Monthly Archives: January 2020

Versailles in an uproar

P. J. and Blanche Noel; and a warning about “fake news”

In mid-1918, the Germans launched a series of offensives along the Western Front in a last-ditch attempt to secure victory in the Great War.  The fighting was ferocious, but on the afternoon of July 25 the news broke in Versailles, Kentucky that the German crown prince and his massive army of several hundred thousand were now captives of the Allies. 

Visiting Versailles was Philip J. Noel, Sr. of Bowling Green, who was busy setting up a local office for his network of insurance agents.  Like many other Kentuckians, “P. J.” had followed the war news with dread; he was saddened by the recent combat deaths of former president Theodore Roosevelt’s son Quentin and, closer to home, the loss of the nephew of a former county sheriff.  But now, with this spectacular capitulation of the enemy, perhaps peace was at hand; indeed, wrote P. J. to his wife Blanche, the news had unleashed a tide of pent-up relief.

“Well, I never saw anything like it.  Versailles was in an uproar,” P. J. reported the next day.  On the news of the Crown Prince’s capture, “everything turned loose”: bands played, people marched, and revelers discharged pistols and shotguns until after dark.  Members of the local African-American community “got into wagons and marched all over town”—especially relieved, perhaps, because a week earlier fifty of their number had departed for Army service.

But then things got out of hand, no doubt exacerbated by the popping of gunfire and some generous toasts of whiskey.  A runaway horse and buggy, its two young lady passengers having bailed in the nick of time, ran straight into an automobile.  The buggy flipped and was dragged along the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians.  P. J. had to leap from the car in which he was sitting and duck into a hotel in order to avoid being struck.  On the heels of this mishap came four drunken men in an automobile, which also flipped and injured three of them.  Next came two fights: one that hospitalized one of the participants, and another between a restaurant owner and a rival confectioner. 

Then came the knockout punch.  No sooner had the dust settled, P. J. wrote, than “we all wake up to find out that the Crown Prince had not been captured and it was all a mistake.”  If only the citizens of Versailles had read that day’s Bourbon News from nearby Paris, Kentucky, warning about “wild grapevine” stories of the Crown Prince’s defeat.  Until verified by the paper’s “reliable sources,” sniffed the editors, such news had to be taken with “a pinch of salt.”

P. J. Noel’s letter is part of the Noel Collection, currently being processed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat, and click here to view our World War I collections.

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Food, Glorious Food!

Food is one of the necessities of life.  It is no surprise that Library Special Collections—which documents the Commonwealth’s culture—has quite a few items related to food.  To celebrate this culinary material, an exhibit titled “Food, Glorious Food!” has been installed in the Jackson Gallery, on the second floor of the Kentucky Building.  The exhibit will run through June 26.

Our exhibit panel features a photograph from Library Special Collections of a big cookout held at the top of WKU’s hill in 1915.

Each case within the exhibit represents different aspects of Kentucky’s culinary heritage.  Chief amongst the cases is one that highlights the collection’s cookbooks.  In 2003 the Kentucky Library was the beneficiary of a large number of cookbooks from the estate of Jeanne (Leach) Moore, a Morgantown native.  This collection included over 1,500 titles that were added to the collection.  This was expanded significantly with a gift from Albert Schmid a few years later.  Without a doubt, Library Special Collections boasts one of Kentucky’s most significant cookbook collections.  This case features the variety of cookbooks found in the collection ranging from an 1823 early-American cookbook to children’s guides to cookery.  Because of the depth of this collection, cookbooks are used throughout the exhibit.

Walgreen’s menu, ca. 1944.

Another focal case features menus from restaurants across the state, ranging from dime store soda fountain menus to those from fine Louisville restaurants.  These items are cultural treasures, as they share fares available at various food establishments, costs of items, logos and trademarks, and colorful graphics.  This case also includes examples of matchbooks, once a ubiquitous give-away at restaurants, postcards, and business cards.

A toy stove that once belonged to Marjorie Claggett. Courtesy of Kentucky Museum

One case includes material related to stoves and ranges.  Generally a stove uses coal or wood for a fire source, and a range uses electricity or gas.  This case features cookbooks from several appliance companies, photographs of these appliances, and promotional material issued by various manufacturers.  Included is a photograph of the showroom of the Louisville Tin & Stove Company which shows many of the company’s wares on display.  Also included is a catalog from the same company which indicates the great array of stoves and other items produced by this concern.  The last two items were donated by Pam Elrod.  The highlight of this case is a miniature toy stove donated by Marjorie Claggett and appears courtesy of the Kentucky Museum.

Other cases feature images and publications from Western Kentucky University food science classes and other campus food related activities; labels and other items of food packaging; material highlighting some Kentucky food specialties such as cream candy, Hot Browns, derby pie, and mint juleps; and large posters and photographs that document certain aspects of food in the Commonwealth.

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Tobacco Warehouse

A rare and apparently unrecorded broadside, recently acquired by the Department of Library Special Collections, describes a public meeting in Hickman, Kentucky. From this meeting, a committee of five men were appointed to approach the Kentucky legislature about the creation of a state tobacco warehouse. They wanted to “memorialize” or remind the Legislature of the heavy charges which are imposed at New Orleans and present Hickman, KY as an alternative. Hickman, they note is a desirable location that is easily navigable all year round. They record that Hickman’s shipments for the year, 1846 are: 3000 hogshead of tobacco, almost 20,000 bushels of wheat and 1350 bales of cotton. Senator Thomas  James presented to the Kentucky Senate this memorial for the people of Hickman and Fulton County. Hickman, the county seat of Fulton County, is situated on the Mississippi River in western Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase region. There is no evidence, in later Senate journals that the Legislature chose Hickman as a state shipping center. However, tobacco, cotton, timber, and other products were shipped both by rail and by steamboat from Hickman and it gained increasing prominence as a transportation center.

See this and other broadsides at kencat.wku.edu

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Barrels, Mash and Sugar

Abandoned still, Elliott County, Ky.

The “Great Experiment” began on January 17, 1920, the day the Volstead Act took effect in the United States.  Better known as Prohibition, it banned the production, sale and transport of “intoxicating liquors” and instantly turned many thirsty Americans into outlaws.  Thanks to an enterprising Iowa whiskey maker, it’s now designated as “National Bootlegger’s Day.”  Even better, it’s also the birthday of Al Capone, boss of the “Chicago outfit” of gangsters who made his name in the bootlegging business.

The history and folklore of bootlegging and moonshining (or, as we more delicately catalog it, “illicit distilling”) is well represented in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  In addition to books and historic photographs, research projects created by students are housed in the Folklife Archives.  For example:

A 1970 paper by Mike Harmon profiled the moonshiners “Google” and “Red.”  Both took pride in the quality of their homemade whiskey, although Google, who never drank, professed to be much better at his craft than Red, who did.  A commercial fisherman, Red set up his still on the Ohio River and transported his materials there by boat.  He recalled fishing on the river one day and glimpsing as many as a dozen working stills along its banks.

A 1972 paper by Virginia Antonini gave a portrait of “Jim,” an Indiana farmer who made moonshine to supplement his income.  While running some of the moonshine to a farmer’s market in Louisville, his wife was stopped by the “revenue men,” but talked her way out of trouble by explaining that selling “shine” was the only way she could buy shoes for her children.  Virginia also talked to her own mother, who recalled making “home brew” from malt, water, sugar and yeast, and learned of the technique of a Louisville restaurateur who added food coloring to moonshine to pass it off as aged whiskey.

A 1972 paper by Joe Griggs profiled E. Y. (“Uncle Yegi”) Hurt of Todd County, Kentucky.  Living in a house built on blocks allowed him to set up a still underneath, accessible though a hole in the floor of his dining room (the same room where the preacher came for dinner).  He also told of Prohibition-era bootleggers, such as the woman arrested in a car with 60 gallons of whiskey.  The confiscated evidence was “put in the basement of the Court House where it mysteriously evaporated” before the trial. 

A 1994 paper by Michelle Jackson included an interview of Clay County, Tennessee sheriff Jerry Rhoton.  Interestingly, he observed that illegal stills in his jurisdiction were now more likely to be dismantled and preserved than destroyed, and some were even put on display during civic celebrations as part of the region’s heritage—a testament to the interest in moonshining of folklorists and students of material culture.  Like other student writers, Jackson also outlined the process of distilling, a low-tech enterprise that required only “a few barrels, some corn mash, sugar, copper tubing, yeast, and a fresh water supply.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these materials.  For other resources about distilling (legal and illegal) and Prohibition, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Love’s Telegraph

William H. Gough’s diary entry

In the pocket notebook of William Henry Gough (1826-1910) were many of the things that occupied the mind of a young man: money matters, his lessons at Mt. Merino Seminary in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, and later his duties as a surveyor and sheriff of Meade County.  But given its intricacies, he also devoted two pages to the workings of “Love’s Telegraph,” the rules regarding transmission of one’s intentions in matters of courtship and romance.  Most valuable was the way one could avoid any need to explain oneself in words–those awkward stammerings, repeated entreaties, apologies, and other messy emotional declarations that go with the business of finding (or avoiding) a potential mate.  Here was the tutorial:  

If a gentleman wants a wife he wears a ring on the first finger of the left hand, if he be engaged he wears it on the second finger, if married on the third and on the fourth if he never intends to be married.

When a lady is not engaged she wears a hoop or diamond on her first finger; if engaged on her second, if married on the third and on the fourth if she intends to die a maid.

When a gentleman presents a fan a flower or a trinket to a lady with the left hand on his part and overtures of regard should she receive it with the left hand it is considered as an acceptance of his esteem but if with the right it is considered as a refusal of the offer.

Thus by a few simple tokens explained by rule the passions of love are expressed and through the medium of the Telegraph the most timid and diffident man may without difficulty communicate his sentiments of regard for a lady and in case his offer should be refused avoid expressing the mortification of explicit refusal.

William H. Gough’s notebook is 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.

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