Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Joe's One-Antlered Moose

I have yet to actually eat at Joe's "Older Than Dirt" Diner in Lyndon, KY, but I often drive by it and marvel at its decorative moose in the yard with only half a rack.

Bonus: in addition to Thidwick the lopsided moose, Joe's diner also comes with two pigs in the yard. The astute UnK reader will note that they are identical to the pig that stands sentry out in front of Ole Hickory Pit Barbecue House.

Somewhere there must be some kinda "Roadhouse Restaurant Supply" store where people are getting these pigs. Or, perhaps more likely, as BBQ joints come and go, the same concrete critters get traded around, auctioned off, lent out, etc.... just like the Pigs of Vernon Lanes.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pennyroyal Area Museum

The Pennyroyal Area Museum in Hopkinsville has many different exhibits and goodies, but it's their Edgar Cayce section that interests us most. Among the many curious items there, they keep Cayce's desk on display along with his typewriter, as if awaiting his return....

Other attractions at the Pennyroyal Area Museum include exhibits on the Night Riders, the Trail of Tears, and Jefferson Davis. Find it at 217 E 9th Street in Hopkinsville.


For many years, the humble town of Fulton, KY billed itself as "The Banana Capitol of the World". Why? Well, it's complicated, but the short version is that for reasons relating to rail commerce and train car refrigeration, 70 percent of the nation's imported banana supply stopped here regularly.

Now, I'm not sure how that would make Fulton the banana capitol of the world - I mean, at best, that would make Fulton the banana capitol of the nation, right? But we'll forgive them a little America-centric thinking, because it was a good excuse to throw a heck of a party: from 1962 to 1992, the town hosted what they called the "International Banana Festival" (although to be nitpicky again, it's unclear how many other nations took part).

Best of all, the festival boasted the yearly creation of the world's largest (two tons!) banana pudding.

Although the banana train no longer passes through Fulton, I see no reason to let such a trifle spoil the festival. But no, what's done is done: the International Banana Festival has since been renamed to the less catchy Pontotoc Festival, after its historic railway station.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Boone Trail Highway Markers

Ever seen any of these metal plaques?

In 1913, a North Carolina man named J. Hampton Rich made it his self-declared mission to spread the word of Daniel Boone's achievements and help keep his memory alive.

Now, there are many ways one could go about this, but Mr. Rich chose a somewhat odd method: he simply started dotting America's landscape with randomly placed plaques that read "Boone Trail Highway". According to Wikipedia, "Although many of the tablets are associated with locations visited by Boone, many were simply placed wherever Mr. Rich could collect the necessary donations from schools, communities, etc. to erect a monument."

Adding another twist to the already eccentric project: the plaques were supposedly constructed from metal salvaged from the battleship USS Maine, which was sunk during the Spanish-American War in 1898. There were at least 358 of these metal tablets placed around the nation between 1913 and 1938, but many have been lost to construction and carelessness.

I'm not certain how many of the plaques are in Kentucky, but two of them are in Berea.

Nicosia's Roadside Weirdness

Those of you who've followed Nicosia's posts here may or may not be aware that she has a terrific blog of her own called Roadside Weirdness. Although primarily Kentucky-related material, she also ventures to other states and takes photos wherever her camera leads her - including such interesting places as the Mothman Museum in West Virginia. She's also an aficionado of cool and crazy eateries, such as the defunct Kuntry Kitchen in Jeffersontown, KY and the still-thriving Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Rathskeller

The Seelbach Hotel has more than its share of crazy history - Al Capone had secret tunnels in and out of the place as part of his organized crime operation, and F. Scott Fitzgerald loved the place so much he featured it in "The Great Gatsby". It's also chock-full of ghost legends, some of which you'll find in Weird Kentucky.

But what I really love about the Seelbach is its spooky subterranean grotto ballroom called the Rathskeller. It's the only surviving room in the world completely encrusted in Rookwood pottery, from stem to stern, and has a powerfully creepy vibe.

Strange designs and symbols pervade the room’s ornate decor, a mixture of signs from zodiacal, alchemical, Masonic, heraldic, and various other symbologies. Rookwood pelicans pervade the area, and although the Hotel’s tourist information likes to cheerfully note that the pelicans are there “for good luck,” it’s also true that the pelican is regarded in some occult mythologies as a symbol of resurrecting one’s children after having killed them oneself, by anointing them with one’s own blood. The pelican has also long been synonymous with the Phoenix (the mythological bird of occult initiation, wherein one is reborn into a new awareness or gnosis) and with Henet (a pelican goddess from pyramid-era Egypt, who appears on walls of ancient tombs and in royal funerary texts).

The Seelbach is located in downtown Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bluegrass Blade

One of America's earliest "radical" freethinking weekly newspapers, The Bluegrass Blade, was published in Lexington, KY from 1884 to 1910. Its editor, Charles Chilton Moore, presented his paper as an atheist alternative to other local Kentucky papers that were, in his view, tainted by religion.

Although Moore's paper promoted civil rights and other liberal causes, he also came down on the side of conservatives when it came to alcohol prohibition, which he supported.

He was jailed twice for the paper's content:

  • In 1894 he spent two months in jail in Paris, KY, for stating "If there is a devil, Bourbon County is nearer and dearer to his heart than any place of its size on earth." I'm not sure what exactly what was against the law about making such a statement back then.

  • In 1898 he was arrested for blasphemy, promoting "free love", and sending obscene material through the U.S. Mail. I'm still trying to find out exactly what it was that was deemed obscene. He served five months of a two-year sentence in Federal prison.

    Moore, ever waggish, deliberately published the Blade on Sundays and refused to acknowledge the Julian calendar until the day he died in 1907. The paper struggled on without him until it folded in 1910.
  • Friday, December 26, 2008

    The Bridges of Kentucky

    For those of you who have an unexplainable obsession with bridges - and I know you're out there - the "street view" feature on Google Maps can be quite a handy toy, allowing you to traverse Kentucky's bridges virtually.

  • Madison-Milton Bridge, Milton, KY

  • Cumberland River Falls Bridge, Whitley County, KY

  • Boonesboro Bridge, Boonesboro, KY

  • Sherman Minton Bridge, Louisville, KY

  • Clark Bridge, Louisville, KY

  • Gordon Hill Pike Bridge, Corbin, KY

  • Paducah Bridge, Paducah, KY

  • J.R. Miller Blvd Bridge, Owensboro, KY

  • Lake Barkley US 68 Bridge, Cadiz, KY

  • Clays Ferry Bridge, Clays Ferry, KY

  • Ironton-Russell Bridge, Ashland, KY

  • Roebling Suspension Bridge, Covington, KY

    And while Google currently doesn't let us street-view the William H. Natcher Bridge in Daviess County, we do get to go underneath it, at least:

  • Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Nude Statues with Doves

    This visually stunning statue of a nude male (many people assume it's a female without getting up-close to it) releasing a pair of doves can be found in the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

    Interestingly, a duplicate of it has been on display at Atchison's Monument Company in Lexington for many years now. Presumably, this is where the Louisville one came from.

    Poet Laureate of Freemasonry

    I didn't even know there was such a thing as "the Poet Laureate of Freemasonry", but sure enough, his name was Rob Morris and he's buried at the Valley of Rest cemetery in La Grange, KY.

    Historians can't seem to make up their minds if he was born in Boston or New York, or if his real name was Morris or Peckham. But his later life is much more documented: according to Wikipedia, he served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky in 1858 and 1859, and in 1860 moved to LaGrange and became professor of the Masonic University.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008

    Bigfoot twins in Baskett

    In 1999, there was a report of a pair of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) being seen in a field of beans close to Highway 60 in Baskett, KY. According to researcher Bart Nunnelly, "Both were brownish-gray in color and were positioned with their backs towards witness. One BF was squatting down,apparently doing something to the ground which was obscured by beans."

    This incident illustrates well the "hidden in plain sight" axiom which applies to all paranormal phenomena: the person who reported the creatures noted that traffic was heavy that day, with lots of cars in front of him and behind him, and yet no one else bothered reporting the incident that day.

    Mt. Washington Cattle Mutilation?

    Last summer I happened upon this pair of cattle, quite muddy and quite dead, in the middle of a field near Mt. Washington, KY. Although I couldn't see any signs of classic mutilation for all the mud, they were clearly out of place in the middle of a field of a farm which was not a livestock farm.

    Some would jump to the conclusion that they were dropped there by aliens after experimentation. I wouldn't quite go that far... I think.

    Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Underwater Cemeteries

    Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake are enormous twin lakes side by side, with the territory between them known as “Land Between the Lakes.” I’m not even sure why they’re given separate names when they’re really one huge lake connected by a canal, but there it is.

    The lakes are man-made, created in 1966 as part of a controversial TVA plan to evacuate entire towns and flood the area. Kentucky citizens were forced out of their homes and their property seized under “eminent domain.” To this day you can still don scuba gear and go down and see the remains of buildings, railroad tracks, streets, etc. underwater. They’re also visible from low flying planes, and possibly Google Maps.

    The Army Corps of Engineers was instructed to dig up all the graves in all the cemeteries - a stagerring number of corpses and coffins - and transplant them elsewhere. There’s been quite a bit of speculation about whether or not things were done by the book. Cemeteries were not always transferred intact, and families that had originally been buried together in one cemetery were often needlessly split up across four others when moved. Some headstones didn’t even make it to their new location, and some have said that the likelihood is high that headstones were often mismatched with their proper owners out of carelessness or just trying to get a very unpleasant job done in a hurry.

    Many graves in those old cemeteries had no stone at all, especially those of babies, slaves, and paupers. We know from old cemetery records that the people were interred there, but we don’t know exactly where they were - and neither did the Army Corps of Engineers. There’s no telling how many graves were left behind to be submerged forever under hundreds of feet of water.

    Given this, it’s not much of a stretch to theorize the existence of ghosts in the vicinity who are extremely displeased about what happened to their homes, their relatives, their headstones, their graves.

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    The Bilharz Heads

    These disembodied heads at the Bilharz family plot in Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery have always given me a bit of a shiver. The name at the footstone says Clara Mae Armstrong, and there's a Find-A-Grave page for her here, but I'm still not sure exactly who each of these heads are supposed to be.

    White Light Diner

    One of my favorite places to nosh in our state capitol is the White Light Diner (Thanks to dhecker2000 for the photo!), run by the famous/infamous Rick Paul, restauranteur extraordinaire. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, and it's a small place, so get there early and bring an appetite. Though the White Light Diner may be "only" a tiny old-school diner, Rick is a five-star Chef and knows his onions.

    He used to have a cajun restaurant out on Highway 127 which was also great, but the location was kinda humdrum, near strip-mall kinda businesses. I'm glad he's kept the White Light going all these years and made it his primary culinary home base. I had a key lime pie there once and couldn't eat it because it was just too legit for me - I actually prefer the fake green-colored cheesecakey stuff to the real thing. When I told Rick this, he shook his head at me like I was king of the louts. (I am.)

    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Smitty's Trading Post

    So it's late Summer 2007 and I'm way past deadline on the final draft of the Weird Kentucky manuscript and the editor still wants more material to choose from. I'm drivin' eastbound on Highway 60, thinking about heading to Frankfort to grab me some grub at the White Light Diner.

    And then I screeched on the brakes and realized that one of Kentucky's greatest sights had not yet been written about in my book.

    No, not the Red River Gorge, not Cumberland Gap, not Wigwam Village or even Penile.

    Smitty's Trading Post.

    It's an antiques emporium, flea market, or just plain junk store, depending on your choice of nomenclature. It could also be described as a public art installation similar to that of the Frankfort Avenue Art House (which is on the same road, but many miles away in a different county).

    As I wrote feverishly in the book:

    Taken individually, many of the items on open-air display out front may or may not dazzle you. But taken as a whole, each bit of bric-a-brac has a synergetic effect and forms a part of an exquisite mosaic, making this no ordinary flea market but rather, a cathedral of discarded Americana, a shrine to the human condition and all its follies and foibles.

    It's also like a Rorschach test of aesthetic aptitude - just as William Blake said "The fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees", not everyone sees the same thing when they gaze at this secondary-market museum of Earthly effluvia that this elusive "Smitty" has nobly archived for the inspection of us all.

    (And to think you thought it was just a yardful of rained-on furniture, rusty farm implements and fast food kids meal toys!)

    It's over a year later, and half a year since the book has hit store shelves nationwide, and I still haven't been able to catch Mr. Smitty open for business so's I can hand him a copy of the book and proudly show him my personal tribute to his magnificent collection of crap. Apparently catching Smitty keeping business hours is something of a challenge. I didn't realize it at the time I wrote the book, but Smitty's Trading Post had already made an appearance in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon:

    I came to a ramshackle place called Smitty's Trading Post. Smitty was a merchant of relics. He could sell you a Frankfort, Kentucky, city bus that made its last run down Shively Street, or an ice cream wagon made from a golf can, or a used bulldozer, or a bent horseshoe. I stopped to look. Lying flat as the ground, a piebald mongrel too tired to lift its head gave a one-eyed stare. I pulled on the locked door, peered through windows grimed like coalminers' goggles, but I couldn't find Smitty. A pickup rattled in. A man with a wen above his eye said, "Smitty ain't here."
    "Where is he?" I was just making talk.
    "You the feller wantin' the harness?"
    "Already got one."
    "What'd you come for then?"
    "I don't know. Have to talk to Smitty to find out."
    "That's one I ain't heard," he said.

    Saturday, December 20, 2008

    The Behringer-Crawford Museum

    The Behringer-Crawford Museum, located near Covington, KY, is a small but amazing collection of all manner of natural wonders and curiosities, highly recommended.

    What really tends to pack in the crowds, though, would be the museum's crown jewel of an exhibit: a genuine human shrunken head. Shrunken human heads are increasingly only in the hands of private collectors and as far as I know, this is the only opportunity to view one up close in Kentucky. You don't see shrunken heads at the Speed.

    Also in their archives: a hairball taken from the stomach of a cow. Why? I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with The Mad Stone. There's also a two-headed calf, as well as a giant Elk and a stuffed specimen of the now-extinct miniature breed of English terrier. It's a taxidermist's wet dream.

    According to their website, a most intriguing event is coming up in 2009: a culinary celebration of Dixie Highway restaurants. Save a table for me.

    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Angel Warrior Statues

    This disquieting pair of statues, seemingly depicting a pair of teens transformed into sword-wielding winged angels, can be found in Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery.

    James "Honest Dick" Tate

    Like James Harrod, former Kentucky State Treasurer James "Honest Dick" Tate is another prominent Kentuckian who pulled a permanent vanishing act. But at least we know Tate's motive: he cleaned out the state's coffers he was entrusted to protect. After bilking Kentucky out of nearly a quarter of a million dollars, he fled and was never apprehended.

    On March 14, 1888, Tate was seen filling two huge tobacco sacks with $100,000 in gold and silver coin. He departed for Louisville, instructing his staff via a note that he would return in two days. He never did.

    During the subsequent investigation, it was learned that Tate had been using the state Treasury as his own personal piggy-bank for quite some time, having used the funds to pay his own debts and to make investments in real estate and mining ventures. All total, Tate had swindled the state out of $247,128.50.

    It was later determined that Tate had gone to Cincinnati after leaving Louisville, and from there apparently traveled to Canada, San Francisco, Japan and China, according to the postmarks on letters he wrote his daughter while on the run. The letters stopped coming in December 1888, and what became of Tate after that is anyone's guess.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    The Mystery of James Harrod

    Nick Tosches spent years researching the 1920s musician Emmett Miller, who had been quite famous in his day yet left almost no trace of his existence just a half century later. His quest to know more about the man became an obsession that spanned decades, and finally bore fruit, as detailed in his book "Where Dead Voices Gather".

    Perhaps one day scholars will plumb the depths of the mysteries of Kentucky's James Harrod as well - but I wouldn't bet on it. Harrod is a key part of Kentucky history, yet one whose record is smudged in places and completely blank in others.

    We dont know when he was born and we don't know when he died. We have no photographs or paintings of his likeness. We know almost nothing about his early life. We do know he served in the French and Indian War, and was probably underage when he did so. We also know he was an important early settler of Kentucky, in every way a peer of Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark, yet his name is not a household word. (Well, then again, in a way it is for some: Harrod founded the first permanent settlement in Kentucky in 1774 and we know it today as the city pictured above.... Harrodsburg.)

    In February 1792, Harrod left on a hunting trip in the wilderness of Kentucky and was never seen again.

    There are as many theories and explanations for his vanishing as there are JFK conspiracy theories, and we'll probably never know the truth.

    Some say he was a bigamist and had another wife and family, to whom he returned to under another name, and was likely buried under this pseudonym. Others tell of a pair of woodsmen held captive by Indians in Michigan meeting a fellow prisoner referred to as "Colonel Harrod." And yet another account has it that Harrod had been killed by one of his fellow hunters, a man named Bridges, and that the secret purpose of their hunting expedition was to search for Jonathan Swift's fabled silver mine. Supposedly this Bridges guy was caught selling silver buttons from Harrod's coat, conveniently engraved with the letter "H", at a Lexington shop.

    Then there's the bizarre tale that some of Harrod's friends found his skeleton in a cave, wrapped in grass. However, some say the skeleton was wearing Harrod's shirt and some say it wasn't. Supposedly, Harrod's family believed the skeleton to be his, so the question then becomes, why didn't they bury the skeleton and give him a proper gravestone? And why then, when Ann applied for Harrod's pension, did she swear he had died in a hunting accident and that his clothes had been found in a nearby river but his body never found?

    The most logical explanation, to me, would be that he simply died in the woods and no one ever found his body, which probably was torn apart by wild animals. But according to the James Harrod Trust, "In the 1880s a rumor circulated that Bridges, who had returned to Virginia, confessed on his deathbed to the Harrod murder and revealed the place of his burial in what is now Estill County, Kentucky".

    Or maybe he encountered the Devil Deer.

    I'm not exactly weeping copious tears for Harrod, though - he actively opposed Daniel Boone and Richard Henderson's Transylvania purchase, and added and abetted the crooked land grab from Virginia. He went on to represent Virginia's "Kentucky County" in the Virginia House of Delegates. Many people, your humble author included, believe that most of the area should still be known as Transylvania because it was improperly wrested from Boone and Henderson's hands by the state of Virginia before regaining its independence.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Concentric Rings near Blackburn

    What exactly are we seeing in this Google Maps image of enormous concentric rings imposed across stretches of farmland near Blackburn, KY in Union County? It's not really a crop circle in the strictest sense of the word, but it does remind me of some of the odd bullseyes in the Nevada desert near Area 51.

    The "Mad Stone"

    February 19, 1903, in the brittle and decaying pages of an obscure Lawrenceburg newspaper called simply It:

    On last Thursday, the little eight-year-old son of Mrs Ide Long of Van Buren, was brought to this place to have the mad stone applied to a wound on his hand made by a rabid dog some days past. When the stone was applied, it adhered one hour and forty minutes.

    Mad stone? Adhered? Huh?

    I'd never heard of such a thing, but as it turns out the Mad Stone was a peculiar quasi-medical superstition of the day. According to an essay by Dennis Muncrief:

    The Mad Stone is a stony concretion (as a hair ball) taken from the stomach of a deer. They have been described as round or oval in shape with a porous surface texture measuring about 3 to 4 inches in size and very light weight. They have a brownish-green color with a highly polished surface. The purpose of the Mad Stone was to cure rabies, hence the name.

    The Mad Stone is an object that has several grades of curative power. All stones are not created equal. A stone from a brown deer will work in a bind if another cannot be found. A better grade of Mad Stone comes from a white or spotted deer. This stone works a lot better than a stone from a brown deer. The very best Mad Stone comes from an albino or "witch deer" that is pure white with pink eyes. It not only cures the rabies, it also cures rattlesnake and spider bites.

    Now, there is a very strict set of rules associated with the use and care of a Mad Stone. First, it can never be bought or sold. It must never be changed in shape. The patient must go to the person with the Mad Stone. The Mad Stone must never be brought to the patient. There can never be a charge for the use of the Mad Stone. The stone was usually passed down from father to son. Anyone who owns a Mad Stone can use the stone as long as they follow a strict set of procedures.

    The use of the Mad Stone is quite strict. The procedure for curing the infected patient is as follows. When the person with the bite arrives at the place where the Mad Stone is kept, the stone is boiled in sweet milk. The sweet milk neutralizes the poison from the bite. The stone must be boiled in the milk until the milk turns green. That is how you can tell when all the rabies is out of the stone.

    After boiling the stone in milk, it is applied directly to the wound. The wound must be bleeding. If it is no longer bleeding it must be scraped until it is bleeding. The Mad Stone will stick to the wound if there is rabies infection in the wound. It does not need to be tied. When the stone falls off the wound, it is boiled again in milk to remove the poison from the stone. The stone is re-applied to the wound. If it sticks, there is still rabies in the wound. When the stone fails to stick to the wound, the rabies poison is all gone and the patient will not get rabies.

    Thankfully these aren't standard issue in Kentucky doctor's offices anymore. (They're not, right?)

    And just a day after discussing the "Devil Deer", now we get references to "Witch Deer"? The plot thickens, like an Appalachian forest.

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Crop Circles in Maysville Area

    Devil Deer

    We're currently in a peculiar moment in history: even though wildlife populations are dwindling more than ever, we're actually far more likely to encounter them now than we were twenty years ago. The reason for this is because the privacy of their natural habitat is increasingly encroached upon by civilization.

    Case in point: just a few years ago I was walking through a small semi-wooded area being cleared for a forthcoming subdivision. A lot of bulldozers and hammering going on, so definitely the last place I'd expect to see deer.

    As I walked down a recently paved road, an impossibly enormous elk jumped out of the shrubbery to my right and charged straight for me. All my life, it's always been deer running from me, not straight at me! Its antlers were a huge, crazy, multi-tined, asymmetrical mess, and its eyes were like evil black soulless marbles. I moved out of the deer's path and fortunately, it kept on charging along its prescribed path, crashing through the shrubbery on the other side of the road.

    And then it was gone.

    When I used to have an art studio in Richmond, my neighbor was an old-timer hunter who ran an army-surplus store. I recounted the incident to him, and his eyes widened. "You know whatchoo saw??" he exclaimed. "Son, you done saw the DEVIL DEER! Do you know how many hunters would give their left NUT to see the Devil Deer?"

    Prodded to elaborate further, he told me "all serious big-time hunters know about Devil Deer, and that they're the most dangerous thing in all the wilderness. They're bigger, meaner and crazier than regular deer, and they cain't be killed!"

    What I don't know about the world of hunting, you can almost fit into the Hollywood Bowl. So, I remain unsure if this guy was either crazy or just pulling my leg with some sort of "Great Pumpkin" story for drunk outdoorsmen.

    What I do know, however, is that Kentucky is quite popular among hunters for non-typical deer specimens. And this message board post alludes to a 200-inch buck shot in Fredonia in Caldwell County.

    And then there are certain ancient legends, carried across the great pond to our fair continent by Europeans but finding a suitable growth culture in our dark and bloody ground. Legends of hunters witnessing magical and frightening deer, the likes of which never beheld before, which lure the hunter to strange and unfamiliar parts of the woods. The evil ghostly deer then disappears like an apparition, leaving the unfortunate hunter completely and hopelessly lost in terra incognita.

    Then there's the Catholic Saint Hubert, who became the patron saint of hunters. As the story goes, Hubert was a reckless and thoughtless hunter, until one day he was visited by a majestic talking stag with a glowing crucifix floating above his head. The talking stag warned Hubert he was doomed to Hell, so Hubert turned to Christianity, resolved to spend the rest of his days doing good works, and became a Saint. The eerie, mystical-looking stag that has adorned bottles of Jagermeister since 1934 is that same creature that confronted St. Hubert.

    The cross-stag may seemingly be playing for the opposite team of the Devil Deer, but it sure as heck looks scary!

    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Harry Dean Stanton

    Get down on your knees, Planet Earth, and thank Kentucky once again for bringing you raw talent at its best. Harry Dean Stanton, one of Hollywood's greatest maverick actors, and known for being a character offstage as well as on, is a Kentuckian.

    Harry was born in Irvine in 1926, and graduated from the University of Kentucky in Lexington before moving on to a theatre and film career in California. His long film oeuvre includes How the West Was Won (1962), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), The Godfather Part II (1974), Alien (1979), Escape from New York (1981), Repo Man, (1984), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and Inland Empire (2006), among others. Youngsters today probably know him best as Roman Grant, the elder in the Mormon-themed HBO show Big Love.

    While he's still kickin', I'd love to do some research about Harry's Lexington years, and find out what clubs, bars and taverns he frequented - it's entirely possible that he and the great writer/pool hustler/drinkin' man Walter Tevis' paths may have crossed, either knowingly or unknowingly. Tevis was born in 1928, and spent a lot of time in both Irvine and Lexington. Since Winchester and Richmond lie directly between Irvine and Lexington (on Route 89 and Highway 25, respectively) it's a certainty that these cities were part of Harry's teenage stomping grounds as well.

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Willow Lake Tavern

    Willow Lake Tavern has existed for decaded near the corner of Lakeland and LaGrange in Anchorage, is on property formerly near the Central State Asylum's 19th century grounds, and not surprisingly, has been the source of many hauntings, sightings, and ethereal disturbances.

    I dropped into the place last summer while researching the Weird Kentucky book. I tossed back a few brews and grilled the locals about whether they'd seen anything spooky around the joint. One patron of the bar, without my prompting, even went so far as to compare it to Bobby Mackey's, and noted: "I never believed in ghosts until I moved to Kentucky".

    In its early years, the asylum operated a trolley car on its own private railroad tracks that existed where Lakeland Road sits today (you can still see the paved-over railroad ties peeking out from under the asphalt in some places). The Willow Lake Tavern's location back then was on the border of the Huston and Whipps farms. This is quite near where the "switching yard" would have been, for transferring the patients being shuttled in on their bleak journey from the incoming train car on the main tracks.

    Recently the Willow Lake Tavern has become Selena's Restaurant but thankfully, the new owners have left the old neon sign intact. The mood there is considerably more upscale and the food is great, check 'em out!

    Central State Hospital Cemetery

    A huge area of Anchorage, KY, including all of the vast E.P. Sawyer Park, was once the dreaded Central State Mental Hospital and its sprawling grounds.

    In 1873 the place was the Lakeland Home for Juvenile Delinquents, which soon thereafter expanded its purpose to become an insane asylum. No asylum of that era was ever a friendly place to be, but this one takes the proverbial cake. For decades, hellish conditions, improper care, senseless deaths and unchecked madness lent a continually greasy patina of very bad karma to this land.

    Think of every horror story you’ve ever heard about psychiatry, and it’s all here: overcrowding, abuse, insulin “therapy,” forced freezing cold showers as “treatment,” crude lobotomies, electroshocks, you name it. According to Jay Gravatte of the Louisville Ghost Hunters, wards with a capacity for 1600 persons were containing more like 2400, and in 1943 the Kentucky grand jury discovered that Central State was unfairly committing and imprisoning people who were not mentally ill.

    Today all the original buildings are demolished, and a new complex of modern clean edifices stand down the road, at the corner of Lakeland and LaGrange. The old asylum's site can be seen here on Google Maps, and if you scroll just a bit south, you'll see the present facilities.

    Voices, purportedly of the dead, have been tape-recorded late at night by ghost hunters in the hospital's long-abandoned cemetery, which is also now part of the E.P. Sawyer park grounds. Most of the stones are now missing, and the ones that are still extant are misplaced and piled haphazardly around nearby trees. You can still tell where the graves are, however, by the prominent sinkholes that dot the landscape. It’s one of the most neglected and poorly maintained cemeteries I’ve ever seen, and these people interred here were unhappy enough from the getgo without having their final resting place so shoddily treated.

    I have heard the tape and, for what it’s worth, voices are clearly heard although I can’t make out any of it. I remain dubious about the whole EVP concept.

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Roadside Death Markers

    The tradition of erecting a roadside memorial marker began in the South (and Kentucky was one of the first) but has gradually spread nationwide during the second half of the twentieth century.

    It’s increasingly common for grieving friends and relatives to place some sort of marker by the side of the road near where a loved one died in an automobile accident. Problem is, there are a lot of automobile accidents in the world. And the markers start to accumulate. Some particularly bad stretches of road are so dotted with these sad crosses that they’re perpetuating the dangerousness of the location: I don’t know for a fact that anyone has died yet because their attention was diverted from a bad curve while checking out all the roadside memorials, but I’d lay money on the odds that it’s happened.

    Some cities, towns and counties have even gone to war with citizens over these crosses. They’re becoming a public nuisance and an eyesore, say some. Although it certainly seems fair to allow a grace period for such memorials, they obviously can’t stay there forever, can they? Many families insist that yes, they must - and stake their claim on these spots in perpetuity. It’s a problem for many police officers or roadside cleanup crewmembers who can’t bring themselves to take them down, even when ordered to do so. And what do you do with them then - just throw them away? To many, this would be tantamount to grave desecration, even though no one’s actually buried there.

    While researching the Weird Kentucky book, I spoke to one Calloway County woman who explained to me why her daughter’s roadside memorial is so important to her, even more so than her grave: it’s the last place her daughter was alive.

    Although ghosts, spirits, the paranormal, an afterlife, and other such topics weren’t directly mentioned, it was clear that the location where her daughter last existed is far more important and powerful than the location where her body was buried. Whether people actually think this out in detail, the inference seems to be that there’s a greater likelihood of someone’s spirit dwelling near the place of their tragic death, than their burial site. Instictively, we as a species seem to just subliminally know that we are not our bodies.

    It may seem grisly and macabre to obsess on these primitively constructed private-yet-public memorials to tragic deaths, but no more so than tombstone enthusiasts, one would think. Are roadside memorials not a pure form of folk art? Regardless of how one rationalizes one’s interest, these memorials are quite fascinating and speak a lot more about the human condition than any cemetery.

    Avoca Station

    This historic building was at one time, I believe, the Avoca post office, and then a grocery. Currently it's affiliated with the Lyndon Coal Company. I say "affiliated" because the building doesn't actually seem to function as an office for them - it's in considerable disrepair and seems abandoned.