Monday, November 30, 2009

"Dis Memorial Get Memorialized"

A nice pocket of graffiti in an alley off Payne Street in Louisville. The phrase "Dis Memorial Get Memorialized" produced nothing in a Google search. Anyone?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Set Ragen Free"

Spotted this graffiti in an alley in the Highlands of Louisville. But who's Ragen? And was he ever freed?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Hot Roasters

Yesterday I finally got around to checking out the great new Louisville coffee place Red Hot Roasters, and wow, why didn't I come here sooner? Get up, step away from the computer, get in the car and go-go-go there now. Not only is owner Sondra Powell's coffee delicious, it's organic and it's roasted right on the premises.

Their product comes in wonderful old-school silver-and-red metal cans that you're encouraged to bring back to recycle, reuse and refill. You save 50 cents on a 12 oz. can of coffee if you bring back your previous empty to be refilled.

And of course, the 40s/50s retro fashion sense of the building and its graphics makes it all just perfect to me.

I had a little trouble finding the place at first - which is odd since the place is so colorful. Although their address is officially listed as being 1402 Payne Street, the building actually faces Lexington Road. It's to the right of the Citgo station, near the corner of Lexington and Payne.

You can also buy their coffee in discerning retail outlets like Burger's Market, and they also serve it in fine establishments like 732 Social.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Louisville's Ashtray Ordinance

It's bad enough that Louisville has a smoking-ban ordinance, but some aspects of it are even nuttier than expected when you go through the fine print with a fine-tooth comb. For example, there's this nugget of comedy gold:

"Any permanent structure that functioned or was used as an ashtray shall be disabled or altered to prevent its use as an ashtray."

That would, by definition, include toilets. Who among us has never flushed a cigarette butt in a bar restroom, or flicked ashes into its sink? I don't see any bars and restaurants disabling their toilets to prevent ashing into them. (And as we all know, public restrooms are the new smoking parlors these days.)

For more fun facts on the unconstitutional smoking ban, visit my Louisville Mojo column on creative ways to oppose it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hillcrest Victorian Mannequins

This goodly group of rather Victorian-looking mannequins are on display in someone's upstairs veranda window on Louisville's Hillcrest Avenue - yes, that Hillcrest Avenue, the one known for its over-the-top Halloween yard displays.

Lunar Eavesdropping in Louisville

One from our blog Revelation Awaits an Appointed Time:

There's a great page on the Otter Creek-South Harrison Observatory website about Louisville resident Larry Baysinger, an amateur radio enthusiast who managed to tune in to Apollo 11's live radio feed in July 1969.

Louisville Courier-Journal writer Glenn Rutherford wrote an article about Baysinger's historic accomplishment in the July 23, 1969 issue. Rutherford's article is reprinted on the Observatory's website, and mp3 files of some of the best parts of the astronaut dialogue that Baysinger recorded are offered as well. Furthermore, the site documents the original 50s/60s source materials that Baysinger was working from to achieve his reception of NASA's signals, including pdf files of relevant parts of CQ magazine.

Skeptics who doubt that Baysinger really managed to pick up these signals with such relatively primitive equipment should take note that his recordings feature Aldrin and Armstrong's voices uninterrupted by the cross-talk from the PAO and others, as heard on all terrestrial recording sources of the same dialogue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State Police: Sparkman a Suicide

The official verdict is in: Bill Sparkman, the census worker recently found dead in Clay County with the word "fed" written across his chest, killed himself and staged it to look like homicide so his son could collect the insurance money. Or so the Kentucky State Police believe.

According to State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski, Sparkman's wrists were bound loosely in front of his body, allowing considerable mobility. Duct tape held his glasses in place, and his mouth was taped shut and stuffed with a rag.

Curiously, Rudzinski said Sparkman was not blindfolded, despite previous eyewitness accounts to the contrary. Even odder to me, now they're saying he actually wasn't in Hoskins Cemetery as originally stated from day one. Now they're saying he was actually in a clearing nearby.

"No defensive wounds were located on his body," Rudzinski said. "And a rag was found in his pants that was consistent with other rags scattered at the scene, including the rag that was in his mouth. The victim's clothes were found undisturbed in the bed of his pickup truck, which was also recovered at the scene." Rudzinski also reported that the autopsy indicated that the letters spelling "Fed" were written from the bottom up, as someone might do when writing on themselves.

From the official KSP report:

The investigation indicates that Mr. Sparkman died of asphyxiation/strangulation at the same location where he was discovered in Clay County, Ky.

Despite the fact that Mr. Sparkman was found hands, feet and mouth bound with duct tape, rope around his neck and the word "FED" written on his chest, analysis of the evidence determined Mr. Sparkman's death was self-inflicted. A thorough examination of evidence from the scene, to include DNA testing, as well as examination of his vehicle and his residence resulted in the determination that Mr. Sparkman, alone, handled the key pieces of evidence with no indications of any other persons involved.

Witness statements, which are deemed credible, indicate Mr. Sparkman discussed ending his own life and these discussions matched details discovered during the course of the investigation. It was learned that Mr. Sparkman had discussed recent federal investigations and the perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities by some residents of Clay County.

Without raising any red flag of conspiracy theory, let me just say that I'm inclined to think there's a little more to the story than we are being told. Just because no one's DNA was found at the crime scene is meaningless - criminals do wear gloves and stuff in this forensically conscious age, you know. And the whole "letters written from the bottom up" thing makes no sense to me. I stood in front of a mirror, imagining "What would Sparkman do?" and my first impulse was to start the letters at the top, not the bottom.

Finally, I'm puzzled that they claim to have "witness statements" (plural) in which Sparkman divulged his whole secret plan to others before carrying it out. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. In fact, if this was a suicide staged as murder, it's a really, really, really stupidly done one. And from all accounts, Sparkman was a very smart man.

I'm just sayin'.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carl Hurley Lane

Kentucky comedian Carl Hurley now has a street named after him in London, KY.

The former Eastern Kentucky University professor, perhaps best known for his best-selling book We Weren't Poor - We Just Didn't Have Any Money, recently had "Carl Hurley Lane" dedicated in his honor, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of Weaver's Hot Dogs on London's Main Street.

Hurley, who was born in East Bernstadt, is world renowned for his gentle, easygoing rural storytelling style, an example of which can be seen on YouTube by clicking here. He's been a regular on the Grand Ole Opry and Renfro Valley, and is currently finding popularity with a whole new younger audience on XM Satellite Radio.

Cat Killer Faces 12 Years in Prison

On December 14, Russell Swigart of Highland Heights, KY will be sentenced in Kenton County Circuit Court for killing two cats under the new "Romeo's Law".

In October, Swigart (pictured below) admitted to burglarizing the home of Bridgett Wright and stabbing her two cats, "Mr. Frank" and "Piggy", to death. Reportedly, the psychopath then heckled Wright about it via text messages.

According to

"In addition to the crimes for which he is accused in this case, he was accused and convicted of several similar incidents inflicting animal abuse and death as well as stalking and abuse against women in Columbus, Ohio, (and) Wauseon, Ohio," Wright wrote the judge in the case.

A Wauseon, Ohio, woman, who told prosecutors she lived with Swigart in the late 1990s, said he repeatedly abused her and once held her at knifepoint.

The woman told prosecutors Swigart came to her home after she ended their relationship, "placed her pet cat in a shoe box and sealed the box closed with tape. He then shot the box, with the cat inside, with a shotgun, killing the cat," according to the affidavit.

The woman said Swigart then forced her to look at her dead cat "and threatened that he would do the same to her," according to court records.

Another woman, who said she had a brief relationship with Swigart in Columbus, told prosecutors he "unlawfully entered her apartment and harmed her dogs" after their relationship ended. She said Swigart told her "he had hurt the dogs so badly that he had 'left them at death's door.'"

The woman said Swigart also boasted of killing a female roommate's cat, according to court documents.

"Romeo's Law" is so named for a labrador named Romeo, who was cruelly beaten by a man named Ronald Shawn Turner in Pulaski County. Neighbors witnessed the incident, caught it on tape, and reported it to the police. Turner was only convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to only four months in jail.

But thanks to the new law, animal abuse is now a Class D Felony in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which had previously been one of the least pet-friendly states.

There's a memorial page to Mr. Frank and Piggy here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lightbulbs from Hell

The other day I received an offer in the mail from Louisville's utility company LG&E, offering me free energy-saving lightbulbs as a gift. I was all excited until I realized they're the toxic CFL bulbs filled with deadly mercury. The health hazards can be considerable if one breaks in your home - and who among us has never accidentally broken a lightbulb?

For more details, check out my column at Louisville Mojo and learn more about these dangerous bulbs that the EPA classifies as "hazardous waste".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Abandoned Swimming Pool

This rectangular concrete pit, found in a densely wooded area somewhere between Louisville's Calvary Cemetery and St. Agnes Parish was apparently once a swimming pool. But why? For whom?

These days, it seems to be functioning strictly as a landfill/trash dump. I wonder what urban-archaeology cool treasures are fermenting at the bottom...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Coming Soon: CentrePointe

One of my favorite old blocks in Lexington used to be here at the corner of Limestone and Main, and now it's all been torn down to make way for what will become the tallest building in Kentucky. It's called CentrePointe. Dumb name. But I'm prepared, against all odds, to give it the benefit of the doubt... for now. But to paraphrase Gavin Elster, all the things that spell Lexington to me are disappearing fast.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Warren County Hirsute Girl

From the New York Times, September 17, 1877: a report originally published in the Franklin Patriot about a 4-year-old Warren County girl who allegedly was normal for the first two years of her life, but then began secreting a bizarre and foul black liquid from her skin, followed by a thick growth of hair all over her body excepting the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet. With these strange mutations, it was also reported she acquired amazing strength, being able to carry around her 10-year-old sister with ease.

Hirsutism is a relatively common condition, itself being a symptom of many different diseases, but the only other time I've ever heard of black sweat (aside from the Prince song) is from reports about the mysterious Morgellons Disease.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dance of Death in Northern KY

Franz Liszt's Totentanz ("Dance of Death")is a symphonic piece for piano and orchestra, based on the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies Irae, but with dynamic stylistic innovations that approach atonal avant-garde. Liszt began work on the piece in 1838 and completed it in 1849; then tweaked it further in subsequent years.

Michael Chertock, faculty member at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, will perform "Totentanz" on piano with James R. Cassidy and the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra this weekend:

  • 8 p.m. Saturday at Florence Baptist Church at Mount Zion

  • 3 p.m. Sunday, Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington.

    This Gregorian Chant-inspired program also includes Requiem by Maurice Duruflé, featuring the KSO Chorale and the Cincinnati Choral Society. Duruflé wrote it in 1947 as a tribute to his father. The piece, composed for mixed choir with mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists, exists in three different orchestrations: one for organ alone, one for organ with string orchestra, and one for organ and full orchestra.

    Also on the bill for the evening: Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis, inspired by the fascinating life of the 12th-century clairvoyant Hildegard von Bingen (pictured above). Hildegard is described by Wikipedia as "a Christian mystic, German Benedictine abbess, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, composer, and polymath."

    Tickets are $28 for A section seating and $23 for B section seating. B Section seating is further discounted for Seniors ($18) and students ($10). 859-431-6216 or visit the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra's website.
  • Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    The Cult of Beer

    I recently visited that peculiar, signless, "mystery bierhaus" in Butchertown, on the beat for Louisville Mojo, and filed a report on the idiosyncratic bar that seemed more like a secret society whose password I didn't know. (Maybe I should have said "Fidelio".) Click here to read the article!

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    The Cumberland Moonbow

    There are only a handful of places in the world where one can see a genuine moonbow - Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is one such place where moonbow fans flock to view the phenomenon. And Cumberland Falls, near Williamsburg, KY is another.

    What is a moonbow? It's a rainbow produced by moonlight rather than sunlight. They're relatively faint compared to rainbows, and they're always in the opposite part of the sky from the moon. The human eye doesn't often clearly see vibrant colors in moonbows, but they're very evident when long-exposure photographs are taken.

    I used to think a rainbowy ring of light around the moon was a moonbow. Technically speaking, it is not. That would be a corona, a light-diffraction phenomenon produced by clouds or mist. Moonbows tend to be 22-degree-angle halos, formed during very rare circumstances, most often near waterfalls but not necessarily.

    (Photo above by flickr user Bryce Fields.)

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    The Testicles of Black Bess

    John Hunt Morgan (he of the Hunt-Morgan House) is honored for his Civil War service with an ostentatious statue in downtown Lexington (Which is rather odd, since he fought for the Confederacy). Created by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini, it depicts the General atop his beloved horse, Black Bess.

    As you might surmise from her name, Black Bess was female. Yet Coppini, for reasons opaque to me, declared that it would be more heroic if Morgan was astride a stallion instead of a mare - and so took the extreme artistic license of giving Black Bess prominent testicles.

    James Loewen, in his book Lies Across America, wrote about the quaint tradition among UK frat-boys to paint Black Bess' testicles blue and white, and relayed an old, clunkily-written anonymous poem passed along as local folklore:

    So darkness comes to Bluegrass men —
    Like darkness o'er them falls —
    For well we know gentlemen should show
    Respect for a lady's balls.

    Black Bess was probably named after the English highwayman Dick Turpin's horse, even though some say that Black Bess was strictly fictional, invented for William Harrison Ainsworth's novel 1834 Rookwood and pulp fiction like Black Bess or the Knight of the Road, published in 254 weekly installments beginning in 1867.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    The Hunt-Morgan House

    Lexington's haunted Hunt Morgan House, a.k.a. "Hopemont", is at 201 N. Mill Street, the corner of N. Mill and W. Second.

    It was built in 1814 by millionaire John Wesley Hunt,who died of Cholera in 1849 and left it to his daughter Henrietta and her husband Calvin. Their son John Hunt Morgan, went on to become a noted Brigadier General in the Civil War. He was killed in Greeneville, TN, shot in the back by Union soldiers.

    John Hunt Morgan's nephew, geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan, was born here in 1866 and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. (He is, incidentally, the only Kentuckian so far to have won the Nobel Prize.)

    Supposedly, the house is haunted by John Wesley Hunt himself (who has been allegedly sighted walking the halls), and by Mammy Bouviette James, the nursemaid of John Hunt Morgan's children. There are various online reports of her apparition being seen on the third floor, where the nursery had been located.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    A Visit to Belle Brezing

    Dropped in on Belle Brezing's grave in Lexington's Calvary Cemetery today to pay my respects. Noticed someone left her some coins and a Kentucky's Best cigarette.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Albert A. Stoll Firehouse

    One of the oldest intact firehouses in America, the now-disused Albert A. Stoll firehouse can still be found on Frankfort Avenue in Louisville. For now, anyway. Wherever there's a historically important building, there's someone wanting to tear it down.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Bivouac of the Dead

    Located in Zachary Taylor Cemetery, Louisville.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    1823 Declaration of Independence

    A rare 1823 engraved copy of the Declaration of Independence is on display in the rotunda of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    High Bridge

    This railroad bridge crossing the Kentucky River between Jessamine and Mercer counties is simply known as "High Bridge".

    It began in the 1850s as a suspension bridge with stone towers, designed by John A. Roebling (designer of the Roebling Suspension Bridge that takes you from Covington to Cincinnati, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC). That project went unfinished, however, and its remains were later revised with a cantilever design. At its completion in 1876, it was the first cantilever bridge in the United States and the tallest railroad bridge in the world.

    The bridge was modified and expanded greatly in 1911, and then again in 1929. It's still in operation today, serving the Norfolk Southern Railway.

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Krampus the Cat

    Oh no, not another JSH blog! Yeah, but this one's all about the bestest kittycat in the whole world, see.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Wave of Military Murder

    The national newsmedia has been abuzz about the bizarre incident at Fort Hood, Texas, in which a Muslim psychiatrist went on a shooting spree. Although early reports stated that there were definitely two shooters - possibly three - that datum seems to have vanished and they've now changed their story and are insisting that Nidal Malik Hasan was a lone gunman.

    Then, in Oak Grove, KY, a Fort Campbell military husband and wife were found dead in a murder-suicide. Police said the man had apparently shot his wife, then shot himself with a handgun.

    The Oak Grove incident isn't an isolated one. We've reported here previously about the ongoing wave of suicide at Fort Campbell, of which this tragedy is just a part. According to news sources, Fort Campbell averaged one confirmed suicide per week last winter. Maybe even more deaths are actually unconfirmed suicides, because there are a considerable number of deaths that are now being reinvestigated.

    Earlier this year, Fort Campbell soldier Steven Green was sentenced to serve five consecutive life sentences. Green raped a 14-year-old girl, then killed her and her entire family, then set fire to their house, then tried to blame it on Sunni Islam terrorists. Fortunately, he was far too stupid to be able to properly keep his story straight.

    And then there's Billi Jo Smallwood, who has been charged with setting fire to her home on the Fort Campbell post in hopes of killing her husband and making it look like an accident. He survived, but two of their children died in the fire.

    And how about Pvt. Nicholas Mikel who opened fire on a group of his fellow soldiers training at Fort Campbell? In April 2006 he was convicted of attempted premeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

    Or Hasan Akbar (given name Mark Kools), a 32-year-old Muslim soldier who was stationed at Fort Campbell and was made miserable by a nonstop barrage of anti-Muslim sentiment around the base. By the time he shipped out to Iraq, he had become driven so insane by the verbal abuse that he finally snapped one night while entrusted to guard a Humvee filled with ammo. He stole a carton of hand grenades, activated each of them and lobbed them into the tents where his officers were sleeping. Some who escaped the blasts were fired upon by Akbar with his standard issue AK-47.

    Akbar was sent back to Kentucky to be court-martialed, and imprisoned in the brig at Fort Knox. He was subsequently sentenced to death by lethal injection.

    And don't forget Fort Campbell's 21-year-old PFC Barry Winchell, who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat because he admitted to being gay. Pvt. Calvin Glover was convicted by a military court and sentenced to life in prison for beating Winchell to death with a baseball bat last year. Winchell’s roommate, Spc. Justin R. Fisher, was sentenced to 12½ years in prison for his role in the killing.

    Michelle Benecke, the co-director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said that Fort Campbell soldiers she spoke to all admitted that "anti-gay harassment and threats are as common as the uniform", but anyone who complains then becomes harassed themselves. Some have hinted that there have been other murders like Winchell's, but that they've been swept under the rug, covered up and made to look like accidents or "friendly fire".

    Fort Campbell, home to the Black Helicopters of the 160th Spec-Ops "Night Stalkers", clearly seems to be stressing its inhabitants to the snapping point. But the Fort Hood incident shows that the problem is nationwide. In Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, the whole first third of the film is devoted to how the psychological cruelty and abuse of the drill instructor (R. Lee Ermey) in basic training leads to one of his soldiers finally going berserk and shooting him, then taking his own life. Life imitates art?

    Meanwhile, court testimony was recently given regarding an earlier shooting in North Carolina wherein a soldier opened fire on two Special Forces commandos. His defense was that he thought they were "roleplaying".