Sunday, November 30, 2008

Southeast Christian Church

To use the term "Megachurch" to describe Louisville's Southeast Christian Church would be a great understatement. With five enormous buildings on a campus-like plot, their own newspaper, and a weekly attendance of 18,000 people, it's no wonder that Southeast Christian is the 6th largest church in the United States.

The church is often under fire for one reason or another, whether it's gaffes like a pastor's assertion that the 9-11 attacks were "proof of Christianity's superiority", or simple local complaints about the maddening traffic snarls caused by their events. Some have sued over allegations of harassment and assault and attacks by the off-duty cops the church employs as security and traffic directors. Others have merely voiced anger at the church's tactics and their alleged connections to the creepy dominionist movement.

The church has also been attacked by rival pastors and preachers, who charge that Southern Christian's message, style and presentation is far too slick, commercial, and easy-going. Apparently they're just not "fire and brimstone" enough for some people. Many sourpusses don't approve of the spectacular stage shows put on by the church, which are often heavier on music and entertainment than preaching gospel.

Personally, for what it is, I find their glitzy, commercialized approach much more refreshing and far less offensive than the typical dry old "turn to Leviticus and I'll tell you why you're going to hell" routine. (As I type this, the lead blurb on their website announces that "American Idol" finalist Mandisa will be performing there soon.)

I also have to have a certain amount of respect for something that started so small (a tiny building in Hikes Point) and quickly snowballed into something so astonishingly huge. In principle anyway, I tend to support and salute any enterprise that's so audaciously ambitious, even if I don't fully agree with their product. (Especially when it's tax-free.) Like many churches, Southeast Christian does plenty of charitable and beneficial work, such as their current toy drive for children. But unlike most churches, they have the size and added clout to really achieve these goals on a big scale.

The Church complex is especially purty to view from above on Google Maps, as seen above.

Cross My Heart...

Also seen during yesterday's visit to Mt. Tabor Cemetery in Oldham County: this breathtakingly beautiful polished red granite and stained glass cross-and-heart grave marker.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

D.W. Griffith

Early this morning I happened to be driving in Oldham County towards LaGrange, KY on Highway 22, and noticed a cemetery I'd never investigated before. It was a fairly sizable place, adjacent to the Mount Tabor Methodist Church in a small spot-in-the-road called Centerfield. I had my camera in the car, so I pulled over and checked it out.

I've always been a fan of coffin-sized above-ground crypts, so I immediately gravitated to a large one nearby and started taking photos of it.

"Hmmm...David Wark Griffith", I thought to myself as I snapped the pics, "and he died in Hollywood ? Huh. That's interesting."

Gradually it sunk in on me that I was standing at the grave of D.W. Griffith, the famous/infamous silent film director. I had no idea he was even buried in Kentucky, and had sort-of assumed in the back of my mind that he was at Forest Lawn or something.

Then I noticed the Kentucky roadside marker alerting me to what I had already stumbled onto completely by dumb luck. So I'm not the most observant mug on the planet sometimes.; I still hadn't finished my morning Starbucks.

Griffith's entire life was marred, ironically, by his greatest success: the film Birth of a Nation, which caused considerable controversy by giving the KKK an almost heroic treatment, and presenting a highly stereotyped view of African-Americans. So glowing was the film's handling of the subject, that the KKK even used the film as a promotional recruiting film for their cause for the majority of the 20th century. Griffith attempted to make up for the negative publicity and to show that he was no racist, by making the epic film Intolerance.

It wasn't enough, and the bad karma from the previous film dogged him to his grave, and well beyond. In 1953, the Directors Guild of America instituted the D.W. Griffith Award as its highest honor, but then rescinded the name in 1999, changing it simply to the "DGA Lifetime Achievement Award".

Griffith's grave can plainly be seen on Google Maps - notice the large squarish plot at nine o'clock in the above image.

JFK Assassination Conspirators in Kentucky

Something that comes up again and again in JFK conspiracy-theory texts, but is never detailed to my satisfaction, is a report that David Ferrie and Jack S. Martin spent time living in Louisville in the 1950s, ostensibly doing detective work for the Federal Government to investigate and infiltrate a "phony religious order".

But when exactly were they here? Where in Louisville did they stay? And exactly what religious order were they spying on?

Complicating the matter is Jack Martin's later assertion to Jim Garrison that Ferrie had once been a member of a "phony church". Supposedly, Martin was in on the Federal investigation that Ferrie was working on, so why would he try to paint Ferrie as a bonafide member of that same "phony church", years later?

Still complicating it further: we know that Ferrie was openly a priest in the Louisville-based Old Roman Catholic Church of North America (ORCCNA). This is an unapproved offshoot from the Roman Catholic Church, and back in the 50s and 60s was considered by some to be wildly radical for their liberal views and lack of total acceptance of papal infallibility. JFK researcher Peter Wronski called them "a shadowy and highly factionalized heretical sect", which I think is rather unnecessarily dramatic and over-the-top. There are many independent Catholic schism groups out there, and there's nothing wrong with that as far as I can see.

The Catholic Church and the Vatican considered the Old Roman Catholic Church of North America a false church and Ferrie therefore a false priest. Ferrie was later defrocked and kicked out for reasons that are sketchy. A devout Catholic in the conservative 1950s would have certainly have referred to any schism group as a "phony" church, so could the Old Roman Catholic Church of North America indeed be the church Martin spoke of to Garrison? And if so, was this the same church that Ferrie was supposedly infiltrating in Louisville?

Like all JFK-conspiracy matters, it just keeps spiralling off into endless loose threads the more you pick at the fabric:

In 1967, at the request of the New Orleans district attorney's office, the Toronto Police went through Ferrie's old phone records and determined that Ferrie had made seven long distance phone calls from New Orleans to an unlisted number in the 416 area code, which is Toronto. The police traced the number to Earl Anglin Lawrence James, who was - wait for it - a bishop in the Old Roman Catholic Church of North America!

Earl Anglin James vehemently insisted he knew no one in New Orleans, and in fact, had only ever received one call from New Orleans in his entire life: "in March 1965 and it was from Mr. J. S. Martin. It was personal." J.S. Martin? As in Jack S. Martin himself, Ferrie's partner in the Louisville investigation?

Bishop James, incidentally, has been removed from the line of apostolic succession on the official ORCCNA site's list, but the original lineup can be found here and here.

(If you don't know what the heck any of this means, or who David Ferrie, Jack Martin and Jim Garrison are, jump in here or check out Oliver Stone's film JFK, in which Ferrie is played masterfully by Joe Pesci.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sonny Landham

Submitted for your consideration, the puzzling case of Sonny Landham of Ashland, KY:

  • 1974-1979: Sonny was in Z-grade porno films such as Slippery When Wet and Big Abner (an X-rated parody of the hillbilly comic strip Li'l Abner.) "I made those movies, and did I make the wrong choice," he later told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Yeah, I did. But at the time I was trying to make it as an actor, and I needed the money, and those movies paid well."

  • 1979: Sonny makes a transition to more serious films, starting with a small part in the cult classic The Warriors.

  • 1980s: Throughout the Eighties, Sonny racks up a pretty respectable climb to minor stardom. He scores small roles in big films like 48 Hrs., Southern Comfort, Poltergeist, and Action Jackson. He even obtains substantial roles in Firewalker with Chuck Norris, Lock Up with Sylvester Stallone and Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also guest stars in such big TV shows as The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Miami Vice and The Fall Guy.

  • 1990s: The next decade wasn't so kind to Sonny. Although he lands roles in films that are technically much higher quality than his 80s output, there are no commercial smashes. In 1996, he directs and stars in the well-made "Billy Lone Bear" alongside Frank Stallone. In 1998, he is convicted of three counts of making threatening telephone calls to his ex-wife during a bitter custody fight.

  • 2000: While in prison, Sonny sues toymaker Galoob for personal identity infringement because of a toy "Micro Machines" figurine of his "Billy" character from Predator. He lost the suit for several legal reasons, not the least of which being that Twentieth Century Fox indisputedly owns the character of "Billy". The judge noted "Because the toy is only 1.5 inches tall and has no eyes or mouth, it bears no personal resemblance to Landham."

  • 2001: After almost three years of being wrongly incarcerated in Federal prison, Sonny was victorious in getting his conviction quashed on appeal. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in reversing the conviction, scolded the prosecutor by stating in its decision, "Landham committed no crime.....This matter should not have been brought to trial."

  • 2003: Sonny ran - but lost - in the Republican Party primary for Governor of Kentucky, apparently hoping lightning would strike a third time after his Predator co-stars Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to political careers.

  • 2005: Sonny forms the Sonny Landham Foundation with Roger Thoney. (Landham and Thoney both would later attend the controversial Council of Conservative Citizens meeting in Louisville, and also put out a truly frightening ultra-right-wing DVD called America Under Attack.)

  • 2006: Sonny lost control of a rented 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser and crashed into a taxicab while driving in downtown Ashland. Police said Sonny was not wearing a seat belt, which caused his head to strike his windshield even though the air bag had deployed. He was treated at King’s Daughters Medical Center for his head injuries.

  • 2008: On June 25, Sonny announced his Libertarian candidacy for Mitch McConnell's U.S. Senate seat. Just one month later, he made extreme racial slurs against Arabs.

    Sonny Landham: If I had my way, I would stop Arabs coming into this country. And I would take all, uh, non citizens of the United States, finger printing them, and having a complete background check before they set foot into this country.

    Matt Cavedon: How about Lebanese Christians and Arabs who aren’t Muslims?

    Sonny Landham: What did I just say? All people. I said no Arabs into this country.

    Three days later, Kentucky Libertarians voted unanimously to withdraw Landham's nomination, citing his comments were not in keeping with the party's values.

    It's unclear what Sonny's future plans are at this point. Part of me feels sorry for him, because of the raw deal he got by being unfairly imprisoned, and because he really is a charismatic actor and coulda been a contender in Hollywood if only he'd gotten the chance to do more leading roles. However, there's just no getting around the massive atrocity of his ultra-right-wing statements against minorities. If I were in charge of his PR campaign, I would advise him to claim temporary insanity caused by the head injury, and then make the mother of all public apologies for his racist remarks.

    Apologizing just doesn't seem like Sonny's style, though.
  • The Louisville Sewer Explosions of 1981

    On Friday the 13th, Feb. 13, 1981, a series of powerful underground explosions shook downtown Louisville. Cars were sent flying through the air, parts of buildings collapsed, streets buckled inward, manhole covers popped off with deadly velocity. Many people's bathrooms exploded into fountains of sewage.

    Pedestrians were terrified that an earthquake was taking place. Still others believed it was the end of the world, as a sulphurous sewage stench filled the air all over town. Raw sewage began to fill some streets, three feet high and rising.

    It was determined that the reason Louisville's sewer lines had exploded was because someone had been dumping massive amounts of Hexane into the public sewers. That someone turned out to be the Floyd Street Ralston-Purina plant southeast of U of L's campus, which was using Hexane to remove oil from soybeans (And that in itself is a frightening thought for a number of reasons).

    Although battered by an onslaught of lawsuits holding them responsible for millions of dollars worth of damage, Ralston-Purina paid up and continued to operate the plant until Fall 1984, when it sold out the Floyd Street plant to Cargill. After that, other Ralston-Purina plants in the area began to be sold off until 1997 when they were all gone and Ralston-Purina no longer had a Jefferson County presence.

    I'm not sure if anyone else has ever vocalized this thought before, but it occurs to me that Louisville's ongoing stinky-sewer problem could be a direct result of lingering structural damage caused by Ralston-Purina's negligence. Is it too late to go back and shake 'em down for more money?

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    Corner Service Station

    In the 1950s Corner Service Station was a thriving garage and grocery at the halfway point between Lancaster and Richmond on Highway 52. It died out in the 1980s, then was revived for awhile as King's Corner Store.... but, as Neil Diamond says, "that died too". Now it's a desolate relic filled with garbage coated with bird droppings, or at least it was when I took these photos a few years ago.

    I don't understand why these kind of places die out. At the time these photos were taken, there was no other kind of grocery or quickie-mart around for miles, and there hadn't been in quite some time. And yet, there are a lot of people that live out here.... don't these people need snacks, soda, and scratch-offs, fer gosh sakes??

    As an aficionado of old mom-and-pop grocery stores, even dead ones hold my interest, especially ones that are still so intact and hold such mythic resonance. Has anyone been way out Lancaster Road lately and noticed what's become of this place?

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Bowling Green Sky Filled with UFOs

    In September, MUFON had a report about a gentleman in Bowling Green claiming that fleets of UFOs were flying about his barn and had been doing so regularly since June. According to the report:

    "I am a MUFON Section Director and a Certified Field Investigator. It was Friday the 5 of Sept at about 12 noon when I receive a Phone call at my home from a gentleman which will remain unnamed at this time.

    He was speaking fast and seem very excited He told me that he had talked to a person in TX that gave him my name and told him about the MUFON website. He said I have photos of hundreds of Ufo's that he has taken over his house and barn since July of 2008, Some of fleets and some of vehicles every large and wide. He said he has seen some with his eye and some only after taking a photo of the sky do they appear in the photo. He thinks there in the gamma or something. He has shown them to his neighbors and he told me they freak out. He called the State Police which came to his house and they told him they had never seen anything like this before, and also mentioned to him about contacting MUFON.

    Now, he would like MUFON to come investigate and see his Photo evidence collection. Before something happens to them. He wanted me to come right away, that night if possible. I told him I would come but not tonight. I wanted to bring others with me to investigate he's claims and that I would call him back with a date and time. He said that would be fine. So I called the KY MUFON State Director and left him a message. The State Director called me back later that afternoon. While I was talking with the State Director about this case, The guy calls me back, I put the State Director on hold and talk to the guy. He says Listen to me I have just taken a picture with about 50 UFO in it flying over my home. He was very excited and told me listen do you have a digital camera. I said yes, He said run out right now and take a photo of the sky looking north toward Louisville. There coming your way, you won’t see anything with your eyes but take a photo anyway, I said ok, He said I mean it, I’m not crazy. Do it so you can see I’m telling the truth. I hung up with him and went back to the State Director who was still holding. I told the State Director what the guy had said to me. And we both thought I should go out and do what he asked. So,I put the State Director on hold again went outside with the camera in tow to my back yard, looking northwest toward Louisville the sky was totally grey and overcast. I didn’t see anything with my eyes but, I took a picture as instructed and went back inside to talk to the State Director, I took out the SD card from the camera and put it into the my computer then said Holly Sh*t, Still on the phone with the State Director He asked me to email the photo to him. I waited on the phone till he received it. Then the State Director looked at and had the same comment I did, the State Director counted 53 Ufo a fleet as he called it.
    Boy, Now to say the least, this was not turning out to be your typical average day for a Section Director and a State Director here in KY MUFON.

    I live in Bowling Green, KY which is South Of Louisville. Since I didn’t see these with my naked eye. I can’t tell you the Direction they where moving, But since he told me they were heading my way which is south of him and he does live near Louisville. So I would say they were moving southward toward me and the camera, Please note as you look at each object all are exactly straight up and down that is odd to me. Also odd to me is the fact he told me he saw about 50 in his picture and oddly we counted 53 in the one I took. As I said there was nothing in the sky when I took this picture and I heard no sounds and it wasn't raining. And If these were geese or birds I would have seen them with my naked eye and not taken the photo. I would have watch there flight path 1st to determine what they where. Also there were no Nat's flying around me at the time either. I took this photo with a Kodak Easyshare C643 - 6.1 megapixel With a Kodak AF 3X Optical Aspheric lens 36mm – 108mm (equivalent) it has an automatic lens cover and the lens was clean. and I was looking at the screen when I took the photo and didn't see anything but the overcast grey sky. The only thing I wish, was that there would have been an other object in the photo like a tree or something for size and depth, But I didn't do that just shot the open grey overcast sky.

    We are currently playing phone tag with the gentleman that contacted me. So I have not seen the picture he took the same day before he called me as of yet. The KY MUFON State Director is also currently coordinating other KY MUFON Field Investigators to investigate his other claims and accompany us to his home to interview him and see his other photographs."

    The above is a direct cut and paste - all misspellings, typos, and sentences that make no sense whatsoever are from the original MUFON source.

    Photos of these alleged aliens are here. Seems to me that these UFOs look an awful lot like birds or bats, and no one has given any good reason why we should not think that they are.

    Louisville Threatened With Lawsuit Over Grinch Display

    From the Associated Press:

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There will be no Who-ville in Louisville this Christmas.

    The city of Louisville is scrapping plans to use the iconic Dr. Seuss village and characters as part of its annual Christmas display after receiving a cease and desist letter from Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

    "It appears these lawyers' hearts are two sizes too small," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said.

    Barbara J. Orr, the San Diego, Calif., attorney who sent the letter, did not immediately return a Monday afternoon phone call seeking comment.

    The city had planned to use "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" as part of its theme for the annual Light Up Louisville holiday celebration. The display called for an area called "LouWhoVille," complete with costumed characters from the Dr. Seuss classic such as Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch.

    But the cease-and-desist letter from the law firm DLA Piper, which represents Dr. Seuss Enterprises, said the "Who-ville" name and image, as well as the Grinch, are copyrighted and cannot be used without permission.

    The letter demanded the city and the Louisville Convention and Visitors' Bureau halt any use of the characters for the Christmas display and agree not to use the characters in the future without permission. It threatened legal action if the city and tourism bureau did not comply.

    Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Abramson, said the city complied with the request and renamed the display "Lou-ville."

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Burning Springs

    Back in the glory days when Kentucky was being explored by Europeans in the 1600s, the early settlers were dazzled by natural gas vents in the Earth, also known as "burning springs". I'm not sure if history records how someone first figured out there was highly flammable gas spewing from these vents, but if a frontiersman bearing a torch happened to walk up to one, I'm sure what happens next would be quite a shock!

    Today, Kentucky still has a town named for one such gas vent: Burning Springs, KY in Clay County. Burning Springs was once a bustling place, but its post office closed in 1965 and it's currently listed as an unincorporated community. According to Robert Rennick's "Kentucky Place Names" book:

    "A very early settlement, it was named for the ignitable springs of natural gas, in seemingly inexhaustible supply, discovered before 1800 at several sites in the area."

    Another Kentucky burning spring was in Magoffin County, which dried up in 1900 after being tapped by an oil & gas company in the 1880s. Today the small community named Burning Fork is a remnant of those days. This spring was a literal spring of water, which emitted from the ground mixed with the natural gas. According to "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt:

    A spring here breaks out at the foot of a hill, forming a basin of water about six feet in diameter and two feet deep, at the bottom of which issues a stream of gas, which in volume and force is about equal to the blast forced from a common smith's bellows; but there is no cessation of its force, which is such as to create a violent ebullition in the water. Being heavier than common atmospheric air, the gas, on passing up through the water, constantly occupies the surface, which is still the lower part of an indenture in the earth at that place. On presenting a taper, this gas instantly takes fire, and burns with great brilliancy.

    Yet another one was near Beaver Creek in Floyd County, mentioned by Lewis Collins in 1847 his "Historical Sketches of Kentucky". According to Collins, the local gas vent was known as a "place of notoriety" to the early residents of Floyd County, and marveled at how the site "instantly ignites on the application of fire".

    Kentucky's Eyeless Cave Creatures

    The Kentucky cave shrimp, known to biologists as Palaemonias ganteri, is probably our state's most famous weird critter. It's most often referred to in casual company as "blind cave shrimp", but I've always thought of that as something of a misnomer. "Blind" seems to imply that it has eyes that cannot see, but Palaemonias ganteri actually has no eyes at all.

    It's classified as a troglobite, which is a term for life forms that have become so adapted to cave life that they couldn't exist anywhere else. A true troglobite is, by definition, eyeless.

    Palaemonias ganteri is found only in three places on Earth, all three of which are Kentucky caves. It's been registered as an endangered species since 1983, mainly due to contaminated groundwater. In 1980 a truck hauling deadly cyanide salts overturned on I-65 near Mammoth Cave and very nearly destroyed the entire fragile ecosystem.

    In addition to eyeless shrimp, Kentucky caves are very well known for their eyeless crayfish, such as Orconectes pellucidus and Orconectes inermis inermis, as well as other special Kentucky-only crayfish species as Orconectes jeffersoni which can only be found in one place on Earth: Beargrass Creek in Louisville.

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Pete "Buckhorn" Gross

    The interesting characters, past and present, that have populated Madison County's downtown area (especially the bars and pool halls) could fill an entire book or an entire blog all to themselves. (And sooner or later, I will do just that. All in time.) I know, or have known, men of mythic grandeur who walked the streets of Richmond bearing sobriquets such as Pee Wee, Peanut, Beech-nut, Shorty, Wavy, Popsicle, and Buckhorn.

    The mysterious and often inscrutable Buckhorn, now deceased, was a good friend of mine, loved by all who knew him in Madison County. And just about everybody knew him.

    In the 80s and 90s, if you drove kids to school in the mornings or got up early for work, you probably heard his morning radio show on Richmond's WEKY-AM. His avant-garde rendition of "Happy Birthday To You" was a notorious local hit of sorts, and kept the station console's VU meters laying in the red. Often people would call in fraudently claiming it was their birthday, just to hear the man belt it out, his way, one more time.

    He gained great notoriety for zipping all over town on his motorcycle (and usually ignoring all traffic laws). It's doubtful Buckhorn even had a license, but he had a sort of a "Jedi Mind Trick" aura around him that made everyone just accept it. He was befriended by everyone from bankers to farmers in his day to day travels, and college students revered him as the eccentric custodian at several local bars as they closed each night.

    However, Buckhorn’s true glory lay on two other fronts:

    First and foremost, Buckhorn was the quintessential wheeler-dealer. Buckhorn always had something to sell, and like "Skinny" in the famous Residents song, Buckhorn sold something every single day. He would swagger into Taylor's Billiards, open up his coat to reveal an entire store inside, like a bad old movie's "wanna buy a watch?" street hustler. He had watches, coins, pocket knives (Case XX ones were his favorite), old collectible cigarette lighters, antique silver cigarette cases, etc. All day long Buckhorn sped on his cycle from flea market to bar to junk store to pool hall, endlessly buying and selling like a one-man pawn shop a-go-go.

    And secondly, Buckhorn had a special place in his heart for radios. He loved to fix, repair and restore antique radios, and proof of his occult powers is the fact that he repaired them often, and repaired them quite well, even though he knew little or nothing about the fundamentals of electronics except what he had taught himself through trial and error, and had little formal education (he apparently could not read or write, at least not very well).

    "I just wuk on 'em till they do right," Buckhorn said of his repair technique. He had a huge collection of old tubes and parts, but his methods for choosing appropriate replacement ones for radios were a cryptic, mysterious, spiritual matter, the mechanisms of which were known only to himself. He usually polished his tubes until the serial numbers were worn off anyway. And yet he conjured and coaxed new life into dead radios. How he did it remains a mystery. "Wal, I reckon it's got that Buckhorn Quietus on it," he would say when a piece was finished.

    For those who did not have the opportunity to hear Buckhorn's voice, it was a powerful thing: a deep-south Louisiana-like upwardly-lilting drawl utterly out of place for someone who'd never left Kentucky in his life, creaky and full of character like a merging of William S.Burroughs, Justin Wilson and Emo Phillips. Add to this the trait of repeating some words and phrases twice, and a delightfully squeaky and childish laugh that clashed with his rough, grizzled appearance.

    Buckhorn died on his motorcycle in an accident in 1997. The story is told, whether apocryphal or not, that he smashed into a lamppost in an effort to swerve and avoid a young girl who walked directly in front of his motorcycle's path.

    Some video footage of Buckhorn was preserved on a short project done by an EKU student for a class in the early 90s. I have a copy - probably the only copy - and will put it on YouTube eventually as a tribute to Buckhorn's memory. Stay tuned.

    Weird Kentucky Returns to Joseph-Beth

    Jeffrey Scott Holland will make a return appearance at Lexington's Joseph-Beth bookstore on December 6th, from 2pm to 4pm, signing copies of his new book Weird Kentucky, released earlier this summer. For more information, contact PR/Events coordinator Brooke Raby or The Superfrothco Agency.

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Kentucky Reptile Zoo

    There are several places to check out cool snakes in the Red River Gorge area, but the Kentucky Reptile Zoo is by far the biggest and the best. Animals on exhibit here include cobras, vipers, rattlesnakes, and an 18 foot reticulated python. Not to mention an alligator named Fluffy.

    If snakes - serious snakes, scary snakes (like, so venomous that you could drop dead just looking at them) are too intense for you, then this place probably isn't your cup of bourbon. But they do have some really cool turtles and tortoises too. The zoo is at 1275 Natural Bridge Road in Slade.

    Seen here is a video from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo's YouTube archives, of Malayan Pit Viper eggs hatching.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Lexington Google Glitch Revisited

    Earlier this month, we reported on an odd blurred spot on a Google Maps image of Lexington. A reader has pointed out that the Yahoo Maps image of the corresponding coordinates, as seen above, is unblurred. It's still most likely just a random accidental digital artifact; but it is interesting to note that the glitch just happens to neatly obscure these two houses, as well as the short turn-off road that services these two specific homes.

    Curiouser still, this road doesn't show up on Google when you put the image in "map" mode, but it does on Yahoo. Now mind you, digital glitches do show up on Google's satellite images from time to time, and mistakes do happen on Google's map images, but that the obscuring of this road should occur simultaneously by accident on this very spot in both images from their satellite source and from their map source, well, now that is very odd indeed.

    Meh. Still probably nothing.

    The Yahoo Maps are also noticeably more recent than their Google counterparts. Numerous new housing developments have been built in the area that don't show up on the Google images.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Mystery Multi-sign

    I took this photo several years ago - like maybe around 2003 - and for the life of me, I can't remember where. I'm thinking maybe Clark County? Does anyone recognize it?

    Radar Controlled Sign in Ravenna

    I always found this sign on U.S. 52 in Ravenna amusing, because my first reaction to it has always been that it's warning pedestrians not to speed. I'm easily amused.

    This is the same stretch of road, incidentally, where many of our cherished Estill County religious billboards can be found.

    Remains of Tombstone Junction

    Just for a moment, let's turn our minds back to Corbin's late and lamented tourist attraction Tombstone Junction.

    Tombstone Junction simulated a down-and-dirty western town, right down to the actual functioning in-house railroad and grimy train-robber actors who never broke character. It's always been one of our most popular entries on the old site, and now two readers have forwarded us brand new photographs of it - or rather, the spot where it used to be. All that remains of Tombstone Junction is apparently an empty parking lot, one crumbling shack, and some decaying bits of what once was their billboard.

    Photos above by Jonathan Meadows, and photo below by Adam Sulfridge. Thanks to both gentlemen for their contribution and their enthusiasm.

    For more information about Tombstone Junction, consult your copy of Weird Kentucky, page 160.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Kentucky KKK ordered to pay $2.5 Million

    A few days ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center won a $2.5. million dollar verdict against a Kentucky-based Ku Klux Klan group for the brutal beating of 16-year-old Jordan Gruver.

    Gruver was attending the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg (a small town located right outside Fort Knox) when he was attacked by IKA (Imperial Klans of America) Klansmen who were there to hand out KKK recruiting leaflets. According to the SPLC's website:

    The jury deliberated for nearly seven hours before delivering the verdict against IKA Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards and two former IKA members, Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins, both of whom served two years in state prison for assaulting Gruver. The SPLC earlier reached settlements with Watkins and one other Klansman.

    The verdict included $1.5 million in compensatory damages — apportioned among Edwards, Hensley and Watkins — and $1 million in punitive damages against Edwards.

    The SPLC argued in court that the Edwards and the IKA incited the racial hatred that led to the attack at the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg in July 2006.

    Several Klansmen were at the fair on a recruiting mission when they spotted Gruver, who is a U.S. citizen of Panamanian descent. They threw whisky in his face and called him a "spic." Gruver, who stood 5-foot-3 and weighed just 150 pounds at the time, was surrounded, beaten to the ground and kicked by the Klansmen, one of whom was 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. He was left with a broken jaw and arm, two cracked ribs and multiple cuts. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and has permanent arm and jaw injuries.

    During the trial, the SPLC demonstrated how the IKA and Edwards fostered an atmosphere of hate and violence. The IKA's compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., is home to Nordic Fest, an annual music festival that brings together Klansmen, skinheads and members of other violent hate groups.

    Edwards and Hensley's numerous tattoos were visible during the courtroom proceedings, including "Fuck S.P.L.C." [Southern Poverty Law Center], "Death to ZOG" [Zionist-occupied government] and "Aryan Justice." Hensley has the word “violence” tattooed on his knuckles, “murder” on his neck, and a swastika on his arm.

    According to their own websites, the Kentucky IKA has taken part in Louisville meetings with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a frightening group which are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun:

    "Members of the IKA including an Imperial Officer attended the June 16-17 Council of Conservative Citizens conference in Louisville, Kentucky. There were many exemplary speakers at this event (Don Black, Paul Fromm, Sam Dickson, Col. Robt. Slimp, Dr. Ed Fields, James Edwards, Dr. Brent Nelson, Kevin Lamb, and others) and there was music to enjoy as well. Don't let the word "Conservative" or the formal attire give you the wrong idea – these gentlemen aren't your typical conservative buffoons. The speeches given were absolutely revolutionary and quite informative. The IKA made many important contacts networking at the conference which will prove beneficial to future endeavors."

    The IKA's Kentucky compound had previously been raided in 1999 by the FBI, the ATF, and the Kentucky State Police, and Edwards made a bizarre rant about it on his website here.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm. Today, SPLC is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists and its tracking of hate groups. You can help support them with your donations by clicking here.

    Thought Screen Helmet

    I first encountered Michael Menkin's Stop Alien Abductions site many years ago, and it doesn't seem to have changed much since then. The site offers instructions for a crudely conceived idea called a "Thought Screen Helmet" which somehow is supposed to protect you from alien abductions by wearing it on your head. According to the site:

    The thought screen helmet scrambles telepathic communication between aliens and humans. Aliens cannot immobilize people wearing thought screens nor can they control their minds or communicate with them using their telepathy. When aliens can't communicate or control humans, they do not take them.

    The thought screen helmet has effectively stopped several types of aliens from abducting or controlling humans. Only two failures from standard thought screen helmets have been reported since 1998 for people being abducted by aliens themselves. A third failure in 2005 was from a cloth helmet with a smaller area of Velostat which had a Velcro strap which was easily removed by an alien-human hybrid.

    A fourth failure in 2007 was with a frail woman who had her helmet removed by two alien-human hybrids who snuck up behind her, tackled her and forcedly removed it. The helmet still works for people being abducted by aliens, but not by their alien-human hybrids who are now integrating into our societies.

    I recall emailing the webmaster of this site around 2001 or so, inquiring how the helmet can protect the human brain from alleged telepathic control when it doesn't cover the entire head. Such "telepathic rays", if they really did exist, would be just as able to go through a person's face as the top of their head. In fact, it would be far easier for these rays to penetrate the face, because of the openings in the skull. The response I received was a very angry, hurt, lashing-out rant (in all capital letters) telling me I was obviously an idiot who knew nothing about the complex ways in which the alien-human hybrid conspiracy technology really worked. Okay, fair enough.

    The photo shown here is one of Menkin's satisfied customers, captioned "Alien Abductee from Kentucky wearing a Thought Screen Helmet", and bearing this endorsement:

    "Since trying Michael Menkin's Helmet, I have not been bothered by alien mind control. Now my thoughts are my own. I have achieved meaningful work and am contributing to society. My life is better than ever before. Thank you Michael for the work you are doing to save all humanity."

    Cold Case File: Hands and Feet Removed

    From the Kentucky State Police Cold Case Files:

    Cold Case of Unknown White Male - Body found January 7, 1990.

    Victim: Unknown white male, 5'6" to 5'7", 125—140 pounds, brown hair, eyes are possibly blue, hands and feet severed and were missing.

    Location: 2 1/2 miles Northwest of Philpot, Daviess County, Kentucky.

    Unidentified white male homicide victim was found nude, shot six (6) times, hands and feet severed. Victim had been severely beaten, some teeth knocked out. Hands and feet were never located and victim has never been identified.

    Detectives are requesting help from the community or anyone who might have information on the Murder of Unknown White Male - 2. Anyone with information can contact the case officers Lt. Pat Isbill, Sgt. Jason Kirk, or Det. Marc Carter with the Kentucky State Police Post 16 Henderson, Kentucky at (270)-826-3312 or e-mail them at Lt. Pat Isbill, Sgt. Jason Kirk, or Det. Marc Carter.

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Big Bone Lick

    Big Bone Lick, so named because of the Pleistocene megafauna fossils found there, is one of Northern Kentucky's most popular attractions. The mammoths and other creatures are believed to have been drawn to this location by a prehistoric salt lick. Although the area is quite beautiful, and the fossils on display are amazing (including a 1,000 pound Mastodon skull), Big Bone Lick's primary claim to fame for most would seem to be the double-entendre of its name.

    The Big Bone Lick state park is located in the small town of Big Bone in Boone County.

    Lexington to Louisville in Under Five Minutes

    I can't really fault someone for going to all the trouble to video a dashboard view of the drive from Lexington to Louisville and then speeding it up to 15 times faster, giving the impression of traveling at the speed of sound (approximately 750-825 miles per hour), because I've done a lot more pointless things in my time.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    T.C.'s Tombstone

    Pictured here is a primitive homemade grave marker in Madison County's Richmond Cemetery, bearing only the initials "T.C." spelled out in marbles. The rest of the grave is decorated in a folk-art mosaic of broken soda pop and Milk of Magnesia bottles.

    You can find T.C.'s grave by veering all the way left after entering the cemetery's front gates, and following the path that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. (The grave of Walter Tevis is on this same path as well.)

    The Nameless Grocery

    This grocery store is located in Wildie, KY, Rockcastle county. It bears no sign and has no name, and gives no indication that it is in business of any sort, aside from the Pepsi machine on the front porch. Last time we were inside the store, there was actually very little for sale except a rack of snack cakes, some bread and produce, and some soda. The store is often full of old-timers sitting around talking conspiratorially. I dug it.

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Natasha Cornett's Satanic Cult

    What is it about Kentucky that seems to foster crew after crew of dangerous teenage Goth-loser-wannabe occultists? In 1998 the activities of yet another gang of self-styled spawns of Satan made national headlines, as 19-year-old Natasha Cornett and her Pikeville posse pleaded guilty to a triple homicide.

    In April 1997, Vidar and Delfina Lillelid, along with their 6-year-old daughter Tabitha, were driving home from a Jehovah's Witnesses event when they stopped at a highway rest area. It was here that they were accosted by Cornett and her Korn-listening kooks. The entire family was later found, shot to death, in a ditch along a dark rural gravel road a few miles away.

    The gang - Natasha Cornett, 19, Crystal Sturgill, 18, Karen Howell, 18, Jason Blake Bryant, 15, Dean Mullins, 20, and Joe Risner, 21 - were caught and arrested near the Arizona-Mexican border a few days later, driving the stolen Lillilid family van.

    In police custody, Cornett declared herself to be "the daughter of Satan", and confessed to a blood-letting satanic ritual at the Colley Motel in Pikeville. Self-mutilation was a key part of the sect's activities, and when arrested, Cornett had around 20 cuts on her right arm and around 50 on her left. The group believed that communication with Satan was only possible during these self-cutting rituals.

    Cornett also confessed that it had been the group's intent to carry out a cross-country murder spree, and specifically named the film "Natural Born Killers" as an influence.

    A documentary about the kids, entitled Six, is available on DVD. The film raises a number of disturbing points, such as the fact that Cornett had previously been committed to the Charter Ridge mental hospital in Lexington and diagnosed as bipolar and dangerous, yet was released because she had no insurance.

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Little Enis

    For many of us, our first exposure to the lore of Carlos "Little Enis" Toadvine came by way of Ed McClanahan's great book Famous People I Have Known. In it, McClanahan devotes an entire chapter to the memory of the less-than-famous Toadvine, and started a posthumous legend for the man that just keeps snowballing today.

    When I first got hooked up to 'teh interwebs' in the 90s, there was zero information to be found on this elusive mystery man, reknowned for his Elvis impersonations and his idiosyncratic guitar-picking method. Enis was left handed but did not restring his guitar to accomodate this; he simply learned the chords as-is. And instead of gripping the guitar from beneath the neck and biting down on the strings, he "walked" on the strings from above, in a sort of tapping technique that predated Eddie Van Halen.

    Today, however, the beauty of the internet age is that even Carlos Toadvine gets his day in the cyber sun, and there's a fantastic site called Gary's Country that gives the man the treatment he deserves. There's photographs galore, many of them straight from the Toadvine family albums, and best of all - mp3 files!

    Enis' peculiar country-rockabilly act played an important part in Lexington's local music history, being a regular at the Zebra Lounge, the Continental Inn, The Palms, and someplace called "The Night Light". Does anyone know where in Lexington this alley is that he's sitting in the above photo?

    The Vest-Lindsey House

    There's been reports that the Vest-Lindsey House, located at 401 Wapping Street in Frankfort, is haunted by the ghost of George Graham Vest.

    I'm not sure how these ghostly identifications end up getting made. Did a ghost say, "hello, I'm George Vest"? Did an eyewitness recognize an apparition as resembling that of Vest's old photos? Or - more likely - did someone hear a weird noise late one night and decide that all of the people who occupied the home over the years, it must logically be the ghost of its most famous occupant, back to haunt his boyhood home for reasons known only to himself?

    Of course, this whole area of Frankfort is filled with spooky old haunted historic homes, and I am not of the opinion that a ghost is required to stick to his own turf. I'm sure the area is crawling with spirits at any given time, but who knows whose they really are, where they're going, or what they're up to.

    Vest himself was an interesting character, at any rate. As an attorney, he risked his life to defend a young African-American man from bogus murder charges. The man was acquitted, but a local lynch mob burned him at the stake anyway. Yet as a statesman, Vest sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War and became a Confederate State Senator for Missouri.

    Today, Vest is most remembered for having coined the phrase "a dog is man's best friend" during the Burden v. Hornsby trial, defending a man whose hunting dog, "Old Drum", was shot and killed by a landowner on whose property the dog had trespassed.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Deb Hyer, The One Man Band

    Whoa Nelly! I just stumbled upon an eBay auction for a strange hitherto unknown-to-me record by one Deb Hyer, on the great Lexington LEMCO label. Lemco flourished from, I believe, the late 50s to the mid 70s. It's a safe bet that Hyer, like most of Lemco's artists, is Kentuckian, and I'm highly intrigued by his "One Man Band" act.

    And lo and behold, a Google search shows that some enterprising soul with a taste for the obscure is offering a RAR file of the album online.

    But I'm obsessed now and want more actual information about Mr. Hyer. Who the hell is he? Is he still alive? Why was he named "Deb"? Does a treasure trove of unreleased tapes exist??

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    PBS Piece Now Online

    The recent KET/PBS segment on Louisville Life about yours truly is now available on the web via streaming video by clicking here. I was powerfully hung over during the seated interview portions, having closed the place down at Seviche Goose Creek the night before. There was supposed to have been a day of shooting footage at the Pope Lick trestles, but that fell through because of my car exploding in my face last month, after which I spent a couple weeks hiding from the world, doing nothing but zoning out on the couch eating gelato and watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

    Producer Jayne McClew did a great job with the piece, though, especially considering how little I gave her to work with. I'm also glad I managed to work in lots of opportunities to show footage of the Mellwood Art Center.

    The Florence Water Tower

    For some reason, millions of people have been enthralled and captivated by the fact that this water tower in Florence, KY bears the nonsequitur "Florence Y'all". I remember that as a child, I was too - I remember seeing it at a young age, probably shortly after the sign on the tower had first been painted. Maybe it's a false memory, but I seem to remember there being no apostrophe on the tower's "y'all" back then.

    According to local legend, the sign originally said "Florence Mall" but supposedly had to be changed to avoid violating some sort of signage-zoning law that forbade business advertisements being of a certain height. Another rumor states that the sign was actually a mistake that the city couldn't afford to immediately correct, and by the time they could, it had become a popular attraction all its own. (It was a simpler time in the 1970s!)

    I won't go so far as to try to debunk these rumors, but I will note that some things sure strike me as odd. If, as the official version of the story goes, the apostrophe was added when changing the word MALL to Y'ALL, it sure is strange that a space exists between the Y and A to accommodate said apostrophe, one that should not be there if things are as we are told.

    The official story also says the sides of the M were whited out to create a Y, but I'm just not seeing that when I look at the Y; it would have been an odd M indeed. Finally, the word "Y'all" is already slightly off-center to the left, but if the Y had once been an M and taken up additional space in so doing, it would have been even more off-center to begin with.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    The Southgate House

    Newport's Southgate House is a historic old edifice that is currently home to a rock club that has a strong reputation for being one of the region's best.

    It also has something of a reputation of being haunted, but this is not so strong and not so well-founded. Reports on the web are sketchy and among people I've made inquiries to in person, most are of a highly anecdotal type: "Dude, a friend of mine said he saw a beer bottle fall over by itself", and so forth. If someone has some
    seriously detailed and verifiable reports of paranormal hauntings, I'd love to hear them.

    According to the bar's website, the Southgate House story is drenched with historical goodies: built in 1814, it has hosted Abraham Lincoln, John Taliaferro Thompson (he was born here, in fact) and troops of General Sherman's soldiers on their way to fight in the Texan War for Independence.

    You can find the Southgate House at 24 East 3rd street, Newport, KY.

    John Taliaferro Thompson

    The "Tommy Gun", or Thompson Machine Gun, was invented by a Kentuckian: John T. Thompson, who attended Indiana University in Bloomington before going on to a military career. The Thompson gun was popular among everyone - soldiers, civilians, police and criminals - because of its compactness, portability, large .45 caliber, and extremely high rate of automatic fire. Although rendered somewhat unrealistically in many Hollywood films, the Coen Brothers classic Miller's Crossing does a great job of demonstrating the characteristics of how the Thompson gun operates.

    In 1904, President Roosevelt and his Chief of Army Ordnance William Crozier gave Thompson, along with Major Louis Anatole LaGarde of the Medical Corps, the mission to scientifically investigate which caliber guns performed the best. At the Nelson Morris Company Union Stockyards in Chicago, Thompson and LaGarde tested several types of handguns and ammo by firing them into human cadavers and live cattle. Cows that took too long to die after being shot were put down by a hammer blow to the head.

    The Thompson-LaGarde Cadaver Tests of 1904 are today regarded as barbaric and completely unscientific. In fact, according to this site, Thompson and LaGarde fudged the data to give the desired result to their superiors.

    Thompson's submachine gun was greatly popular with gangsters in the 20s and 30s, known in the underworld as a "chopper" or "Chicago Typewriter". The gun became standard issue for the U.S. Army in World War II.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Google Maps Glitch in Lexington?

    This is probably just a digital glitch, since there's certainly nothing relating to national security that would make anyone want to censor out this little area near Jacobson Park in Lexington.

    Then again, such things do happen. The territory inside Washington D.C.'s Observatory Circle have been digitally dulled down for Dick Cheney's protection (he lives there). A construction site for a new American embassy is, for some reason, considered off limits. And this blurry spot in Russia has stirred some speculation.

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    They Put Them Up, I Take Them Down

    A recent rant of mine from the Transylvania Gentlemen blog:

    As you may know, I'm big on getting rid of plastics in our environment, since they have a bad tendency to slough off plastic molecules and in so doing, are poisoning our ecosystem.

    So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have been waging a personal vendetta against "guerilla advertising" corrugated plastic signs that glut roadsides all across our fair state. Not only are they ugly, but they're literally harming the environment. 99.9 percent of these signs are never retrieved by the people who disseminate them; they usually end up being taken down by city employees or, more often, they just fall down or blow away. I've found dozens of these things littering roadside gulches, laying flat and covered in mud and weeds.

    Not only that, but the vast majority of these signs are illegally placed on someone else's property, usually public property. I'm not talking about a small business that puts a plastic sign out in front of their own store, or even in the median of the road nearby; I cut some slack for instances such as this, even though the plastic aspect still irks me. Nothing wrong with trying to advertise a sale for your store near your store, but most of the plastic signs out there are from businesses that chose to blanket the entire county and beyond.

    And then there's the worst offenders of them all: national companies that cover the nation with the same stupid plastic signs. These are usually weight-loss scams, suspicious "job opportunity" announcements with toll free numbers, religious proselytizing, predatory lenders, and "We Buy Houses" real estate moguls. Then there's all the political campaign signs that never get taken down from all the places they were illegally stuck in the first place.

    So, I've made it a habit of plucking these signs whenever I see them. Usually it's on an as-encountered basis, and I've often raced out of the car at a red light to snatch plastic signs off poles and from intersections, toss them in the back of the car, and throw it back into Drive with seconds to spare. Other times, when I'm feeling particularly onamissionfromgod, I'll drive around late at night and clean up the city of these wretched things.

    Which begs the question, what the hell do I do with them now? I have a huge collection of signs, hundreds in a spare bedroom at home and hundreds more in storage. I don't really want to throw them away because they'll end up in the dump and pollute the groundwater. Most likely, I'll do the same thing I did with my leftover Project Egg eggs: when in doubt, turn 'em into art. Not sure what sort of art project I will come up with to incorporate these signs, but I'm sure I'll think of somethin'. Meanwhile, dear readers, I beseech thee to help keep Kentucky beautiful and help nip these signs in the bud whenever you encounter them yourselves.

    This guy is my hero. So are these folks.