Institutions of Kentucky

There are many. Let’s start with Daniel Boone – famous backwoodsman who helped open up what we now know as Kentucky, by guiding settlers through the Cumberland Gap.

We visited his grave site yesterday, in lovely Frankfort KY, the state capital. His grave overlooks the old and the new capitol buildings, with the Kentucky River in between. He  and his wife Rebecca have lots of family and lovely neighbors in this beautiful cemetery, including John Bibb, who invented Bibb lettuce. Go know. Bibb lettuce had to be invented?

Before leaving Louisville, we visited the grave of yet another famous Kentuckian, this one still held in reverence by many to this day. I speak of Harland Sanders, known as the Colonel, and known worldwide for his famous Kentucky fried chicken recipe. A great man, and an empire builder, as one can see from his gravestone. Seems like his grandson enjoyed some of the benefits, judging from his epitaph.

Today we saw his first venture in the restaurant business – the original Sanders Cafe and motel in Corbin KY. It is a contemporary KFC on one side, with the original cafe and Sanders Motor Court sample room on the other. This actually includes the kitchen where those 11 herbs and spices were first magically combined! When Interstate 75 went through in 1954, the Colonel’s business was ruined, as he wasn’t close enough to it to profit. So he went on the road and started franchising. The results spelled doom for chickens everywhere.

Near his grave is yet another notable – Harry Leon Collins. We stopped because his statue was beckoning us to his grave. We stayed to learn of his career as a magician and then Google taught us that “In 1952 he began work as a salesman for the Frito Lay Corporation where he would stay for 45 years. Collins became a sales manager and in 1970 was given the full time job as their corporate magician. “Mr. Magic” as he was known, toured the United States, promoting their products, doing television commercials, making appearances at supermarkets, conventions, fairs and schools. When he performed, instead of the normal magic words “hocus pocus”, he would say “Frito-Lay!”

Who knew they had jobs for corporate magicians?

And then there was the town of Berea wherein lies Berea College. This liberal arts “work” college is known throughout the Midwest at least, and we always thought of it as a place where Appalachian crafts like weaving and pottery thrived. That is partly true, as the town is a crafts center and many those skills are taught on the campus. The school provides free education to students and was the first college in the South to be coed and racially integrated. Berea College charges no tuition; every admitted student is provided the equivalent of a four-year, full-tuition scholarship and works 10 to 20 hours a week on campus. The school has over $1 billion in endowments (!), and 80% of its students come from Appalachian families with family incomes in the lowest 40 percentile in the country. It offers degrees in 32 majors, so our concepts of a basket-weaving curriculum had to be amended.


Our student guide, Clay, showed us a lovely campus with a wide range of neo-classical and more modern buildings, some of which were actually built by the students, as was some of the furniture. (But do not consider this a vocational ed school!) A lovely place, including the Boone Tavern and Hotel, which has had many famous guests, is run by students and pays homage to Daniel. The school’s convocation hall is wonderful and all 1,600 students attend lectures and events there. You expect Douglas and Lincoln to debate on stage any moment.

The commercial part of Berea is all arts and crafts. We toured several shops and actually met a woman weaver who 40 years ago lived down the street from us in Manhattan. Small world. But the state of arts and crafts seems remarkably consist from when we started noticing them over 40 years ago. Guess there is no “modern” movement afoot yet in this area. We did see one interesting puppet display, and the usual carefully crafted wood objects. Berea has large individually painted hands the way other places have cows or pigs or bears.

One more Kentucky institution – and that is Mary Todd Lincoln. She was born in Lexington, and the house where she grew up – and returned to once with her husband and children on the way to Washington – is still here and open for visitors. No photos allowed, but they do have many amazing Todd and Lincoln artifacts – such as a set of her mourning clothes, her china and an engraved cup given to Robert on Tad’s death.

Her home was lovely and her father’s wealth explains Mary’s expensive tastes and sense of entitlement to the good things of life.  She was an odd partner for Lincoln – his opposite in many ways. Sometimes the stories make her sound like a spoiled child, and at other times she seemed to be depressed beyond even the great sadnesses of her life. She was not savvy politically, and could definitely have used some PR advice, but who would want to cope with what she faced?

It was a day of exploration – and we have barely scratched the history of this great Commonwealth. Time for more chicken!


2 thoughts on “Institutions of Kentucky

  1. My grandmother had a loom just like the one in your picture. Weaving was her hobby. When I was a child I use to sit on the floor in the back of the loom and hand her strings while she set up her next project. All of her grandchildren did it at one time or another. The loom is still in the basement of her home right where she left it. A cousin now owns the home and the loom but hasn’t taken up weaving that I know of.

    You might remember the throw blanket in my guest room. It was made by the Churchill Weavers of Berea. Lovely, soft and warm.

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