“Just retribution! but how awful!”

“Horrible!” wrote Sallie Knott on April 15, 1865.  The previous evening in Washington, D.C, President Abraham Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s Theater and Secretary of State William H. Seward stabbed by unknown assailants.  At home in Lebanon, Kentucky, Sallie sat down to record her reactions in her journal.  But it wasn’t easy to sort out her thoughts, for at the outbreak of the Civil War she had made one thing clear to that same journal: “I glory in the name of Rebel.”

As a young schoolteacher in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Sallie had developed a disdain for Northern attacks on her state’s way of life.  Her anti-Yankee sentiments grew after she married her cousin James Proctor Knott in 1858 and moved to Missouri, where he was a lawyer and state legislator.  In 1861 Knott, now Attorney General of Missouri, was stripped of his office for declining to take an oath not to “aid the Southern cause,” and the couple was forced to return to Kentucky. 

Sallie Knott

For the next four years, Sallie remained largely true to her promise to confine her journal entries to personal affairs, but the news from Washington demanded comment.  Sallie could not restrain her sense of triumph.  “Just retribution!  but how awful!” she declared.  Lincoln had proclaimed the previous day “a universal Thanksgiving day,” but “while his partisans were feasting & making merry, by his own order, over the misfortunes of a brave & oppressed people, he & his chief director & adviser in all his fiendish schemes, are dying!  Lord, thou art just & holy; & thy judgements infinitely surpass our desires or comprehension.”

Her thoughts then turned to the identity of the perpetrators.  Of course, fingers pointed to Southerners as “the prime movers in the plot,” but Sallie put her money on General Ulysses S. Grant who, “with the army at his back, is going to try to make himself sovereign & absolute!”  Grant had accepted Lincoln’s invitation to attend the play at Ford’s Theater, she noted, but then backed out and left town.  And like Americans who, after President Kennedy’s assassination, rejected the “lone gunman” theory, she saw conspiracies in the shadows.  “Why,” she asked, “was there no attempt to arrest either assassin by guards, servants, police, nor a theatre full of people?” 

Would “a terrible struggle for absolute power & the rights of the people” now ensue, with the army on the side of despotism”? Sallie wondered. “ Let us be still & see!”  In the meantime, she had to hold her tongue around grieving family and friends and at her church’s memorial for the martryed president.  “No heathen Juggernaut ever received so much devotion as we have been obliged to offer at the shrine of Abe Linkhorn’s dead, ugly old phiz!” she sputtered.  “Bah!  ‘tis perfectly sickening!”

Sallie McElroy’s journal is part of the holdings of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  Search all our collections through TopSCHOLAR or KenCat.

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“The willow behind his wallop”

The first pitch

On April 6, 1942, some 2,500 spectators gathered at the Bowling Green Fairgrounds to watch an exhibition major league baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox.  The contest was part of their three-city swing through Kentucky and, for local fans, most certainly a welcome diversion from the accelerating world war.

Insurance executive Philip J. Noel wrote with delight to his son, a physician in Washington, D.C., about his afternoon at the park.  Not only had Noel secured a seat in the national press box, he had been perfectly positioned behind home plate to capture a photograph of the game’s first pitch from Boston’s Lancelot “Yank” Terry.  “If you look closely,” he boasted, “you will see the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand.”

Noel was entirely satisfied with the day’s tally: 13 hits by each team and a 9-6 victory for the Red Sox.  “These two National teams are some ball players,” he marveled, “and work just like clock ticks.”  But Herb Wallace of the Park City Daily News was less starry-eyed.  In his opinion, the “big-time boys” had disappointed the fans with their “lack of hustle and enthusiasm.”  The inflated hits/runs total was largely attributable to this laid-back attitude, a stiff breeze and a smaller-than-major-league-sized park. 

Reds vs. Red Sox, Bowling Green Fairgrounds

But there was one highlight, all agreed, that made the afternoon worthwhile.  While two of the game’s three home run shots might not have left a big league ballpark, batting champion Ted Williams, said Wallace, “had the willow behind his wallop.”  Williams’s sixth-inning blast cleared the center field scoreboard, bounced onto the track behind, and put the Sox ahead for good. 

Fans packed the stands for the exhibition game

Philip J. Noel’s letter to his son and his photos of the game are part of the Noel Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. Search our holdings in TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Jump Ball

With March Madness now becalmed, here’s some Hilltopper basketball history to keep the pulse racing:

It was March 11, 1966. The Ohio Valley Conference Champion Hilltoppers entered the NCAA tournament with a 23-2 record and a stellar lineup that included Clem Haskins, Greg Smith, Dwight Smith, Wayne Chapman and Steve Cunningham.  After a lopsided 105-86 win over Loyola (Ill.), they moved on to the next round against All-American Cazzie Russell and the Big Ten Conference Champions, the University of Michigan Wolverines.

With 10 seconds to go and WKU leading 79-78, the referee called for a jump ball between Greg Smith and Cazzie Russell.  He then tossed the ball off center, directly over Russell’s head.  Russell did not jump, but Smith did, tipping the ball with his left hand to center Steve Cunningham.  Russell claimed that Smith “kind of belted me on the lip as he came up and held my shoulder.”  Smith only recalled coming down in the scramble and turning, which prompted a Michigan player to point and yell, “Referee, he’s pushing!”  The official called Smith for fouling Russell—the first foul on a jump ball that Hilltopper coach John Oldham had ever witnessed.

Russell sank his two free throws, giving Clem Haskins only a few seconds to salvage a victory for WKU with a sixteen-foot jumper.  He missed.  Michigan won the game, 80-79.

The Hilltoppers later maintained that film of the play actually showed Russell fouling Smith.  But the game was in the books.  Clem Haskins bitterly called the incident “the worst call in the history of basketball.”

The next night, the Hilltoppers took out their frustrations on Dayton University, 82-68, to take third place in the tournament.  Michigan took second, falling to the University of Kentucky, 84-77.

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Women strike a chord

Mary Frances Bradley

On the morning of March 12, 1925, a bit of musical (and women’s) history was made on the Hill when a new tune rang out at chapel assembly.  The song College Heights was the winner of a competition between members of Macon A. Leiper’s English class.  The students had set out to create a poem that, when paired with a musical score, could serve as the school’s anthem. 

Freshman Mary Frances Bradley of Franklin, Kentucky took first prize with her memorable lyrics:

College Heights, on hilltop fair,
With beauty all thine own,
Lovely jewel far more rare
Than graces any throne!

Bradley brought an extra advantage to the contest: her father Ben J. Bradley, an accomplished musician and composer, contributed the melody. 

Not long afterward, another songstress, Bessie Swartz Cherry, the sister-in-law of WKU’s first president Henry Hardin Cherry, conceived another musical tribute.  The Red and the Gray referenced the school’s official colors prior to the change to red and white in 1956. 

Both The Red and the Gray and College Heights became fixtures at commencement exercises in the 1930s and 1940s, but the latter eventually triumphed and has now become a familiar chorus for generations of WKU graduates:

College Heights we hail thee,
We shall never fail thee,
Falter never, live forever,
Hail! Hail! Hail!

Search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for resources on women’s history held by WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

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“First in the mystical haze”

Nancy Reagan and her husband

“Without Nancy, there would have been no Governor Reagan, no President Reagan,” said aide Michael Deaver when Nancy Reagan died on March 6, 2016.  Like many other First Ladies, she was a behind-the-scenes adviser, lightning rod, and icon in her own right. 

Two collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections fall at slightly different points on the spectrum of opinion about Mrs. Reagan.  As we have previously blogged, the Reagans inspired Logan County native Betty Kathleen Hall to write a kind of joint biography in the form of a narrative poem.  As hagiography, her 184-page work has no peer.  Here’s Nancy at Reagan’s 1967 inauguration as Governor of California:

The inaugural ball was stylish and gleaming,
and Nancy was first in the mystical haze:
She wore a white, one-shouldered gown, by Galenos.
all beaded with diamond-like glass daisies.

Nancy’s worshipful gaze at “Ronnie” whenever he spoke also earned notice:

while others applauded
Nancy transfixed into a pure adoration.

But Nancy was no shrinking violet, as Hall made clear in her evaluation of the sources of Ronald Reagan’s success:

And towering high with an eagle eye,
Nancy’s antennas scan political sky.

In 1982, at the request of a Kentucky cousin, Frank Kavanaugh recalled his interactions with “Some First Ladies and Their Husbands” beginning in 1967, when he arrived in Washington as a documentary filmmaker associated with George Washington University’s Department of Medical and Public Affairs.  His most vivid memories of Nancy Reagan related to the March 30, 1981 attempt on the President’s life and a subsequent TV film that recreated the assassination attempt and its aftermath.  As Reagan recovered in hospital, he wrote, Mrs. Reagan was “the strongest force in that building.  She was aware of every activity or plan surrounding the president, seldom left his side, and could make life miserable for anyone who was not contributing to President Reagan’s chances for recovery and comfort”—a role that, Kavanaugh realized, was “not too unlike the role she took throughout the president’s life.”  In her determination to preserve Reagan’s image as the “good guy” and “the great and charming communicator,” he observed, Mrs. Reagan “could be vicious.”  Even though she, like her husband, had acted in films, she never saw the highly praised documentary about the attempt on her husband’s life. “To her it was a nightmare that she wanted to avoid reliving,” said Kavanaugh.  The President, on the other hand “loved it.  He was back in the movies.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more of our collections about political women, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“We had to turn out in full strength”

Claim form for victims of Morgan’s Ohio Raid

The surrender of Confederate cavalry leader John Hunt Morgan on July 26, 1863, marked the end of the “Great Raid,” his 18-day charge from Kentucky into Indiana that veered east into southern Ohio.  There was “a great scare here,” reported infantryman Aaron Stuver in a letter to his sister from Cincinnati, “and we had to turn out in full strength” as the state militia scrambled to defend the area against Morgan and his raiders. 

Morgan ultimately brushed past Cincinnati—“or we might have had an interview with the rebels,” wrote Stuver.  Splitting up his troops, he then caused havoc as he charged through southern Ohio ahead of a major battle in Meigs County, at Buffington Island on the Ohio River.  The largest Civil War engagement in Ohio, the battle memorably witnessed the death of Major Daniel McCook, one of fifteen in his family who saw service with the Union.  The patriarch of the “Fighting McCooks,” as they were known, was buried in Cincinnati after a large funeral in which four companies of Stuver’s regiment participated as escorts.  During the ceremonies, both enlisted men and officers, wrote Stuver, stood up to a soaking rain “like good soldiers.”  McCook, he observed, “was a Paymaster in the Army, and went voluntarily after Morgan, he was 60 years old.”

While the Great Raid accomplished little lasting good for the Confederates, it succeeded for a time in siphoning off Union forces from important offensive measures in east Tennessee.  It also caused fear and uncertainty among civilians in Indiana and Ohio, many of whom suffered loss and damage to property that had been seized by Morgan or otherwise caught in the crossfire.  Eight months later, the Ohio legislature created a commission to assess claims, and in April 1869 authorized the payment of compensation.  The final cost Morgan extracted for the Great Raid was the printing of special forms for “Morgan Raid Claims,” on which farmers like Asahel Skinner of Meigs County certified their losses.  Skinner received a total of $220 for two horses, bridles and other provisions, and for the death of a colt.

Aaron Stuver’s letter and Asahel Skinner’s damage claim from the Great Raid are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click on the links to access finding aids.  For more Civil War collections, click here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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He Touched the Heart as Well as the Funny Bone

As we celebrate Black History Month, Library Special Collections would like to spotlight one of Bowling Green’s best known sons, Reuben Crowdus, aka Ernest Hogan.  Coincidentally, local attorney and historian Ray Buckberry has recently donated a nice gift of research material about Hogan and sheet music written by him to Special Collections.  Buckberry was the chief person responsible for researching and orchestrating the effort to get a historical marker erected for Hogan at the L&N Depot in 2009.  Here we re-print a short biography of Hogan written by Buckberry for the publication Mt. Moriah Cemetery:  A History and Census of Bowling Green, Kentucky’s African-American Cemetery (Landmark Association, 2002)

Reuben Crowdus was born 17 April 1865 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Not much is known about his early life, although indications are that he left home at an early age, joining a traveling minstrel show.  One of his first jobs is said to have been as a plantation singer in a low-rent, tent-show version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a show that launched the careers of many black entertainers.

In 1891, Crowdus adopted his stage name “Ernest Hogan” and later began referring to himself as “The Unbleached American,” utilizing both references throughout his career in show business.  He wrote the lyrics, music, or both, for approximately 35 published songs.  The 1896 sheet music for a song written by Hogan contained a notation that the music is to be performed “with Negro rag.”  This was the first use of the word “rag” on a song sheet and many thereby credit Hogan as writer of the first piece of ragtime music.

His first big solo starring role in New York City came in 1898, with the show “Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cakewalk.”  This was the first black show to play in a first class theater on Broadway.  A Chicago paper reported that Hogan “is firmly established as the greatest colored comedian of the age.”  The rising star organized a group of about 20 experienced entertainers in 1905, and called the “The Memphis Students.”  Their opening show in New York was so successful it was held over for 5 months.  This show has been referred to as the first public concert of syncopated music in history.

A long-cherished dream was realized when he mounted his own musical comedy “Rufus Rastus,” opening on Broadway in 1906.  A critic commented that the depth Hogan brought to his new role took him out of the ranks of “darky comedian” forever in that he had learned to “touch the heart as well as the funnybone.”

Hogan became seriously ill and, in 1908, his business friends produced a benefit show in his honor.  The show lasted four hours and a noted black performer remembered it as the “greatest assembly of colored actors ever to appear in the same theater and on the same stage in one night.”

On 20 May 1909, Hogan died.  His remains were returned to Bowling Green for burial in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  By Hogan’s request, the local band participating in the service at the Methodist Episcopal Church, played only his favorite ragtime tunes.  At the cemetery, the many floral displays were said to represent the most flowers ever received for any funeral in Bowling Green.

Hogan had an infectious and crusading spirit, talent and generosity; he was appropriately referred to as “a Moses of the colored theatrical profession.”

To see the finding aid for the Ernest Hogan research material, click here. To see other material in our collections about Hogan, search KenCat or TopSCHOLAR.

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“Canned” Biscuits

Domestic science program, African-American school, Versailles, Kentucky.

Early in the 20th century, segregated schools labored under the “separate but equal” doctrine, which in practice relegated African-American students to underfunded and inferior facilities.  As principal of the Simmons School of Versailles, Kentucky, Principal Thomas J. Smith struggled in 1908 to establish a department of domestic science.  Seeking support from white as well as African-American citizens, he reached out to Philip J. Noel of Bowling Green, Kentucky, a native of Harrodsburg whose insurance business regularly brought him to Versailles.

Smith sent Noel a solicitation card that outlined the aims of the department.  Among them: “To teach the girls the dignity of work in the home;” “To supplement what mothers have already taught them”; “To encourage girls to care for their kitchens and stoves as for their parlors and pianos;” and “To teach the most healthful methods of preparing common foods.”  Fifty girls in three classes received instruction in music and drawing as well as cookery.

With lumber supplied by the school board, Smith had planned and constructed a practice kitchen and dining room, but domestic science, of course, required more specialized teaching aids.  Money was needed to buy the foods that the girls would practice cooking and serving, and with prices so high, Smith complained, it was difficult to keep an adequate supply on hand.  As for the equipment, the program, like a country cook, had to start from scratch.  “We began,” Smith wrote, “by getting an old stove from the ‘Junk Pile,’ the teacher’s platforms were made into tables, paper was used for biscuit boards and tin cans for rolling pins.” 

Reverse of card describing domestic science program

Professor Smith’s letters (along with his thanks to Noel, who contributed $25, a sum that would carry the purchasing power of more than $700 today), are part of the Noel Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. To search our collections, use TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Molded in the same mint”

Mrs. Victoria Mayo, the wife of a Bowling Green, Kentucky barber, had recently settled a medical claim with her insurance company.  Hoping to get a testimonial from a satisfied customer, Kentucky Central Life and Accident sent her a postcard encouraging her to “talk up” the company and perhaps refer other business.  She wasn’t completely averse to the idea, but she did have a few bones to pick, which she outlined in her reply to the Louisville office.

The benefit paid during her illness had been welcome, she wrote, though she was forced to nudge “your agents here that it was due me before I could get it.”  Then there was the matter of the remittance of her premium.  Why was it necessary to send payments to Louisville?  Could she not just pay at the Bowling Green location?  In fact, why couldn’t an agent collect in person?  “I am a very stout woman,” she declared, and “am not able to go up the steps of your office here.”  And then there was the word on the street about the company’s responsiveness to claims.  Mrs. Mayo had always thought favorably of her insurer, but warned that “most every one I speak to will say, ‘Why that KY. CENTRAL won’t pay.'”

And there was one more thing that “I wish to understand,” she noted.  Although she “naturally supposed it was for me,” the postcard she had received lacked the appropriate salutation.  As 61-year-old Mrs. Mayo knew, white America’s practice of using only first names when addressing African Americans was a persistent assumption of superiority and privilege that evoked the nation’s slaveholding past.  When Kentucky Central’s agents “approach a colored person,” she asked, “why must they be addressed as ‘Vic,’ May or John, why not Mrs., Miss, or Mr.  Our money was molded in the same mint as that of any other race and goes just as far and we demand the same respect.” 

One wonders if Kentucky Central took heed, for it was 1912 when Mrs. Mayo wrote this letter, and many decades of Jim Crow and civil rights struggles lay ahead.

A typescript of the letter is in the Noel Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. To search our collections, use TopSCHOLAR or KenCat

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Kentucky Club Woman, Official Organ of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Club

This rare newsletter, The Kentucky Club Woman: Official Organ of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs is representative of the collection focus of Special Collections Library. We hold materials that are either irreplaceable or unusually rare and valuable. We also maintain items in a secure location with environmental controls to preserve the items for posterity. This newsletter was produced by the Kentucky State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs which was organized in 1903. They boasted a membership of 2,500 women in 112 clubs. The Kentucky clubs specialized in “fostering day nurseries, hospitals, old folks homes; homes for delinquent girls, building club houses and community centers.” We are the only holding library for this issue. Find this and other one-of-a-kind items by using the One Search box, TopScholar and KenCat.

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