In fall 1860, Sallie McElroy Knott enjoyed recording in her journal her impressions of the young Prince of Wales when he visited the St. Louis Fair. Newly married, Sallie was living with her husband, future Kentucky governor J. Proctor Knott, in Jefferson City, where he was serving as attorney general. But Sallie had other fair experiences, including one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when she was still Miss Sallie McElroy, a teacher at the local female academy.
It was late September, 1857, the school was closed “on account of the Fair,” and her students “were crazy” to go. Sallie herself was somewhat indifferent, but had resolved to attend in order to root for some of the young people in their first public displays of horsemanship. The next day, however, she had to confess to her journal of the “dire catastrophe my poor self met with yesterday! Where to find a corner dark enough to hide my blushes or a washing tub big enough to contain the floods of tears issuing from my eyes!”
Sallie had dressed quickly to meet her escort at the fair—as quickly as possible, given that these were not the days of shorts, tank tops and flip-flops—but in her rush she had neglected to notice that “my unmentionables were about to burst out at the buttonhole.” Upon her arrival, “horrors!” Sallie wrote. “The 1st step I took I felt a loosening around my waist.” She tried to “clutch desperately” at her “most nether garment through crinoline, flannel etc. with both hands,” but then she met a flight of steps and her escort insisted on taking one of her hands. Making it to the top “with the aforesaid garment dangling around my feet,” she found a place to sit down, then managed somehow to shed the rogue undies and stuff them in a crack under the seat.
Sallie’s hope that no one would discover her cast-offs was disappointed in the worst way. Some young boys not only found them, she wrote, but “twisted my poor lost trousers on a pole & perambulated with them round the Fairgrounds.” A patron at the fair, one “Dr. Vanmeter,” gallantly intervened “& rescued my poor unfortunates,” but instead of attempting to reunite them with their owner’s “longing legs,” he carefully put them in his pocket! “I’m afraid he’ll wear ‘em clean out,” Sallie concluded in a comic coda to this bizarre episode, “& I shan’t ever get a last fond look at ‘em.”
Sallie (McElroy) Knott’s journals (we’ll hear from her yet again) are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here for a finding aid. For more collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.