Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

A Buzzard and a Boxer

A boxer’s mysterious letter

Bowling Green, Ky.: They found him in September 1902 in “Hobson’s woods,” after a passerby noticed a buzzard in a nearby tree.  His head was devoid of flesh (probably courtesy of said buzzard) and his body dismembered.  There was a bullet hole behind his right ear.  He may have been deposited in a shallow grave, because investigators found a pair of pants “buried with him.”  Other personal effects included a hat, “one Phial of poison,” a “large long rubber ear trumpet,” $3.59 in cash, and a Catholic badge. 

In the deceased man’s pocket was a letter from one Barney Furey, whose letterhead advertised his prowess as “Light Weight Champion of the West.”  In a pencilled scribble, the Cincinnati-based boxer introduced himself to our dead friend who, we learn, was from Chicago and who had acquaintances in common with Furey: Joe Gans, an African American who was one of the nation’s greatest lightweight fighters; another pugilist, Charley “Young” Kenney; and respected match referees Malachy Hogan and George Siler. 

But Furey’s letter then moved on to other business.  “Now the money I owe don’t be worried,” he told the dead man, “for I will surely give it to you.  I am going to Chicago to fight in a week.” 

At the inquest, the coroner’s jury had no difficulty determining the cause of death, but the backstory, unfortunately, remained untold.  Who was the man, and what, if anything, did a letter from a boxer in his debt have to do with his murder?

This is only one of many local mysteries to be found in the collections (currently being processed) of historic court records, including inquests, held in WKU’s Manuscripts & Folklife Archives.  Search us in TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Stitches in Time

On this June 13, National Sewing Machine Day, we remember the 19th-century English, French, German and American inventors who alleviated (or at least revised) the toil of the tailor and seamstress.  We also remember the millions of women who saw their employment and domestic lives transformed by the new technology. 

Early in 1861, Sallie Knott had much to write about from Missouri to her mother in Bowling Green, including the election of Abraham Lincoln that had ignited talk of secession.  Also of note, however, was her friend’s new Grover & Baker sewing machine.  “I’ve learned to sew pretty well,” Sallie reported.  “It only cost $45 & answers pretty well when there is no stout jeans for servants.”  She had run up a calico dress in only one day, and was quickly losing interest in sewing by hand.  “It spoils one very soon,” she admitted.  “I dislike to take up any needle now to do anything – even to baste.”

Whether at home or in the workplace, women were quick to find that like much new gadgetry, the sewing machine pushed them to perform more labor in the same time rather than the same labor in less time.  “Lizzie sews every day,” a correspondent reported to her cousin from Bourbon County in 1870.  “She has a Wheeler & Wilson machine, and has all the sewing she can do.”  The machines also required a new technical language for parts and maintenance.  “Send me No. 26L306 sewing machine Needles one doz. for Improved Singer Head No. 6389759,” wrote Lewis County, Kentucky’s Annie Kinney to Sears, Roebuck in 1918.  Her efficient requisition was accompanied by a sample needle and a preference for ones “just a little longer,” if possible.

On its way to becoming synonymous with the sewing machine, Isaac Merritt Singer’s company developed a mass marketing strategy for women who sewed at home.  In 1885, Singer wrote from its Cincinnati office to Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy about one of its local agents on whom it relied to sell machines, parts and accessories.  J. C. Webb had signed on as a full-time agent in 1880, receiving a salary of $15 per week plus a 3% commission on sales.  His contract also stipulated that he was “to furnish one Horse to be used in the business and to pay for its keeping.”  Webb, however, had attempted to buy his horse in the company’s name, making Singer responsible for payment.  While reluctant to make a scene, the Singer representative was firm in his instructions to McElroy.  “We do not question our obligation to pay for a Horse if Mr. Webb had bought it for the use of the company, but we cannot admit that an agent has a right or authority to purchase a Horse for another party and bind the company by a note.”  Besides, he pointed out, there was the matter of that clause in the contract – prepared, as it happened, on another newfangled device, the typewriter.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Hands, wits, and guts”

Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 book about D-Day bore this dramatic image.
Inset: Bert J. Borrone

June 6: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the best- and worst-kept secret of World War II. 

It was 1944, and everyone knew this would be “the year of destiny,” when the Allies would launch a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe to mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.  But until it happened, no one knew precisely when or where the assault would take place. 

Bowling Green’s Bert Borrone was deeply interested in the question.  Stationed with a signal service company in North Africa, the U.S. Army sergeant was responsible for radio broadcasts that would keep his military audience informed about the course of the war.  Late in May 1944, he prepared two 15-minute programs for the American Expeditionary Station News Bureau to ready his listeners for the invasion, “so that when the day does come. . . and General Eisenhower says ‘Tonight, we strike,’ we shall be able to follow the hourly news, be it good or bad, with understanding, with confidence.” 

Borrone’s first program painted a vivid picture of the invasion landscape: the English Channel, both a “ready-made highway for assault” and “an itinerary to death”; the minesweepers, those “unsung old ladies of the sea,” spearheading the fleet; the arc of invasion vessels stretching across the horizon; the bombers, fighters and paratroop transports.  Beaches were necessary to land troops, and ports to supply them, but “no one knows better than the Nazi what is potential invasion land,” Borrone warned.  The enemy would be ready with mines, landing-craft traps, anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun and mortar emplacements, pill-boxes, bunkers, fortified towns and “hundreds of thousands of the Wehrmacht’s finest, dug in for the showdown.”

Then would come the landings, as “battle-wagons, with their escorts of the sea and air, plunge toward the pre-assigned beaches,” and all the plans, rehearsals and calculations were put to the test.  Many had performed their duties in advance: if Nazi fighters or weapons failed to appear, or if the enemy’s reserves arrived too late, or if his mines failed to detonate, it was because a production facility had been bombed day and night, or an intelligence operative had directed just where to place an explosive, or an underground fighter—“a Hans or a Pierre or an Emil”—had carried out a successful sabotage.  Ultimately, however, the invasion would be “committed into the hands, and wits, and guts, of a few hundred thousand.”

Borrone’s second program was a tutorial on the tactics of a coastal invasion, the nuts-and-bolts calculations of everything from enemy firepower and types of forces needed to anticipated numbers of sea-sickness among the troops.  Tides, terrain, defenses, roads, availability of reserves, and the timing, makeup and objectives of each “wave” of the invasion—these and other innumerable considerations, Borrone explained, needed to be weighed “against the single most important factor in any military action . . . initial, tactical surprise.  Only then,” he declared, “can the supreme commander point his finger at one definitive spot along all the vast shore line and commit it irrevocably to the fates who weave human destiny.”

Bert Borrone’s radio broadcast scripts delivered in anticipation of D-Day are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections on World War II and D-Day, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.   

75 years ago (@BeschlossDC)

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SOS from Bowling Green

Timmons’ letter to Stewart, 1869.

The Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections recently acquired an unusual letter in which a Bowling Green resident pleads with a wealthy New York merchant to send funds so that he can save his home from a judicial sale and subsequently allow him to continue educating the city’s young Irish immigrants.  On 18 March 1869, James Aloysia Timmons (1836-1902) wrote a solicitous letter to Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876), a multi-millionaire who operated New York City’s A.T. Stewart & Co., one of the world’s largest and most lucrative dry goods businesses.  Timmons was born in County Cork, Ireland and had a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown and a master’s degree from St. Louis University.  In 1863 he came to Bowling Green and established a small, private college with Professors William F. Kouwenberg and John Leonard.

In the letter, Timmons noted that losing his house “would prevent me from being able to do what little good I have been up to this time, teaching my countrymen’s poor children at very low rates, and some of them without any charge at all.”  Timmons announces that he chose Stewart because of his noted “benevolence and…acts of charity.”  It is clear that Timmons did not know Stewart personally but only by reputation.  He declares his cause a magnanimous one:  “I make my request with no selfish views or deceitful purposes, but purely with the view of being enabled to conduct my school, and instructing the poor Irish children of this place, most of whom are not able to pay anything for tuition.”  He ends his letter with a plan to pay off the house.

Court flyer advertising the sale of Timmons’ house.

Also included with the letter was a Warren County Commissioner’s sale flyer that further elucidates the situation.  It shows that the house’s previous owner, Robert Wenn Ogden, a wealthy Bowling Green businessman, had taken Timmons to court for back payments.  The advertised sale was for a “valuable house and lot” two blocks from the public square on Main Street.  The flyer further describes the house as “a large brick Dwelling with a basement, all well finished.”

From all appearances, Stewart did not come to Timmons’ rescue.  James Timmons eventually moved to Lebanon in Marion County where he taught mathematics at St. Mary’s College.  He and his wife had four children.  He died on 5 November 1902 at 66 years of age and was buried in the Saint Augustine Church Cemetery.

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Fool’s Gold?

Selden and Maria Miner vie for the last word in a letter to Selden’s brother in Maysville, Kentucky

The family name was appropriate, given what one of its members had set his sights upon.  The Miner brothers, Selden and Samuel, had left Wethersfield, Connecticut, Selden to help settle the identically named Wethersfield, Illinois, and Samuel to make a home in Maysville, Kentucky.  In spring 1849, the Maysville Miners were planning a visit to the Illinois Miners, a prospect that pleased Selden’s wife Maria.  Unfortunately, the news of some shiny nuggets in a California river bed had sent a contagion through town—a delirium—and her husband had caught it.  It was gold fever.

Maria had endured two weeks of her fidgety husband, alternately anticipating his brother’s visit from Kentucky and then declaring “To California I am bound”!  “I have no opinion at all of his going,” insisted Maria, before making her misgivings crystal clear in a letter to Samuel.  One can picture this skeptical spouse, folding her arms and rolling her eyes.  “We are now as it were just getting things a little comfortable around us,” she declared, “& I feel as though we had best try & make ourselves contented with our lot.”  She was, in fact, “very confident that there are at least ninety nine chances out of a hundred” that Selden’s get-rich-quick scheme “would entirely ruin us for life.”

Now it was Selden’s turn to make his case.  Taking up the pen, he dismissed his wife’s “doleful description of this dreadful ‘yallar feaver.’”  All of Wethersfield was abuzz, he reported, with companies of 40-50 men apiece preparing wagons, oxen and a year’s worth of provisions to make the journey west to the gold fields.  “They all leave Independence [Missouri] in the middle of May,” Selden wrote.  “It will take 90 or more days to reach the Sacramento valley.”  And, of course, he had already heard rumors of spectacular success: two men who had “left here poor” were now worth some $100,000 each.  Yet, Selden concluded, “I seem to lack the full consent of my wife.”  Could his brother referee the dispute?

Now it was Maria’s turn again, and she filled the remaining space in the letter with her rejoinder: her husband claimed to have the encouragement of his friends, but in fact none of his real friends supported the enterprise.  Not only had Selden given little thought to the care of his farm and stock during his absence, she charged, “this is all nothing – nothing compared to what I fear he will suffer in his own person if he goes.”  Now, Maria sighed, her friends must pray “that none of my fears may be realized” and that her husband “may be willing to stay—for if he stays unwillingly you know we can neither of us be either happy or useful.”

A finding aid for Selden and Maria Miner’s letter, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, can be downloaded here.  For more letters about the Gold Rush, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Many considered George Owen Barnes (1827-1908), a native of Paintsville, Kentucky, one of America’s premier evangelists of the late-nineteenth century.  His message was strictly non-denominational and was targeted to a more charismatic audience that believed in faith healing.  His father, a Presbyterian minister for fifty years, made sure George received a good education:  Centre College and Princeton University.  Prior to beginning a church ministry, Barnes and his wife served as Presbyterian missionaries to India for seven years.  Afterwards he held pastorates in Danville and Chicago.  In February 1882 Barnes and his equally talented wife, Marie, visited Bowling Green for a protracted meeting. 

George & Marie Barnes when they visited Bowling Green, “a city full of sinners,” in 1882.

Reverend Barnes’s name came up recently, when Library Special Collections was allowed to copy a small collection of items removed from a family Bible.  The items included a long clipping from an unnamed Louisville newspaper dated February 21, 1882.  The main title was “About Barnes” but the clipping boasted a number of odd subtitles, i.e. “Pen and Ink Drawings of Two Persons Who Draw Better Than the Siamese Twins” and “Their Wonderful Seven Weeks’ Work in a City Full of Sinners.”  This was all fine, until we discovered from the last subtitle “A Bowling Green Preacher’s Welcome” that the “city full of sinners” was Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The lengthy article is almost exclusively biographical and a large portion of it is missing.  Fortunately Library Special Collections owns Barnes’ massive published journal titled Without Scrip or Purse, or The Mountain Evangelist, George O. Barnes:  This History of a Consecrated Life, the Record of Its Silent Thoughts, and a Book of Its Public Utterances.  In it we learn about the protracted meeting Barnes held in our fair city.  The Bowling Green entries begin with the overall numbers from the meetings:  “771 for the soul and 421 for the body”—referring to 771 “saved” souls during the meeting and 421 healed bodies.  The report notes that the downtown Methodist Church hosted the first service on 21 February with about 150 present.  The size of the crowd warranted moving it to the larger Baptist Church the following day.  Six local ministers attended and endorsed the meetings.  The following day while taking a hike to the boat landing, Barnes noted regrettably that the city had “twenty-five licensed saloons…a fearful array against our Lord.” 

By the weekend, numbers swelled and organizers moved the meetings to Odeon Hall (the Opera House).  On one day alone, February 26, 115 people were “saved.”  Despite the soul and body cures, Barnes tried to remain humble.  “I want my faith,” he opined, “to rest on the Word of the Lord, and not on success.  That only a cup of refreshment.”  Throughout the period Barnes worked in town, he took prolonged walks visiting the sick of soul and body.  He often frequented the homes of African Americans.  It was clear that his meetings were ecumenical and that he did not tolerate racial prejudice.

As he left Bowling Green on March 8, Barnes noted in his journal:  “Left Bowling Green…rain pouring and almost a hurricane raging.  Satan seemed, in spite, to be blowing us out of his stronghold, where in seventeen short days our Jesus had struck him so many deadly blows.”

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Uniforms, books and cape

The dilapidated Nurses Home at Central State Hospital, Lakeland, Kentucky (left) was replaced by a new building (right) in the 1940s (Beulah Smith Collection)

It’s National Nurses Week!  Here’s a blog highlighting one of our most recent acquisitions documenting the making of a Kentucky nurse.  And below are a few more glimpses into our collections that tell of the trials and tribulations of these essential health care professionals.

On her inaugural shift as a nursing student in 1913, Elizabeth (Cherry) McCallum recalled that “I entered, my first day, in pink probationer’s uniform on an empty 25-bed ward which had just been fumigated after an outbreak of diptheria.”  She was shown how to make the beds and scrub all the white iron frames with Bon Ami.  When she was done, her instructor returned “and without saying a word to me, she tore apart all 25 beds I had made.  She showed me again, and this time the lesson sunk in.”

For $5.00 per month plus room, board, laundry and instruction, Elizabeth endured a gruelling and highly unspecialized routine.  On any given day, she might leave her morning classes to prepare trays in the kitchen, feed a premature infant with a medicine dropper and warm her with a hot-water bottle, or delouse the head of a Kentucky mountain child brought in for treatment of a hernia, cleft palate, or intestinal parasites.  Over her long career, however, which included service in France as a Red Cross nurse during World War I, Elizabeth saw many changes, not only in the quality of medical care but in the enhanced collegiality between doctors and nurses—“how much more skillfully they perform their tasks together.”

Some 20 years after Elizabeth, Eleanor Bowles of Lucas, Kentucky and her friend Mollye were trying to decide what to do with their lives after graduating from high school.  Both eyed nursing as a career.  “About the occupation, I’ve been looking around.  I think the City Hospital at Louisville offers the best opportunities of any,” wrote Mollye.  She reported the entry requirements to her friend.  Prospective nursing students had to be 18-35 (preferably on the low end of that scale), in the top third of their high school class, and never married—not even widows or divorcees were eligible.  The successful applicant received “uniforms, books and cape,” as well as room and board in a building connected to the hospital by a tunnel.  And one more thing, advised Mollye: “I forgot to tell you that you have to have your tonsils removed.”  So if they could each scrape together the entrance fee of $50 plus another $30 for tonsillectomies, she calculated, they could be on their way.  “I’ll be waiting for you,” she told Eleanor “so don’t you go & back out.”

Eleanor didn’t heed the warning, but she didn’t exactly back out.  Instead, she got her R.N. at Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore.  (We don’t know if her tonsils made it through or not).

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Strummin’ on the old ban. . . No!

James Weir

A descendant’s recent donation to WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections of the letters and papers of the Weirs, a prominent 19th-century Muhlenberg County, Kentucky family, has provided rich insights into the Civil War history of that county (here and here, for example).  Another wonderful item in this collection is the journal of patriarch James Weir (1777-1845), who emigrated to Muhlenberg County from South Carolina.  En route in 1798, Weir sojourned in Knoxville, Tennessee and taught school for several months.

Shortly after posting our collection finding aid on TopSCHOLAR, we received an inquiry about the Weir journal from Knoxville librarian Steve Cotham.  He had seen excerpts in typescript, but was interested in the original because it was long thought to contain “the first reference to African American banjo music” in that part of Tennessee.  Indeed, James Weir’s journal has been cited several times as the source for this interesting tidbit of musical history.

Having only recently processed the collection, however, we knew something was amiss.  Arriving in Knoxville on County Court day, the pious Weir had written that he found a rollicking town, “Confus[e]d with a promiscuous throng of every denomination some Talked some sung but mostly all did profainly sware – I stood ag[h]ast,” he declared, “my soul shrunk back to hear the horrid oaths and dreadful Indignities offered to the supream Governer of the universe.”  Weir was further mortified to witness “dancing singing & playing of Cards,” and on a Sunday, no less.

It’s a vivid portrait of a frontier community, but nowhere in Weir’s description is there a reference to either African Americans or banjos.  So how did this source become part of the body of scholarship on African American banjo music?

Here’s what probably happened:

In 1913, Greenville, Kentucky’s Otto Rothert gained access to the journal when he wrote about the Weir family in his book A History of Muhlenberg County.  He quoted accurately from its pages, with only minor edits for spelling and punctuation.  But then along came Robert M. Coates with his 1930 book The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace.  Writing of the notorious Harpe brothers and their criminal exploits in Knoxville, Coates used James Weir as a source for his portrait of the city.  In what looked deceptively like a paraphrase of a passage from the journal, Coates declared that Weir saw “men jostling, singing, swearing; women yelling from the doorways; half-naked n—–s playing on their ‘banjies’ while the crowd whooped and danced around them.” Mixing quotation and invention, Coates continued: “The town was confused with a promiscuous throng of every denomination”—blanket-clad Indians, leather-shirted woodsmen, gamblers, hard-eyed and vigilant — “My soul shrank back.”  

This embellished version of Weir’s journal, including the sudden appearance of “banjies,” took on a life of its own.  The reference was picked up in 1939 by the Federal Writers’ Project in Tennessee: A Guide to the State (where the racial epithet was changed to “Negroes”).  It appeared again in Cecelia Conway’s African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (1995) and in George R. Gibson’s 2001 article “Gourd Banjos: From Africa to the Appalachians.”  With the original Weir journal in private hands until only recently, it was perhaps impossible for scholars to locate and check the original; in any event, the colorful prose of Coates, who spent most of his career as a novelist and art critic, must have been too good to overlook.  The story of the banjies-that-never-were is a lesson for all historical researchers: whenever possible, go straight to the source.  And with James Weir’s journal in our collection, now they can.

Lines from James Weir’s Journal – alas, no “banjies”

Click here for a finding aid to the Weir Family Collection.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Paradoxically in Death:” The Poetry of Jim Wayne Miller

The only sounds: pages turning softly.
This is the quietness
of bottomland where you can hear only the young corn
growing, where a little breeze stirs the blades
and then breathes in again.

I mark my place. 
I listen like a farmer in the rows.

“A House of Readers” from The Mountains Have Come Closer (1980)

Raised on a 70-acre farm in Buncombe County, North Carolina, Jim Wayne Miller was no stranger to the secrets of the Appalachian foothills. Miller’s poetry, inspired by the works of writers such as Annette von Droste-Hulshoff, Donald Davidson, Randall Stewart, and Emil Lerperger, ultimately reflects his intimate connection to the cultural landscape of the South.

In the spring of 1982, WKU folk studies student Mary Kate Brennan interviewed Miller about “what he considers to be the central theme of his poetry, the development of his poetic art…the death of Appalachian culture, and the urgent need for the people of Appalachia to regain, or retain, pride in their cultural heritage.” Brennan’s interview, less than an hour long, is ambitious in its scope and grapples with the complex intersections between folklore, identity, language, art, and politics. In this interview, Miller also reveals his inspiration for the creation of three recurring figures throughout his poetry—the Brier, the Intellectual, and the Redneck—and how each character represents various aspects of the southern experience. In doing so, Miller addresses his turn towards “culturally aware” poetry, when he suggests that

people [in the Appalachian region] have been badgered into feeling that their society and their traditional life was in many ways inadequate, and oftentimes they’ve been only too glad to abandon traditional ways of life because they’ve been shamed out of them in various ways. But there’s a wonderful steadiness and independent mindedness that’s reasserting itself in the region.

At the time of Brennan’s interview, Miller had already been working as a full time faculty member in the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies at WKU for more than a decade, and his reputation as a distinguished professor and poet earned him several notable awards. His collaborative partnerships with the Poet in the Schools Program in Virginia, Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky, and Appalachian Studies programs in universities across the central Appalachian region served as a testament to his commitment both to public folklore endeavors and engagement within the academy.

Photograph of Jim Wayne Miller courtesy of poet’s personal website

Up until his death in 1996, Miller continued to write and publish collections of poetry, along with novels, essays, anthologies, and articles in which an undercurrent of folklore flowed freely. Speaking to the necessity of creative vernacular expression, Miller tells Brennan that “folklore is always such an integral part of peoples’ lives. You don’t go and find people sitting on the porch breaking beans and spouting one piece of proverbial wisdom after another! It’s all mixed up in life.”

Collections of Jim Wayne Miller’s poetry are available in the Helm-Cravens library stacks and in the non-circulating Special Collections stacks located in the Kentucky Building.

For more information on Jim Wayne Miller, the Appalachian region, poetry, and folklore, 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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Hotel Register Provides Material for Classroom Assignment

Dr. Walker Rutledge, WKU Professor of English, annually brings his English 300 class to the Kentucky Building for an introduction to manuscript collections held by Library Special Collections. Afterwards, the students select a collection to read and then write a summary related to it. The following is Cameron Fontes’ paper. He chose to write about the Mansard Hotel register from the collection (SC 1236). To see the finding aid for this collection click here.

Bowling Green’s Mansard Hotel. This postcard is from the Kentucky Library Research Collection, Library Special Collections, WKU.

Unlike the many impersonal, chain-owned hotels of today, the Mansard Hotel in Bowling Green, KY, encapsulated all the best parts of its community. It was a locally-owned, well-kept institution where local leaders and travelers alike commingled amidst luxurious, yet affordable, furnishings and convenient eateries. When guests arrived at The Mansard, either for just a meal or for an overnight stay, they recorded the details of their visit on the tall, lined pages of the hotel register in grand, gorgeous script. Although it is now yellowed and musty with age, he Mansard Hotel register kept from 16 August 1907 to 7 October 1907, provides an intimate and detailed portrait of the bustling environment of a small-town hotel in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The Mansard Hotel ledger (SC 1236), Manuscripts, Library Special Collections, WKU.

Located behind what was then the local opera house, the Mansard stood near the corner of Main and Center Streets in downtown Bowling Green. At check-in, one of the register columns guests were required to fill out if they were staying overnight was the “Room” column, in which they were to write their room number as well as the number of pieces of luggage they brought with them. Although the number of pieces each guest brought with them is nothing especially noteworthy, one interesting observation that can be made upon reading the record of each guest’s luggage is that for the most part, guests only used trunks rather than suitcases, which are probably the most common type of luggage in use today. On 7 September 1907, a guest who signed as “E. Jenkins” from Buffalo, New York, brought with them one trunk and stayed in room seven.

Buffalo was only one of a plethora of places from which guests at the Mansard traveled. Each guest wrote their place of origin in the register column marked “Residence,” their responses ranging from various towns within Kentucky, such as Golden Pond and Louisville, to St. Louis, Missouri, Evansville, Indiana, and many cities besides. If a guest were visiting simply to take in a meal at the hotel restaurant, they wrote “City” to indicate that they were a resident of Bowling Green. One especially fascinating entry in this column on 24 September 1907, is that of Ed H. Foster, who signed that he was from “Coffeetown,” a small town in Pennsylvania located, funnily enough, about five miles from the town of Hershey.

It is evident which guests in the register were only visiting for a meal by whether or not they write a room number in the “Room” column next to their response in the “Time” column. Obviously, if there was a room number in this column, that was the room in which the guest who signed on that line stayed. If there was no room number, however, one has only to look at the guest’s response in the “Time” column to see for which meal they made a trip to the Mansard. Each guest signed either a “B,” “D,” “S,” or “R”. Most likely, the first three letters indicated the meal at which each guest dined or the closest meal to which each guest checked in for their stay, “B” being for “Breakfast,” “D” for “Dinner,” and “S” for “Supper.” “R” would likely have stood for “Resident,” seeing as how the demographic of permanent residents of hotels was much more common in 1907 than today.

One very famous Bowling Green resident who visited the Mansard for breakfast om 2 September 1907, was none other than Henry Hardin Cherry.  Western Kentucky University’s first president, Cherry signed his name in big, beautiful cursive along with the name of his beloved hometown, making sure to proudly write out “Bowling Green, KY,” instead of simply “City,” as so many others had done.  That he would have been well-respected and well-known at the time is likely. Having just become the president of what was then “Western Kentucky State Normal School” the year before, he would have already been considered a bastion of higher education in the community.

Other notable guests at the Mansard during this time included C.W. McElroy, a state representative for Bowling Green, on 21 August 1907, for supper, along with a couple of other individuals with prominent Bowling Green names including R.B. Potter from Woodburn, Kentucky, on 9 September 1907, and N.J.M McCormick from Indianapolis, Indiana, on 10 September 1907, who may have both been in town visiting family.

Sadly, the Mansard Hotel burned down on 5 July 1969.  To stay in a hotel as charming as the Mansard may seem impossible today, but by perusing its old register one can start to gain a sense of its local charm and grandeur. cked

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