Tag Archives: Carlton Jackson

Not Homesick for Heaven

Reinecke mine, Madisonville, Kentucky (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Reinecke mine, Madisonville, Kentucky (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Five years ago today (August 5), the world learned of the entombment of 33 miners 2,300 feet below ground after a cave-in at a copper and gold mine in northern Chile.  For the next 69 days, all eyes were on the rescue effort which, miraculously, raised “Los 33” to safety one by one in a steel capsule designed with input from NASA.

Dating as early as 1854, when Nancy Wier reported seeing the “great curiosity” of a coal mine in Union County, Kentucky, the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections contain a wealth of information on the perilous business of mining.  Included are histories of coal companies in Muhlenberg and Hopkins counties and elsewhere in the Pennyroyal Region, and oral history interviews in which miners recall their back-breaking work.  WKU professor Carlton Jackson‘s research for his book The Dreadful Month focuses on coal mining accidents, and letters, like one from Sturgis, Kentucky, tell of bravery in the aftermath of explosions and other disasters.  Although coal reigns supreme in Kentucky, many would-be miners from the Commonwealth, such as David B. Campbell and William Harris, set out for California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s and wrote home about their quest for wealth.

In 1937, 22-year-old George Tippins wrote to his future wife Pat of the routine perils he faced working in a Harlan County, Kentucky mine:

Tell your mom coal dust and powder sure do make you sick.  I sat and vomited and cussed for 7 hours the first night inside.

We had a man get his finger cut off last nite. . . A piece of slate fell and hit me on top of the head.

I told you we had a man hurt on the day shift.  Well we had another one get hurt yesterday in the same place and by the same thing.  I took one of the day men’s job and damned if I didn’t come within a hair of getting crushed all to pieces the same way.

You tell mom if you see her I am working on the tipple [the loading facility for extracted coal].  What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her besides I’m carrying over $7000.00 worth of insurance. . . .  I know I have a home in heaven but I’m not homesick for it.

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

Detail from 1925 map of western Kentucky coal fields (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Detail from 1925 map of western Kentucky coal fields (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

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What I Learned in Summer School…

Gabe

Gabe Sudbeck, summer intern in Manuscripts.

“Everyone has a story and I want to know what it is.” These words were spoken by the late WKU history Professor Carlton Jackson. This notion has formed a phrase that has stuck with me since I read them. My name is Gabe Sudbeck and during my time as an intern in WKU’s Library Special Collections Manuscripts unit, I spent a lot of time reading his work and looking over his research about the HMS Rohna and the 1918 flu epidemic. When I was home one night talking with my mother about my internship, and I found out that she (a WKU Alumna) had actually been a research assistant with Jackson during her time at WKU. She said that he was a wonderful man. While I personally never had the honor to meet him in person, I do believe that he was a fine man full of energy and passion for his field.

The stories that I read about in the collection concerned regular people dealing with survival and tragedy in world events. The sinking of the Rohna for example was a tragedy in which over 1000 American men lost their lives. Many were left adrift for three days. Many men began to think of their loved ones. One story featured a man lost at sea who could hear his wife telling him that he could pull though. Another consisted of a priest recalling the story of a member of his church who refused to be baptized due to fear of being submerged under water which reminded him of being adrift at sea for three days.

One thing I learned from the internship is the personal connections that the researcher makes with his subject when he begins to study a historical event or person. I have heard stories that David McCullough, when researching John Adams intended for it to be about both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But McCullough found Adams to be more interesting and under appreciated, despite his significant contributions. McCullough truly enjoyed his discovery and his research; in the same spirit Carlton Jackson relished each of his writing projects. If I have learned anything from studying his work, it’s that we all have our own story to tell from the greatest of tragedies to the minutiae of everyday life.

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Carlton Jackson & the Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers, 1952

The Hilltoppers, 1952

Jimmy Sacca, Billy Vaughn, Don McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman were students at Western Kentucky State College (now WKU).  In 1952 they hit the  big time as the Hilltoppers quartet with their song “Trying.”   The group had several more hits including “P.S. I Love You” and performed together through 1963.  Billy Vaughn went on to have a successful musical career with his orchestra.   The group was honored at WKU’s homecoming in 1972.  Check out the University Archives website: http://www.wku.edu/library/archive/ex1.php for more information regarding the group.

Carlton Jackson came to the WKU History department in 1960 where he served with distinction through 2001.  He is the author of nearly 20 books and innumerable articles which earned him the title Distinguished Professor of History. 

In 2003, he began researching the Hilltoppers.  Dr. Jackson met and corresponded with surviving members of the group and fans, including fan club president Bobbie Ann Mason.  The result was his book P.S. I Love You: The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers.  The research notes and correspondence he compiled along with the drafts of the book are now a part of the University Archives Faculty/Staff Personal Papers Collection.  Just processed, these papers are now available for researchers and fans interested in the back story of the Hilltoppers.  The finding aid is now available through TopScholar at: http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/dlsc_ua_fin_aid/79/

If you have Hilltopper records, photographs or memorabilia that don’t appear in the finding aids, please contact the University Archives at 270-745-4793 or via email at archives@wku.edu

Check out KenCat to get information on other University Archives collections:  http://wku.pastperfect-online.com/35749cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

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