Bourbon tour town’s founders escaped years of Indian captivity

September 30, 2014

140922RuddlesMills0064Philip and Michele Foley on the porch of their house in Ruddles Mill, which was built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It will be open for tours Sunday. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

RUDDLES MILL — Since Philip and Michele Foley moved here 35 years ago from Cynthiana, they have worked to restore not one but two houses built in the 1790s.

Few people would be that tenacious — or, as the Foleys say, that foolish. But tenaciousness comes naturally to this town. Its founders returned here after surviving a bloody attack and years of captivity in Shawnee villages near Detroit.

Both the elegant home where the Foleys live and a rough, stone house the town’s founder built for his son will be on tour 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday during Historic Paris-Bourbon County’s annual Fall Open House.

The tour also includes nearby Moore’s Chapel, the 1850s Greek Revival sanctuary of Ruddles Mill United Methodist Church. Tickets are $15, $10 for HPBC members. More information: hopewellmuseum.org.

Even today, few people agree on how to spell this unincorporated community of about 75 households at the confluence of Hinkston and Stoner creeks in northern Bourbon County. It goes by various singular, plural and possessive forms of Ruddle, Ruddel, Ruddell and Mill.

But there is no uncertainty about the town’s founder and namesake. Capt. Isaac Ruddell, a pioneer and Revolutionary War officer, is buried here, too, at Mouth of Stoner Presbyterian Cemetery.

140922RuddlesMills0021In 1779, Ruddell enlarged and fortified pioneer cabins built a few years earlier in a nearby area of what is now Harrison County. But the next summer, a thousand Shawnee warriors and Canadian soldiers under the command of British Capt. Henry Bird attacked Ruddell’s Station and other nearby settlements.

More than 20 settlers were killed, and dozens more men, women and children were taken prisoner, marched to Detroit and held captive for years. After their release, Ruddell and most of his family returned to Kentucky and built a mill here in 1788.

But two of Ruddell’s sons, Stephen and Abraham, had been adopted by the Shawnee and stayed with the tribe for 15 years. Stephen, who married a Shawnee woman and was a chief, rejoined white civilization and became a Baptist preacher and missionary among the Shawnee, Delaware and Wyandot tribes in Ohio and Indiana.

Abraham returned to Kentucky in 1795, and his father built him the stone house the Foleys are gradually restoring near the creek banks. Abraham Ruddell operated a saw and grist mill there for several years before moving to Arkansas and fighting in the War of 1812.

The Foleys have removed wooden additions to the house, rebuilt the chimneys and put a steel frame in the basement to keep the cellar from collapsing. “All I can say is it’s not going to fall down,” she said. “We hope to do more one of these days.”

Things are much nicer up the hill, at the Federal-style house where the Foley’s have lived since 1979. They think the main rooms, each built as a separate unit with thick brick walls, were constructed in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Making the place habitable and comfortable was a long process for them and their two daughters, who are now grown and living near Nashville and Cincinnati.

The biggest chores — aside from electricity and plumbing and restoring the original woodwork — were undoing previous owners’ “improvements”. The Foleys found the house’s original wooden mantles in a barn, but one was badly warped from years of storage. A neighbor built a wood frame to gradually bend it back into shape so it could be returned to the house.

“Every morning we would water it down and tighten the clamps until it got straight,” she said. “At one point, all of the oil paint and buttermilk paint just started popping off.”

The Foleys are retired from state government jobs. They have planted their big yard with more than 20 varieties of magnolia trees, gardens and beds for their business, Ruddles Mills Perennials and Native Plants.

It is one of the few businesses left in Ruddles Mill, which once had several mills and distilleries. The town has many early 19th century structures, most of which are still in use after multiple renovations. People here don’t give up easily.

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Concerns about militarized police ignore bigger, underlying issues

September 27, 2014

Should Andy Taylor and Barney Fife be equipped like Rambo?

That has been a much-debated topic since police in Ferguson, Mo., responded with paramilitary aggressiveness to protesters after one of their white officers shot and killed a black teenager.

The situation focused public attention on the U.S. Defense Department’s 1033 program, which has given away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces, whether they need it or not.

Kentucky’s House Local Government Committee held a hearing last week on this issue. The 1033 program has furnished 33,000 military weapons and supplies, valued at more than $44 million, to Kentucky police agencies over the past decade.

That includes the Lexington Police Department’s two helicopters, hundreds of automatic rifles for the Kentucky State Police and a $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle for the Owensboro Police Department. And you know who is paying to buy, operate and take care of all these goodies. You are.

This trend raises many issues, but I haven’t seen some of the biggest ones discussed.

Access to this kind of firepower only increases the chances for abuse of power and tragedy among badly managed police forces. But problems such as those in Ferguson have more to do with what is in officers’ hearts than what is in their hands. Bull Connor’s Birmingham cops needed only fire hoses to show their moral bankruptcy in the 1960s.

Besides, I understand why police officers want and sometimes need military-style weapons. Thanks to the NRA and other gun-rights radicals, any Tom, Dick or lunatic now has easy access to military-style weapons, and many think they have a constitutional right to flaunt them in public.

It is no wonder the FBI reported last week that the number of mass shootings has increased dramatically in recent years. Authorities studied 160 shootings that killed or wounded 1,000 people, many of which occurred in schools or businesses. In one-fourth of those cases, the shooter committed suicide before police arrived.

Do we really have more crazy people than in the past? Or is it simply that society’s gun lust has made it easier for them to inflict maximum carnage? Until the United States is mature enough to enact common-sense gun control measures, police will sometimes need serious firepower to keep themselves and the public safe.

But the issues go much deeper. When I read about the Defense Department doling out all of this “surplus” equipment, I wonder why they have it all to give away.

As Dwight Eisenhower was leaving the presidency in 1961, he gave a famous farewell speech that warned about the corrupting influence he saw in the rise of America’s “military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, a Republican and the greatest general of World War II, was no wild-eyed pacifist. But he clearly saw what was happening.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower warned. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Eisenhower’s fears have been realized, and the 1033 program is just a small example.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2012 estimated U.S. military spending at $645 billion, more than half the government’s discretionary spending. It was 40 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than six times China’s $102 billion and 10 times Russia’s $59 billion.

Stories of wasteful, unnecessary and even fraudulent military spending are legion. In an unholy alliance with corporate “defense” contractors, Congress continues to appropriate billions for high-tech planes, ships, weapons systems and equipment the military doesn’t need and may never use.

In another speech, in 1952, Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

So the next time your congressman tells you we can’t afford better health care, better schools and better infrastructure, you will know why. That $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle in Owensboro is only the tip of the iceberg.


Ashland estate marks War of 1812 with artifacts, re-enactors

September 23, 2014

If you hear cannon and musket fire near downtown Saturday, don’t be alarmed. The colorfully costumed soldiers and Native Americans aren’t invading Lexington; they’re just performing for Living History Day at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate.

Ashland this year is marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812. And, no, it’s not two years late. Among the many little-known facts of this often-overlooked war is that, while it began in June 1812, the fighting didn’t stop until February 1815.

Ashland is commemorating the Treaty of Ghent, which Clay, John Quincy Adams and other American representatives negotiated with the British and signed on Christmas Eve 1814.

ghentjacketAs the congressman from Central Kentucky and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Clay was a politician for all seasons. He not only helped end the War of 1812, he helped start it, too. That dual role helped launch one of the most illustrious American political careers of the 19th century.

But Clay was hardly the only Kentucky connection to the War of 1812.

“Kentucky doesn’t have any battlefields for this war; the war itself didn’t happen here,” said Eric Brooks, Ashland’s curator. “But more than any other conflict this nation has fought, the War of 1812 was a Kentucky war.”

Kentucky contributed 25,000 soldiers to the War of 1812 — more than all of the other 17 states combined. About 60 percent of the war’s casualties were Kentuckians. At the battle of Wild Cat Creek in northern Indiana, almost every U.S. soldier was from Hopkinsville.

Much of the gunpowder used by American forces was made from saltpeter mined in Kentucky, including at Mammoth Cave. Newport was the U.S. Army’s major supply depot. Twenty-two of Kentucky’s 120 counties are named for War of 1812 veterans.

In 1812, Clay and other “war hawks” pushed for declaring war on Great Britain, which despite its Revolutionary War loss continued to mess with the new nation. Of greatest concern was Britain’s arming of Native American tribes, who were attacking white settlers who had taken their land.

While the War of 1812 settled most of those issues, it ended up being a military stalemate that came at high cost: British troops invaded Washington, D.C., and burned the White House and the Capitol.

“We as a state need to understand the role we played in solidifying this nation as a legitimate and survivable nation in the world,” Brooks said. “Prior to the War of 1812, there were a lot of countries that thought the United States was a flash in the pan, that democracy would never work.”

Saturday’s festivities at Ashland will include re-enactors from Ohio and Michigan portraying the 2nd Kentucky Militia. There also will be Native American re-enactors, who will demonstrate tomahawk throwing at their encampment on the 17 acres that remain of Clay’s 600-acre estate, most of which is now the Ashland Park and Chevy Chase neighborhoods.

There also will be farm animals, crafts, special activities and an actress portraying Charlotte Dupuy, a slave who filed a highly publicized lawsuit against Clay trying to win her family’s freedom.

Ashland has several important relics related to the War of 1812 that will be on display. They include a copy of the Treaty of Ghent in Clay’s own handwriting, his place card at the negotiating table and an ivory cane he received as a gift.

The mansion also has one of two paintings Clay won while playing cards with his fellow negotiators. (In addition to being a masterful politician, Clay was a party animal who loved to drink and gamble.)

Ashland’s most important War of 1812 relic is the military-style coat Clay wore during treaty negotiations in Ghent, which is now in Belgium. Clay’s coat set the style for American diplomatic attire for decades. It was last worn by a Clay descendant when Ashland opened to the public as a museum in 1950.

“That’s the last time it will be worn, too,” Brooks said. “If for no other reason than there are not a lot of 6-foot-2, 145-pound men around anymore. And, obviously, it’s very, very fragile.”

If you go

What: War of 1812 Living History Day

When: 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27

Where: Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, 120 Sycamore Road.

Cost: $14 adults; $7 younger than 18; $35 family.

More information: Henryclay.org, (859) 266-8581


Nurse’s daughter wonders: whatever happened to ‘Baby Strand’?

July 19, 2014

140720BabyStrand0001Edna Lester was a nursing student at Good Samaritan Hospital when the Lexington Herald photographed her holding “Baby Strand”, an infant abandoned in Lexington’s Strand Theater on the afternoon of Aug. 24, 1945. Lester’s daughter, Ann Riegl of Seattle, had heard about Baby Strand all of her life. She found the Herald clipping while cleaning out a drawer after her mother’s death and created a Facebook page to try to find out whatever happened.

 

Every family has a drawer of important papers and keepsakes. When Ann Riegl of Seattle was growing up, her family’s drawer included a front-page clipping from The Lexington Herald of Aug. 25, 1945. It showed her mother holding “Baby Strand.”

Edna Lester of Perryville was a nursing student at Good Samaritan Hospital when Lexington police brought in a 5-week-old baby boy. He was thin and sickly, but neatly dressed and wrapped in a blanket. Nurses nicknamed him Baby Strand.

The clipping said witnesses told police they found the child in the darkened Strand Theatre on Main Street after he started crying. They remembered having seen a young woman handling a bundle, then leaving the matinee.

“This is something she always kept,” Riegl said of her mother’s newspaper clipping. “We talked about it a few times, and she told about how the nurses doted on Baby Strand. I think she wondered about whatever happened to him.”

Edna Lester Norris died in 2008. Among the things Riegl kept from her mother’s keepsake drawer were the clipping and a print of the newspaper photograph.

“But those things don’t do much good if they’re just sitting in a drawer,” Riegl said. “So I thought I would at least put this information out there in case Baby Strand, who would be 69 years old now, might be looking for it, or his family might be.

“It would be good to know if you were in that situation that while Baby Strand was abandoned, he wasn’t discarded,” she added. “He was left fully clothed in a place where he would be found, with an extra gown tucked into his little blanket.”

I contacted Riegl after she created a Facebook page called “Baby Strand’s Story.” Wayne Johnson, a researcher at the Lexington Public Library, found more stories about the case in 1945 issues of the Herald and The Lexington Leader. At the Mercer County Public Library, I combed through Harrodsburg Herald microfilm from that year. Here is what we found:

Six days after Baby Strand was left in the theater, his mother was arrested in Mercer County. She was brought to Lexington, charged with child desertion and jailed after being granted a request to visit her child in the hospital.

The woman told police she grew up near Harrodsburg and that her parents were dead. She said she was engaged to the baby’s father, a soldier from her hometown, but he had been shipped off to fight the Japanese before they could marry.

She had left Kentucky a year earlier to work in a munitions factory in Indiana, but got sick and had to quit her job before she gave birth. The child was malnourished, she said, because he wouldn’t take formula.

Alone with an infant and little money, she got a bus ticket home. But when she arrived in Lexington, she discovered her luggage was lost. After several hours in the bus station that hot day, she took her baby to the air-conditioned Strand Theatre. Then, on an impulse, she walked out alone. Police identified her after her luggage arrived.

“I don’t know why I abandoned my baby and I wish I hadn’t done it,” she told a Lexington Herald reporter. “I haven’t been well since he was born and haven’t been able to work. I didn’t have much money and I thought if I left him somebody might find him who would give him a good home.”

She told the reporter that police had promised to find and contact the baby’s father, who didn’t know about his son’s birth. “And I hope they’ll let me have him back so I can take him home,” she said of the child.

The woman was soon released to the custody of relatives. While she awaited a court hearing, Baby Strand stayed at Good Samaritan, where he gained weight and charmed the hospital staff. When the hearing date arrived in October, the prosecutor dismissed the charges and indicated that Baby Strand would be returned to his mother.

That’s where the story seems to end. The Lexington and Danville papers had a lot of other news to report: World War II was ending and servicemen were coming home from battle. In Mercer County, many were returning from prisoner-of-war camps after having survived the infamous Bataan Death March.

A couple of things are worth noting about the press coverage of Baby Strand. Newspapers gave different last names for the mother. The Lexington papers called her Valley Collins, while the Harrodsburg Herald identified her as Valley Collier. Some of the reporting would now be considered unacceptably sexist. The mother is described as an “attractive 23-year-old blonde … unwed mother. Her hair was curled, her nails polished.” The father’s name was never reported.

Many questions remain. Did the child go back to his mother? Did the father survive the war? Did they marry? What became of Baby Strand?

When I called Riegl back to tell her what we found, she wondered if her mother might have unknowingly crossed paths with Baby Strand again. Thomas and Edna Norris moved to Harrodsburg in 1952. He was principal of Harrodsburg High School and she was a public health nurse. They left for Sedalia, Mo., in 1958.

“I hope if someone is looking, or wants to be found, this will help them,” Riegl said. “I hope Baby Strand has had a long and happy life.”

 


Freed slave left his mark on Lexington; his son went even further

February 15, 2014

140212Tandys0002Henry Tandy and Albert Byrd, two black bricklayers in Lexington during the late 1800s and early 1900s, formed a partnership that did the brick work on many notable local buildings. Tandy & Byrd’s biggest job was the Fayette County Courthouse. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

 

Henry A. Tandy was one of many newly freed slaves who moved to Lexington at the end of the Civil War. He would leave marks on this city that are still visible, and his son would do the same in New York.

Tandy was born in Kentucky, but it isn’t known exactly when or where. He came to Lexington in 1865 at about age 15 and made a name for himself as a craftsman, business executive and entrepreneur.

After two years as a photographer’s assistant, Tandy went to work in 1867 as a laborer for G.D. Wilgus, one of Lexington’s largest building contractors. Within a few years he was a skilled bricklayer and a foreman, according to architectural historian Rebecca Lawin McCarley, who researched his life and wrote about it in 2006 for the journal Kentucky Places & Spaces.

HenryTandy

Henry A. Tandy

Tandy saved money and, after marrying Emma Brice in 1874, bought his first real estate from George Kinkead, an anti-slavery lawyer whose mansion is now the Living Arts & Science Center. Tandy built the only two-story brick house in Kinkeadtown, a black settlement now part of the East End.

By the time their son, Vertner, was born in 1885, the Tandys had sold their home in Kinkeadtown for a profit and moved in with her parents at 642 West Main Street. Tandy is thought to have built the brick house there, and he lived in it for the rest of his life.

In the 1880s, Tandy began buying investment lots around town. He built and rented some of the best houses in Lexington’s “black” neighborhoods at the time.

Among the Wilgus projects that Tandy worked on were the Opera House, St. Paul Catholic Church and First Presbyterian Church. When Wilgus’ health deteriorated in the 1880s, Tandy took over many of his duties. It was then unheard of for a black man to run a white man’s business.

When Wilgus died in 1893, Tandy and another black bricklayer, Albert Byrd, formed their own company, Tandy & Byrd. It became one of Lexington’s largest brick contractors, with as many as 50 workers.

Tandy & Byrd’s biggest project was the old Fayette County Court House. Others that remain standing include the First National Bank building on Short Street, Miller Hall at the University of Kentucky and the Merrick Lodge Building, where The Jax restaurant is now at Short and Limestone streets.

Tandy & Byrd also built the annex for the Protestant Infirmary at East Short Street and Elm Tree Lane. The infirmary was the forerunner of Good Samaritan Hospital. Until recently, the annex housed Hurst Office Furniture.

Tandy & Byrd constructed the Ades Dry Goods building on East Main Street, which now houses Thomas & King’s offices and Portofino restaurant. The partners did a lot of brick work for Combs Lumber Co., which built many turn-of-the-century Lexington homes (including mine).

Tandy was one of 49 people profiled in W.D. Johnson’s 1897 book, Biographical Sketches of Prominent Negro Men and Women of Kentucky.

“Opportunity came to him, and he seized it,” Johnson wrote of Tandy. “Through his indefatigable efforts a large force of Negro laborers have found steady employment, and thereby obtained comfortable homes for their families.”

Tandy was prominent in the black community, with leadership roles in the “colored” YMCA, the A.M.E. Church, black fraternal organizations and the Colored Fair Association, which organized Kentucky’s largest annual exposition for blacks. He was active in the National Negro Business League and spoke at its national convention in 1902.

Byrd died in 1909, and Tandy retired in 1911 after finishing Roark and Sullivan halls at Eastern Kentucky University. But he continued dabbling in real estate and got into the livery and undertaking business. Tandy died in 1918, and he has one of the biggest monuments at Cove Haven Cemetery.

Although Tandy got little formal education, he made sure his son did.

Vertner Woodson Tandy

Vertner Woodson Tandy

Vertner Woodson Tandy studied under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He finished his studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he was one of seven founders of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first black college fraternity. He was the first black to pass the military commissioning exam, and he eventually became a major in the New York National Guard.

Tandy would become New York’s first black registered architect, and the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. Among many buildings he designed was St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem and two mansions for America’s first black woman millionaire, the hair-care products pioneer Madam C.J. Walker.

The Villa Lewaro mansion Tandy designed for Walker in exclusive Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., was restored in the 1990s by Harold Doley, the first black to buy an individual seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tandy designed one building in Lexington that still stands: Webster Hall, which housed teachers at Chandler Normal School for blacks on Georgetown Street, which he had attended.

Vertner Tandy died in 1949 at age 64. A state historical marker honoring him stands beside the family home on West Main Street, which is now used for offices.

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Recording World War II memories before it is too late

November 9, 2013

Elams0001Willie J. Elam, 94, talks with his son, Mark, at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, where he lives. Mark Elam interviewed his father over eight years about his combat experiences in the South Pacific during World War II, which earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.  Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

Mark Elam was sitting in Turfland Mall a decade ago, waiting for his wife to finish shopping, when he struck up a conversation with an old man who mentioned he was a World War II veteran. Elam said his father fought in the war, too.

“Then he asked what outfit my Dad was in,” Elam said. “I had to admit I didn’t know. I was embarrassed.”

That encounter led Elam to start asking his father about the war. Soon he was bringing a tape recorder and a list of questions each Sunday when he visited his father, who is now 94 and lives at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore.

“He was apprehensive at first, but then he opened up,” Elam said. “The more I asked, the more he told me, and it just grew and grew.”

Elams0004After eight years of interviews, plus a lot of research on his own, Elam published a spiral-bound book in June for his sister, Marta Dorton, and their families. He titled the book after the motto of his father’s unit: To the Last Man.

“It was a fun project,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with him, and it brought us closer together.”

Elam, 57, said the project made him realize how important it is to preserve stories, especially those of the rapidly disappearing generation of veterans who fought World War II.

As a graphic artist and printer, Elam knew how to scan old photographs and assemble a book. But he didn’t consider himself a writer, so he told his father’s story chronologically, mixing his own prose with sections of questions and answers from their interviews.

The result is quite readable — and fascinating. It provides a detailed and vivid account of what combat and everyday life was like for American soldiers who fought the Japanese in the South Pacific.

Willie Junior Elam was a farm boy from Morgan County when he enlisted in the Army four months before Pearl Harbor. He was a private first class in the 43rd Division, 103rd Infantry, Company K, serving through 1946. Two brothers also fought in the war.

Elam was a field radio operator who saw a lot of combat, earning the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. The second time he was wounded, in an artillery strike that killed several officers around him, he was so badly hurt that doctors nicknamed him “the miracle kid.”

Elams0005“There was a lot of stuff he can’t talk about and won’t talk about,” Elam said. “He still has nightmares about some of it 70 years later. I didn’t want to push him too much.”

As Elam discovered, the most important part of such a project is simply asking questions and recording answers. When it comes to preserving those stories in a book or other form, a lot of helpful resources are available.

One is a book, A Veterans Legacy: Field Kit Journal ($15. Veteranslegacyjournal.com). It was written three years ago by Jay McChord, a former Lexington Urban County Council member, and offers a step-by-step guide to compiling a service history.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning next year will offer several classes that could be helpful. Writing Your Family Stories is a daylong seminar March 8. Another class, Life Writing: Generating and Revising Autobiographical Prose, will meet Tuesday evenings from April 15 to May 20.

The Carnegie Center also offers individual writing mentors and a nonfiction writing group that meets Tuesdays at lunch from Jan. 9 to March 25. For more information, call (859) 254-4157 ext. 21 or go to Carnegiecenterlex.org.

Dorton said she is glad her brother preserved their father’s wartime memories.

“Dad told stories when we were growing up, but I had forgotten a lot of them,” she said. “I think it was good for Dad psychologically to get some of that out.”

Recording family history is important, she said, and not just for veterans. As we spoke by phone, she was driving to Menifee County to visit a 104-year-old aunt, Rella Mullins, who until recently could tell stories about living on a farm during the Great Depression and working in a factory during World War II.

“It’s amazing what all she witnessed,” said Dorton, who gave her aunt a journal several years ago and has written down some of her stories.

“It’s an easy thing to do,” Elam said of preserving family members’ memories. “But after they’re gone, it’s too late.”

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‘Diggers’ help discover real site of Ashland’s Civil War skirmish

September 24, 2013

130925Eblen-Ashland0005

“Ringy” Tim Saylor, left, and “King” George Wyant, right, hosts of the National Geographic Channel show Diggers, used metal detectors to search for artifacts at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. Photo by Eric Brooks.

 

When Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, invited the public over last fall to mark the 150th anniversary of a Civil War skirmish there, curator Eric Brooks needed a convenient but inconsequential place to put portable toilets.

He didn’t want them near the mansion, historic outbuildings or gardens. And he didn’t think they should go near the corner of Woodspoint and Fincastle roads, where it was thought that Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry surprised a camp of sleeping Union soldiers on the morning of Oct. 18, 1862.

He found a nondescript spot for the toilets about 20 yards from a back corner of the mansion. “But we’re not going to do that this year,” he said about Saturday’s second annual Living History Event.

That’s because metal detectorists with the National Geographic Channel show Diggersmade a surprising discovery when they visited Ashland last spring to work with Brooks and archaeologist Kim McBride. The Union camp wasn’t where everyone thought it was. It was right where the portable toilets had been placed.

“The beginnings of protecting a resource are identifying where it’s located,” McBride said with a laugh. “Now that area will get the respect and special treatment it needs, and we can study it further.”

Ashland staffers and docents will be there Saturday, explaining how Morgan’s men used rifle and cannon fire to quickly subdue the Yankee camp. They also will show whatDiggers found there: a button, a rations tin, a knife, bullets, a mortar fragment and the brass handle from a cannon’s leveling mechanism.

Saturday’s event will focus on the war and the preceding Antebellum period, when Clay played the central role in stalling Southern secession.

“The bitter, brutal irony is that once he died, there was no one to keep that from happening,” Brooks said. “And the consequence of secession literally came to his back door. That’s a pretty amazing story.”

McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, has done occasional work at Ashland since 1989. She excavated former privies, finding a trove of broken china and crockery, and she recently checked for artifacts on the mansion’s north lawn so geothermal wells could go there.

McBride had never done any excavation related to the Civil War skirmish. So when producers forDiggers asked permission to explore the 17-acre grounds, she and Brooks saw an opportunity.

McBride set up a grid near Woodspoint and Fincastle, beside a stone monument erected decades ago to mark the skirmish. Diggers hosts George Wyant and Tim Saylor searched there but found nothing.

“We thought that was odd, and quite disappointing,” Brooks said.

Then he remembered an old book that a visitor had brought in a few weeks earlier. It was a history of the Third Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, the unit that set up camp at Ashland the day before the skirmish.

When Brooks read the book more closely, he found this passage: “Our camp was in a fine grove of native forest trees on the south side of the road, and a short distance east of the Clay mansion.” So Brooks, McBride and the Diggers hosts went to that side of the Ashland property and started finding artifacts.

Discovery of the camp’s true location helps explain a couple of old stories, Brooks said. One was that Union soldiers came to the mansion the evening before the skirmish because they heard piano playing. The other story was that Susan Clay, Henry’s daughter-in-law, held her 5-year-old son, Charles, on the floor because he kept wanting to look out the window at the battle.

“She was afraid he was going to get shot,” Brooks said. “And no wonder! The fighting was really close to the house. That’s a cool dimension to the story we didn’t have last year.”

There will be plenty to see and do Saturday. Civil War re-enactors will drill and fire cannon. Others in period dress will cook, do laundry and demonstrate farm work. Artisans will make and sell crafts.

Milward Funeral Directors, which handled Henry Clay’s burial in 1852, will have its old horse-drawn hearse there, along with the same type of metal coffin used to bury him.

And if visitors need toilets, they will find them on the north side of the mansion, where the geothermal wells will soon be dug. Brooks and McBride are pretty sure there’s nothing important under there.

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If you go

Ashland Living History Event

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 28

Where: Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, 120 Sycamore Rd.

Admission: $14 adults, $7 ages 17 and younger, $35 family rate.

Information: (859) 266-8581, Henryclay.org


‘Living With Guns’ author to speak about finding middle ground

March 23, 2013

Craig Whitney spent much of his long career with The New York Times as a reporter in Europe, where he got the same question over and over.

“People would often ask me in a baffled way, ‘What is it about you Americans and guns?’ especially after things like Columbine happened,” he said. “I would give the best answer I could, but then I realized I didn’t really know myself.”

After retiring as an assistant managing editor in 2009, Whitney decided to find out. The result of his research was the book, Living With Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment (Public Affairs Books, $28.99). It was published last November, a month before the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

cwhitney_headshotWhitney will be in Lexington this week to talk about his findings, some of which surprised him. His book offers a path to finding sensible middle ground in the gun-control debate, balancing Second Amendment rights with public safety.

Whitney’s lecture is at 7 p.m. March 28 in the University of Kentucky’s Taylor Education Building, 597 South Upper Street. It is sponsored by UK’s College of Communication and Information, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

In an interview last week, Whitney said he began his research by looking at Colonial history to find out what the nation’s founders intended when they wrote the Constitution’s Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Many gun-control advocates argue that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, or that it was never meant to guarantee the right of individual gun ownership outside military service. But the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected that argument twice recently, in 5-4 rulings in 2008 and 2010 that struck down handgun bans in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

“I found myself surprisingly agreeing with the conservative justices,” Whitney said. “That it is an individual right, not tied to militia service, and that the Second Amendment recognized a common-law right the colonists had had from the very beginning.”

Whitney said gun-control advocates must accept the Second Amendment, as well as the reality that gun ownership is a deeply ingrained aspect of American culture that isn’t going away. His book notes that more than 60 million Americans own more than 300 million firearms.

By the same token, gun-rights advocates should quit stoking fear that the federal government will somehow find a way to confiscate the weapons of law-abiding citizens. That would be clearly unconstitutional, Whitney said, and such paranoia stymies much-needed public safety measures like universal background checks.

The National Rifle Association has promoted gun-seizure fears since the 1970s. Whitney noted that it has been an effective fundraising strategy for the NRA and has dramatically increased gun sales.

Whitney doesn’t own guns, although he carried one while serving in the Navy in Vietnam. Legal gun ownership is difficult where he lives in New York City. But he is an NRA member.

img-living-with-guns“I joke in the book that I would never have believed half the things that the media report the NRA says if I hadn’t read them in the NRA’s monthly magazine,” he said.

Whitney is critical of the NRA, but he is just as critical of extreme gun-control advocates such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Violent crime has declined dramatically in America during the past two decades, but Whitney disputes NRA propaganda crediting that to more people carrying guns for self-defense.

“I also don’t buy Mayor Bloomberg’s argument that keeping people like me from buying guns or having them in New York City keeps crime down in New York City,” he said.

Whitney noted that more than half the nation’s 30,000 annual gun deaths are suicides — and half of those are done with rifles and shotguns. While so-called assault weapons have been used in high-profile massacres, most gun crimes are committed with handguns.

“Common sense is what we need to apply to the gun-control debate,” Whitney said.

“Not ideology, which on the one hand says that all regulations are unconstitutional and on the other hand says all guns should be illegal.”

Whitney’s book makes several sensible policy recommendations. History shows that guns have been regulated since the nation’s earliest days, and the Supreme Court has clearly stated that reasonable gun regulations are perfectly constitutional.

One of the most effective strategies, Whitney believes, would be state licensing of gun owners after they receive safety training and pass a proficiency test. Who should do the training and testing? Whitney suggests the NRA.

“Politically, they’ve gone off the deep end,” Whitney said of the NRA. “But I think they do excellent work in the firearms training and safety courses they have.”

Improving the public’s proficiency with firearms was the main reason the NRA was founded in 1871, Whitney noted in his book. And one of the two founders, William C. Church, was a former reporter for The New York Times.


Band that performed in ‘Lincoln’ included four Kentuckians

December 15, 2012

The Civil War band President Lincoln’s Own posed with Lincoln director Steven Spielberg on Nov. 19 after he spoke in Gettysburg, Pa., at ceremonies marking the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The band includes four Kentuckians. From left to right, Garman Bowers, Jeff Stockham, Wayne Collier of Lexington, Denny Edelbrock, Reece Land of Campbellsville, Steven Spielberg, Don Johnson of Lebanon, Mike Tunnell of Louisville, Dana Schoppert, Chris Johnston, Mark Elrod and Jay Norris. Photo Provided.

 

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, features several notable Kentuckians of the past, from the 16th president and his Lexington-born wife to a long-forgotten congressman from Owensboro.

When I wrote about them last month, I didn’t know that four modern Kentuckians also appear in the acclaimed movie. They provide an authentic taste of Civil War music on period brass instruments.

About 15 minutes into the film, President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is shown at a flag-raising ceremony. A 12-piece military band wearing red uniforms plays as the crowd sings, “We are coming, Father Abraham,” a popular patriotic song of the day.

The scene was filmed in Petersburg, Va., in December 2011. But it wasn’t until the movie was released this fall that members of the band, President Lincoln’s Own, were allowed to reveal their participation.

The Kentucky musicians are Wayne Collier, a Lexington lawyer with Kinkead & Stilz; Reese Land, associate professor of music at Campbellsville University; Michael Tunnell, a University of Louisville music professor; and Don Johnson, a musician and antique instrument collector from Lexington who now lives in Lebanon.

The band also played with Spielberg when he spoke Nov. 19 in Gettysburg, Pa., at ceremonies marking the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“It was one of those who-you-know situations,” said Collier, explaining how a real estate lawyer and amateur trumpeter found his way into a Spielberg movie touted as an Academy Award favorite.

The Civil War band grew out of Kentucky Baroque Trumpets, an award-winning group that Johnson, Collier and two others formed in 2005. Collier has been playing trumpet since he was 10 and earned a music theory degree from the University of Kentucky before going to law school. The Tates Creek High School graduate got to know Johnson, who went to Henry Clay, when they played together in a youth orchestra in the early 1970s.

To film the scene in Lincoln, band members drove to Petersburg, Va., one weekend last December. They found tons of dirt spread on the streets in a neighborhood of antebellum buildings “at great expense, I’m sure,” Collier said.

Band members had been told not to shave or cut their hair for a month before filming so makeup and hair stylists could make them look authentic to the period. They were then photographed so the makeup and styling could be quickly recreated before filming on Monday morning.

Band members practiced their music on original Civil War-era horns, which are pitched higher and are more difficult to play than modern instruments. Collier said he had it easier than some because he played a horn from his own collection: an 1861 nickel-silver D.C. Hall E-flat alto with rotary valves.

After makeup, costuming and rehearsal, band members attended a cast party and met actress Sally Field, who had visited Lexington last year to prepare for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Filming the flag-raising scene took three hours. Freezing temperatures made it difficult to play the antique brass horns. But Spielberg liked the band’s performance so much that he made the unusual decision to use the live performance rather than redub the music with a studio recording.

In the movie, the band members are seen and heard for only a few seconds — and they were left out of the credits, which was a disappointment.

Collier said his legal background helped him appreciate the dialogue-heavy movie, which focuses on Lincoln’s legal thinking and political arm-twisting in 1864-65 to enact the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery. Lincoln thought the amendment was legally essential to expand and make permanent his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.

A key figure in the movie is U.S. Rep. George Helm Yeaman, a lawyer and judge from Owensboro whom Lincoln cajoles into becoming a key swing vote for the amendment.

After seeing the movie, Collier found copies of two Yeaman speeches. One was given in 1862 on the floor of the House, criticizing the legal weaknesses in the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln was trying to fix two years later. The other speech was given in 1899, when Yeaman taught constitutional law at Columbia University in New York and was reflecting on the amendment.

“He was a lot brighter than he came across in the film,” Collier said of Yeaman.”Compared to him, our role in the movie was minuscule. But it was a phenomenal experience.”

 


Kentucky and Kentuckians are all over new movie about Lincoln

November 25, 2012

“I hope to have God on my side,” Abraham Lincoln remarked in 1861, “but I must have Kentucky.”

Indeed, Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, makes it clear that the 16th president needed his home state up to the very end of the Civil War.

Kentucky is all over this terrific drama. Daniel Day Lewis stars as Lincoln, who was born in what is now Larue County, and Sally Field portrays Mary Todd Lincoln of Lexington. Field even spent time in Lexington to prepare for her role.

Early in the film, Lincoln is seen talking with two black soldiers who mention they enlisted at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County. A constant presence in the movie is the ticking of a watch that Lincoln owned — recorded at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, where it is part of the collection.

The movie focuses on Lincoln’s quest in 1864 and 1865 to abolish slavery, in border as well as rebel states, by expanding his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. To do that, he needed to get the Senate-passed amendment through a divided House of Representatives.

A pivotal vote Lincoln needs is that of U.S. Rep. George Helm Yeaman of Owensboro, who is played by Michael Stuhlbarg, a California-born actor who affects a convincing Western Kentucky accent. At this point, even Kentucky history buffs in the audience are scratching their heads. George Helm Who?

Michael Stuhlbarg portrays George Helm Yeaman. AP Photo by Peter Kramer

Yeaman, then 35, was born in Hardin County, the nephew of former Gov. John L. Helm. A talented lawyer, Yeaman was Daviess County judge before being elected to the General Assembly and then Congress.

Yeaman was a Unionist. But the two major parties in Congress were Republicans and Democrats, although their personalities were the opposite of what they are today. Democrats were more conservative, Republicans more liberal.

Many Democrats supported slavery, while most Republicans, including Lincoln, opposed it. The so-called “radical Republicans” even believed in racial equality; at the time, no political idea was more radical than that.

Yeaman disliked slavery, but he feared that abolition would destroy Kentucky’s economic and social structure. On Dec. 18, 1862, he gave a lengthy speech in the House denouncing Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“I protest against it as a violation of the Constitution and the liberties of my country,” Yeaman said. “I protest against it as unwise, uncalled for, tending to widen the breach rather than to hasten the conclusion of this war.”

“Yeaman was reflecting the views of his constituents,” said Aloma Dew, who taught Civil War and Reconstruction history at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro and wrote The Kentucky Encyclopedia’s entry about Yeaman.

Most of Yeaman’s constituents supported both the Union and slavery. “He felt that the power to confiscate private property was unconstitutional,” Dew said, adding that he also thought blacks were unprepared for freedom.

In the movie, Yeaman, serving as a lame duck after being defeated for re-election in 1864, is first shown giving a speech against the proposed 13th Amendment. He warns that ending slavery could eventually extend the vote to blacks and, even more horribly, to women. The House erupts in jeers.

This speech leads Lincoln’s operatives to think Yeaman can’t be bribed with a government job, which they were using to win the votes of other lame duck opponents. But the president decides to try to persuade him anyway.

Calling Yeaman to the White House, Lincoln tells him how his father, Thomas Lincoln, moved the family from Kentucky to Indiana and then Illinois because “he knew no small-holding dirt farmer could compete with slave plantations.”

“I hate it too, sir, slavery,” Yeaman tells Lincoln. “But we’re entirely unready for emancipation.”

Lincoln replies that the nation is unready for peace, too, but will have to figure it out when the time comes.

Days later, when called upon to cast his vote, Yeaman first mumbles, then shouts his “Aye!” to the shock of amendment opponents. He becomes a key swing vote for abolishing slavery.

After Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson appointed Yeaman as ambassador to Denmark. In that role, he negotiated the sale of the Virgin Islands to the United States, only to have it rejected by Congress. (The sale was later consummated in 1917 at more than three-times the cost.)

Yeaman resigned his ambassadorship in 1870 and settled in New York. The former congressman who had opposed the Emancipation Proclamation on constitutional grounds wrote several books about law and government and taught constitutional law at Columbia University.

President James Garfield reportedly offered Yeaman an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, but was assassinated in 1881 before he could follow through. With his wife in failing health, Yeaman moved to a country home in Madison, N.J., where he died in 1908.

Spielberg’s movie offers insight into the central role of Kentuckians in the Civil War, including a nod to a reluctant hero who might otherwise have been forgotten.


Digging for answers at Fort Boonesborough: What did they find?

September 15, 2012

 Nancy O’Malley, a UK archaeologist, led a dig at Fort Boonesborough to learn more about the siege of 1778. She is holding what she thinks is one of the more accurate drawings of the fort. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

When I read in June that a University of Kentucky archaeologist was doing the first major exploration of Fort Boonesborough in 25 years, I had to know what she found.

Nancy O’Malley wasn’t just looking for 18th century artifacts, although she found some: a hoe, a skillet, buttons, buckles, bullets, hand-wrought nails, forks, bits of English ceramic and a blue glass trade bead.

O’Malley, an expert on Kentucky pioneer settlements who first confirmed Fort Boonesborough’s location in 1987, was trying to figure out exactly how much of the fort still exists. She was specifically searching for evidence of the most famous event that occurred there: a nine-day siege 234 years ago this week in which Daniel Boone and a small group of pioneers repelled an attack by several hundred Native Americans.

“This siege is just completely out of the ordinary in terms of what was happening in Kentucky during the Revolutionary War,” O’Malley said. “On the face of it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — some of the things that happened and, more to the point, some of the things that didn’t happen.”

While East Coast colonists were fighting the British for independence, settlers were streaming across the mountains into Kentucky. Shawnees and other northern tribes were alarmed and tried to run them out. The British took advantage of the situation, offering bounties for settlers’ scalps.

Boone, an explorer, hunter and surveyor working for the Transylvania Co., established Boonesborough in 1775. As Native American attacks escalated, the fort became an important shelter.

Shawnees captured Boone in February 1778 while he was with men who had gone to Blue Licks in what is now Nicholas County to make salt. Boone convinced them not to kill him and the 30 salt-makers, but to take them back to their villages as captives. Boone also made vague promises about arranging for Boonesborough’s surrender.

Blackfish, the Shawnee chief, grew fond of Boone and adopted him as a son, giving him the name Shel-tow-ee, which meant “big turtle.” But when Boone heard tribe members plotting to attack Boonesborough, he escaped and returned to warn the settlers and strengthen the fort.

Warriors from five tribes arrived at Boonesborough with a dozen French Canadians working for the British. Boone estimated the force at nearly 450, although O’Malley suspects it was smaller. Still, they greatly outnumbered the approximately 40 men and 95 women and children inside the fort.

After chastising his “son” for running away, Blackfish asked Boone to surrender the fort. During two days of negotiations, the chief promised settlers wouldn’t be harmed if they became captives. Boone made excuses and stalled for time.

“Of course, everybody was lying through their teeth,” O’Malley said. “Once it was clear the settlers were not going to give up, it was pretty much no holds barred.”

For nine days — Sept. 9-17, 1778 — settlers and warriors waged a battle of constant rifle shots. The attackers sent torches and flaming arrows into the fort, but settlers, helped by steady rain, extinguished the flames.

“There was a lot of trash talk going on,” O’Malley said. “And inside the fort there’s all this subterfuge.” Women dressed as men and hats were put on sticks along the stockade fence to make the garrison appear bigger.

“You have this huge force against this very limited number of people who are holed up in a pretty rickety fort,” O’Malley said. “I still don’t understand why the Indians didn’t figure this out.”

The Canadians convinced the warriors to try to dig a tunnel more than 100 feet from the Kentucky River bank into the fort, but, after days of work, the rain-soaked ground collapsed. Why didn’t they just storm the place? That probably would have worked, O’Malley said, “but that wasn’t a typical Indian tactic.”

After losing about 35 warriors while killing only two settlers, including a black slave, the attackers gave up and left. “All of these things could have gone differently,” O’Malley said. “There was a lot of luck involved.”

With a $27,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, O’Malley hopes to use historical archaeology to learn more about what happened and where.

She fully excavated a stone foundation and hearth she found in 1987 and now believes was Squire Boone’s gunsmith shop in the center of the fort. Evidence she found, compared with a survivor’s crude map, have led her to conclude that the tribes camp was about where the state park’s miniature golf course is now.

Using ground-penetrating radar, O’Malley hoped to find evidence of the tunnel, but she didn’t. “Unfortunately, with bank erosion, I’m pretty sure this tunnel is downstream,” she said.

The biggest challenge has been figuring out all of the dramatic changes in Boonesborough’s landscape over the past two centuries: later structures, massive silting and erosion, rechanneling of creeks and construction of park facilities.

O’Malley plans to keep looking at physical evidence and historical records to try to clarify the often conflicting accounts of siege survivors, whose memories were colored by the passage of time and other versions they later heard and read.

“There were just so many things about the siege that were very strange, and so many funny stories, that after a while you wonder what to believe,” O’Malley said. “History is a messy business.”


Telling Blue Grass Airport’s story: Lucky Lindy, QEII and you

August 5, 2012

Piedmont Airlines’ first passenger flight from Lexington, on a DC-3 bound for Cincinnati, was Feb. 20, 1948. In 1965, Piedmont flew the first passenger jet flight into Blue Grass Field. File photo

If anyone doubted that Lexington needed a better airport in 1928, they were set straight by America’s most famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.

When “Lucky Lindy” made a surprise overnight visit to Lexington at the height of his fame, he had trouble even finding the municipal airport, Halley Field, a converted pasture off Leestown Road where Meadowthorpe subdivision now stands.

More than 2,000 people watched Lindbergh leave the next morning. His five-passenger Ryan monoplane — similar to the famous “Spirit of St. Louis” he flew on the first solo non-stop Atlantic crossing — almost crashed on takeoff.

“Lindy Plane Barely Misses Trees at Hop Off,” The Lexington Leader reported with a front-page banner headline. “Lindy Says Lexington’s Airport Too Small for Present Aviation Needs.” How embarrassing.

That is one of many colorful stories Fran Taylor has discovered while doing research for a book Blue Grass Airport has commissioned to chronicle the history of the airport and aviation in Central Kentucky. Taylor wants help finding more great stories.

Everyone is invited to bring pre-1980 photos and mementos to the airport terminal’s lobby from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. A videographer will record oral histories, and a photographer will take pictures of special items. Prizes will be given for the best story, memento and photo.

“It’s a really rich history,” Taylor said, adding that the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at the airport has been a great resource. “Blue Grass Field was like the Forrest Gump of airports. If it happened nationally, it happened here in a big way.”

Although airplanes might have used a grassy meadow off Richmond Road as early as 1917, the first real local airstrip was Dr. S.H. Halley’s field, which opened in 1921 and became the municipal airport in 1927. After Lindbergh’s close call, Cool Meadow Field was built in 1930 on Newtown Pike, where Fasig-Tipton’s Thoroughbred auction facility is now.

It was at Cool Meadow that Lexington Airways offered flying lessons and Irvin Air Chute Co. tested parachutes it manufactured here, according to research by Frank Peters, an aviation museum volunteer. Airmail service began in 1939. Blue Grass Airlines offered regional passenger service a couple of years later.

When World War II began, the Army built a flight training facility that became Blue Grass Field across from Keeneland Race Course. The Army turned it over to the city and county in 1946, and the first terminal was dedicated that fall by Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace and president of Eastern Airlines. Eastern and Delta Air Lines began passenger service with Douglas DC-3s.

Renamed Blue Grass Airport in 1984, the 1,000-acre facility now serves more than 1 million people — and several hundred horses — each year.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has made several trips through Blue Grass Airport, which also has been host to Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and hundreds of movie stars and other celebrities. You know Keeneland sales are in session when Arab royalty’s Boeing 747s are parked nose-to-nose on the tarmac.

But did you know that the first air freight shipment from Lexington was a package of butter sent to President Harry Truman in 1945? Or that the supersonic Concorde made a stop in 1989? Or that the airport played a role in the nation’s most notorious hijacking?

Three hijackers with pistols and hand grenades took over a Southern Airways DC-9 with 31 people aboard in November 1972, demanding $10 million. They made stops in several cities, including Lexington, where the hijackers ordered a ground crewman to strip to his underwear while refueling the plane. After 30 hours and 4,000 miles, the plane landed in Cuba, where the hijackers were captured.

Everyone remembers Blue Grass Airport’s saddest day: Aug. 27, 2006, when Comair Flight 5191 crashed on takeoff, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard.

But aviation has shaped Lexington’s collective memory in more subtle ways, too.

I remember, as a child, getting dressed up to see my father off on an annual business trip. We would stand in the old terminal hall, surrounded by photographic murals of the bluegrass landscape, and wave as Dad boarded the plane and it disappeared into the clouds. It always left me wondering how such a big machine filled with people could possibly fly.

If you go

Blue Grass Airport history project

What: Public is asked to share stories, mementoes of airport

Where: Blue Grass Airport terminal lobby, 4000 Terminal Dr., Lexington

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 11

Information: (859) 425-3105, Bluegrassairport.com.


Book project hopes to capture veterans’ love stories

June 20, 2012

 

Jay McChord's drawing of a photo that inspired his proposed book, which will collect the love stories of military veterans.

Jennifer Bryant was 16 when her grandmother died in 1991. As she helped her grandfather choose family photographs for the funeral visitation, she noticed a stack of small pictures and letters on the top of his dresser.

Kenneth and Dale Johnson were married for 46 years and raised three children in Webster County, where he worked as an underground coal miner.

The small stack of correspondence represented much of their first two years of marriage, which they spent apart. He was an Army machine-gunner during World War II and fought on the front lines in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge.

One picture caught Bryant’s eye. It showed her grandparents on their wedding day, kissing along a roadside. Two days later, he left for the Army.

“He told me to just put that picture back in the stack; we weren’t going to use any of those at the funeral home and I didn’t need to mess with them,” she said. “Then he turned around and walked out of the room, and I put that picture in the back pocket of my jeans.”

A couple of days after Dale Johnson’s funeral, her husband burned all of those letters and pictures. The war and separation had been painful for them, he told Bryant later, “and those memories don’t need to be in this house anymore.”

Johnson never knew that Bryant saved the one photo. For most of the two decades since then, it has stood framed in a curio cabinet that had belonged to her grandmother.

When Bryant showed the picture to her friend Jay McChord last year and told him the story behind it, he got an idea: why not collect veterans’ love stories and pictures from across the generations and publish them in an inspirational book?

McChord and Bryant have launched a fund-raising campaign at Kickstarter.com to publish A Veteran’s Legacy … in Love. Their goal is to raise $30,013 by July 19 on the crowd-funding Web site to create an online platform for people to submit their stories and photos, and to produce the book. Unless they reach the goal, they won’t receive any of the Kickstarter pledges.

“I think this project and book can preserve some powerful stories and offer encouragement for what sacrifice and commitment look like,” McChord said. He envisions the book as a combination of inspirational love stories and a place where veterans may record their love stories for posterity.

Bryant and McChord already have the art for their book’s cover: McChord, a former University of Kentucky art major, made a drawing of the picture of Bryant’s grandparents kissing on their wedding day.

Much of McChord’s artistic work in recent years has focused on veterans. Most pieces are drawings of snapshots that soldiers took of themselves and friends while in service.

McChord, who is stepping down this year after eight years as the 9th District representative on Lexington’s Urban County Council, wasn’t in the military, and his family doesn’t have a strong military tradition.

But McChord said he has always loved military history, and he is inspired by veterans’ service and stories, especially those who fought in World War II. He just returned from a “Victory in Europe” trip organized by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which included tours of sites in London, Paris and the beaches of Normandy. An 86-year-old American who fought in Normandy was their guide there.

In 2010, McChord published a book, A Veteran’s Legacy: Field Kit Journal (Gracie Mae Publications, $15). Illustrated with his drawings, the book helps veterans record the stories of their military service based on questions McChord developed from the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

McChord sees these book projects as a way to honor those who served, preserve their stories so future generations can learn from them and offer a measure of healing, he said.

Bryant said it would be a shame if more stories of love, commitment and persistence disappeared in time, as her grandparents’ story did.

“Our children are not going to know the true stories of these veterans unless we tell them,” she said. “These people are here now, and we need to capture these stories.”


A short walk shows Lexington’s Civil War divisions

May 29, 2012

 

I first became fascinated with Civil War history as a boy in the 1960s, soon after the centennial celebration.

Many of the books I found in the Lexington Public Library — then located in the Carnegie building in Gratz Park — made that history seem remote. They told of epic battles in Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They showed pictures of Atlanta, Charleston and Richmond — the one in Virginia, not the one down the road.

I had no idea then how much Civil War history lay just beyond those library walls.

America is now in the midst of a more nuanced commemoration of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. There is less focus on gallant cavaliers and more reflection on the causes and legacies of that terrible, transformative war.

That makes this the perfect time to take a short history walk through downtown Lexington. There are no forts or battlefields to see. But it would be hard to find another few blocks of American soil so intimately associated with the Civil War’s key political figures, central issue and deep divisions.

Begin your walk in Gratz Park at the James Lane Allen fountain. This is where Transylvania’s main building stood in the 1820s when Jefferson Davis was a student. After a couple of years, Davis transferred to West Point. He later became a U.S. senator from Mississippi and the only president of the Confederate States of America.

Transylvania’s main building burned in 1829. Years later, former student Cassius M. Clay revealed that the mysterious fire was started by his slave, who fell asleep with a candle burning while polishing his master’s shoes. Clay, the son of one of Kentucky’s largest slaveholders, became one of slavery’s most outspoken critics. In the 1840s, he published an abolitionist newspaper, The True American, from an office on Mill Street near the corner of Main.

Walk through Gratz Park to the corner of Market and Second streets. There is the Bodley-Bullock House, an 1814 mansion that served alternately as Union and Confederate headquarters when each army occupied Lexington during the Civil War.

Walk across the park to another 1814 mansion, at the corner of Second and Mill streets. It was the home of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a cavalry raider known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” It is now a museum owned the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. (Hours and information: BluegrassTrust.org.)

Before proceeding on Second Street, look down Mill Street toward First Presbyterian Church. It surrounds a small brick building that was the law office of Henry Clay, America’s most influential politician of the early 19th century.

Clay negotiated political compromises over the expansion of slavery that delayed the Civil War for nearly four decades. (Learn more about Clay at his Ashland estate: HenryClay.org.)

At the corner of Second and Broadway, you will see a parking lot that was the site of Transylvania University’s renowned medical school, which closed in 1857. The building burned in 1863 while being used as a Union Army hospital.

Look down Second Street and you will see a marker outside the last home of John C. Breckinridge, whose career illustrates how the Civil War divided the city and the nation. This Lexingtonian was the 14th vice president of the United States, then a presidential candidate in 1860. When war came, Breckinridge sided with the South, becoming a Confederate general and secretary of war.

Walk down Broadway toward Short Street. You will see the Opera House, built in 1886. Before the Civil War, this was the site of a business operated by W.A. Pullum, one of the city’s many “negro dealers.” Lexington was one of the South’s biggest slave-trading centers.

Take a right on Short Street, past Saints Peter & Paul School and St. Paul’s Catholic Church, and you will see a marker noting the birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. Her grandmother, Eliza Parker, lived next door. Neither house remains.

Lincoln visited his wife’s family in the fall of 1847. The man who would later abolish slavery was then a freshman congressman from Illinois, just beginning to grapple with the issue. That visit to Lexington might have given Lincoln his most close-up look at the South’s “peculiar institution.”

From the Parker house, historian William Townsend wrote, Lincoln easily could have looked past the spiked fence into Pullum’s compound, which had rows of eight-foot-square slave “pens” and a whipping post.

Follow Short Street to Jefferson Street, turn left and cross Main. The Mary Todd Lincoln House museum in a restored home where the future first lady lived from 1832, when she was 13 years old, until she moved to Illinois in 1839. (Hours and information: MTLHouse.org.)

That’s a lot of Civil War history in less than a mile.

The Fountain of Youth, a gift to the city from the estate of the writer James Lane Allen, is on the north end of Gratz Park on the site of the original building of Transylvania University.  Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, studied in that building in the 1820s before transferring to West Point.  Photos by Tom Eblen

A groundskeeper last week prepared for Transylvania University’s graduation. In the foreground is Gratz Park, the former site of Transylvania’s main building, where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, studied in the 1820s.

 

 

The Bodley-Bullock House, built in 1814, served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate armies when control of Lexington changed hands during the Civil War. The house is across Gratz Park from Hopemont, home of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan.

Hopemont, built in 1814, was the home of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a notorious cavalry raider.

Hopemont was saved from demolition by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1855 and is now a museum.

Transylvania University’s Medical Hall stood where this parking lot is now at the corner of Broadway and Second streets. The building was being used as a Union Army hospital during the Civil War when it burned in 1863.

The Lexington Opera House, built in 1886, on Broadway just north of Short Street, stands on the site that in the 1840s was Pullum’s slave jail. Abraham Lincoln’s closest personal exposure to slavery may have been seeing Pullums while visiting his wife’s grandmother, who lived on Short Street adjacent to the jail.

A plaque noting Mary Todd Lincoln’s birthplace stands outside her former home on Short Street. The house in the background replaced an earlier one that was home to her grandmother, Eliza Parker.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House is where Abraham Lincoln’s wife lived from 1832, when she was 13, until 1839, when she moved to Illinois, where she met Lincoln. The house, originally built in 1806 as an inn, is now a museum.

 


Honoring WWII Lexington Platoon’s sole survivor

May 16, 2012

James Cecil may be platoon’s last member. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Eight months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, hundreds of people gathered around the steps of the Fayette County Courthouse to honor James T. Cecil and 69 other local boys.

The recent graduates of Henry Clay, Lafayette and other Central Kentucky high schools were forming the Lexington Platoon of the United States Marine Corps. Mayor T. Ward Havely and other dignitaries spoke at the mass-induction ceremony. A young lady sang the Marine Hymn, and women and children wept, the Lexington Herald and Leader reported in late August 1942.

Platoon members left in buses that day for processing in Louisville and training in San Diego. From there, they joined some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theater: Okinawa, Saipan, Tinian and Guadalcanal.

The Lexington Platoon will be honored again Thursday at the Urban County Council meeting. This time, Cecil, 88, will be the only platoon member present. “As best we can tell, I’m the only one left,” he said.

Mayor Jim Gray will present a proclamation declaring James Cecil Day. Councilman Jay McChord will speak about how he met Cecil and other World War II veterans while writing and illustrating his 2010 book, A Veteran’s Legacy: Field Kit Journal.

“We’re losing so many of these guys every day, it’s good any time we can honor them,” McChord said. “We need to remind ourselves of who they are and what they did.”

Cecil and Mitch Alcorn, his Lafayette High School buddy and the longtime Midway postmaster, began tracking down their fellow Lexington Platoon members several years ago, searching the Internet and running ads in veterans magazines.

By this time last year, the group had dwindled to the two of them and Elwood Watkins, who earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts in battle. Watkins died July 12. Alcorn, who earned a Purple Heart and later fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars as an Army officer, died Feb. 18.

Cecil grew up on a tobacco farm off Nicholasville Road. “We didn’t have any money, but we had plenty to eat,” he said. “We had milk cows, chickens and a big garden.”

When the war came, he decided to join the Marines rather than wait to be drafted. After training, platoon members were scattered to various units of the 2nd Marine Division, although Cecil served alongside Alcorn and a few others from Lexington. “We were just like a big family,” he said.

As I talked with Cecil last week, he pulled out a small envelope. Inside was a portrait of a Japanese officer he killed, and money and a ration card he found in the officer’s pocket. That wasn’t all: The officer was carrying a map of artillery positions, a find that got Cecil promoted from private to corporal.

Cecil earned a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the battle of Saipan on June 20, 1944. He survived several Japanese suicide attacks on his camps at night.

“The next morning you couldn’t walk without walking on a dead Marine or a dead Japanese,” he said.

At the battle of Okinawa, a Japanese suicide pilot hit the USS Hinsdale before Cecil’s unit could land on the beach. Cecil spent 45 minutes in the cold water, watching for sharks, before a Navy destroyer rescued him.

“We had so many killed and wounded,” Cecil said. “Every battle, you just didn’t know who was going to be next.”

Cecil’s only trip stateside came in August 1945, when he was recommended for officer candidate school. Before he could begin, though, U.S. forces dropped atomic bombs on Japan, and World War II ended.

After the war, Cecil had a successful career as the owner of an Ohio-based trucking company. He moved back to Lexington after Janet, his wife of 52 years, died in 1998. In his apartment, he proudly displays photos of her, their sons and their grandsons.

Cecil’s health is good, his mind sharp. He finds himself thinking a lot these days about his wartime experiences, including the occasional nightmare with Japanese soldiers “getting after me.”

“I just felt honored and proud that I served my country,” Cecil said. “Coming off a tobacco patch and going into battle, that was a hell of a change. We were just a bunch of brave boys.”

The Lexington Platoon at basic training in San Diego, 1942.


A century after statue, rebel raider still debated

August 22, 2011

The John Hunt Morgan statue, erected 1911. Photo by Tom Eblen

Descendants of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s men and other Civil War buffs will gather Saturday outside the Lexington History Museum to mark the 100th anniversary of Morgan’s heroic statue being placed there.

But it will be nothing like the spectacle that occurred at what was then the Fayette County Courthouse on Oct. 18, 1911. That day, 10,000 people packed the square, and hundreds more filled the windows and roofs of nearby buildings to honor the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.”

It was quite a tribute, especially since many of those people might have once cursed the man whose troops stole their horses, looted their stores, burned their homes and robbed their banks. Nostalgia is a strange thing.

As two excellent books published last year explain, Morgan’s statue marked the zenith of Kentucky’s ironic transformation from Union to Confederate state. That’s right; once the Lost Cause was truly lost, most white Kentuckians sided with the losers.

As America begins a four-year commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, this is a good time to reflect on John Hunt Morgan — one of Lexington’s most colorful and controversial characters — and the role nostalgia has played in Kentucky’s collective memory.

Morgan was born in Alabama in 1825, the maternal grandson of John Wesley Hunt, one of Lexington’s founders and first millionaires. His family soon returned to Lexington, where Morgan attended Transylvania University for two years before being kicked out for dueling.

He joined the Army as a private in 1846 and emerged from the Mexican War as a battle-tested officer. Morgan returned to Lexington and went into the hemp business, but he missed the military life. He formed the Lexington Rifles in 1852 and drilled his militia in city parks.

Morgan, like most slave-owning Kentuckians, opposed Southern secession at first. But by 1862, he had raised a Confederate cavalry regiment and led his men through the Battle of Shiloh.

“He was the very image of the grand cavalier — a man who was romanticized, particularly by the women of the Confederacy,” said James Klotter, Kentucky’s state historian and a Georgetown College professor.

Morgan was a brilliant cavalry officer and tactician. His daring raids into Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio destroyed valuable federal property and supply lines, earning him the nickname “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.”

But he pushed his luck too far; Morgan and most of his men were captured during a raid on Ohio in 1863. He and a few others made a daring prison break and returned to Kentucky to form a new unit. But his fortune had changed.

Morgan’s new men weren’t nearly as good as those who sat out the rest of the war in prison. He especially missed Basil Duke, his brother-in-law and second in command, who enforced discipline among his troops. Kent Masterson Brown, a Lexington lawyer and historian, described Morgan’s last unit as “a motley crew.”

As the war dragged on, Kentucky life got leaner and meaner. Raiders increasingly turned to civilian targets as they sought supplies and military advantage. Morgan’s men confiscated horses, robbed banks, looted trains and stores, and set several blocks of Cynthiana on fire.

When he was killed in Greeneville, Tenn., on Sept. 4, 1864, Morgan was ignoring a suspension order from superiors, who were investigating charges of thievery brought by his own officers, according to Rebel Raider, a biography written James Ramage, a Northern Kentucky University history professor.

Kentuckians might have been angry with Morgan’s raiders, but they were even angrier with Union occupiers. Gen. Stephen Burbridge had turned Kentucky into a police state. Arbitrary executions earned him the nickname “Butcher Burbridge.”

The war’s end brought a new social order. Many white Kentuckians feared former slaves and were determined to keep blacks “in their place.” Racism intensified, white-on-black violence grew rampant and Kentucky earned a national reputation for lawlessness.

Many white Kentuckians longed for the “good old days” and embraced Confederate identity, a phenomenon that Anne Marshall, a Lexington native and history professor at Mississippi State University, chronicled last year in her book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky.

In the book How Kentucky Became Southern, Maryjean Wall, a historian and former Herald-Leader turf writer, explained how Kentucky Thoroughbred breeders encouraged that Old South mythology to attract wealthy Northern horsemen.

By 1907, the United Daughters of the Confederacy was raising money to erect a monument to Morgan, the martyred cavalier. The result was Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini’s statue of Morgan mounted on a stallion — ironic, since his favorite horse was a mare. (Generations of college pranksters have spray-painted the inaccurate genitalia under cover of darkness.)

By the end of the Civil War, the reputation of Morgan’s men was one of “murder and highway robbery,” wrote Duke, his former second-in-command. But a few years later, thanks to white public nostalgia, “if you could claim that you rode with Morgan, you were a kind of nobility,” Brown said.

The ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday will try to strike a historically accurate balance, said Sam Flora, president of the Morgan’s Men Association, an old veterans’ group resurrected in 1988 by soldiers’ descendants and Civil War buffs.

“Our take on it is that we’re proud of our history and heritage,” Flora said.

We will hear many more such comments over the next four years, as Americans keep trying to understand the Civil War’s complexities and the legacy of slavery.

“What we do is not a defense of slavery,” Flora said. “Most of the men who served under Morgan were young and did not even own slaves. They were caught up in the war and the adventure of the war. Our ancestors are no different than anyone else’s; they all had their warts. We just try to celebrate their memory.”

The dedication ceremony for the John Hunt Morgan statue on Oct. 18, 1911, filled the courthouse square with more than 10,000 people. Photo courtesy of the R. Burl McCoy Collection, Lexington History Museum


Lawyer turns history into fascinating films

August 22, 2011


Kent Masterson Brown thinks more people would love history if only they could see it as he does: fascinating stories about interesting people and momentous events that shaped today’s world.

Brown, a Lexington attorney, has written or edited five history books and dozens of magazine articles. But in 2007, he found a new way to bring the colorful past alive to a wider audience.

Brown and Doug High, a news anchor for ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36), created Witnessing History LLC to produce documentary films about historical subjects and distribute them on public television and through DVD sales.

“I’ve always been interested in documentary films because I love history,” said Brown, who grew up in Lexington and spent much of his childhood going to battlefields in Maryland and Virginia while visiting relatives. “I absolutely became enamored with the Civil War.”

Witnessing History’s third and latest film, Henry Clay and the Struggle for the Union, has been showing on Kentucky Educational Television since June. A DVD will soon be sold on the company’s Web site.

“Our object was not just to do a biography of Henry Clay, but to frame it in the context of the Civil War,” Brown said. If not for the compromises over slavery that Clay negotiated in Congress, the Civil War might have come decades earlier — and the union might not have survived.

Witnessing History’s first film was Bourbon and Kentucky: A History Distilled. It tells a fascinating story of pioneer Kentucky, an abundance of corn, clear spring water and a ready export market down river in New Orleans. The film was originally made for KET, but also has been shown on television in every state and Canada, Brown said.

The next film was Retreat From Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics & the Pennsylvania Campaign, based on Brown’s award-winning book of the same name. It traces the massive retreat of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army in July 1863. “That film was made for the hard-core buffs,” Brown said.

Witnessing History’s business model is to raise production expenses from corporate advertisers and sponsors, such as the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, and to sell the films for television broadcast and as DVDs. Most of the films cost about $100,000 to produce, with much of that going to buy rights to use historical photographs and paintings.

“I love the imagery of the early 19th century and before, the portraiture and paintings of great events,” Brown said. “Most people aren’t familiar with them anymore, but that’s how they chronicled events before television.”

Brown writes and narrates the films, chooses the historic images and manages the business. High directs the films and oversees an audio/visual team of contractors. In some films, actors are hired to recreate key scenes.

In his spare time, Brown leads Civil War tours in Kentucky. His first out-of-state tour will be next spring at the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee. “The business keeps expanding,” he said.

Brown is writing another Gettysburg book, focused on Union Gen. George Meade, and working on several films, including one for HRTV about the horse’s role in the Civil War. It will air in November.

Witnessing History has raised about half of the $200,000 needed to produce a two-hour documentary for public television about the life of Daniel Boone. Thanks to John Filson’s best-selling “autobiography” of Boone, which was widely published in America and Europe in the 1780s, the frontiersman became one of the world’s first pop culture icons.

About 40 actors have been enlisted to recreate key scenes of Boone’s life that will be filmed in Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Missouri. Scott New, who portrays Boone at Fort Boonesborough State Park and in Kentucky Humanities Council presentations, will play the lead.

Long-range projects include a proposed high-tech animated film tracing the battle of Gettysburg, which could be shown at a private visitors center near the national park in Pennsylvania. That film could cost $1.5 million to produce, Brown said.

“In this day and age, there’s a huge gap in the presentation of history, and the public is kind of starved for it,” Brown said. “People really do want to understand their history, and this is a handsome way to present it.”

  • Witnessing History LLC

    What: Produces films about American history for public broadcasting and DVD sales. The company also does guided tours of Civil War battlefields.

    Who: Lexington attorney Kent Masterson Brown and WTVQ-36 anchor Doug High

    Online: WitnessingHistoryOnline.net

    Most recent film: Henry Clay and the Struggle for the Union, now showing on Kentucky Educational Television. Next showings on KET’s Kentucky Channel are 10 a.m. Sept. 19, and 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., Sept. 24.

    Previous films: Retreat from Gettysburg, Bourbon and Kentucky

    Next project: Two-hour documentary film about Kentucky frontiersman Daniel Boone, to be completed by summer 2012.


Veterans’ sacrifice often continues after wars end

May 28, 2011

The men and women we honor on Memorial Day weekend are not all lost on the battlefield.

Veterans who survive combat too often have been denied care for their damaged bodies and minds. In every war, including the American Revolution, caring for wounded veterans has been a cost this nation’s leaders have been reluctant to pay.

That is the story told in a new book by Lexington authors Robert J. Topmiller and T. Kerby Neill, Binding Their Wounds, America’s Assault on Its Veterans (Paradigm Publishers, $22.95).

Topmiller served as a Navy hospital corpsman with the Marines at Khe Sanh, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. He wrote about his horrific experience in a previous book, Red Clay on My Boots. Topmiller earned a doctorate in history from the University of Kentucky and taught at Eastern Kentucky University.

Binding Their Wounds grew out of Topmiller’s combat experience, his study of the Vietnam War and veterans’ issues, his many trips to Vietnam to help orphans with birth defects likely caused by Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the U.S. military, and his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

But friends think this was a book too painful for Topmiller to finish. In August 2008, he left home with the manuscript, checked into a motel and killed himself. Neill asked Topmiller’s widow and publisher for permission to finish the book.

“I had lunch with Bob about 10 days before he died, and he was talking about the book,” Neill said. “I’m a clinical psychologist and I had no inkling at our lunch that he was in the kind of distress he was in.”

Neill and Topmiller, who was 59 when he died, became friends through their work as peace activists and a shared passion for veterans’ issues. Neill, a Navy veteran and retired psychologist, had worked several years in the Veterans Administration.

Neill finished this book with help from many people, including Peter Berres, a Vietnam veteran and scholar who wrote a chapter about Agent Orange. George Herring, a University of Kentucky historian and leading expert on the Vietnam War, wrote the forward.

After telling Topmiller’s compelling story, this well-written book chronicles the history of broken promises to and mistreatment of America’s veterans. In every war, veterans have had to lobby, protest and even fight to get promised compensation and care from politicians who wanted to save money or “move on.” Minority and women veterans fared even worse than white men.

The book explores the government’s attempts to deny care to veterans exposed to radiation, Agent Orange and other chemical hazards. And it details how the Bush administration was unprepared to care for so many injured soldiers in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today’s combat veterans return home with physical wounds that would have killed previous generations on the battlefield. But perhaps the biggest challenges now, as always, are the unseen wounds.

This psychological damage has gone by different names throughout history: “soldier’s heart” in the Civil War, “shell shock” in World War I, “battle fatigue” in World War II and Korea. Now referred to as “post-traumatic stress,” these injuries have been a huge issue for Vietnam veterans and those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week grilled VA officials about rampant suicide, which has surpassed combat as the leading cause of death among active military personnel. Veterans now account for about 20 percent of the nation’s 30,000 suicides each year.

Neill said significant progress has been made in care for veterans in recent years, from electronic medical records and post-traumatic stress treatment to training and pay for family caregivers. But he said more must be done, despite projections that veterans’ care will push the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan past $3 trillion.

Toward the end of his life, Topmiller seemed more distressed by what was then happening in Iraq than what had happened in Vietnam. “He had hoped we had learned the lesson of wars of choice,” Neill said.

As with any medical issue, the cheapest and most effective treatment is prevention.

That is why Neill focused the book’s last chapter on how to prevent future wars.

War has become too easy, Neill said. Powerful economic interests encourage military adventurism, and an all-volunteer military distances most affluent Americans from the tragic consequences.

“The size of our military and what we invest in it is perhaps one of the reasons we use it so carelessly,” he said.

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Monday is more than just another holiday

May 27, 2011

Monday is Memorial Day, when we honor the men and women who have fought and died in military service to our country. The Bluegrass Military Affairs Coalition has compiled a list of Memorial Day observances this weekend in Kentucky. Click here to find one to attend.

Not all of the military men and women we lose die on the battlefield. In my Sunday column, I will talk with a Kentucky author whose new book explores how poorly this country has treated its veterans — from Congress’ foot-dragging on promised pay and benefits to Continental Army soldiers to poor treatment given to some veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is a painful reminder that we must do better by those from whom we ask so much.


UK’s cutting-edge VisCenter gets sharp, new home

April 4, 2011

Imaging software to unlock secrets from ancient texts. Virtual combat training environments for soldiers. Rear-projection stage sets for operas.

Since its creation seven years ago, the University of Kentucky’s Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments has been developing all kinds of cutting-edge audio and visual technology. Now, it has a cutting-edge building in which to do that work.

The VisCenter recently moved into the new $18.6 million Davis Marksbury Building near Rose and Maxwell streets. It is UK’s first new building to be certified under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards.

The 45,000-square-foot building includes the latest in research facilities, as well an environmentally friendly design and systems that will do everything from manage rainfall runoff to reduce power consumption. Solar panels on the roof will provide about 10 percent of its electricity.

In addition to the VisCenter, the building houses two other departments of the College of Engineering: computer science, and electrical and computer engineering. It is next door to the James F. Hardymon Building, which houses advanced networking research, creating a “digital village” that will make collaboration easier among faculty and students.

“I’m now running into people every day that I wanted to interact with for years, but I never saw them,” said Brent Seales, director of the VisCenter, which previously was downtown in two rented floors of the Kentucky Utilities building.

Collaboration is at the heart of the VisCenter mission. It works throughout the university to help other departments create and commercialize new audio-visual technology that can help train students, improve Kentucky’s economy and generate money for the university.

It has more than a dozen active faculty and about that many staff members. At any given time, it works with about 50 students, from doctoral candidates to a couple of local high schoolers. Its research has ranged far and wide.

Perhaps the most visible project was its collaboration with UK Opera Theatre this winter to create vivid, rear-projection stage set technology for a production of Porgy and Bess. The sets then were rented by The Atlanta Opera for its sold-out production.

Further commercializing that technology could become a financial winner for the university. But Seales also would like to see it used in Kentucky schools to improve student productions.

The center has developed technology to create high-resolution copies of ancient manuscripts, and Seales is hoping to improve on that enough to read Roman papyrus scrolls damaged when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. and buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

That work has led to discussions with Israeli authorities about a project to create high-tech scans of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a system that would allow scholars to compare previous images of them to see how the scrolls have changed over time.

The VisCenter created virtual training environments for the Army, so, for example, soldiers could practice walking down a dark village street in Afghanistan before they faced the real thing.

The center also has an FBI contract to develop microphone beam technology, which would allow sound to be isolated and amplified without a microphone actually having to be close to a subject.

While obviously helpful for surveillance, such technology could have significant commercial applications. For example, it could be used for actors onstage or question-and-answer sessions in an auditorium.

The VisCenter is working on three-dimensional fingerprinting technology for the Department of Homeland Security. It would provide much more accurate biometric information than the old mashed-inky-fingers-on-paper method.

The center’s staff also has produced several highly regarded documentary films, including Coal in Kentucky and Imaging the Iliad.

One major project seeks to create audio-visual technology that would make it easier for surgeons to see body parts they are operating on, as well as to consult long-distances with other physicians. Another project is trying to minimize distractions surgeons face in the operating room. Still another hopes to create visual images of the human vocal system for more accurate diagnosis of voice problems.

“We’ve built a certain niche,” Seales said, which helps the center attract projects from both the academic and business worlds, plus outstanding faculty members and students. “A big part of our mission is to engage the community and, hopefully, inspire innovation.”

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