Author Archives: Lynn Niedermeier

Two Authors

When, in 1953, she decided to do her doctoral dissertation on Kentucky author Jesse Stuart, West Virginia native Mary (Washington) Clarke could have asked for no better cheerleader than Stuart himself.  “You are the first ever to select my work for a dissertation and you will get the fullest cooperation I can give you,” wrote Stuart, the “voice of the Kentucky hill country,” whose prolific output of novels, short stories, poems and non-fiction would make him one of the 20th century’s best known regional writers.

Clarke’s dissertation, which she adapted into a 1968 book, Jesse Stuart’s Kentucky, marked the beginning of a friendship with Stuart that lasted until his death in 1984.  By the time the book was completed, Clarke and her husband Ken had joined the faculty of WKU, where they would become recognized authorities on Kentucky folklore.  Stuart celebrated with Clarke when Jesse Stuart’s Kentucky was published and joined her at book-signing events.  His letters to Clarke kept her abreast of his writing projects and speaking engagements and gave her support and encouragement in her other scholarly endeavors.  He commiserated with Clarke on accommodating the demands of publishers and picky manuscript readers, and was curious about the jealousies and anti-academic prejudice that sometimes dogged a successful scholarly author.  His support continued during Clarke’s work on Jesse Stuart: Essays on His Work, a 5-year-long effort that saw Clarke and her co-editor coaxing contributions from busy academics and critics, then crafting the results into a volume worthy of publication.

Jesse Stuart and Mary Washington Clarke at a book signing, Greenup, Ky., 1968

Jesse Stuart and Mary Washington Clarke at a book signing, Greenup, Ky., 1968

Mary (Washington) Clarke’s papers, which include her correspondence with Jesse Stuart and other materials on her scholarly work, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more on Mary, her husband Kenneth, and Jesse Stuart, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“The End Approacheth”

Portion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Portion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

The sun rose on Independence Day, 1863, to find the Confederate States of America reeling from two disastrous engagements at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

From Pennsylvania, Charles Pennypacker wrote to his cousin Ellen Fort in Todd County, Kentucky, that his fellow citizens had “rallied as one man” to defend the state against General Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate army.  July 1, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, “was but a repetition of ‘Shiloh,’” and on the next day Lee “hurled columns after columns of troops upon our lines.”  But on July 3, Charles reported proudly, “their whole army was in full retreat” toward Richmond and “we begin to see that ‘the end approacheth.’”

Like many tide-turning battles, Gettysburg left military historians asking “what if?”  In particular, how much blame did Lieutenant General James Longstreet deserve when, on the second day of battle, he delayed executing an early-morning assault that could have given the Confederates the upper hand?  Was Longstreet, who had made clear his disagreement with Lee over tactics, merely tardy, or was he insubordinate or even treasonous?

Confederate veteran J. W. Anderson looked forward to discussing the issue with a former comrade at their 1905 reunion in Louisville, Kentucky.  A defender of Longstreet, who he occasionally saw after the war, Anderson insisted that the relations between General Lee and his subordinate commander were “always of the most cordial manner.”  But a century later, the question still bothered Laban Lacy Rice, a Webster County, Kentucky native, polymath, and former president of Cumberland University.  In 1967, he sought the opinion of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “an expert who knows Gettysburg as I know my back yard.”

Replying from his farm, where he lived in retirement near the battlefield, Eisenhower concluded that Gettysburg had been “a succession of frustrations” for General Lee, and that his decisions could not be adequately examined in a short letter.  Nevertheless, Eisenhower judged Longstreet’s failure to attack early on July 2 as “his worse error of the battle.”  As for Pickett’s Charge, the ill-fated assault on July 3 named after one of Longstreet’s generals, Eisenhower did not think it could have been successful at any time during that day.  As Charles Pennypacker observed, “the end” had approacheth.

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

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“And, daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County?”

Whether you have a taste for Serial, My Favorite Murder, Last Podcast on the Left, Making a Murderer, Wormwood, The Keepers, The Jinx, or the trusted ol’ standby—Unsolved Mysteries—it comes as no surprise that the true crime market is saturated with grisly tales of ne’er-do-wells and their unsuspecting victims. Kentucky, of course, has seen its fair share of jilted lovers and bank robberies gone sour, and, if history is to be trusted, the ol’ Bluegrass State is home to the Harpe brothers or, as they’re known more salaciously, the first documented serial killers in the country.

In her 1971 paper titled “The Harpe Brothers” former folk studies student Karen Hart details the rise and fall of Micajah and Wiley Harpe, two outlaws born in the wild thicket of Muhlenberg County in the late 18th century. The brothers, whose real names were Joshua and William, were notorious highway robbers, murderers, and river pirates whose reputation for blood lust and revenge would ultimately leave more than 40 men, women, and children dead in their wake. Hart’s paper gathers together legends relating to the brotherly bandits from current residents of the Green River Valley. The tall tales conjure images of stolen herds of prized cattle, barns burned to ashes, buried treasure, secret hideouts, and shoot-outs with the law. Their path of destruction, which spanned from Illinois to Mississippi, left whole towns cowering in fear.

As always, though, the brothers reaped what they sowed. While Wiley managed to outlive his brother by nearly four years, they both appear to have met the same fate. Hart’s paper spares the ghastlier details, but a quick online search sums it up: severed heads and spiked poles. A fitting reminder that cooler heads always prevail.

An 1875 broadside promises a handsome reward for the arrest of a train robber

An 1875 broadside promises a handsome reward for the arrest of a train robber

The paper itself (FA 1186), located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, contains photographs of participants, brief biographical sketches, and a reel-to-reel audio tape of Hart’s interviews with her informants.

For more information on Kentucky’s sordid past, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers.

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Candy is Dandy

Joseph Younglove's candy order

Joseph Younglove’s candy order

During this June, National Candy Month, let’s look in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections at an order placed in October 1847 by Bowling Green druggist Joseph Younglove to a New York manufacturer of sweets.  Included were 4 pounds each of Peppermint and Lemon Lumps; 2 pounds each of Peppermint Braid Candy and Ginger Lozenges; 4 pounds of Sugar Almonds; 2 pounds of Sassafras Lozenges; and 2 pounds of “Mottos, with verses” (sweets wrapped in tissue with mottoes enclosed).  Younglove passed up the “French Jujube Paste” (a concoction derived from a date-like fruit whose name survives today in the gummy drops we buy in boxes), but his other purchases would have filled the jars and bins of his store, which changed little during the combined 60-year proprietorship of Joseph and his brother John.

Younglove preferred to sell his candy ready-made, but everyone of a certain age remembers homemade candy.  In the 1970s, WKU student Laura Hooe researched candy-making and candy pulling in Warren County.  She collected recipes for stick, molasses, sorghum and taffy candy, and also picked up some culinary tips along the way, such as “If you have sugar in anything cooking, always add salt.”

Candy-pullings, of course, also offered a wholesome excuse for young people to socialize.  “I was at a candy pulling last knight [sic],” wrote a young man to his cousin in 1858, “and we had some fun shore.”  In 1896, an invitation went out to the Misses Page of Hart County, “respectfully” inviting them to a candy pulling on Christmas night.

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

Candy pulling invitation, 1896

Candy pulling invitation, 1896

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“A long and sad day”

Norman Rockwell painting; RFK eulogy program

Norman Rockwell painting; RFK eulogy program

Still reeling from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, the country experienced another trauma with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy only two months later.  On June 6, 1968, Kennedy died after being shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, having just celebrated his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.  His body lay in repose at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral where, on June 8, thousands attended a funeral mass and millions watched on television.

Like many Americans, Bowling Green’s Beulah Smith wrote letters of condolence to RFK’s widow Ethel and to his brother Senator Edward Kennedy.  She also expressed her sympathy to the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, who had participated in the funeral mass but fell ill during the trip to Washington and was unable to officiate at the graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I returned from the funeral services physically exhausted and emotionally spent after a long and sad day,” Cushing recounted in his letter of acknowledgement to Beulah, a copy of which is in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  “It does not seem possible that a tragedy of this magnitude could have befallen the Kennedy Family once again.”  Cushing praised Kennedy’s commitment to American ideals and his “special concern for the poor, the neglected, the downtrodden,” and hoped that his life would inspire all to “treat our neighbors in need with the same concern which motivated his remarkable career.”

A finding aid for the papers of Beulah Smith can be downloaded here.  For other materials relating to Robert F. Kennedy, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Our Own Dear Soldiers”

On May 29, 1899, James McMillian “Jim” Scott sent one of many letters to his lady friend in Columbia, Kentucky.  The two had been corresponding for two years, but it would take the Cumberland County native another three months to finally declare his love for Ellie Garnett and propose marriage.  In the meantime, at Paris, Texas, where he was then living, he awaited formal discharge from his service in the Spanish-American War.

At the onset of the war, Scott had been eager to ship out to either the Philippines or Cuba, but only got as far as Key West, Florida, when a yellow fever scare drove his company north to Montauk Point on Long Island.  It was a harrowing journey: nine days at sea aboard the filthy and “reeking” transport San Marcos with “scarcely enough food to sustain life,” evidence that a soldier’s hardships extended far beyond the battlefield.  Fortunately, the ship was met by philanthropist Helen Gould, the daughter of tycoon Jay Gould and a prominent supporter of war relief programs.  She served “fresh sweet milk”—the first Scott had tasted in months—while her assistants passed out sandwiches to the half-starved men.

After returning safely to Texas, Scott looked forward to the observance of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day).  The day would begin with an assembly at City Hall, he wrote Ellie.  Then “the dear old Confederate and Union veterans will take the lead while we veterans of the Spanish-American War in full uniform will march behind.”  After services at a local church, “we will repair to the various cemeteries and decorate the graves of the fallen heroes.  Thus we show to the world that our own dear soldiers are never forgotten and that we appreciate their gallant services.  Let us do honor to these departed heroes of ours, not only that the world may see, but that their spirits may also see and rejoice that their comrades both old and young do honor to their ashes in remembrance of their noble deeds, done for a cause we all love so well.”

Jim Scott’s story is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more war collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Veteran Hugh Stephenson's declaration (Kentucky Library Research Collections)

Veteran Hugh Stephenson’s declaration (Kentucky Library Research Collections)

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347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Margie Helm and her notes on the Inter-Racial Commission of Bowling Green

Margie Helm and her notes on the Inter-Racial Commission of Bowling Green

Issued on May 17, 1954 (and cited above), the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruled that segregated schools deprived that city’s African-American elementary school students “of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”  The court threw out the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that had upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation for more than half a century.  (The lone dissenter in Plessy was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Boyle County native and former Attorney General of Kentucky.  “We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples,” he wrote.  “But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law.”)

Long before the Brown decision, the inequalities fostered by segregation had become a concern for Margie Helm, WKU’s Director of Library Services.  In 1947, during the rebuilding of Bowling Green’s public library after a fire, she and others seized the opportunity to establish a new branch for African Americans at 412 State Street.  “As a librarian,” remembered her niece, Margie Helm “took quiet actions to help everyone have access to the books they wanted to read even before local public libraries were accessible to blacks.”  In 1949, she joined Bowling Green’s Inter-Racial Commission, created to promote educational and vocational opportunities for African Americans in the city and surrounding counties.

On November 9, 1956, as the country struggled with the Supreme Court’s imperative to desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” Margie Helm, a thoughtful and lifelong Presbyterian, spoke to a local women’s club on “Attempts to Find the Christian Attitude Toward Integration of the Public School System.”  She acknowledged “different attitudes toward integration” among her friends and colleagues, but cautioned her listeners to understand the difference between opinions and prejudices; the latter, as she quoted author Pearl Buck, should be “kept locked up in our hearts, like our tempers.”  She also pointed out the illegitimacy of the “separate but equal” doctrine, which had not produced the educational or social results it claimed to guarantee.  Calling attention to the relatively peaceful trends toward integration in cities like Evansville, Indiana, Louisville, and even at WKU, she urged fellow Southerners to read, think, empathize and, in the face of changing times, walk away from ancient prejudices.  With the help of Christians, she believed, what was once a “great problem” would dissolve, little by little.

Margie Helm’s remarks and her other collected papers are part of the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The School Over Frankfort

Student Henry Harris sketched the Montrose Law College, 1856

Student Henry Harris sketched the Montrose Law College, 1856

As an ambitious young man heading off to study law in the 1850s, Henry T. Harris of Lincoln County, Kentucky could have done no better than to enroll in Montrose Law College, described by its founder not as in Frankfort, Kentucky, but over it.

Before he departed for Dixie in 1861 to pledge his allegiance to the Confederate States of America, Thomas B. Monroe (1791-1865) resided at “Montrose,” his spacious residence on a bluff overlooking the Capitol building in Frankfort.  While serving as a U.S. District Court Judge, he also conducted law classes at his home.  In 1854, Montrose Law College was formally chartered.  Its mission had a curiously British flavor, with authority to operate departments such as “inns of chancery” and “inns of court” and to confer the degrees of “batchelor, of barrister, and of sergeant at law.”

Session Announcement

Session Announcement

Upon arrival, Henry Harris and his classmates found that Judge Monroe was the institution’s heart and soul.  “It will be observed,” stated the prospectus, “that one Professor only fills all the Professorships in this College, but all his time, not required by his judicial duties, is employed with his students,” all of whom would have at least 3 lessons a day.  Subjects ranged from civil, criminal, mercantile, maritime and international law to rhetoric, logic, and (to allow students to cut their teeth in a courtroom setting) a twice-weekly moot court.

Limited to an exclusive group of 10, all students resided at Montrose, where a fee of $230 per session covered their instruction, room and board, supplies and use of the library.  Henry Harris was delighted enough with his situation to make a sketch of the building showing the location of his rooms, the library, dining room, parlors, classroom, and even the tree under which he sat “of an evening.”

Henry Harris’s souvenirs of Montrose Law College are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other collections relating to law and lawyers, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Our Day of Affliction”

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Late in April 1865, the nation was still reeling from the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14.  Twelve days after the tragedy in Ford’s Theater, Union soldiers had tracked fugitive killer John Wilkes Booth to a Virginia farmhouse, set it on fire, then apprehended Booth after he was shot in the neck.  Booth died a few hours later.

On April 21, as the funeral train departed Washington D.C. for interment of Lincoln’s remains in Springfield, Illinois, Kentucky Governor Thomas E. Bramlette issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, May 4 as a “day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” for the citizens of his state.  The “sad calamity which has fallen upon our country,” read the proclamation, called upon “us as a people to humble ourselves before a Merciful God, and pray Him that the sin of our people, which has culminated in such great crime, be forgiven.”  He asked Kentuckians on that day to “suspend all secular business, and, at the usual hour for service, attend their respective places of worship, and engage in the solemn and earnest observance of the day. . . in this our day of affliction.”

A facsimile of Governor Bramlette’s proclamation is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to Lincoln and the assassination, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“The Paralysis”

“More cases of paralysis and one death yesterday,” Martha Potter wrote her daughter.  It was summer 1935, and polio had broken out in Bowling Green.  The reactions of Martha and other Kentuckians to this crippling and sometimes fatal disease are documented in the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Taking especially cruel aim at young children, polio or “infantile paralysis” brought fear to parents as it appeared in waves during the warm months.  As a consequence, Martha urged her daughter not to bring her grandson from Louisville for a visit.  Local children were being kept at home, she reported, and several new cases in a nearby community had prompted a quarantine.  As July turned to August, “the paralysis breaks out every few days with one more case, just enough to make us uneasy,” Martha wrote, but she hoped that approaching cooler weather would diminish the threat.

New summers brought new cases.  “Our daughter Ruth had polio last August,” Ione Edwards wrote her Bowling Green cousin Ruth Robinson in 1947.  Fortunately, treatment and exercise had left Ruth with only a limp.  The virus, however, was not finished with Ione’s family; her granddaughter had lost the use of one arm to the virus, but she hoped that the four-year-old would prove as resilient as Ruth.

In 1944, “my paralysis began with the muscles of accommodation,” wrote Oakland, Kentucky native Marietta Mansfield.  “I could not focus my eyes.”  Then polio attacked her breathing and swallowing.  A pastor and missionary, Mansfield wrote starkly of her hospitalization and struggle to regain movement.  She recovered, but suffered from muscle weakness for the rest of her life.

Polio victim Barbara Kiel, Bowling Green

Polio victim Barbara Kiel, Bowling Green

On April 26, 1954, the inoculation of elementary school students in Fairfax, Virginia launched a massive clinical study to determine the effectiveness of the Salk vaccine against polio.  As the program continued into the summer, more than half a million children were injected with either a vaccine or a placebo, and another million observed as a control group.  The results, announced on April 12, 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of polio victim Franklin Delano Roosevelt), brought elation as the vaccine was shown to have an 80-90% rate of effectiveness.  In hospital at the time battling “post-polio syndrome,” Marietta Mansfield experienced “tears of joy” and knew it was a “red letter day for the medical world and for mankind.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For other collections documenting Kentuckians’ battles with disease, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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