Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Abel, Boyd, and Kuykendall

Abel Brothers funeral program (Kentucky Library Ephemera Collection)

Abel Brothers funeral program (Kentucky Library Ephemera Collection)

In 1900, James E. Kuykendall (1874-1960), an African-American native of Butler County, Kentucky, opened a funeral home at 819 State Street in Bowling Green.  For more than 50 years, he served the city’s African-American population both alone and in partnership with James A. Boyd.  In the 1930s, brothers Francis and Richard Abel established Abel Brothers, which also served the same constituents.

The records of these historic African-American businesses were later placed with Gatewood and Sons Funeral Chapel, and copies are held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Dating from 1900-1970, they provide data about funeral dates and expenses, but some are useful genealogical resources because they provide additional information about the deceased such as occupation, cause of death, parents’ names, and place of interment.  Also included with these records is a listing of interments in Mt. Moriah, Bowling Green’s African-American cemetery.

A finding aid for these funeral home records can be accessed here.  For more collections on funeral homes and other businesses, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Sophia

Sophia, 1874

Sophia, 1874

She was, by his description, a “little mulatto girl” he first encountered in 1867 during his military duty at Little Rock, Arkansas.  Their ensuing 22-year relationship was neither simple nor ordinary, but the story of Sophia and Captain Richard Vance, a native of Warren County, Kentucky, is preserved in Vance’s diaries, now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  The only thing missing from the story, sadly, is the voice of Sophia herself.

Separated from her family and cast adrift after her emancipation from slavery, Sophia, no more than sixteen years old, seemed doomed to become the sexual plaything of the officers in Vance’s garrison.  Indeed, that may have been how Vance himself, who frequented local prostitutes to satisfy his need for a woman’s “delicious embraces,” initially regarded her.  But he soon found himself “desperately stuck on my little girl”– my “new flame”– and when Sophia’s principal patron abandoned her, she became his servant and mistress.

Though completely smitten, Vance was fearful that his “dangerous experiment” would be discovered.  Nevertheless, neither he nor Sophia were inclined to end the relationship, and he was relieved in 1869 when he managed to bring her along to his new posting at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  In 1876, they were at Fort Dodge, Kansas, where Sophia married and departed, Vance assumed, for a new life.  Before long, however, both Sophia and her husband George returned and took up the care of his household.  Throughout Vance’s subsequent duty in the Indian Territory, Colorado and Texas, they turned his military lodgings into a comfortable home, anchored his life, and eased his restlessness and unhappiness with the Army.  When Henry, a young boy abandoned to Sophia’s care, joined the household, an odd but strangely durable family unit was created.

Everything changed late in 1888, when Vance returned to Fort Clark, Texas from a lengthy trip to find Sophia ill.  He had been wearily searching for a place to retire and had even purchased a farm near Washington, D.C., but was torn between bringing Sophia, George and Henry into his post-Army life or making a clean break.  Only after watching in anguish as Sophia sank and died in May 1889 did he understand what he had lost.  His diary entry cried out simply:  I am in a world of trouble.  Sophia.

Sophia, 1888

Sophia, 1888

Wandering from place to place in retirement, Vance routinely turned his thoughts back to his years with Sophia.  “Those were my best and happiest days,” he wrote, “the like of which I must not expect to see again, for there was but one Sophia.”  On a January morning in 1893, he found the scene outside his lodgings so reminiscent of “the prospect from the back window of the last quarters I occupied in Ft. Clark that I can easily fancy that I have but to go below to find Sophia busying about some household duty; to find Henry playing with his toys in the yard; to find the dogs lazily dozing in the wood shed; and all the paraphernalia of my old establishment.”  For Vance, who never married, Sophia represented a golden age that he had failed to appreciate and to which he could never return.

Click here for a finding aid to the Richard Vance Collection.  For more collections search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Within the All of It: Trigg County African-American Oral History Project

“What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

In the fall of 1995, four folk studies students from the Cultural Conservation class at WKU conducted an oral history project to document African American heritage in Caldwell, Christian, Todd, and Trigg counties. With grant-based funding from the Pennyrile Area Development District (PADD), local committees were established in each county, allowing interviewers to become better acquainted with long-time residents and their personal narratives, which focused on their experiences of living in Trigg County.

The student group recorded a total of 18 interviews with 15 participants, most of whom have longstanding familial ties to the region. The interviews, which often take the format of a “life history,” cover a broad range of topics from American Bandstand, sorority life, courtship customs, and bootlegging, to tobacco harvesting, family reunions, quilting bees, and church services. The scope of the project, spanning nearly five decades from the early 1900s to the late 1950s, marks an era of both agricultural and industrial growth, political uncertainty, and technological advancement—all nipping at the heels of the stirring civil rights movement.

Serving as the first oral history project of its kind in Trigg County, the lives of its participants are played out on tape in ways that reveal what it meant to be black in the Jim Crow South, how physical landscapes shape cultural traditions, and how a strong sense of identity was—and remains—crucial in developing supportive, lasting communities.

Onie Bakerat her home in Cadiz, Kentucky (October 1995)

Onie Baker at her home in Cadiz, Kentucky (October 1995)

 

The collection itself (FA 196), located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, contains photographs of participants, brief biographical sketches, original interview cassette tapes, and detailed indexes of every recorded interview.

For information on African American experiences in Kentucky, Trigg County, and additional oral history projects, 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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She Got to “Y”

Novelist Sue Grafton published her first “alphabet” mystery, A is For Alibi, in 1982.  At the time of her death in December 2017, the native of Louisville, Kentucky had penned 25 best-selling titles, most recently Y is for Yesterday, and both Grafton and Kinsey Millhone, her fictional “hard-boiled” female detective and heroine of the series, had earned a worldwide following.  Grafton had long known that her finale, slated to appear in fall 2019, would be called Z is for Zero.

Photo of Sue Grafton (then Susan Flood) in 1960 Talisman, the WKU yearbook.

Sue Grafton (then Susan Flood) attended WKU for two years (1960 Talisman).

In 2000, with her 15th book complete and many more yet to be conceived, Grafton told an interviewer that “thinking about the rest of the alphabet was apoplexy-inducing.”  But three years later, she was still on course, as she told a fan.  “I’m currently at work on ‘R’ IS FOR . . . which has a title that’s known only to me,” she wrote.  Ten chapters were done, but she believed it was better “to wait until the story’s laid out so I can make sure the title is appropriate.”  Though she confessed that “each book seems harder to write than the one before,” Grafton hoped her correspondent would “follow me all the way ’til ‘Z’ IS FOR ZERO.”

Sue Grafton’s letter to one of her many fans is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections on Kentucky authors, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Sue Grafton's signature

“Yours in crime”

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Younglove’s Drugstore

Younglove's Drugstore

Younglove’s Drugstore

It’s January 12 – National Pharmacists Day, when we show appreciation for these health care professionals by, among other things, producing a valid insurance card and not whining about why it takes so long to fill our prescription.

As we have previously blogged, the work of pharmacists over generations appears in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  But if one Bowling Green pharmacy came closest to becoming an institution, it was Younglove’s Drugstore.

Born in Johnstown, New York in 1826, John E. Younglove followed his brother Joseph to Bowling Green in 1844.  The two became business partners in what was then known as the Quigley Building at the corner of Main and State streets (it still stands).  After Joseph’s death, John continued the business.  Younglove’s was not only a drugstore but a post office, stage coach stop and social center, and became known to everyone in the county.  Its display cases, sales counter, furniture and shelving remained unchanged for decades, and locals arriving for a chat would seat themselves on a venerated old seed box by the stove.  In addition to discussions of the day’s news, it was said that many political campaigns were waged astride this box.  Behind the counter, Younglove kept a vast trove of chemical knowledge.  His prescription book collected not only remedies for piles, cholera, gonorrhea and hay fever but preparation instructions for ink, “denarcotized laudanum,” hair color, and “cement for burial cases.”  His poison register recorded the sale of dangerous compounds: morphine for cramping, arsenic to kill mice, and strychnine for “varmints.”

John E. Younglove; a page from his prescription book

John E. Younglove; a page from his prescription book

John Younglove was as much of an institution as his store.  A man of modest height who was fond of tall silk hats, he was a repository of local history and a dabbler in many pursuits.  A naturalist, town trustee and cemetery commissioner, he collected archaeological specimens and rare books, maintained weather observations, and preserved data on milestones such as the 1811 earthquake, the 1833 cholera epidemic, the 1869 eclipse, and various floods, freezes and droughts.  When he retired in 1905 and rented his building to new druggists, they demanded such “newfangled” amenities as utilities, a plate glass window, and a soda fountain.  Insurance cards, fortunately, were still far in the future.

Click here for a finding aid to the Younglove family papers.  For more on pharmacists, the Youngloves and their drugstore, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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All the News from Birdland

The Kentucky Warbler, May 1980

The Kentucky Warbler, May 1980

Today (January 5) is National Bird Day, a good time to remind bird lovers that they can access full-text copies of The Kentucky Warbler through TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository.

First published in 1925, the Warbler is the bulletin of the Kentucky Ornithological Society.  WKU faculty member Gordon Wilson was one of the Society’s founders and an editor of the Warbler.  Its inaugural issue invited contributions of news, member activities, field notes, ornithological papers, and all things “of interest in birdland.”

Click here to access issues from January 1925 through February 2016.  For more on birds and birding, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Woven from the Warp and Woof”: Sarah Gertrude Knott and the National Folk Festival

1936 National Folk Festival

Window card for the 1936 National Folk Festival

Sarah Gertrude Knott knew how to set a stage.

Born in Kevil, Kentucky in 1895, Knott was no stranger to the deeply rooted folkways of small southern towns, but it was the siren’s song of the small stage and the silver screen that called her west. In St. Louis, Knott served as a member in a local theatre guild, The Dramatic League. It was in this space—surrounded by vaudeville performers, snake handlers, comedians, and musicians—where Knott first found inspiration for what would later become the National Folk Festival (NFF).

Having received funding from the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the first festival was held in St. Louis in 1934 at a time when the country was still in the economic throes of the Great Depression. In her 1946 article titled “The National Folk Festival after Twelve Years,” Knott remembers that at the time of its inception, “folk beliefs, legends, superstitions, folk songs, music, and dances were considered ‘crude relics of an outlived past.’” Seeking to redefine what constituted “American” folklore, Knott used her critically creative eye to frame (and stage!) folklife traditions in a way that underscored their relevance to a contemporary audience in a contemporary space. After World War II, when the United States saw an influx in immigration numbers, Knott’s vision sought to include performances from “Scandinavians, Italians, Jews, Bulgarians, Chinese, Finns, Rumanians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Russians, Czechoslovakians, Poles, Spaniards, and Lithuanians.” While the idea of the United States as a melting pot may be idealized, Knott was determined to give equitable recognition to cultures and communities that were beginning to blossom, and flourish, during the early 20th century.

The new addition in the Department of Library Special Collections accentuates Knott’s expansive collection held in DLSC’s Folklife Archives is a “visually striking (and somewhat disconcerting) promotional window card for the third annual National Folk Festival.” The NFF, hosted in conjunction with the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, was the final festival in a year-long string of celebratory events sponsored by the State Board of Education and Departments of Recreation in the Lone Star State. While Knott was primarily concerned with incorporating representatives of Texas’ diverse ethnic population into the program—such as the Kiowa and Tigua tribes and members of Mexican and Spanish communities—Anglo and African American performers dominated the stages.

As with most folkloristic programs related to performance and presentation, the NFF was not without its faults. Knott was often accused of allowing her own aesthetic and theatric interpretations to overshadow the artistic expressions of the tradition bearers, and sometimes these arrangements could lean toward stereotypical representations of ethnic identities. However, Knott’s commitment towards emphasizing the relevance and significance of folkways should not be overlooked. Knott concludes her article on a note of hope when she writes, “Our national culture is being woven from the warp and woof of the variegated color strains of many nations. No one would want to dull the richness of that pattern. How bleak indeed would be the cultural outlook for the future if we overlooked the distinctive, individual cultures in a universal, standardized, regimented culture!”

To visit the WKU Manuscripts and Folklife Archives website, click here!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Explore World War I

A soldier's postcard (Price Family Collection)

A soldier’s postcard (Price Family Collection)

About 84,000 Kentuckians saw Army service in World War I.  About half of them served overseas, and out of a total of 2,418 deaths, 890 were battle-related.

In this anniversary year of the U.S.’s entry into the war, a web site now allows researchers easy access to information about the World War I collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Included in our collections are letters, diaries, photographs, military records, scrapbooks and other materials documenting the experiences of Kentucky soldiers and those they left behind on the home front.  Young men from the Commonwealth and elsewhere arrived at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville’s massive training site, where they were inoculated, drilled, and prepared for war.  They wrote encouraging letters to lonely wives and sweethearts.  They endured the ocean voyage to England and France, and marveled at the sights and strange customs “over there.”  Some of them escaped wounds and death from battle, only to succumb to influenza and other communicable diseases.

Click here to go to the site.  Each listed collection comes with a link to TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository, from which a finding aid explaining the collection in more detail can be downloaded.

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Camp Zachary Taylor

Barracks at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

“Some things I’ve seen here I [wouldn’t] believe if I hadn’t seem them.”  So declared an awestruck soldier on finding himself in Louisville, Kentucky, for military training at Camp Zachary Taylor.

After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Camp Taylor (named for the U.S. president and former Louisville resident) materialized in a mere 90 days.  The largest of 16 such camps across the country, it grew to the size of a small city, with more than 2,000 buildings and a population of as many as 47,000 troops.  As they passed through the camp, soldiers wrote to family and friends with their impressions, and the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections holds many such letters.

Some noted the rigors of their training.  “We hiked about three miles with all of our equipment,” wrote “Mack” Muncy, “and I have been tired ever since.”  Arthur Miller, an enlistee from Connecticut, complained of “the nervous tension” resulting from a three-month crash course in artillery.  But other aspects of military life drew more frequent comment as young men were ushered into a new world of routine and regimentation.  Part of their “processing” ordeal was receiving vaccinations, which left many of them light-headed, sore-armed and sick.  Of his two shots, Wilson Sprowl wrote “that first Doce [dose] made some [of] the Boys sick and some fa[i]nted.”  Several of his mates, confirmed Grant Sorgen, “laid down from the vaccination, but I got thru O.K.”  Contagious illness, nevertheless, plagued this large group of assembled humanity from all parts of the country.  Fay Alexander found himself part of a quarantine “because one of the fellows got awake with the measels.”  Jim Grinstead had already had measles, but was worried that if too many of his fellow soldiers fell ill, “they will keep all of us in and that will give me hell” for “I have a date with my girl.”

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Other aspects of camp life were more satisfying.  From most accounts, the food was tasty and plentiful.  “This morning we had coffee, biscuits, fried potatoes, cream of wheat and bacon,” wrote Fay Alexander.  “They sure do eat up the grub.”  Grant Sorgen was happy with “a fine shower bath to-day and three good meals.  So far, ‘This is the life,’” he declared, “but may not last long.”  Just as memorable was the hospitality of the local citizenry.  Arthur Miller enjoyed regular Saturday entertainment at the “Hawaiian Gardens” dance hall, courtesy of “numerous, sweet and innocent southern maidens.”  Mack Muncy concurred: “Yes the girls are pretty free with us boys it is no trouble to get acquainted down here; if a fellow hasn’t got a girl it is his fault I am shure.”

On September 9, 1918, Private Ivan Wilson arrived at Camp Taylor.  Wilson, who would go on to a long teaching career in WKU’s art department, was a diminutive 5 feet 4-1/2 inches and just over 100 pounds.  Nevertheless, the gentle Calloway County native resolved to meet the challenge.  Though consigned to clerical duties, he found the Army “thrilling”: “When I really did get my uniform on,” he wrote in his diary, “I knew that Germany would soon surrender.”  And Germany did.  On February 24, 1919, Wilson was discharged from Camp Taylor a “150% better man than when I came.  I am going back into civilian life much better prepared to face the issues of life: to pass things which formerly have depressed me and has caused me to pine my life away in vain.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  In this centennial year of the U.S.’s entry into World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more of our war collections.

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Strikeout Artist

Cumberland University baseball team; Laban Lacy Rice

Cumberland University baseball team; Laban Lacy Rice

As this year’s World Series wraps up, we look back at Dixon, Kentucky native Laban Lacy Rice, whose long life as an educator, classicist, hoax artist, astronomer and cosmologist began to take shape when he entered Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee and organized its first baseball team.

From 1890 to 1893, Rice and his younger brother Cale Young Rice were, as pitcher and catcher respectively, the team’s feared battery.  In the early days of his career, when the pitcher’s mound was nine feet closer to home plate, Rice, who possessed control, velocity and mastery of one of the first curve balls inflicted on local batters, regularly recorded 15 to 18 strikeouts; he recorded 21 against an unfortunate team from Hopkinsville.

However, it was Cumberland’s rivalry with Vanderbilt University that attracted the most enthusiasm.  Behind Rice’s pitching, Cumberland regularly defeated Vandy and whenever the players returned from a road game, throngs of cheering citizens would meet them at the train station and escort them back to town.  But there was no line drawn between amateurs and professionals, and when Vanderbilt engineering student Ben Sanders—also a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies—took the mound, Cumberland finally fell to its arch rival.

Besides Rice, Cumberland fielded other players who later excelled in their chosen careers, such as Tennessee Chief Justice Grafton Green and Missouri Supreme Court Justice James T. “Tom” Blair.  Lacy Rice himself became chancellor, then president of his alma mater.  Although he tried his hand briefly at professional baseball, his interests soon expanded “from curved balls to curved space” as he counted among his many academic achievements an expertise in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Laban Lacy Rice’s career in baseball and education is documented in his collection of papers held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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