Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kentucky Derby Days!

As the first Saturday of May looms on the horizon, its echo of past glories fills the air. If you've ever been in the Central Kentucky area near Derby season, you understand the excitement and colorful celebration that permeates the local environs. Personally, I've never been to the Derby - for, pretty much, two reasons only: money and a touch of snobbery. Yes, I will admit that I am not wealthy enough to purchase a new gorgeous outfit complete with elaborate hat to wear for one day, let alone purchase decent tickets in the stands. Here is where the snobbery comes in: I have never had a desire to attend the Derby by standing in the in-field. I know this is supposed to be one of the biggest parties of the year.....and the liquor flows just as freely in this giant grassy area surrounded by the track, but the weather gamble is just too much for me to consider spending any time there. Either the weather is great, and usually hot by early May - which means you roast with these beer crazed fans. Or, the weather is cold and rainy which makes it a muddy beer crazed fest. Either way, I prefer watching the race at home.....some years with a local group having a party, or other years, simply racing inside to turn on the tube just before post time.

However, I do have one special Derby memory that I can share: I got to personally meet Secretariat when I was about 12 years old. My family had not yet moved to Kentucky and while on a visit to Mamma & Pappa Watts' farm in Bourbon County, we met a woman at the Duncan Tavern (DAR Headquarters in Paris) who had been invited to visit with Secretariat in his retirement on Claiborne Farm. He was such a massive animal that we were all intimidated to stand next to him. The caretaker wanted to sit my 2 year old little brother on his back, but Mom would have none of that nonsense! I'm sure she had visions of that wild stallion racing off with her precious baby - after the powerful display of him racing down to the gate and skidding to a halt when we first arrived, I don't blame her at all! I'm also sure that Secretariat sneezed some beautiful green snot on her white skirt in retaliation. Horses are sensitive you know! One lesson learned that day.....he LOVED peppermint lifesavers!

To best celebrate this rich tradition, I have pulled some 18th century newspaper clippings from the Kentucky Gazette, published in Lexington (1795, I believe). I have also included a brief history of the industry which I wrote last year for a small online exhibit. Enjoy!

In 1775, George Rogers Clark extolled the beauty of Kentucky with the statement: “A richer and more beautiful country than this I believe has never been seen in America”. With the 18th century pioneer migration into Kentucky, the horse was a natural accompaniment. By 1789 the horse population of Kentucky had risen above the human population by 607 to make the horse population of the time 9,607. Not only were the pioneer conditions difficult enough to require the work of horses, but the gentle rolling bluegrass landscape was perfectly suited to the breeding and development of champion bloodlines.

By the late 18th century, racing a favorite horse was a widely accepted activity and only grew in popularity as a focus on the bloodlines developed. Along with the horse industry grew the development of large farming estates which solidified a hugely successful agricultural economy. Breeding horses for stamina and speed seemed to naturally evolve with the culture of the young state, with racetracks popping up in several surrounding counties.

Thoroughbreds first entered the territory by way of Virginia, with the first English bred Thoroughbred, Blaze, arriving here in 1797. Throughout the first half of the 19th century Kentucky horsemen continued to breed and race successful lines of Thoroughbreds. By 1850, the most famous of all 19th century racehorses, Lexington, was bred by Dr. Elisha Warfield and after an illustrious career nationally “begot more champions than any other stallion and led the nation’s sire list for a longer period than any other in history.” (Wharton p.27) Ironically, the bones of Lexington are a current source of issue as Kentucky is seeking to have them returned to the state from their current residence in the Smithsonian.

After the conclusion of the Civil War, the sport of racing horses had a quick decline as the sport was dominant in the south. However, it was not long before wealthier men of the northeast, familiar with the racing traditions of Europe, soon brought this sport back into popularity by building racetracks in the north. With Kentucky remaining the top breeding state in the country, it was only natural for a track to be built here in Kentucky which had not suffered the same level of war devastation as the rest of the south. By 1875, a new Louisville track called Churchill Downs was inaugurated with a new race, known as the Kentucky Derby.

For more information on this subject:
Book: The Horse World of the Bluegrass by Mary E. Wharton & Edward L. Bowen (1980)
Book: The Thoroughbreds by Barbara Berry (1974)
Website: http://www.allhorseracing.com/kentuckyhorseracing.aspx
For more about the bones of Lexington: http://www.kentucky.com/181/story/725923.html

CD 4/27/10

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kentucky's Newest Historical Marker

On Thursday April 15th, the University of Kentucky unveiled the state's newest historical marker: honoring the University's first librarian, Margaret I. King. The marker was purchased by the class of 2009 and placed just outside the lower main entrance to the library that bears her name....affectionately referred to as the King Library. This library was built in 1931 and served as the University's main library until the present structure, the William T. Young Library, was opened in 1998. Currently, the King Library houses the Special Collections and Oral History Center on one side, and the Science Library on the other side. As a librarian, and as someone who has worked in libraries since the age of 16, this newest marker dedicated to a librarian holds a special place in my heart. However, as a two-time UK alum, I can't help but smile at the prospect of this marker serving another very important purpose......no longer will the student tour guides refer to this building as the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. They hear "King Library" and think of the only famous one they know.......now Ms. King will have her rightful honor in the middle of campus, and our students will be reminded of the important role this librarian served! I will let you read of her accomplishments from the new markers themselves.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Aunt Maggie and the Dying Nun

As I was rummaging through an old genealogy folder, I came across a small Daniels family stash that I had neglected to move into their respective surname files several years ago. The file consisted of the original family Bible records which I have available on the main site, as well as hand written family odds and ends. Mainly items completed by the school age children of my great great grandparents household (Madison and Mary Daniels of Gallia County Ohio).

In time I may feature a few more of these charming little odds and ends, but today, Maggie's full page of writing caught my attention. One side of the page is crammed full of a poem about a dying woman named Clare. When I tried to Google a phrase or two, I had a few entries pop up from a popular song called "The Dying Nun". According to a few of these publications, not much is known about this popular parlor song. One source listed the earliest record of this song as 1928, but the earliest I can find from web postings is 1907. Another curious note about this song is the variation of lyrics. Most of the later copies from the 1940s and 50s have replaced a few lines entirely.

The lines as written by Aunt Maggie Daniels are as follows:

Let the air blow in upon me
Let me see the midnight sky,
Stand back, sister, from around me
Oh, it is so hard to die.

Raise my pillow up oh Martha
Sister Martha, you are kind
Come and stand close here beside me
E'er I leave you all behind

Hold my hand, so cold and frozen,
Once it was so soft and white,
And the ring that fell down from it
Clasped my finger round so tight

Little ring they thought so motherless
That they let me keep it there
Only one plain golden circle
With a braid of Douglas's hair.

Oh, my father, Oh my mother
Will you not forgive the past
When you hear some stranger tell you
How your stray lamb died at last.

And of all who used to love me
Who will weep when I am dead?
Sister Martha, sister Martha
Keep the death watch by my bed.

Sister Martha, sister Martha
You are kinder than the rest,
Raise my head and let me lean it
While I live upon my breast.

I was thinking of some music
I had heard long, long ago
O, how sweet the nuns are singing
In the chapel soft and low.

But a strain of music stealing
Drowns my holy midnight dream
Hark! I hear that wild waltz pealing
As I float away to him.

I am coming Douglas, Douglas
Where you are I'll soon be there.
Oh! I come at last my dearest
Death gives back your little Clare.

Sister Martha, are you near me,
Has the moon gone down so soon?
O, the cell seems cold as winter
Though I know that it is June.

Sister, your white bed lying
Dreaming in the June moonlight.
Though your dreams there comes no message
Clare dies alone tonight.

Ironically, the lyrics aren't full of references to nuns, which makes the origins of this song all the more intriguing. Obviously, little Clare is dying and longs to be reunited with Douglas.....and she is a lamb that has strayed. Was she placed in a nunnery after her fall with dearest Douglas? Conjecture only as we may never know the origins of this song. I did happen to search for a dying nun Clare, but all I could come up with was a Saint Clare from the 12th century who was named the patron saint of the Television in 1958. Why was she named the patron saint of the Television? Because as she lay dying and too ill to attend mass, she was able to see it happening on the wall of her room, apparently the first flat screen!

As to the year of this piece, Maggie's copy would appear to be older than the copies placed online. On the flip side of the paper, Maggie has written a poem that lists the Presidents of the United States. According to Maggie, the current President was Rutherford B. Hayes who was President from 1877-1881. Maggie Daniels was born in 1870 and even if the year was 1881, she was only in the range of 10 or eleven years old. Quite a heavy verse for a 10 year old, but then, children did seem much more mature in the past generations. For those of you who are curious, Maggie grew up to marry George Wagner, had three children and died in 1955 at the age of 85.

One thing I learned about dear Aunt Maggie, she had lovely penmanship!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome to Journeys Past!

Many of you know I already have a traditional web site called Journeys Past, which details the personal genealogical info on my family. However, over the years, this site has had to remain rather stagnant as I had to maintain stability and simplicity. The original site is arranged by surname or album, and is dedicated mostly to photographic gems, with very little room for commentary or even non-family related gems that I would love to share after years of collecting and researching.

After 20+ years of researching my own family tree, finishing my BA in History and my Masters in Library Science, I have collected so many wonderful stories, photos and historical odds and ends, that my files are just bursting at the seams to be shared with those who might be similarly interested. This is my contribution, which I hope you will enjoy.

On a side note, as you can see from my location, much of my content will naturally gravitate towards the Central Kentucky/Southern Ohio regions. But have no fear, my historical interests are vast, and I will be sharing many tidbits from the rest of the country or the world depending on my historical ambitions!

Enough about me, let's get started on the journey!


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