“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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Interning in Special Collections

DLSC intern Ariana Pedigo.

DLSC Intern Ariana Pedigo.

My internship in the Kentucky Building was my first ever, so I was incredibly excited to work in the Kentucky Library Research Collections, as well as the Manuscript and Folklife Archives. I love how everyone in the building works together mutually to help one another out. After my nervousness wore off, I felt like I was part of a special group of friends whom all had the same goal to preserve, protect, and catalogue the items for future research, and to ensure that nothing happens to wipe these items from our history! The work that is completed by everyone in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC) is the work of guardian angels, who work to keep the lives of past individuals alive throughout time!

A miniature book from DLSC collections.

In the Kentucky Library, I got to handle many beautiful and old books, some that were written entirely in Latin, some that were incredibly small, and others that had breathtaking illustrations on their title pages! Some of the Latin titles, I would write down and go home to translate since I had taken an online Latin course in fall 2017! I learned how to Colibri books and catalogue them into an online system, ALMA. I also got better at reading Roman numerals that went higher than 12 (I was used to reading clocks with Roman numerals), as many of the books had their publication year listed in Roman numerals. Some of my favorite books that I got to work with were the miniature books, and some were on the topic of my archaeology concentration, like a book which covered the mound builders!

Working in Manuscripts was vastly different. When I started working with the George Twyman Wood collection, I knew it was fascinating, but I was still new to handling such old documents and I was terrified the entire time. I did not want to harm any of the important records! By the time I was sorting the William P. Hatcher collection, I was more comfortable with the old paper, and took more time looking at the documents and enjoyed the process of that collection more. If I could say anything about the William P. Hatcher collection, it would be that there is nothing quite like a mother’s love for her child. William P. Hatcher’s mother wrote him a letter almost every day of the year! It was very sweet, and she would almost always write some sort of variation of greeting, “My Darling One”, “My Dearest”, etc., it is beautiful to know, that although our individual lives may be short, our love may live on forever and touch someone we don’t even know!

I enjoyed my internship in DLSC. Everyone that I worked with there is an absolute darling, but I especially want to thank Jonathan Jeffrey for inviting me to intern in DLSC and teaching me about manuscripts. I also want to thank Joseph Shankweiler as well for teaching me about the rare books!  On top of this, I found out that this internship carries a scholarship with it that is named for former DLSC librarian Connie Mills.  It allows students to experience more than one area with DLSC during an internship.  The scholarship is given once a year.  If you are interested, or know someone who is, in the Connie Mills Special Collections Internship have them contact Jonathan Jeffrey at 270-745-5265 or jonathan.jeffrey@wku.edu

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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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Special Collections Gains Oral History Accreditation

Western Kentucky University’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, a part of the Department of Library Special Collections, was recently granted accreditation status by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC). Archives that receive accreditation serve as “permanent repositories for oral history collections, which KOHC sponsors through grant awarded funds.” With its newly appointed status, the Folklife Archives joins a group of state-recognized institutions dedicated to the long-term care, preservation, and maintenance of regionally-specific oral history projects. These projects, conducted by professional and amateur researchers, highlight the nuanced and complex issues surrounding community, identity, heritage, and tradition throughout the commonwealth. Accreditation is granted for a five-year period, after which the institution must re-apply.

The accreditation certificate issued to Manuscripts & Folklife Archives by the Kentucky Oral History Commission.

“Having accredited repositories available throughout the Commonwealth is an important asset to the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC). Preservation and statewide access are two of our keystone values, and WKU is now our western-most accredited institution. The KOHC has enjoyed a long and happy relationship with Western Kentucky University, and this distinction will only strengthen it,” said Sarah Schmitt, current Oral History Manager at the Kentucky Historical Society.

The application process, which was completed over the span of several months by Jonathan Jeffrey, the Department Head of Library Special Collections, and Delainey Bowers, a graduate student in the Folk Studies program, emphasized the Folklife Archives’ commitment to creating a repository, both as a physical space and as an online environment that values progressive storage policies and practices. With more than 5,000 audio recordings in analog form—including oral histories on reel-to-reel audiotapes and cassettes, as well as born-digital materials—the Archives places an importance on making collections available and easily accessible to the public. Through the use of online platforms, such as WKU’s TopSCHOLAR and Pass the Word, a KOHC-sponsored discovery tool geared towards oral history collections throughout the state of Kentucky, the Folklife Archives continues to prioritize recorded content in progressive and meaningful ways.

“I’m pleased that we have attained accreditation and met the standards set by KOHC’s progressive leadership. Kentucky has long boasted one of the country’s finest oral history programs. WKU’s Folk Studies and Anthropology and History departments have helped us amass a significant collection of audio material that document the Commonwealth’s folklore and history,” said Department Head Jonathan Jeffrey. Significant aid for this project came from former Folk Studies and Anthropology Department Head, Dr. Michael Ann Williams, current Folk Studies Director, Dr. Ann Ferrell, Director of the Kentucky Museum and Kentucky Folklife Program, Brent Bjorkman, Dean of Libraries, Susann DeVries, Library Systems Office Coordinator, Michael Moore, Provost, David Lee, and the Potter College of Arts and Letters.

According to Ferrell, “The Folklife Archives at WKU was started in 1953 by renowned folklorist D.K. Wilgus who taught in our program at that time. It includes collections completed by students and faculty since then, including retired Professor Lynwood Montell, as well as the collections of the Kentucky Folklife Program, which moved from Frankfort to WKU in 2012. We are thrilled about the receipt of this accreditation, as it will open further opportunities for the deposit of materials of regional significance.”

WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, housed in the Kentucky Building, has been collecting material related to the history and culture of Kentucky since the late-1920s. The Department has three units: the Kentucky Library, Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, and WKU Archives.

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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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Coe Campbell, the Delroy & Patricia Hire Intern Recipient

My name is Coe Campbell and I was honored to receive the Hire Memorial Scholarship for 2018. Jonathan Jeffrey, the Department Head of Special Collections describes the internship. He says that “the Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Internship was established in 2015 to provide students with professional experience working in a special collections library, specifically with material from Allen and Monroe counties in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee.” This scholarship opened the opportunity for me to work in the Department of Library of Special Collections at WKU. This funded internship was more than an academic opportunity; it was a life changing experience. 

While doing research and working here at the Library, I felt like I was discovering myself as well as preserving history. I have learned to value everything while interning here, Christmas cards, letters, old farm signs and even business cards are important. I have found that behind every good textbook and history book there is a plethora of sources that no doubt came from a library. I have heard many say that libraries are boring places, others have stated that libraries as we know them are soon to die-out altogether; but I must beg to differ. A Special Collections library, like WKU’s, is a rich and vibrant source of knowledge and information. I would recommend anyone to come to the Special Collections Library spend even one hour in research; I promise they will find something that will spark their interest on almost any topic.   

This internship has inspired me to put my history major to use by hopefully pursuing a MA in Library Science so one day I can help people reconnect to their past. I also want to help to preserve the history of common folk so future generations will know that everyone regardless of their social or economic status is important in the history of us all. History to me is more than dates and important people. History is web of stories, personalities, and people all interconnected. I am thankful somewhere in that web of life; my own history will be found.  

Take a look at some of the things that I processed at Kentucky Library Research Collections  and through TopSCHOLAR.

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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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“But when you love the green backed dollar, sorrow always bound to follow”

The 1978 Kentucky Derby Winner, Affirmed

The 1978 Kentucky Derby Winner, Affirmed

Bettin’ on the ponies ain’t no easy task, but former folk studies students Robert Sherman and William Adams may have cracked the code. In their 1972 paper titled “Kentucky Horseracing and Horse-Betting: Various Gambling Patterns and Techniques of the Kentucky Horseracing Community,” Sherman and Adams hoofed it to Churchill Downs on Opening Day to learn the ins-and-outs of wagering, handicapping, and risking it all for sweet taste of victory.

Whether betting across the board, eyeballing a Daily Double, or keeping your fingers crossed for a win, place, show, playing the ponies is a beacon of light for casual bettors and professional gamblers alike. Sherman and Adams’ subjects divulged their reasons for hitting the tracks, which ranged from hopes of financial gain to enjoying a simple recreational pastime, but all agreed that horse-betting—an art form in and of itself—requires patience, dedication, and a small touch of luck.

If you’re willing to go all-in for the Longines Kentucky Oaks filly race today, or if you’d rather raise the stakes at tomorrow’s Derby, you may want to keep these tips ‘n tricks in mind:

1. Let the Lucky Numbers Be Your Guide

Jim Ray, a native Kentuckian, is a believer in the power of lucky numbers. Writes Sherman, “He told us that he selects the horse according to the last digit in the weight that horse carries. If the weight of the horse is 118 pounds, then he would bet on the 8th horse listed.” Ray admits that his technique is a little unusual, but the cash in his wallet speaks for itself.

2. Go With Your Gut

Intuition exists for a reason, or at least Martha Bangston believes it does. Bangston keeps her system simple, an amateur approach that favors the odds without running against any longshots. Sherman explains it as, “There are usually nine races on a daily card. [Bangston] breaks these down into three groups of three races each. In the first race of each group, she bets the horse with the best odds on the program. In the second race, she bets the horse with the second best odds and so on.” Her success rates with this method are high, and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

3. A Thoroughbred by Any Other Name

Lorene Budd, a cautious gambler at best, factors in the horse’s name when placing her bets. “A horse that has a name similar to one of her friends or relatives is the one that she selects,” writes Sherman. So if you have an uncle’s whose name sounds similar to Firenze Fire (and don’t we all?), or a bestie named Magnum Moon, you’d better start the drive up to Louisville.

For more information on the Kentucky Derby, racetrack betting, or jockey lore, 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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