Author Archives: Lynn Niedermeier

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.  A finding aid is available here.

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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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Patty Hill and Her Happy Song

Patty and Mildred Hill

Patty and Mildred Hill

They wanted to create a song that was easy for young children to sing, so in 1892 Mildred Hill, a Louisville, Kentucky music teacher, wrote the tune, and her sister Patty Smith Hill, a pathbreaking kindergarten educator, wrote the lyrics.  Good morning, dear children, good morning to you, it began, with the children’s reply, Good morning, dear teacher, good morning to you.  But another sister, Jessica, adapted the song for a birthday, and the iconic “Happy Birthday to You” was born.

The story of “Happy Birthday” is known to some because of the song’s curiously long-lived copyright (it didn’t officially enter the public domain until 2016).  But in 1982, Hopkinsville, Kentucky teacher Marion Lee Adams delved deeper into the lives of the Hill sisters and their composition when she wrote an article, “Patty Hill and Her Happy Song,” for her professional society, Delta Kappa Gamma.  Further articles followed, as well as research on the Hill family and correspondence with Mildred and Patty’s nephew Archibald Hill, the sole surviving beneficiary of “Happy Birthday’s” sentimental and commercial popularity.  Archibald credited Mary, the first Hill sister to begin teaching, with the understanding that songs were a valuable part of a child’s education.  And Mildred, who gave private music lessons at home because of poor health, must have realized that her new tune had to accommodate the limited octave range of a child.

During its term of copyright, public performances of “Happy Birthday,” of course, earned generous royalties.  For example, Adams wrote, the long-running Broadway play “The Gin Game” generated $25 every time the strains of “Happy Birthday to You” played in the background of this tragi-comedy.

Marion Lee Adams’s collected research and correspondence about “Happy Birthday to You” is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more about Kentucky’s musical heritage, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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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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