Monthly Archives: May 2021

“A flock of hawks”

On the Memorial Day weekend of May 29, 2021, the remains of Barren County Navy seaman Howard Scott Magers, killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor, were finally brought home.

Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941

On the morning of December 7, 1941, nineteen-year-old Logan County, Kentucky native Warren Tinsley was asleep aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer Aylwin, moored near Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He and his mates were enjoying the looser discipline of that Sunday morning, when many sailors were sleeping off hangovers from their shore leave in Honolulu; some, in fact, including several senior officers, had not yet returned from liberty.   

As a consequence, no one stirred right away when the general alarm buzzer sounded, as it was used for everything from “man overboard” to a fire drill.  But the catastrophic news came quickly: the Japanese were attacking.

Tinsley emerged from below decks to see the attack already under way.  Hit below the waterline, the “old battleship Utah was slowly turning over,” its starboard side high in the air.  Its dazed crew were either struggling in the water or trying to get over the starboard side to swim to Ford Island.  Tinsley hurried to his battle station to find four junior officers trying to decide who would assume the duties of the absent captain.  As the crew rushed to break out the Aylwin’s ammunition, Tinsley saw hostile planes everywhere.  “They reminded me of a flock of hawks attacking a chicken farm in the Kentucky hills.”  Low-flying fighters were “bombing our ships at tree top levels,” giving special attention to the mighty battleships.  One of his mates yelled “There goes the Arizona!” as the vessel exploded, the casualty of a direct hit on her ammunition magazines. And there was the battleship Oklahoma:  it had “turned over as a result of the hits that she suffered and lay like a dead whale with its belly shining in the air.”

Returning fire, Tinsley’s ship managed to make it down the western channel of Pearl Harbor and out to open sea, past the “burning and smoldering mass that was Ford Island.”  After a day of searching for the enemy, the Aylwin returned to the “graveyard of what had once been a formidable fighting force.”  Tinsley also returned to a changed Navy, in which the military routines of peacetime had suddenly vanished.

Warren Tinsley’s vivid account of the attack on Pearl Harbor is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid and full-text download can be accessed here.  For more of our collections detailing the service and sacrifice of veterans, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on “A flock of hawks”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Feast Your Eyes

As we learned during the pandemic, one of the challenges (and miracles) of grocery stores has been their ability to keep shelves stocked with our favorite foods and provisions, or at least with comparable substitutes.  Essential to their mission is the maintenance of supply lines with a corps of manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

Early in the twentieth century, the McClure Brothers (Joseph Schuyler and Jonathan “John”), carried a vast inventory of foodstuffs, dry goods, farm equipment, clothing, shoes and toiletries at their general store in the Grayson County, Kentucky community of Millerstown.  The store purchased stock from dozens of suppliers; many were in Louisville but some were elsewhere in Kentucky or in neighboring states.  The invoices rendered to McClure Brothers tell us something of the thriving consumerism of the region.  In addition, their content gives us small history lessons about the businesses, and their striking designs show us the purely aesthetic side of commerce.

There was the American Grocery Company, wholesalers who supplied McClure Brothers with coffee, vanilla, toothbrushes, note paper, nails, sewing needles and more, on payment terms carefully enumerated on the invoice.

American Grocery Company, Louisville

There was Charles W. White’s Louisville Coffee Company, which sold McClure Brothers not just several brands of  coffee but sausage, cheese, turpentine, cigars, face powder, and castor oil.

Louisville Coffee Company

There was the K & I Fruit House of Fred Kohlhepp, the son of German immigrants, and Italian immigrant Joseph (Guiseppe) Iula, from whom McClure Brothers also bought potatoes and cabbage.

K and I Fruit House, Louisville

There was the Louisville Grocery Company, where McClure Brothers obtained candy, chewing gum, peppers and pickles.

Louisville Grocery Company

There was Italian immigrant Michael DeSopo’s fruit company, providing McClure Brothers with oranges, lemons, bananas and watermelons.

M. DeSopo & Company, Louisville

Finally, to prepare all these goodies, there were stoves supplied by the Louisville Tin and Stove Company, a firm in business since 1888.

Louisville Tin and Stove Company

And, for four-legged customers there was animal feed and medicines from the International Stock Food Company in Minneapolis.  Billing itself as the “Largest Stock Food Factory in the World,” the firm covered the reverse of its colorful invoice with fine print explaining its guarantees, offering a free “Spring Canvassing Wagon” for use by agents, and giving tips on “How to Have a Big Sale.”  Attractive displays and show cards were important, but the company warned that the “VERY WORST” thing a merchant could do was to discount prices.  Looking to protect its brand, the company advised sticking to the regular retail price in order to maintain profits and avoid the impression that the goods were somehow damaged or deficient.

International Stock Food Company, Minneapolis

Supplier invoices for the McClure Brothers store are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  For more collections documenting Kentucky merchants, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on Feast Your Eyes

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

“Never stop singing, mother”

When the U.S. entered World War II, Charles Henry Duff of Jackson, Kentucky had already been in the Army for 17 months.  A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he accompanied his infantry unit to Hawaii to begin 3½ years of active duty in the Pacific theatre.  He would earn a Combat Infantryman Badge for exemplary conduct on Saipan.  Though wounded, Duff came away with a Japanese pistol and saber as souvenirs of the battle.

Charles Duff’s mother, Linnie Duff

But the day after Mother’s Day in 1943, he was just another soldier happy to receive a letter from his mother, Linnie Duff. Worried that she was worried after having received no recent letters from him,  Charles made up for it with a heartfelt reply that paid tribute to his mother’s hard work and sacrifices throughout his life.

“Thinking of the times when I used to sit in the kitchen,” wrote the grateful son, “and watch you cook dinner and how you would scold us kids for fighting over who got to sit on the stool or who got to lick the cake pan. . . And how you used to come home from work so tired you could hardly walk.  And start right in ironing a shirt for me to wear to town.  And oh how it hurt me to see you have to work.”  He recalled the guilt he experienced when, as a young man, he couldn’t contribute financially to their Depression-era Breathitt County household.  “I couldn’t even get a job big enough to wear decent clothes, much less take care of a family.  Who wanted to hire a little ole boy seventeen years old and not big enough for a boy of twelve.” 

Charles remembered the “fuss” his mother made when he wouldn’t take medicine, or how she “used to lay awake nights waiting” for him to come home.  “But the one thing that stands out more than anything,” he wrote, “is the way you would sing.  When you were washing, ironing, cooking or anything that had to do with work you always did it with a song.” 

Attributing his own passion for music to his mother, Charles made one request.  “Music to me is everything.  It’s life, love and even death.  So never stop singing mother, no matter what happens.”  And if he didn’t make it home from the war, she shouldn’t cry over him.  “Just sing for me instead like you have always sung.”  In the meantime, he told her never to doubt that he was thinking of her, because to this son “every day is Mother’s day.”

Charles Duff’s letter to his mother is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on “Never stop singing, mother”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives