Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Emancip-eight!

Historical marker for Paducah’s Eighth of August celebration

Paducah, Kentucky’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration is a days-long, event-filled dive into the city’s African-American heritage.  Since at least 1886, the community has been the site of an annual grand gathering to commemorate the end of slavery.  The relation of August 8 to emancipation is a little uncertain, but the most popular theory is that it harkens back to the day in the 1790s when the enslaved people of Santo Domingo (Haiti) were declared to be free. 

In 2008, field workers with the Kentucky Folklife Program visited Paducah to gather information about the current celebration.  They took photographs and video and collected material, including a thick program highlighting that year’s theme “A Journey By Faith.”  Along with sponsors’ ads and event schedules, the program features memorials, announcements, and autobiographies of African-American Paducahns that chronicle their lives, achievements, and spiritual journeys.  Included for that election year of 2008 was a scholarship-winning essay by a local high school senior on the topic “Is America Ready for an African-American President?”

The field workers also conducted an interview with James Dawson, a Hopkinsville native who had made his home in Paducah since 1951.  He recalled hearing his grandfather talk about the celebration, which drew African Americans from all over the country.  Dawson’s own memories included dances, bands, street parties, class and family reunions, and all-night merriment.  He and his son helped to serve up a food staple—barbeque (Dawson’s favorite was pork or mutton)—together with fried fish and hamburgers.  Unlike the old days, Dawson observed, the event had become less spontaneous, bringing in commercial food vendors and requiring committees, permits, insurance, security and all the accoutrements of modern civic existence.  Nevertheless, the 2008 gathering was another successful chapter in a tradition that retains its unique place in Paducah.

This project focusing on Paducah’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration of 2008 is part of the Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Ray and Ray

Maud Howell’s brother Ray (left) and his namesake (right)

Like many soldiers overseas, Bowling Green’s Ray Howell (1893-1977), who served in the U.S. Army from July 1918 to September 1919, exchanged correspondence with the folks at home.  Often included were personalized postcards with a photograph meant to assure the family that their boy was hale and hearty. 

One of Ray’s correspondents was his sister Maud, but the reply to her letter of December 3, 1918, complete with postcard portrait, was not quite what she expected.  “You start your letter Dear Brother,” it read.  “Sorry I cannot claim you as a sister I only have one and her name is Grace.”  None of the other personalities mentioned in Maud’s letter rang a bell: no “Uncle Ira,” no “Eli”—indeed, the writer “had no relations in Kentucky that I know of.” 

Ray, of course, hadn’t contracted amnesia.  This was a different “Ray Howell,” a private with the American Expeditionary Forces occupying Germany after the Armistice, to whom Maud’s letter had been sent by mistake.  But he had read its contents carefully, and his reply betrayed his eagerness to win a pen pal as he impatiently awaited demobilization.  “I have been here 2 yrs this coming June,” he wrote, referring her to an enclosed picture showing a uniformed young man with arms crossed who bore a startling resemblance to Maud’s brother.  “You can see by the stripes I wear on my lower part of left arm.  Each one represents 6 months 3 of them 4 in June.”  Further, if another letter were to come from his newfound “sister,” perhaps they could be strangers no longer.  Of the mistaken identity, Ray concluded, he was “hoping to get an explanation on this subject and hearing from you very soon.”

Click here to access a finding aid for the papers of Ray Howell, including the letter from Ray Howell #2, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more of our World War I collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Apollo 11

Hardin Planetarium Director Paul Campbell and WKU students examine a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission

July 20 at 10:56 EDT marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon.  Those of a certain age will remember the blurry TV images, Armstrong’s “one small step for man” declaration, and the achievement of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon before the close of the decade.

Mary (Rodes) Helm and her husband, Auburn, Kentucky native and New York banker Harold H. Helm, had been invited to Cape Kennedy to witness the launch of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on July 16.  Their host, Jim “Mac” McDonnell, the founder of McDonnell Douglas, was a space-age enthusiast whose company had been involved in the mission.  Mary had been initially reluctant to endure the crowds and Florida’s summer heat, but returned from the launch with a change of heart.  “It was a very moving and emotional experience which I did not expect,” she wrote her father, retired Bowling Green judge John Rodes.  “It may have been crowd psychology – so many thousand breathless & with a single thought & prayer.  But when that rocket went up as you saw it on TV – a man behind me murmured ‘God speed,’ I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.”  At a dinner the previous evening, she had met other astronauts from the program, including Wally Schirra (Apollo 7) and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and later 13).

Others in Bowling Green were equally uplifted.  “Wasn’t the moon landing and spectacular walk exciting?” Mary Kimbrough declared to a friend.  But like Mac McDonnell, who quickly asked “What next?” after the success of Apollo 11, she was looking ahead.  “They announced that my cousin, Jack (Harrison) Schmitt will go on the next trip – Apollo 12,” she wrote (he actually flew on Apollo 17).  “We’ve always said ‘Man in the Moon.’  We have to revise that to say ‘Man ON the Moon.’”

One of the unknowns about Apollo 11 was the danger of invasion by alien microbes or “moon bugs,” a possibility that kept the astronauts in quarantine for more than two weeks after their return.  But three years later, it was the cargo of rocks brought back from the lunar surface that scientists sought to keep in pristine condition.  In August 1972, a loan of one of these moon rocks arrived for display at WKU’s Hardin Planetarium.  To protect against leakage and contamination by the earth’s atmosphere, the sample was sealed in a container filled with pure nitrogen.  More than four billion years old, it was part of a 70-pound haul collected during the Apollo 11 mission.

Click on the links to access more information about these materials, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

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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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