Monday, November 14, 2016

Resource: Kentucky Civil War Governors

The Kentucky Historical Society has a new database that should be on your radar when researching your Kentucky Civil War era ancestors - and be sure to read to the end - they will need your help with the next phase of identification! Civil War Governors of Kentucky, Digital Documentary Edition (Early Access.) Why would Kentucky genealogists be interested in a database seemingly about Civil War Governors? Because this database is another way to explore your FAN (friends, associates & neighbors) connections on a state level. Yes, the documents are connected to Kentucky Governors of the time, but in a broad sense. Since no man is an island - think of Governors as conduits of action - actions that involved people, and produced documents to record those actions. The Civil War was a traumatic event for our ancestors, regardless of whether they went to war or not. Just think about the daily disruptions that took place: theft, requisitioning, violence, economic changes/challenges, jurisdiction/authority questions/changes, abuse of power, etc. Let's just say, there were many challenges that arose during this time to warrant civilian appeal to the Governor himself.
In Kentucky, we had a split government - resulting in a Governor for each side - with a total of five Governors during the War. Each man produced thousands of documents pertaining to the petitions of Kentucky's citizens. Much like court records and/or newspaper articles, the information found within these documents help to flesh out the bones. They provide a supplemental view into our ancestors' lives - during a volatile period that shaped the future for many generations.

So let's get down to brass tacks - what can you find if you search for an ancestor? First, I would keep it simple at this point. Look for unique surnames first, followed by individuals. You can also search the documents by location or subject. All prove to be very helpful when taking a closer look at your ancestor's sphere of influence. An important note about where the documents came from: So far, documents were scanned from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, Kentucky Historical Society, Maker's Mark Distillery, and the Mary Todd Lincoln House.

Just what did I find when searching for my family? Not a lot, to be honest. But I haven't abandoned the site, and hope to study further into the documents on a regional/county level. You will see from my result why sticking to this project will be important for the future.

As a disclaimer, I only searched for my unique surnames, not individuals. I didn't get any hits with most of them, and then I typed in "Allender." I found one document hit that provided me with multiple connections. But you'll have to pay close attention to the spelling variations that demonstrate the importance of literally "exploring" the documents.

My "Allender" hit turned out to be a petition for sentence remission regarding the conviction of a local man, Lewis Cummins. Apparently, the local court had convicted Lewis of stabbing a fellow Pendleton County citizen. He did not kill the man, but was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $50 fine for the injurious assault.
The original judgement is attached at the top, with the petition included below, asking Governor "JF Robinson" for "executive clemency" in this matter. Their appeal and reasons for writing are included below:

"The immediate neighbours and acquaintences of Lewis Cummins, would respectfully represent: That they have known and are well acquainted with said Cummins, and know him to be a peaceable, well disposed, law abiding man, aged about 23 yrs, with a small family, a wife and one infant child, and in very humble and limited circumstances of life, as to means or property. — just commenced the work, upon and the owner of thirty odd acres of poor comparatively poor land in this County, upon which he has settled in the woods, having only about eight acres cleared, inclosed and under fence; this with his own and unaided labour, and known habits of industry, his whole dependence for a support and living for himself and helpless little family, in this season of busy toil, for all depending upon the soil for a living and the products thereof, as barriers against want & starvation — as to themselves and those immediately dependent upon them.

The accusation against him is for stabbing in a sudden heat and passion, a certain Tyre Geilaspy, of superior muscular and corporal powers, and your petitioners would be glad to add of equal amiableness of traits of character — the promient witness in the prosecution, with, fortunately no serious or dangerous wound upon his person, inflicted, if inflicted in heat of passion; and while it is human to err, and especially so, in passion with a first aggression — your petitioners are convinced, fully and undoubtingly so, there under all the circumstances, the infliction of a fine and imprisonment in this case, loudly calls, in humanity and justice, for the interposition of executive clemency, on behalf of Cummins, we therefore invoke, under an abiding sense that punishment in mercy alone attains its ends, your excellency most earnestly to remit, especially the punishment of imprisonment, as ruinous to Cummins & family and also remission of the fine, as inflicted without reference to means of the accused to pay it a punihsment beyond decent —"

What follows this appeal is a list of 112 men signing on behalf of the convicted - original signatures of the individuals, NOT a list generated by one person! #genealogyhappydance The "Allender" gentleman that snagged the hit happened to be at the very top of the signature list: Thomas Allender. Off the top of my head, I was not familiar with Thomas, but kept reading down the list. To my surprise, I found several other men I recognized, including 2 of my Grandfathers!

Most would say this was a slightly interesting document, at best, for my genealogical research. However, there were some clues that gave me a little insight into the relationships of these men. First of all, after many years of researching this community, I knew that many of these men were related to Lewis Cummins, either by blood or marriage. That does shed a different light on the petition. Several of the names currently transcribed were done so by someone who was probably not familiar with the local surnames, and could not read the fading ink well enough to get clear spellings. For example, "G. B Rible" is more than likely Joe B. Pribble. I can recognize the spelling of the surname as "Prible" when reviewing the original signature.
Stone of "James J Alender"
The above slight surname spelling change did not apply to just one surname. In subsequent years, the Pribble family settled on the two 'b' format. Similarly, with the first Allender hit, Thomas uses two 'l's in his name. So too did the rest of my family in all the rest of the family documentation. However, farther down the list is "James Alender" (transcribed as "James Alenoer".) James happens to be my 4th Great Grandfather: James Jackson Allender. He and his wife (Mary Stout) are buried next to each other in the old Fisher cemetery on Route #10. Since James died within 3 years of signing this document, and 15 years before his wife, we always found it odd that his stone had the carving "Alender." His wife's stone, as well as those of his adult children included both 'l's in their spelling: "Allender." I had always assumed that the stone carver made a spelling error. But this document proves that James used one 'l' when spelling his name. You can't really argue with "from the horse's mouth", so to speak!
A few names above James' entry, we find "B W Cox" followed by "N B MCall." BW happens to be my 3rd Great Grandfather: Barton Warren Cox. The signature below his is, more than likely, Barton's stepbrother: Napoleon Bonaparte McCall (yes, I also see the spelling change of MCall and McCall.)
Barton Warren Cox
What I find to be interesting about these signatures is their proximity. I have no idea how these signatures were collected originally. I can see various types of ink used throughout, suggesting name collection on an individual or batch level. Was someone going door-to-door to collect the signatures? Possibly, but knowing the terrain of this area, that sounds very inconvenient. I'm going to guess that the signatures were collected at various meetings. Perhaps, Church, fraternal, or other local meetings. If the person had went door-to-door, there should have been names between Barton and Napoleon's. They lived in the same part of the county, but not next door to each other. Unless one was visiting the other at the time of the gathering, it can be surmised that they were at the same meeting when the petition was signed. The close proximity of the signatures on the petition reminds me very much of the early tax records. When the taxes were recorded chronologically, the men with the same surname, paying on the same day, can be assumed to be relatives of some sort. Sometimes, father and son.
In this case, Napoleon was the son of Barbary (Barbara Sharp) and Ross McCall. After his father, Ross, died, his mother Barbary married Samuel Cox, the father of Barton. Why is this significant? Barbary was Samuel's third wife - and the widow of his very good friend, Ross McCall. The marriage came after Samuel divorced his second wife on the heels of a very salacious divorce proceeding. His second wife had accused him of both physical and mental abuse, along with poor treatment by his adult children in the area. Barton was never named specifically, but it painted a picture of hostile stepmother/stepchild relationships. When Samuel married Barbary, she had several McCall children that came along with her, and she gave birth to one or two Cox children.

Back to the petition: By seeing these two step-siblings signing so close together, it tells me that they possibly had a friendly relationship. Perhaps it was even affectionate. Of course, I'm stretching this a bit, but with the past accusations of a wife being treated poorly by the stepchildren, it was nice to see that perhaps the accusations were exaggerated, or did not convey to the children of the third wife. It is nothing more than a curiosity, not really important to my research, but interesting from a familial perspective. Just a window into that chapter of Grandpa Barton's life.

As for the local criminal: The outside of the petition says the sentence and fine were remitted as a result of the efforts of his family, friends, and neighbors. It's nice to know, that even during war, they were still watching out for each other, and that the system worked for Mr. Cummins. Or, one could argue that the system worked when his punishment was given, and the Governor acted as a "do-over" for the young father. Either way, this one document proved to shed light on a community, and a few members of my family. Which is why you should pay attention to the Kentucky CWG site as it develops. They will be needing help from locals or researchers who can add more information about individuals, or suggest corrections to the transcriptions when observed. There is a "Suggest a Correction" button at the end of each page. Also, in the future, they hope to connect the individuals in the documents to form a web of connections. This would be an area where you can help further. Keep this on your radar as you research your Kentucky Civil War era ancestors!  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Revolutionary Rock Stars

It was a late August morning in Boston, steamy and damp with persistent drizzle. I knew the general location of my first stop. But rounding the corner, I hadn't expected it to be so close. Just down the street from my hotel, about a block, across from the next intersection, I could see the marble entry and trees along an iron fence. Realizing what my eyes were registering made me stop in surprise. Even in the rain it resonated as a sacred place.
For decades, since I was in my teens, I had heard of this piece of land, the final resting place of many of the men and women recognized as instigators of revolution. The Granary Burying Ground. How many times had I read that title, and spied it on an old map, wishing I could see it for myself? Too many times to count. 

I approached the Egyptian style archway, mentally noting its echo of a time period that was more contemporary. It looked out of place knowing the age of the gravestones inside the gate. People were coming and going, through the imposing arch, despite the drizzle. Once inside, the multitude of carved stones took my breath away. I stood next to an unsuspecting tour guide, half listening to his speech, while clicking away with my camera. I knew enough not to be rude and try to get a freebie tour without paying, so I moved along. After all, I didn't need a tour guide to tell me about this place.

Ironically, or fatefully, I turned in the exact direction I needed to go. I only walked a little ways along the right front path, and there they were, under an old tree. One stone to mark them all. Despite their deaths occurring in 1770, I knew them all by name, my history equivalent of the Beatles: Samuel, Crispus, Patrick, James, and Samuel. 
The "victims" of the Boston Massacre have earned quotation marks from historians because of the questionable nature in which they died. Were they victims standing up for freedom's cause? Were they rabble, stirring up trouble and getting rowdy at any chance? I tend to think of them as victims of circumstance. Forces they could not see creating a perfect storm of resentment and hostility. At the very least, they were resisting a military presence in their city, and they did not expect to die that night. 

After years of reading trial transcripts, autopsy reports, and commemorative orations, I figured I was the only one who would be excited about finding their grave in this most famous of burial sites. But I was wrong. As I stood in the drizzle, and just silently took in the scene, the pebbles lined up on top of the stone brought tears. Physical evidence that others remember their story and mark the visit with a solemn placement of stone. 

I turned to move on and encountered THE Samuel Adams. A rounded, carved stone placed there by the SAR, also covered in small stones of remembrance. It was not grand nor ostentatious, but it was solid, like the personality it memorialized. 
The path continued on, and so did I...taking in the artistry of each stone. Time had worn the iconography and some of the letters, but the solemn purpose remained. For those buried in the majority of these graves, death was viewed as something of a stalker, always ready to pounce on the next victim. Each stone contained imagery that served as something of a 17th century PSA, reminding visitors that life was fleeting.
As I roamed, I came across other men of note: Paul Revere, John Hancock, James Otis, Robert Treat Paine, William Molineux, Christopher Snider....and and women who got this party started! Most with only humble stones to mark their existence - except for Mr. Hancock, of course. (1896 replacement stone is quite large.) As the humble nature of the stones reminded me of the fundamental principles our freedom was founded upon, I realized my gratitude grew...inspiring me to share their story at every opportunity.

In a glimmer of hope, I noticed, among the dead, there was a pulse of life. Tour guides in colorful dress entertained tourists with the vibrant stories of those who inhabit the Granary. It is the power of the story that connects us to each other, despite the passage of time. I was pleased to see the story used to bring the dead back to life as the Granary maintained a memorial that was not just stone, but life renewed with each child that came through the gates to learn about our past. Reminding us all that while life may be fleeting, our stories keep living, as long as we tell them. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

My DAR Adventure...Patriot Verified!

As 2015 drew to a close, I was anxiously awaiting proof of an accomplishment that had been part of last year's resolutions. Even though the proof did not come until just a few days ago, the date on the certificate clinches the 2015 tally. As you can guess, I resolved last year to join a lineage society. I had figured it would be one of the Ohio lineage groups, since that seemed to be the easiest path, but some friends here in Kentucky urged me to push for DAR.

I had anticipated joining DAR many years ago. After all, it was during my teenage years that I discovered a letter written to my great grandmother in 1978 that let her know she was eligible to join through a branch of the Garrett family that settled the Chillicothe Ohio area. I can still remember going through my great grandmother's family items while sitting in my grandmother's kitchen and pretty much flipping out. Of course, I didn't have much of an idea what joining entailed, but I can remember telling my mom that she should I could join when I was old enough. This discovery led me to the John Fox Jr. DAR Library in Paris a couple of years letter - and my first look at the DAR Patriot Index. There he was, my ancestor, Thomas Garrett, listed among those who had fought. One of my favorite genealogy moments!

Fast forward about 10 years when I was around 26, and I was fully investigating what was necessary to join, as a supplement to my decade-long immersion into genealogical research. A couple of sad things happened at that time to derail my efforts: 1. I ordered the full DAR application packet from Washington D.C. for my cousin that had joined in the 70s - you know, the old snail mail - and the application came back marked in red. Apparently, my ancestor was NOT the Thomas Garrett that had fought in Virginia, but rather a son of my patriarch. 2. My research was suffering from a lack of focus (too many branches at once), and so I turned away from this idea since the disappointment was so fresh.  

Fast forward another dozen or so years, and my research is much farther along: my B.A. in history and M.S. in Library Science are under my belt, and I'm employed by the state historical society. Also, by this time, the Patriot Index is now online...and way easier to search in my jammies! I started as many do, plugging in ancestor names to find another eligible branch. I have not given up on the Garrett line, but some of the other research passed down to me about that branch has been flagged in my own research radar. It needs some work, and I'm now very doubtful of the reliability of the research of others.

2015 also happened to be the 125th anniversary of the DAR's formation - which included a really cool commemorative certificate for new members! Plus, pushing me along are some great DAR ladies that frequent our library and events - including the State Registrar. Myra Evans is quite the DAR champion and genealogy mentor! As much as she pushed, I still wanted to complete this challenge, as much as I could, on my own. I regarded this as a genealogical test. Lineage society membership has a way of doing that for a researcher. There is nothing more intimidating than putting your research to the test to have it deemed worthy or unworthy.

As soon as Myra confirmed that contemporary Family Bible Records would be admissible in the process, I had a targeted branch to work from. The "contemporary" records in my possession came from my Dad through our great Aunt Mattie Townsend. She was quite the keeper of history! If it had not been for her, and her insistence that the Daniels family research continue with the Daniels line, all would have been lost. Again, the "contemporary" records came from around 1879 and detailed the lineage back to pre-1804 Pennsylvania. That was really my golden ticket. Taking these Bible records and working both directions into Ohio and Pennsylvania, I hit the jackpot, and became spoiled by the great records in these two states.

So big drum roll reveal - my Patriot Ancestor is Daniel Estle of Pennsylvania!

I know membership is new to me right now - and so I can't say too much about the membership experience - but I thought you might like a list of some of the things I learned along the way.

1. Hook up with another member prior to getting involved. They will introduce you to the right folks who will guide you along your journey. They will not do the research for you, but their experience and help can be invaluable. Besides, use the worksheet they give you, but DO NOT attempt to complete the application yourself - that takes the special skill of the Chapter Registrar.

2. Finding the documentation for the most recent ancestors can be the hardest part - my grandmother lying about her age on the marriage certificate, great grandparents' divorce and remarriage, plus faded copies were just some of the fun obstacles encountered. Seriously, finding my own birth certificate was a boatload of fun!

3. The back end of Family Search (using the state wiki level - not name search) was a total lifesaver! They had all of the PA wills that I needed in beautiful clarity, for free, which happened to also name my female ancestor and the relationship to her father - bingo! This can't happen with every ancestor, but depending on the state, the jackpot can be variable - always worth a try prior to ordering documents from local sources!

4. Again, complete as much as you can on your own, without any help, to test your mettle. Even if you're not a professional genealogist, nor have any desire to be such, your research experience can help other members or potential members. I limited my document collection to the worksheet minimums in order to make each direct link as simple as possible. My chapter Registrar, Brenda Hume, then scooped up my docs, did a little extra digging to follow the family through the census, and filled in the actual application paperwork for submission. Dues are paid with submission, not after being verified, so just be prepared for this - and remember - if you messed up, you have another year to get your docs corrected or another ancestor verified. Considering this, it's a good idea to work on a supplemental line while you are waiting on verification. That way, if something bad comes back, you are on your way to submitting another ancestor. Most folks are descended from more than one Patriot, documenting this fact is the challenge. I'm already working on a few supplementals - at least four additional Patriots in the hopper.

5. Ordering the application packets from patriot ancestors through the DAR website has proven to be an awesome resource! I am already working on my mother's line so she can join through another ancestor - not the Garretts - and have found that the DAR supplemental info included information that is helping to solve a much more complicated family mystery involving an emancipated branch of the family. Even the Family Bible Records I used in my research will now be preserved in copy form by the DAR in Washington as a part of my supplemental information - which is pretty awesome. So, mine those records frequently for genealogical clues! They can get pricey at $10-$20 each, but they can be packed solid with great info, and worth the price! If you are unsure of which ancestor packet to order, the local Chapter officials might be able to help with that if you arrange a consultation.

6. Spelling matters! My ancestor's name was Daniel Estle - it's there in his own will and the wills of his children, etc. Unfortunately, the DAR GRS tries to be helpful by lumping all similar sounding name into one standardized spelling. While this sounds like common sense, sometimes, the system does not catch similar spellings to redirect you properly. Plus, the certificate comes back with the standardized spelling, instead of the spelling used by the ancestor. Disappointing, but in my records, and in my DAR pins, I will be using the correct spelling used by my ancestor.

On a personal note, the American Revolution has always been a very close research subject for me. From the same age, when I first learned about DAR eligibility, my personal research interest zeroed in on pre-revolutionary Boston. Why? To this day, I don't fully understand the pull. I was so focused on this research that I could name all of the important players, and events that happened in that area from 1768 to the Declaration. I even used to skip class in college to sit in the library reading newspapers of the day. The very first time I visited Boston, I teared up, seeing it on the horizon as our plane came into Logan - and I picked my hotel based on its close proximity to the Granary Burying Ground which is the final resting place of the Massacre "victims" as well as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, etc. Ironically, the documentation necessary to join DAR led me to a brick wall breakthrough which I hope to write about more later - my Daniels line, which others had declared was a change from Irish O'Donnells around the turn of the 19th century, is in fact a Massachusetts line of Daniels - No name change - but rather, John Daniels born in Massachusetts - latter part of the 18th century. Is that my pull? Is that what I'm supposed to discover? At this point, I have zero idea which part of MA he hailed from...but with this new found knowledge, and an added incentive of DAR supplemental lines, there is a strong possibility that my research focus is about to head north!

As my membership time grows, I hope to blog more about membership and its opportunities for service....stay tuned!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Considering Professional Diversity

Last month I was professionally involved with TWO conferences at the same time. For four days in Louisville, the state library association (KLA) and AASLH were both hosting their annual conferences on the same days within a couple of blocks of each other. My employer, the Kentucky Historical Society, was playing host to the AASLH Conference, and I was speaking twice just down the road at the KLA Conference. My professional connection to both conferences meant I was walking a line of involvement that brought me in contact with different, yet similar, energies.

The AASLH Conference consisted of several panel sessions about the management of state and local historical societies as well as the challenges associated with applying contextual historical value to the user experience. Obviously I could relate to many of their topics and challenges. When going through the exhibit hall, attending their evening functions, and following their Twitter feeds, I couldn't help but see an overlap in the genealogy and library fields.

The exhibit hall was full of library, archival, museum, and preservation organizations/vendors. In some regards I felt as though I were at a library or genealogy conference. During the main evening event on Museum Row, the SAR Library was open for free research to conference attendees! (A genealogist's dream) As Women's History was a main theme of this conference, the challenge of researching women naturally drifted toward the records available to researchers. Below is an example of the tweets coming out during the conference:
As you can see, genealogy rose to the surface as a valuable methodology when researching the lives of women in history. Of course, we genealogists could have told them that all along, but it speaks to the value of expanding our horizons at other related conferences. Just think of the networking and conversations that could have followed such a session if genealogists were in attendance.

The KLA Conference was no different. Yes, it is a conference designed for state librarians, but for those of us who serve genealogists, the opportunities were numerous: Maker Spaces, a new trend in libraries had a demo in the Speed Geek area that covered how to build or share a story, one line at a time. One speaker outlined the challenges of serving four main generational groups and the things important to them. As part of this presentation he outlined a way to get them all to talk to each other: Hosting a History Channel Live night to allow each generation to share their local memories and tape the session. He claimed this was a great way to document the memories of a community.

We also have a Genealogy and Local History Round Table as an option for KLA membership. As the chair of this group, I invited a representative from Family Search, Jane Colmenares, to demonstrate the Wiki functions and how easy it is to change the information. With the local information for each county in place, it is necessary for local organizations to make sure their information is correct for researchers seeking out state and local collections. Our speaker had worked with the Wiki for over eight years and had some wonderful insights for us to use as soon as we got home!
So what is my point with all of this? I've heard some grumbles over the years about the national genealogy conferences using the same speakers every year. I still learn from these people, and don't always agree with that complaint, but I can see their point. Since the genealogy field is growing and changing at a rapid rate, and those that attend may need exactly what is presented there, perhaps it is now up to us to take a broader approach in our education and professional development? These are only two conference examples that related in some way to genealogy and historical research. There are so many others: Some focused on story telling/family history, ethnic specific research, women's studies, writing, etc. Lately, I've been looking at the various conferences and have decided I owe it to myself to branch out a bit. When the national genealogy conferences are not in my region and I know I'll be skipping them that year, I need to look at the other conferences nearby. Even if they don't fully fit my profession, I would like to attend as a genealogist, librarian, writer, to have our voice heard when other professionals are talking about issues that we deal with every day.

As the world takes more notice of genealogy as a valuable aspect of research, we need to be the professional voice out there. Not only can we influence in a positive way, but we can network with and learn from other professionals that can enhance our own profession. These new relationships can only serve to bring genealogy out of professional seclusion and into wider respectability. Besides, I feel the lessons of expertise can flow both ways, and will enrich our approaches to research as well as provide a whole new group of potential speakers/writers to learn from. Do yourself a professional favor and be watchful for new learning opportunities in your neck of the woods....I promise you will enjoy the change and just might come away with some new friends and a new sense of research energy!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

History in Lights

What happens when the lights go dark? In Las Vegas, several sets of lights go out every decade. In fact, one grand set of lights that lit up the Riviera just went out this year. Only a couple of months ago, you could still see the neon sign, ghostly dark with shadows and reflections from the lights of the other casinos nearby. Despite the command to pull the switch, bringing darkness, the Neon Museum is waiting nearby to offer a second chapter for those that faced the last curtain call. 

The glitz and glamour of  the Las Vegas strip is always tinged with a sense of déjà vu: As if you’ve seen the extravagance before, perhaps just around the previous corner, or in an old movie from decades ago. The glitter and lights have provided a backdrop of resplendent euphoria. Of course, this effect is intentional, to make you feel prosperous, beautiful, uninhibited, and timeless. But just as pockets empty and beauty fades with age, so too casinos fade in popularity and age tarnishes the shine of the flashing lights.
As a reminder of all that glitters is far from gold, the Neon Museum strives to preserve the essence of Las Vegas, from its early days to the present. With each casino that is shut down, the Museum is at the ready, hoping to secure a piece of the sign for their "boneyard." 

Over the years they have collected many remnants of neon artistry. Not many are in working order, but each comes with stories as big as the current towers of light still shining on the strip, just up the street. That was the first thing that caught my attention during our visit. Standing in the dark, waiting for the tour to start, and seeing the glow on the horizon from the current casinos that have risen up to take the place of the past signs we were about to see. A reflection of humanity and life itself that was too uncomfortable to speak out loud. Most waited in respectful silence, as if we were about to enter a cemetery.
Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets well in advance as tours sell out quickly. But the tour choice is part of the experience. Tours can be taken during the day or during the night. As a Neon Museum, I figured the neon signs viewed at night would make for the best experience. In hindsight, I now realize either tour would have distinct advantages. While the night tour provides an atmospheric experience of echoes and shadows, the daytime tours would provide an artistic experience of mid-century modern marvels. Many of the signs on display are from the very era of Betty Willis’ famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that has become a timeless icon of this city: impressive in either the light of day or light of night.

The endeavor that evolved from a Neon Boneyard into a Neon Museum began very small and has grown significantly over a brief number of years. Still, the effort, talent, and resources necessary to bring darkened neon signage back to its glowing glory does not come easy. Each sign is unique in construct, and only shines again after a lengthy labor of love. This slow and costly process means their collection of broken signs vastly outnumbers their collection of brilliantly resurrected signs. 
During the night tour, visitors are guided through a maze of neon art. Sizes, colors, shapes, textures, and messages are as varied as the current array of signs seen on the 21st century strip. But time is always a variable, as evidenced by the patches of rust alongside the brilliant residue of paint and glass. Since Las Vegas is only a little over 100 years old, their earliest signs only go back to the 1930s and 40s. Not only do visitors experience the variance of light and color, but design and construction changes enhance the stories told by the guide. 
Celebrities, gangsters, and early restaurateurs provide the history, but the contours and shapes provide the visual record of 20th century sign making. As only a few of the signs have been restored to fully functional operation, the museum has chosen to light the signs and paths with colorful spotlights that create depth and atmosphere. The darkened shadows with hints of light and color truly echo a time past. Despite the name change from "boneyard" to "museum" there was a sense of cultural death, and many locals still refer to this place as the “boneyard.” Each decade of decadence has put its mark on this city in the form of massive light structures, meant to lure visitors with the promise of riches. But the riches are ethereal, rarely realized, and often out of reach. 
And yet, the lure is still alive. New signs replaced the old, and today’s lights are vastly bigger and brighter. As we walked along in the dark desert air, names of legendary casinos were spoken once again and visually represented by a small remnant of their neon luster: The Golden Nugget, The Silver Slipper, The Stardust, The Sahara, and an older version of Caesars Palace. Note the lack of an apostrophe. The guide reminded everyone that Caesars Palace is named in such a way as to declare that all visitors are wealthy Caesars and this is their Palace.
Each new decade strives to make the impact larger and more breathtaking than the previous, to lure more visitors, with even greater promises. At the Neon Museum, the echoes of past decadence are felt poignantly with each turn of the path. As a result, the beauty in this colorfully lit visage reminds us of the uniqueness of Las Vegas. Everyone comes to Las Vegas for the experience, regardless of what we win or lose here. It is a special place unlike any other, and purely an American mirage built out of the desert. 

P.S. The museum is currently raising funds to restore its newest acquisition, The Desert Rose. They have one week left to reach their ambitious goal! Please consider donating to this groovy cause! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kentucky Blue Blood

Sorry genies, I'm not going to be talking about connecting my tree to might want to look away.....I'm talking about sports royalty.

March, with a little bit of April mixed in, is the hardest time of year for me. My anxiety levels go sky high, my friendships are severely tested, and I lose sleep staying up to follow basketball scores. As a 7th generation Kentuckian who also happens to be a two-time University of Kentucky graduate, basketball season is intense, to put it mildly.

As much as I bleed blue proudly, I am usually saddened by the black and blue bruises Cats fans have to endure each year. I am well aware that "Haters gonna hate," and team spirit on all sides makes the field a hostile one, but I am really exhausted trying to be a good sport about all the negativity (except for Duke - Duke is our nemesis and always generates negativity - it's a Kentucky rivalry requirement.)

It's clear, for most, if you are not a Cats fan, you are a Cats hater, plain and simple. It can get pretty nasty out there. I am very grateful our mascot is a Wildcat - those claws of ours come in very handy when fighting back. Uh-oh, did you hear that? My claws just came out....

Why does everyone hate us so much?

Is it because of our talent on the court?
Possibly. Jealousy can be a pretty powerful negative force.

Do they hate us because our players are arrogant and have bad attitudes?
They may think this is the case, but in the field of battle, every team out there has cocky players and many need attitude adjustments....we didn't invent any of these perceived characteristics...again, cough, cough, Duke. Besides, many of our players both past and present have been sweet guys off the court. Sure, some have had bad attitudes off the court, but these are young men who have been thrust into stardom and sports royalty. It would be tough for most to ride through that experience with an unscathed personality.

Do they hate us because the fans are crazy and out of control (do I smell roasting couches?)
Possibly. We are completely nuts about our team. Most of us come out of the womb being conditioned to wear Kentucky blue at every occasion, and many can sing the fight song before they can write a sentence. Seriously though, Kentucky blue is appropriate ANYWHERE: bed, work, school, Church, Wal-Mart, the Derby, prom, weddings, etc. Trust me, the merchandising keeps up with the multi-faceted demand.

But let me point out a few things to the haters:

Like several other states in the U.S., we are sports poor. We have a few college teams that are competitive on the national level, and when they make an appearance, they usually make it count. UK basketball is by far, the largest and most successful team we have in this state (sorry Louisville,) but beyond the college level, who do we have?

I may have been born in Kentucky, but I grew up in Ohio, and still wore my blue proudly. But do you have any idea what it's like living in Ohio? There are so many successful teams, I probably couldn't name them all! I grew up with such sports icons as the Reds, the Bengals (don't snicker, they were pretty awesome when I was little,) OSU, Browns, etc....
But just across the river, is a state that has been made fun of at every opportunity. Folks love our greatest two-minute run to the nearest bourbon barrel in May, but once the party is over, they go back to slapping Kentucky around. At this point, I'm no longer talking about basketball.

I have heard every possible stereotypical insult about Kentucky, and each one actually does hurt. The insults hurt because it's a place I love dearly. It's like insulting my family.
The thing is, those who insult Kentucky do so with great joy.

They insult our Eastern Kentucky residents, with "hillbilly" being a favorite label.
Remember the War on Poverty? Every deplorable living condition that could be located was plastered on TV as an example of broad suffering. Sadly, the image stuck, despite any progress made over the past several decades.

They have insulted our accents, which admittedly can be both annoying and charming. BTW, several times lately, I have been called out for NOT having an accent when answering the library reference desk phone, claiming I "must not be from Kentucky" because I don't have a twang.

They continue to insult our intelligence.

They have insulted our history.

They have insulted our familial relationships, citing inbreeding as a rampant problem. One of my dear friends made a genealogy joke recently about Kentucky, reminding us that we don't use for research, we have our own special database called Seriously?!

They make fun of past feuding families and the deaths that occurred as a result.

In fact, one of the most jaw dropping quotes I read was from a book by one of my former UK professor: This is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors Speak by Arwen Donahue. In one of the interviews, a new Kentucky resident, recently transplanted from Ohio was asked about their preconceived notions of Kentucky before moving there. He said "While we were still living in Ohio, the Riverfront Stadium was the big issue. They started construction. And they said when they got done with that they were going to build the biggest zoo in the world. They were going to put a fence around Kentucky." Alexander Rosenberg p.144

Unfortunately, some of the exaggerated insults have a grain of truth. In many ways, we have been an economically and socially challenged state. When the New York Times ranked the hardest places to live by county in 2014, Clay County Kentucky got top honors out of the Nation's 3,135 counties. And sadly, the majority of our counties were painted some shade of orange - which meant "doing worse" according to their graph.
But after all the jokes subside, and the haters feel better about themselves for making fun of a state that has had some social challenges in the past, I like to revel in the beauty they cannot see for their blind and often cruel hatred.

I grew up visiting my grandparents' farm in Bourbon County. The green rolling hills represented peace, love, and grand adventures. It is true that Kentucky is land and people rich. We have some of the most beautiful and fertile land in the country. Our people are some of the most hardworking and caring you will find anywhere. A unique mixture of southern charm, hospitality, and a dash of Yankee know-how.
It is in our complexity that one can see our beauty most profoundly. Each region has its merits and quirks of personality. Even in our history, we could not quite choose a side....Officially remaining with the Union, but serving two governments during the Civil War. That's right, two governors, two governments. How's that for state rivalry? And they wonder why the Kentucky/Louisville games get a tad heated. It's still brother against brother on the court.

Oh, and don't forget: BOTH Presidents during the Civil War were born in Kentucky. #historymindblown!

It was at the end of the Civil War that the University of Kentucky was born. A land grant institution, originally called Kentucky University, it grew to be one of the most successful Universities in the region. Much of its success founded on the rich and diverse agricultural resources that had drawn settlers in the late 18th century.

So, for all you haters, that is 150 years of hard earned success that also produced an amazing basketball team as its most enduring legacy.'s our birthday this year! I know what we all wanted for our birthday...#9! Despite the tragic loss a couple of days ago, we had a raucous birthday celebration with a great season!

Speaking of future banners. One other special thing I have noticed about Kentucky basketball: its ability to inspire. When I moved back to Kentucky 22 years ago, I noticed something that I had never noticed in Ohio.

For roughly nine months out of the year, neighborhoods are full of impromptu basketball teams. As I drive down my humble suburban street, if the weather is even halfway decent, I have to stop to let the group of boys divide so I can continue to my house. The group is always there, most of the year, only changing slightly as they grow or new boys move into or out of the neighborhood. They are diverse in age, social, and ethnic background, but they all dream of one thing: playing for the Wildcats. They are usually decked out in blue and white, and playing their hardest, the competition fierce, yet friendly - building lifelong friendships founded on a longstanding sports tradition.

For those who live in Kentucky, UK is by far the favorite team. It pulls the far corners of the state together to root for a shared cause. Why does UK have that power? Because Kentucky basketball is a tangible example of success, and provides a basis for dreams in a state that has had a tremendous list of challenges to overcome.

So when we get a little crazy over our team, and put the "mad" in March Madness, please don't begrudge us our jubilation and passion. The decades of success deserve to be celebrated, and our pride for our team is unending. C-A-T-S! CATS CATS CATS!

Monday, December 1, 2014

History Synergy in Cynthiana

Last week, I was witness to something extraordinary in Cynthiana's City Hall. With my previous post, Death of a National Landmark, I outlined the sorry state of our efforts to save Ridgeway, aka, the Handy House. With one vote cast for demolition by the Fiscal Court, we were one vote away from making that order a reality with the meeting of the City Commissioners. If they had voted to agree with the Fiscal Court, demolition would soon take place. But something magical happened on Tuesday that halted such action for the time being. Just note that phrase: "for the time being." The fight is by no means over as the motion that carried only tabled any decision. At some point, a vote and motion will be passed, but we still do not know what that yet might be. We remain cautiously optimistic for Ridgeway, but tremendously hopeful about the state of history/preservation activism in Kentucky!

When the word was spread via word of mouth, social media, local and state press, people got fired up. Locals, regional parties, state officials and national friends joined together to fight for this 200 year old treasure. According to one City Commissioner that night, support was pouring in from all over the country, asking them to save the house for the future generations, and for the nation. Those voices of support made a difference and will live on forever in the annals of history as an example of synergistic activism in the fields of history and preservation.

The most remarkable aspect of the movement surrounding the salvation of Ridgeway was the diversity of age. As the meeting was set to take place, people kept filing into the Commissioners room until there was standing room only. To our delight, the age range of those attending and willing to speak in favor of saving the house stretched across the spectrum. The number of young people involved and in attendance was so encouraging! We are constantly bombarded with statistics and reports about how the younger generations are not as motivated when it comes to history and heritage, but this meeting proved all of that wrong.

To see the various voices step to the podium - from state officials, to local activists and concerned citizens, to descendants of the builder, and to state activists such as Griffin VanMeter - the passion and energy in the room was contagious and exhilarating! By the time everyone had expressed their support - including City Commissioner and Rohs Opera House owner, Roger Slade - folks were hooping it up and hollering for history. When those passionate about saving history have to be shushed by the Mayor, it's a good day!

So far, the motion to table the vote could be temporary. We have not been notified when a vote might come up on the agenda next - and could be as early as next week. However, a couple of things did happen that evening: The HCHC is still pressing for a vote to lease the property to them, allowing them to get started restoring the house. Griffin VanMeter from Kentucky for Kentucky spoke and offered to purchase the property to begin restoration. Many voiced their support through letters, calls, and a line to the podium. It was a beautiful thing - but we have a long way to go. As of the next morning, one of the Commissioners called the HCHC to encourage them to purchase the property instead of Mr.VanMeter, simply to keep the house in the hands of a non-profit group.

As of today, the Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that several local officials are in favor of the HCHC purchasing the property, but only if we relocate the house out of the park. Personally - not my vote. Relocation is a bad idea, but negotiations have not yet begun. If you didn't get to express your support in saving the house - you still have time to do so and encourage others to follow suit!

Sending a big THANK YOU to those who got involved and voiced your opinion! It truly made a difference last Tuesday! Hopefully the support will continue and we will succeed in saving this treasure!


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