Month: April 2015

TODAY IN KENTUCKY HISTORY: TRANSYLVANIA, THE STATE THAT ALMOST WAS

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Have you ever wondered why Transylvania University in Lexington, KY is called Transylvania?
Was it settled by Romanians?
Staffed by vampires?

Nope.

Transylvania University is so named because when it was founded as the first college west of the Alleghenies in 1780 much of the region was still colloquially called Transylvania.

Overlay of what might have been.

Overlay of what might have been.

Before Kentucky became a state in 1792, just at the beginning of the American Revolution in March of 1775, a North Carolinian named Col. Richard Henderson, under the umbrella of the Transylvania Land Company, purchased vast tracts of Cherokee lands of the southern and central Appalachian Mountains. As you can see from the accompanying map, this area (about 20 million acres) included most of Kentucky, as well as a good portion of Tennessee.

Henderson bought this area of land with the idea of making it another colony. He hired Daniel Boone to blaze trails, set up towns (which included Boonesborough), and negotiate with Native Americans in the area. And on this date, April 23, 1775, Henderson called for an election to select members to the “House of delegates of the Transylvania colony.”

After this, Henderson officially petitioned Congress to make Transylvania a colony. Despite his efforts, however, his Transylvanian dreams wouldn’t last much longer. Another entity claimed ownership of the land…and that entity was the colony of Virginia. In June of 1776 the Virginia General Assembly invalidated the Transylvania purchase and retook possession. As compensation, Henderson was given 12 square miles of land where the Green River joins the Ohio River…in an area now known as Henderson.

Though Henderson’s grand colony disappeared, at least the university bearing its name is still around. And what about that name? Where did the name Transylvania come from?

The word itself has nothing to with Dracula or Eastern Europe. Simply translated, the prefix “trans” means across or beyond, and the suffix “sylvania” means “pleasant, wooded area.”

Who knows? If things had gone just a little differently, we might have all just ended up a bunch of Transylvanians eating Transylvania Fried Chicken while gearing up to sing “My Old Transylvania Home” before the 141st running of the Transylvania Derby.

To learn more about this and that and other such things, come see us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

FUNKY FAUNA: THE UNEXPLAINED CRITTERS OF WESTERN KENTUCKY

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Yesterday, April 21, was the 81st anniversary of one of the most famous (and controversy-riddled) photographs of the 20th century…the “Surgeon’s Photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster. The photograph (shown below) was first published in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, and caused an immediate stir, prompting decades of continuous searching for the elusive monster. As it turns out, the photograph, finally attributed to a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, was a hoax, but that has done little to deter folks from continuing to explore the deep, dark waters of the Loch, hoping for a glimpse of Nessie.

If you follow the Local and Family History Blog at all, you may recall that we have delved into the world of historic cryptozoology (i.e. mysterious creatures) before. We’ve previously posted about our region’s first Bigfoot sighting, the Belled Buzzard, and cabbage snakes. (Hey…this stuff fascinates us…what can we say.) So, in honor of the anniversary of the “Surgeon’s Photograph” and Earth Day, we offer you a couple more examples of odd, unsolved creature sightings from our area. All of these reports came from Paducah Sun articles from the early 1900’s.

November 24, 1909
Joe Styers of Oaks Station in Paducah reported capturing an animal with pure white fur that had the body of a raccoon with the head of a fox. A trapper by trade, Mr. Styers could not identify the animal, though he did report that someone offered him $25 for the pelt.

December 7, 1905
George Wade, a fisherman, was plying his trade in the waters of the Ohio one day when he pulled an unknown species of reptile out of water. The “serpent” was about a foot long with a body like an eel but with four legs and four fingers at the end of each leg. The skin was spotted, the head was flat, and its small eyes sat on top of its head. The animal was put into a jar and displayed at hooks drug store occasionally popping to the surface of the jar to hiss and shoot a foamy spray at the curious crowd.

April 3, 1903
Arthur Emery, a boy who lived at 1431 Kentucky Avenue, captured an alive but injured animal and brought it home. The animal was covered in tar and had long curved tusks and was wholly unidentifiable. According to the report, it was neither muskrat, otter, beaver, groundhog or “any other animal that the scores of people who saw it ever saw or heard.” The creature died a day after capture and young Mr. Emery planned to have it stuffed and mounted.

October 1, 1904
Many reports had been offered recently about a monster of huge dimension living in the Green River near Owensboro. This one (vouched for by the Sun) states that the monster was seen crossing the river at Ramsey, though the size of the monster varies by witness, ranging from size of a horse to two hundred feet long. The monster was seen devouring half a horse near Wrightsburg. There was no report as to the condition of the horse beforehand, which half was eaten, or what happened to the other half. The residents of the Ramsey neighborhood speculated that the monster was a sea horse escaped from a circus.

And there you have it, a few more enigmatic beasts for your enjoyment. Should you think this is a weird topic for us to cover, just remember that a new species of frog was just discovered in Costa Rica last week that looks a heck of lot Kermit the Frog. New discoveries are all around us; history is made all the time!

To read some of our old blogs (about Bigfoots, Belled Buzzards, or cabbage snakes) visit our library blog at mclib.net/blogs/history. Should you want to learn more about this or that or other such things, make sure and visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

TODAY IN HISTORY: PADUCAH’S FIRST MOVIE?

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On this day April 8, 1897, the Paducah Daily Sun reported that “Edison’s ‘Cinematoscope’” had arrived in town and would exhibit every night for the rest of the week at Morton’s Opera House, located on the southeast corner of 4th and Broadway where the Regions Bank building is now. Promising to show “the latest views, life size and in motion,” the Cinematoscope was also accompanied by Edison’s Double Megaphonograph, which rendered “up to date and popular airs.”

Moving pictures were in their infancy during the late 1800’s. Edison showcased his Kinetoscope at the 1894 Chicago World’s Fair, and while the device did show moving pictures, they could only be viewed by one individual at a time through a peep hole at the top of the device. The invention of moving picture projectors soon followed in late 1895 and throughout 1896: the Lumiere’s Cinematographe, the Latham’s projector and looping film, and Edison’s Vitoscope. The “Cinematoscope” which came to Paducah, we conjecture, was yet another improved version of this burgeoning technology.

So was this Paducah’s first movie? It’s hard to say for certain. We can’t find any records of any sort of moving picture devices coming to Paducah before then; newspapers from 1896 are sparse. But given the timeline, if this wasn’t the first movie, it was certainly among the first.

Of course, the next question one wants answered is “If this was the first movie, what was shown?”

Unfortunately, we have no idea. The newspaper didn’t describe the film/films. But we do know that admission to the pictures was 10, 20, and 30 cents. And there was a special ladies’ and children’s matinee on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 PM.

For more about this and that and other such things, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, please “like” our Facebook page as well.

–Matt Jaeger

WEEP NO MORE, ANNA LILLY: TODAY IN KENTUCKY HISTORY

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Thanks to the brilliance of Stephen Foster, the likeability of his tune, and perhaps also to the national broadcast of the Kentucky Derby each year, our state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” is certainly one of the most recognized in the country. But it’s with thanks to a citizen of Lexington, Mrs. Anna Lilly, that it became our state song in the first place. Because of Lilly’s campaigning, on this day in Kentucky history, March 19, 1928, “My Old Kentucky Home” was officially adopted by the state legislature as our state song.

Stephen Foster, called the “father of American music,” was born ironically on the 50th anniversary of the United States, July 4, 1826. He began to write songs in the 1840’s, many of which were instant hits. By the time he published “My Old Kentucky Home” in 1853, he already had a string of chart-toppers: “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “Old Folks At Home.” Despite his prolific writing and popular success, Foster died young, penniless and alone in New York City, at the age of 37.

Foster’s songs lived on, however, and many championed his music in the years following his death, not the least of whom was Mrs. Anna Lilly of Lexington, KY. Lilly herself was an amazing woman: wife, mother, civic leader, early women’s suffragist leader, organizer of the first Woodrow Wilson Club, Kentucky regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution, organizing president of the Kentucky branch of the Huguenot Society, and active supporter of Paducah’s Alben Barkley during his senatorial campaigns. In addition to her numerous causes and activities, in 1928 Lilly spearheaded the movement to make “My Old Kentucky Home” our official state song.

Lilly’s campaign ended in Frankfort, and on March 19, the legislature adopted the song with the following resolution: Whereas, the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” by Stephen Collins Foster, has immortalized Kentucky throughout the civilized world, and is known and sung in every State and Nation; therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate of Kentucky…that the song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” be and is hereby selected and adopted as the official State song of the State of Kentucky.

On this, the anniversary of our state song’ (and in honor of Women’s History Month), we celebrate not only its author, but also the work of Anna Lilly who campaigned for its adoption.

To learn more about the contribution of Kentucky women to Kentucky music, make plans to attend our Evening Upstairs program on March 26 at 7 pm for a discussion entitled “Kentucky Women in Traditional Music” led by acclaimed musician and scholar John Harrod.

And, of course, you can always visit us in the Local and Family History Department at your McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

THE CURIOUS CASE OF CHARITY KILLEBRUE

10855088_361600017361103_754155896910758006_oFor over two months, which was the better part of early 1909, Ms. Charity Killebrue of Paducah complained about tooth pain.

And yet, no dentist bothered to examine her.

Perhaps Ms. Killebrue’s dental grievances were initially ignored because she was over 100 years old and already a resident of the county sanitarium for more than six years. She was so old, in fact, that no one could verify her true age (not even herself), though several stated that she had passed the centenarian mark several years prior. The newspaper article about her stated that she had “no conception of her age,” but it is believed that she was a grandmother before the start of the Civil War.

So maybe, just maybe, Ms. Killebrue’s advanced age combined with the feeble state of her physical and mental health were the reasons the doctors ignored her continuous moans about toothaches.

Maybe…but probably not.

Likely the real reason doctors ignored Charity Killebrue’s complaints of tooth pain was that Ms. Killebrue had no teeth and hadn’t had teeth for many years.

But the grand old woman kept up her persistent pleas, so on March 11, 1909, Dr. L. E. Young, county physician, examined her, and much to his surprise, found that Ms. Killebrue was actually growing new teeth…her third set! Despite the fact that Ms. Killebrue had lost all her baby teeth and adult teeth many years earlier, she had three brand new chompers pushing their way up from her lower jaw.

The condition, called hyperdontia or supernumerary teeth, is a real condition, though quite rare. Paducahans were so amazed that it made the front page, with the Sun stating that this was the “first time that anyone in Paducah has been blessed with a third set of teeth.”

For more about historically abnormal dental conditions, visit us in Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this story, make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD: Paducah’s Musical Connection to the Underground Railroad

This Thursday, February 26, our Evenings Upstairs Program welcomes Daryl Harris, professor of Theatre and Dance at Northern Kentucky University, and his exploration of the Underground Railroad in Kentucky with the program “Wanted: Freedom – Dead or Alive.”

So that got us to thinking here in the Local and Family History Department…was Paducah part of the Underground Railroad?

Because Kentucky was a border state between north and south, the Ohio River became a symbolic “River Jordan,” a line that needed to be crossed to enter into the safer haven of the north. With Paducah at the junction of so many important inland waterways, it only makes sense that our city would have been a point of escape. In fact, Paducah is identified in a program developed by KET, as one of five crossing points in Western Kentucky; the others being Diamond Island (west of Henderson), Henderson itself, east of Henderson toward the Little Pigeon River, and Owensboro.

However, because the Underground Railroad was an “underground” operation, very little hard evidence exists that Paducah was on the route. Personal accounts, historical records, and physical remnants are hard to come by, if they exist at all.

Yet, one piece of anecdotal evidence exists that Paducah was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and that is found in the lyrics to the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” African American songs from the slavery era were sometimes thought to contain codes, hidden instructions intended to guide escaping slaves toward freedom.

“When the sun come back/ when the first quail call,/then the time is come/follow the drinking gourd.”

The above lyrics, the first verse of the song, is said to refer to springtime, specifically mid-April, and the drinking gourd itself is thought to reference the stars of the Big Dipper, which point toward the North Star. With the star as a reference, subsequent verses of the song are thought to draw a map northward from Mobile, Alabama through Mississippi and Tennessee.

Following that trail, the last verse of “Follow the Drinking Gourd” then states:

“Where the great big river meets the little river/follow the drinking gourd./The old man is awaiting for to carry you to freedom/If you follow the drinking gourd.”

The big river and the little river are thought to reference and the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, and if the lyrics of the song are believed to be a coded message, than the culminating point of the map leads right here, to the banks at Paducah.

However, there are many scholars who believe the coded messages in the song are only myth, the extension of folktale, and that any belief in a hidden map is only willful conjecture. As such, that brings us right back to our original statement about the presence of the Underground Railroad in Paducah…hard evidence is difficult to come by.

See what you think. Click on the following link to read more about the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” (www.followthedrinkinggourd.org), and be sure to join us for the Evening Upstairs program with Professor Harris on Thursday, February 26, at 7 PM.

And for more information about African American history in our region, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger