Thirteen new sites just made the list, including Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Connecticut, Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma, and an eighteenth-century frame house in Virginia.
Tag Archives: Kentucky
- If you’re within driving distance of Nashville, don’t forget about the special exhibition of the original Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, Feb. 12-18. Viewing hours are limited and lines may be long, so click here to learn how to make advance reservations. Some time slots are already full.
- Hey, speaking of Lincoln, did you know that in addition to leading a Marxist war effort, he was also an “unscrupulous fascist“? A sneaky devil, that Lincoln.
- Here’s an interesting history of the sites associated with Lincoln’s early life.
- Thoughts from East Tennessee on the importance of family heirlooms.
- There’s another proposed state law to prevent people from fiddling with or renaming monuments. This one is right here in Tennessee.
- Some info on the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Chattanooga Campaign.
- Mt. Vernon has acquired an original painting by Benjamin Latrobe.
This short classroom film about pioneer life in eighteenth-century Kentucky was produced in 1941, and it makes for an interesting historical artifact in its own right. The frontiersmen are optimistic and hardy, the community in the fort is pleasant and sociable, the food is plentiful, the family slave is faithful, all the Indians are offscreen, and there will “always be freedom out there.” Oh, and the candles are ready in plenty of time for the big hoedown.
How would today’s frontier historians tell this story differently? For that matter, how would the pioneers themselves tell it?
The War of 1812 tour is now available on the Kentucky Historical Society’s Explore KY History app. If you haven’t downloaded this thing, let me once again recommend it to you. Most Americans probably associate the War of 1812 with the Chesapeake or the Gulf of Mexico, but Kentucky suffered more casualties in that conflict than all the other states combined.
One of the most notable Kentucky vets was Isaac Shelby, who became the state’s first governor in 1792 and then ran for the same post twenty years later. Shelby didn’t throw his hat into the ring until less than a month before the 1812 gubernatorial election, and he was more than sixty years old.
He won handily anyway, partly because he’d already made a name for himself during the Rev War and Kentuckians were gearing up for another confrontation with England. (Shelby had led a regiment at King’s Mountain; in fact, he was one of the primary architects of the expedition that defeated Ferguson’s Tories.) In the summer of 1813 he took the field himself at the head of 3,500 volunteers who fought at the Battle of the Thames, thus seeing action in both of America’s wars with Britain.
Hey, all you inconsiderate dolts who are defacing the cannons at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Peek-a-boo! You’re being videotaped.
Those artillery pieces aren’t replicas. They’re genuine relics from Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and if you’re old enough to go pee-pee by yourself, you should have enough sense not to write, carve, or play on them.
While we’re on the subject of the Civil War at CGNHP, here’s an image I’ve had on my computer for a while that I don’t think I’ve posted on the blog before. This is Cumberland Gap as seen from the Kentucky side when the Union held the pass. The print itself is in the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, within sight of these very mountains.
The Pinnacle is at the top left, Tri-State Peak at top center, and the road into Yellow Creek Valley is in the foreground. Check out the fortifications on top of the ridge and on the slopes.
A new geocaching trail devoted to the feud opened last month, and a fundraising effort for a Randolph McCoy monument in Pike County, KY has been getting donations from as far away as Hawaii. I wish every aspect of Appalachian history could generate this kind of widespread interest.
I didn’t watch
The History Channel‘s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries when it premiered a few months ago, mostly because the notion of a fictionalized account of the Hatfield-McCoy feud from The History Channel filled me with the same foreboding I had when I found out that the Rock was going to star in a remake of Walking Tall. But when an encore presentation aired last week, I ended up watching the whole thing, and it’s actually not half bad.
In terms of pure entertainment, Part Two is by far the best segment, and the scene in which the Hatfields execute three of Randolph McCoy’s sons packs quite a wallop. (IRL this incident took place on August 9. 1882.) To me, the standout performances are Kevin Costner’s “Devil” Anse Hatfield, Tom Berenger’s Jim Vance (Tom Berenger’s good in everything), Powers Boothe’s Wall Hatfield (ditto), Jena Malone’s Nancy McCoy, Lindsay Pulsipher’s Roseanna McCoy, and Noel Fisher’s Ellison Mounts.
Modern scholarship indicates that the changes taking place in postwar Appalachia led to the resentments that erupted in the feud. The problem wasn’t so much the existence a traditional and primitive society untouched by modernization, but rather the reverse. My biggest fear—and the main reason I steered clear of the miniseries when it premiered—was that we’d get six hours of the same old superficial, simplistic, and stereotypical depictions of nineteenth-century mountaineers as backward, violent, lawless, clannish, and ignorant. Indeed, the feud itself helped generate and perpetuate these very notions. For the most part, though, I was pretty pleasantly surprised. The third part actually touches on the media’s role in popularizing the stereotype of a violent mountain culture in a scene featuring Bill Paxton’s Randolph McCoy. While the embittered patriarch holds a sort of press conference at a relative’s home, a New York reporter and a photographer urge him to hold a bystander’s firearm while posing for the camera.
A few minor criticisms: I know it’s cheaper to film in Romania, but Eastern European mountains aren’t quite the same as Eastern Kentucky ones, so the scenic shots undermined the illusion a little. Seeing men’s ponytails in a late nineteenth-century setting was also a little odd. Finally, Appalachian accents continue to be hit-or-miss when it comes to Hollywood; some actors just can’t swing it.
Despite all the snark I’ve directed against
The History Channel in the past, I’ll give them props for Hatfields & McCoys. Ultimately, what impressed me the most about the miniseries was its success in depicting the feud as a wrenching ordeal in which flesh-and-blood human beings got caught up in extraordinary, terrible circumstances. There’s something to be said for that. Over the years, cartoons, TV shows, and other media have used the feud scenario as a comic, almost buffoonish affair, but whatever else it was, the Hatfield-McCoy conflict was a tragedy involving real people, and the filmmakers didn’t lose sight of that. One could certainly do worse.
The Explore Kentucky History app connects historical markers, related items in the Historical Society’s collections and user-submitted images and stories to points of interest on a map. The information is then grouped together into tours, with a Civil War-themed tour the first available.
As of today, it’s available on iTunes. I just installed it on my iPhone, and it’s awesome. (And free!) If you’re interested in the history of the Bluegrass State or the Civil War, you’re going to love it.
They’ve brought in an archaeologist from across the pond to look for remains of the 1778 siege. I went there a few years ago; it’s a neat site.
For a supposedly isolated region, Appalachia has a history that pops up in surprising places.
Last Sunday we had a guest singer at our church who performed a great rendition of “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” I’d never heard anyone combine these two songs before, but it was hauntingly effective. The only version of “House of the Rising Sun” I’d ever heard was the one performed by the Animals.
Music buffs have driven themselves nuts while trying to determine whether the song refers to an actual place in New Orleans, whether a brothel or a prison. Of more immediate interest to us here is not the identity of the House of the Rising Sun, but the provenance of the song itself. Long before the Animals popularized their version—and before Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Woodie Guthrie recorded theirs—the tune was circulating in the mountains of Appalachia, and thereby hangs an unexpected tale.
In 1937, folklorist Alan Lomax visited the southeastern Kentucky town of Middlesboro on the state’s border with Tennessee and Virginia. Lomax and his wife were collecting traditional songs for the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture. While in Middlesboro, he captured the voice of sixteen-year-old Georgia Turner, daughter of a local coal miner, singing a song called “Rising Sun Blues.” Here’s the recording:
Lomax recorded a couple of other versions of the same song on that collecting expedition, but Georgia Turner’s was the one that made an impression. He credited Turner as the song’s writer when he included it in a 1941 compilation, even though a few folk recordings of it were already floating around. Once Georgia Turner’s version appeared in Lomax’s collection, the song took on a life of its own, with various performers continuing to tweak it and add their own variations over the years. The Animals’ 1964 version is the canonical one, of course, but until Lomax came along and picked it up in Middlesboro, it was just another obscure folk tune.
The reason I think this is so cool is because Middlesboro, KY is only about twelve miles from my hometown, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. In fact, the church of which I’m a member—the same church where I heard “Amazing Grace” set to the tune of the song Georgia Turner helped make famous—is in Middlesboro. I knew none of this until Sunday, when hearing it in the morning service prompted me to go poking around online. I’d always assumed “House of the Rising Sun” originated with the Animals.
Back in 2000 the AP ran a story on the song’s complicated history and the young Kentucky girl who played such a large role in it:
“Georgie, she’s the first one I ever heard sing it,” says Ed Hunter, who played harmonica at that 1937 session in Middlesboro. Still sure-footed at 78, he has outlived her by three decades and lives 200 yards from where her family’s home once stood. “Where she got it, I don’t know,” he says. “There weren’t many visitors, and she didn’t go nowhere.”
Middlesboro then was even more isolated than today, nearly 50 miles of winding roads from the nearest interstate highway. Tucked into rugged mountains just west of the Cumberland Gap, where thousands came west in the 18th and 19th centuries, the town was laid out by English iron-ore speculators. But even before that, mountaineers of English, Scots and Irish stock, including some Turners, built lives in the hills and, in their isolation, preserved a rich tradition of music and balladry.
Out of this, it seems, “Rising Sun Blues” – aka “House in New Orleans” or even “Rising Sun Dance Hall” – bubbled up.
So next time you hear this hit made famous by a British band, you can thank a teenage miner’s daughter from a small town in Appalachia for doing her part.