous of leaving property to children, grandchildren or to those who cared for them in old age.  As we have seen, prior to 1894 the will of a woman with a living husband was of no effect, since her property became his upon marriage.  A wife, however, could make a will devising property held in a trust or otherwise given to her on condition that it was free of her husband’s control; in the case of Martha Blewett’s 1868 will, she bequeathed it to her husband anyway, since he had “been kind and affectionate to me through all my afflictions.”

Many of the wills attest to the modest wealth and possessions of ordinary Kentuckians, but the 1870 will of Robert Ogden–made by a wealthy Warren County farmer, businessman and horse breeder “conscious of my mortality and desirous not to die intestate”–listed numerous generous bequests.  Of great local significance was item 15, which gave $50,000 for the establishment in Bowling Green of a school for young men or young women.  His trustees decided on the former, and Ogden College opened in 1877.  In 1927, the college merged with WKU and the name is still familiar to every science student on the Hill.

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

Comments Off on “Desirous Not to Die Intestate”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

50 Years Ago (or so) Today

“Set the Night on Fire” by Tom Poole. Located on Cravens 4th floor.

 

Written and recorded in 1966, The Doors’ classic “Light My Fire” is both eternal and a singular moment in time, a whirling, seemingly incongruous vortex of Bach, Coltrane, William Blake, psychedelia, Latin music, and the Lizard King.   On paper, it shouldn’t have worked.  But on July 29th 1967 it exploded onto the Billboard charts, landing at #1 and staying there for three weeks.  The vortex struck a nerve.

The Doors self-titled debut album from 1967 features the full length version of “Light My Fire” at track 6.

And 50 years later, it still does.

     The time to hesitate is through; no time to wallow in the mire.  Try now.

Jim Morrison sang those words in the bright and tumultuous 1960s, but they could have been written this morning.

–Michael Franklin, Aug. 1 2017

If you want to hear The Doors (and you do), come see us at the Visual And Performing Arts Library (VPAL) on the 2nd floor of Cravens.

       

Comments Off on 50 Years Ago (or so) Today

Filed under Uncategorized

A Dog’s Life (Part 2)

George Messer's letter

George Messer’s letter

When we last saw Civil War soldier George Messer in May 1863, the Illinois volunteer was at Camp Hobson (formerly Camp Joe Kelly) near Glasgow, Kentucky.  He was grumbling about “dog tents,” two-man canvas shelters no better suited for canines than humans.  Man’s best friend also gets a mention in another of Messer’s letters, recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Writing two months earlier to his wife Lottie, Messer had been somewhat more content.  Despite the cold temperatures of early spring, he was feeling well, had put on weight, and was hopeful that the war would end soon.  He described the dramatic changes made to the local countryside by Union troops seeking to protect their position from surprise attack.  “Timber around our camp it is to be cut off clean for five hundred yards all around,” he explained, “and five hundred more to be cut down and left lay.”  So thick was the coverage of trees and brush “that when it is cut down you could not shove a dog through it backwards.”

His comrades on picket duty reminded Messer of “cows on a stormy wet day,” when they would “put their backs to the storm and turn up one side of their heads to try and shun as much of it as possible.”  Nevertheless, the sentries had some fun with a lieutenant who had returned from town without his military pass, resulting in his brief incarceration in the guard house.  Messer noted with satisfaction that such “Shoulder Strap gentlemen” were granted no easier passage than a private when they ventured outside of camp.  In his “dog tent” letter, he had also expressed little affection for these epaulette-bedecked officers and their habit of grabbing credit for “great exploits” that were in fact the work of the common soldier.

Click on the links to access finding aids and typescripts of George Messer’s letters.  Click here to browse our Civil War collections, or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on A Dog’s Life (Part 2)

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives