Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coming of the Corn

As I write this late on Friday night, MSNBC is having a ball ridiculing an article on the website of televangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network: on it, CBN employee Kimberly Daniels makes some crackpot assertions about Halloween candy being literally possessed by demonic entities:

"Most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches," Daniels wrote. "I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference."

"Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats," she wrote. "It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon."

MSNBC, not surprisingly, is treating CBN like they're nuts - which, I admit, they certainly are - but the snarky intellectuals at MSNBC are too much of a rationalist-skeptic bunch to even entertain the notion that something really could be possessed by some sort of spirit.

Myself, I tend to live in a world-view not unlike that of the Algonquin Tribe and their "Manitou" concept, one where everything is haunted by a very real and very tangible living spirit - trees, rocks, birds, dirt, pencils, shoes, laptops, rutabagas, etc. Not only all things, but all classifications of things and components of things, and components of the components. And so on. (It's really not as maddening as it sounds.)

But even without opening that philosophical can of nightcrawlers, there is one instance where CBN's fear of eating food possessed by spirits may clearly be justified.

It's called corn.

We've previously discussed here the horrors of Kentucky corn implanted with human genes being experimentally genetically modified right here in the commonwealth. This is frightening enough in itself to keep a person wide-eyed at night, but that's actually just the tip of the genetically modified iceberg. According to some sources, over 80% of all corn/maize in the United States of America is genetically modified. If you've been trying to avoid eating it, you might as well give up. GMO corn is literally everywhere.

But the omnipresence of GMOs in our nation's corn gets even more disturbing when you consider the omnipresence of corn in our nation's diet. Two scientists at the University of Hawaii recently made a shocking discovery when they chose to analyze the most commonly-eaten foods in America: McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King. Using stable isotope analysis, they found that corn molecules were everywhere, in the burgers (corn-fed meat plus corn used as filler) in the buns (corn used in the flour), in the chicken sandwiches (corn-fed meat plus corn used as filler), in the french fries (coated in cornstarch and cooked in corn oil), even in the soft drinks (High Fructose Corn Syrup)! They didn't do Taco Bell, but if they had, needless to say, the ubiquitous corn tortillas would have made everything a forensic nightmare.

Most GMO corn is circulating freely in our food chain with little or no testing - in most cases, some paid lab shill force-fed the stuff to some rats, and if they didn't immediately drop dead or start bursting out with instant bladder cancer, then the corn was given a green light for you and me and children and babies and pets to eat. If someone finds out later that GMO corn causes some sort of zombie disease that takes decades to show up, it'll be too late for us because we're all devouring the stuff every single day of our lives without even knowing it.

Even the bourbon I'm sipping as I type these words is made from corn.

And just what is corn, anyway? That's a good question, and the short answer is that no one seems to know for sure. As columnist Roger Matile has observed, "For something so valuable and yet so common, corn is one of the nation's historical mysteries".

Corn is especially suited to genetic experimentation because of its rapid ability to grow, to hybridize, and to mutate. Unlike most other plants, a cross will show up in the very next generation. Native Americans were the first to "genetically modify" corn in the literal sense, by planting the kernels with deliberation in separate rows, observing which specimens gave the best results, and subsequently increasing production of those samples which had the most desirable attributes.

Scientists are still undecided about just what corn is, and where it came from. Mary Eubanks of Duke University believes ancient humans actually invented corn by interbreeding two varieties of wild grasses. Eubanks believes that Tripsacum dactyloides (Eastern gamagrass) and Zea diploperennis, a perennial variety of Teosinte (a tall annual grass found in Mexico) were crossed to create the original Maize.

There is no clear chain of evolution of corn to be found in the fossil record. Corn as we know it does not seem to have existed until after the Pleistocene era - seemingly, it just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The oldest corn evidence we have is actually quite sketchy - a specimen of alleged 80,000-year-old fossilized corn pollen, found buried 200 feet beneath the surface of Mexico City. Ears of popcorn, 5,600 years old, were found in Bat Cave, New Mexico. Archaeologists opened tombs in Peru and found kernels of popcorn that were 1,000 years old. They were so well preserved that they still popped when cooked. Remnants of corn from the year 400 have been found in Southern Ohio, near the Kentucky-Ohio border and the ever-spooky Ohio River.

The modern-day proponents of the cult of corn are everywhere, even in Kentucky. The Kentucky Corn Growers Association website seems innocuous enough at first glance, but then you realize that they're prominently linking to Sweet Surprise, a pro-HFCS ad campaign that goes beyond shameless in sheer blatant lies and disinformation. (You've seen their TV ads, which invariably portray pro-HFCS people as highly intelligent and happy, while they patiently try to educate an anti-HFCS person who is portrayed as irrational, uninformed, and just plain dumb. The ads are total "Straw man" fallacy, misrepresenting the anti-HFCS position, and then proceeding to argue with and tear down this false position.)

And then you start noticing troubling little things on the site, like prominent corporate logos for some of the most evil nature-wrecking entities on the planet, like DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto. Ugh. Seeing Kentucky farmers openly and cheerfully endorsing these cynical and toxic polluters makes me want to hurl my corn-based dinner.

Sounds depressing, I know. And on a certain level, it is. But in the bigger picture, maybe, just maybe, the cornification of Earth is all part of the plan. Sir James Frazer, in his landmark tome The Golden Bough, observes:

Dionysus was not the only Greek deity whose tragic story and ritual appear to reflect the decay and revival of vegetation. In another form and with a different application the old tale reappears in the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Substantially their myth is identical with the Syrian one of Aphrodite (Astarte) and Adonis, the Phrygian one of Cybele and Attis, and the Egyptian one of Isis and Osiris. In the Greek fable, as in its Asiatic and Egyptian counterparts, a goddess mourns the loss of a loved one, who personifies the vegetation, more especially the corn, which dies in winter to revive in spring.

The oldest literary document which narrates the myth of Demeter and Persephone is the beautiful Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which critics assign to the seventh century before our era... It has been generally recognised, and indeed it seems scarcely open to doubt, that the main theme which the poet set before himself in composing this hymn was to describe the traditional foundation of the Eleusinian Mysteries by the goddess Demeter.

But there is yet another and a deeper secret of the mysteries which the author of the poem appears to have divulged under cover of his narrative. He tells us how, as soon as she had transformed the barren brown expanse of the Eleusinian plain into a field of golden grain, she gladdened the eyes of Triptolemus and the other Eleusinian princes by showing them the growing or standing corn. When we compare this part of the story with the statement of a Christian writer of the second century, Hippolytus, that the very heart of the mysteries consisted in showing to the initiated a reaped ear of corn, we can hardly doubt that the poet of the hymn was well acquainted with this solemn rite, and that he deliberately intended to explain its origin in precisely the same way as he explained other rites of the mysteries, namely by representing Demeter as having set the example of performing the ceremony in her own person. Thus myth and ritual mutually explain and confirm each other.

Let me repeat what he just said, and place it in bold face: the very heart of the mysteries consisted in showing to the initiated a reaped ear of corn.

Frazer goes on to systematically deconstruct the generally-held belief that Demeter represents an "Earth-Mother" archetype, and insists that Demeter is actually a personification of corn (and also barleycorn); a Corn Goddess, seeking domination over the Earth and its limitations, seeking to transcend the soil to which it is tethered. "The conclusion is confirmed by the monuments; for in ancient art Demeter and Persephone are alike characterised as goddesses of the corn by the crowns of corn which they wear on their heads and by the stalks of corn which they hold in their hands. Again, it was Demeter who first revealed to the Athenians the secret of the corn and diffused the beneficent discovery far and wide through the agency of Triptolemus, whom she sent forth as an itinerant missionary to communicate the boon to all mankind."

In more modern times, the idea of the Corn Goddess is still with us. In Germany to this day, corn is commonly personified under the folkloric name of "The Corn-mother". When the wind causes waves to ripple across a field of corn, the farmers say, "There goes the Corn-mother" or "The Corn-mother is walking through the corn." She is believed to be present in the handful of corn which is left standing last on the field. Depending on local custom, she is either revered by turning that last corn stalk into a ritual doll, or she is exorcised and driven out like a demon.

Frazer continues his scholarly ponderings with a section entitled "The Spirit of the Corn embodied in Human Beings". Which brings us back to where we came in. Says Frazer:

"The spirit of the corn manifests itself not merely in vegetable but also in human form; the person who cuts the last sheaf or gives the last stroke at threshing passes for a temporary embodiment of the corn-spirit, just as much as the bunch of corn which he reaps or threshes".

In other words, you are what you kill, and you are what you eat.

That phrase, "you are what you eat", has its origins in the Anthelme Brillat-Savarin quote, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are)". Many readers may recognize this as the maxim of the TV show Iron Chef, shown at the beginning of each episode. In the 21st century, we now know that, all allegory aside, we really are literally made of what we have eaten.

If you want a real scare this Halloween, look no further than the documentary film King Corn, in which two researchers set out to find out why corn is taking over the country, invading practically every food Americans consume. They had their hair analyzed by a lab and discovered that corn was even detected in their hair. They learned that the corn found in almost all processed foods is actually "not fit for human consumption", and yet we're eating it, and so are the animals we eat.

High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is the key ingredient to everything from soft drinks to candy, is made from this same low grade corn that was supposed to be classified inedible. The makers of King Corn could not, try though they did, gain access to any corn syrup factory to view the circumstances under which it is made. In other words, it's essentially as much a guarded and classified state secret as Area 51. You, as a member of the public, are not allowed to see how High Fructose Corn Syrup is manufactured even though you are forced to eat it every day of your life.

Rutgers professor Chi-Tang Ho has proven that soft drinks sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup are up to ten times richer in dangerous carbonyl compounds, including the mysterious methylglyoxal. Carbonyl compounds are highly elevated in the bloodstreams of diabetics, and are blamed for diabetic complications such as foot ulcers, nerve damage, and decreased vision.

Since almost all candies now contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, CBN's Pat Robertson and Kimberly Daniels are inadvertently speaking a sort of truth when they say that Halloween candy is possessed by spirits. That ancient spirit of the Corn Goddess is spreading to all that it touches, and it has very nearly touched everything. You, me, Pat Robertson, we're all part corn. It's in our hair. It's in our cells. Our brains. Our nerves. Our molecular structure. Our atomic structure. All living things are increasingly infected by the presence of corn, for better or for worse. And it's too late to stop it now even if we could. It may or may not truly impact us in our own lifetime, but the long-term difference it will make in the future trajectory of life on Earth is immense.

Like a virus and its host, corn has successfully used us as a means to enable it to multiply and spread itself.

To what ends? Probably nothing more sinister than that age-old simple reason for doing anything: survival. Corn is not only surviving and thriving, it is closer to world domination than any other plant in nature, thanks in part to our own inexplicable efforts to promulgate it. We're turning the entire planet into a corn domain, and we don't even know why we're doing it; we're just doing it because something is compelling us to do so. We don't ask questions, we just plough the fields and scatter.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Central State Asylum Blog

Our pal Jay Gravatte of the Louisville Ghost Hunters emailed me last night with exciting news: he's got a brand-new blog devoted to one of my favorite Kentucky haunt-spots: the Central State Asylum.

Check out his blog at

Graveside Menagerie

Love this grave that's completely obscured by toys and figurines, in the babyland area of the troubled Eastern Cemetery in Louisville. The tally is: three frogs, five kittycats, one cherub, one Jesus, one Santa.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Every little spot-in-the-road in Kentucky has a long and fascinating story behind it, a time-track of history that could easily fill books and blogs all by itself. Most of their past greatnesses go unsung or are diffused piecemeal via various disparate sources, awaiting some nutty archivists like ourselves to gather back what has been sown to the wind.

Not so with Crayne, KY. Although it's obscure enough that it doesn't yet have its own Wikipedia article, it's nevertheless well documented and represented on the web by Brenda Underdown, a historian who publishes two kick-butt blogs about Crayne and its environs. Forgotten Passages is all about Crittenden County history in general, while her Crayne, Kentucky... My Hometown blog focuses on the past and present glories of Crayne and its progenitor, Crayneville. Brenda also has a Forgotten Passages book you can order here.

Crayne/Crayneville was named for Emma Crayne, the landowner who granted access to the Illinois Central railroad to use her land to cut through. The resultant community became Crayneville, then shortened to Crayne in 1907.

Photo above: the Crayne String Band: Jonas Rushing on guitar, Elbert Brown on violin, Hughey McCaslin on double bass (though it looks more like a cello to me in the photo) and Nat Sutton on Mandolin.

Kentucky Valkyries

Kentucky's about to have a new national women's football team: the Kentucky Valkyries are due to spring into action in 2010, playing full-contact no-compromise football.

Although their owner is apparently based in Tennessee, the Kentucky Valkyries are headquartered in Bowling Green, KY. They'll be part of the Mid-Atlantic Division of the Women's Football Alliance, alongside the Kentucky Karma, the Columbus Comets, the Cleveland Fusion, the Pittsburgh Force, the Cincinnati Sizzle, and a bunch of other teams I've never ever heard of.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Phoenix Hill

Most Louisvillians probably don't think of the downtown "Nanny Goat Strut" alley, the corner of Broadway and Floyd, and the corner of Barret and Rubel as all being part of the same neighborhood. But in fact, they are. Says Wikipedia of the Phoenix Hill area:

Its boundaries are Market Street to the north, Preston Street to the west, Broadway to the south, and Baxter Avenue to the east. The area was originally known as Preston's Enlargement, part of the land granted to Colonel William Preston in 1774. The area was annexed by Louisville in 1827, known at the time as Uptown, and was densely populated by the time of the Civil War. Some of the Bloody Monday riots occurred in Phoenix Hill near the St. Martin of Tours church.

A triangular portion of the neighborhood bounded by Beargrass Creek was not developed at all before the Civil War. Though a park was built in 1865, most of the land was not developed until the 1890s.

According to John E. Kleber's Encyclopedia of Louisville, The Phoenix Hill Brewery, built in 1865, was the main center of attraction in the area and John Philip Sousa often performed here. Sadly, it closed in 1919 due to prohibition and subsequent land-alteration destroyed much of the actual hill for which the area is named.

While "Preston's Enlargement" was a pretty great name, I'm most curious what motivated someone to change the area's monicker to Phoenix Hill, and when exactly it happened. A Phoenix, of course, is an ancient mythological firebird originating with the Phoenicians and resonating into later Egyptian and Greek cultures. The neighborhood's signage clearly and boldly acknowledges the connection.

The village's most famous namesake, Phoenix Hill Tavern, is just at the very farthest edge of the area's boundaries, at the corner of Broadway and Baxter. (In actual practice, of course, boundaries of these neighborhoods have always been vague, sketchy, wobbly, and shifting. Most people just refer to everything between Feeder's Supply and Preston Arts Center as "The Highlands" anyway.)

KFC Infiltrates the UN

It's one of the most brilliant - and insane - promotional stunts I've seen in a long, long time. No, I'm not talking about The Heene Family Balloon; I'm talking about Colonel Sanders invading the United Nations. According to the Telegraph:

A man impersonating the Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders managed to dupe his way into the UN headquarters in New York and shake hands with a senior official.

Dressed in the fast food icon's familiar white suit and black bow tie, the actor evaded tight security to gain access to the restricted areas of the complex.

He even posed for a photograph with Ali Treki (علي التريكي), the new president of the UN General Assembly, before the alarm was raised and he was ejected.

A spokeswoman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, yesterday said that an investigation had been launched into the security breach, which was dreamed up by KFC as a promotional stunt... As part of its campaign to promote a new menu range, KFC is "lobbying" the UN for the fictional Grilled Nation to be accepted as a member state.

I'm tellin' ya, Colonel Sanders Impersonators are shaping up to be a major meme of the 21st century. Wait and see.

I think it might have been ill-advised (okay, okay, I know, I know, the whole crazy scheme was ill-advised) to have the Colonel pose for a photo-op with Mr. Treki though. Treki has recently come under a lot of fire for his recent anti-gay statements to the media, and many are calling for his resignation.

They even have an electronic billboard on Times Square in NYC counting the new recruits to "Grilled Nation". (I'm not sure how they compute that. Are these actually the number of units sold?) I think the Colonel's Grilled Chicken is dee-lish and have tried it several times, so I guess I have honorary citizenship in Grilled Nation. Nevertheless, I'm all about friedness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Georgetown Home with Mosaic

Love the folk-art mosaic work way up at the top of this house in Georgetown.

Clothing Tree

Driving through one of the shopping centers at the corner of Taylorsville and Hurstbourne in Louisville, something disturbingly humanoid was spotted hanging from a tree. A Halloween decoration, I wondered? Or some sort of small stuffed figure hung in effigy?


Turned to be just a kid's outfit, still on the hanger and still with store tags. Probably some mom must have hung it there while loading the SUV, and then forgot and drove off without it. Then again, it's on a rather high branch, and isn't actually beside a parking spot.

Perhaps it's like the shoe tree at Murray State University. Perhaps someone's trying to start a new holiday tradition. Perhaps it's a Festivus miracle!

For some reason, I encounter abandoned clothing on an almost daily basis, often enough that I considered even starting a blog about it. I think I'll just keep those here on this blog, under the abandoned clothing tag.

"Gold Teef for Errbody!"

A Jilbertmobile parked outside of Spinelli's Pizza in Louisville, seen Sunday.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jack o' the Lantern

At the home of some hippie babysitter I once had, I used to read those Foxfire books as an impressionable youth. No doubt they had some sort of nefarious influence on me, filling my innocent noggin with all sorts of ideas about soapmaking, butter churning, beekeeping, hide tanning, basket weaving, woodcarving and hog butchering.

But in all of that idle leafing through arcane texts of lost homespunnery, I never did really grok what was meant by the name "Foxfire" at the time.

Years later, I learned it referred to bioluminescent fungi, which is related to the concept of the Will O' the Wisp, which in turn is related to the Irish mythos of Stingy Jack, from whence we derive the mythical Jack o'the Lantern - and that is, of course, in whose honor we carve Pumpkinheads around the Halloween season.

Dave Tabler, on his wonderful Appalachian History blog, recently did a piece about the Jack o'Lantern Mushroom:

If you have ever tramped around the woods after dark, you may have noticed an erie glowing substance on the forest floor. This is the light from luminescent fungi---foxfire. One of the most common fungi responsible for foxfire is Clitocybe illudens, also known as the Jack 'o Lantern mushroom. Makes complete sense that it would be named that: it’s orange, it glows in the dark. But did you ever stop to wonder where the phrase "Jack 'o Lantern" came from?

Tabler goes to tell one version of the Stingy Jack legend - there are many - and you can read more on Wikipedia. For our purposes here, I'll just give you my abbreviated Jeff's Notes version:

Basically, a slovenly but lovable alcoholic lout with a mischievious, trickster mentality encounters Satan, and tricks him into turning himself into a coin, which Jack then quickly thrusts into his pocket which also contains a crucifix. This imprisons Satan who, stuck in coin form, cannot re-transmogrify while touching the Holy Cross. Satan tells Jack that in exchange for freedom, he promises to leave Jack alone for ten years. Jack, apparently not being a very good negotiator, agrees to this.

Ten years after, Satan returns with the intent of killing Jack and taking his soul. Jack again tricks Satan by entrapping him up an apple tree surrounded by crucifixes. This time Jack makes a better deal, and insists that in exchanging for releasing Satan from the tree, he will never, ever go to Hell. Satan agrees to this.

Finally, at the end of Jack's natural life, he floats up to Heaven but is turned away because of the wicked and sinful life of drinking, womanizing and carousing. Apparently being a free-agent of a spirit is very painful and unpleasant, because Jack then decides he'd rather be in Hell than to be stuck in the in-between nether world. Satan gets the last laugh on Jack, saying "Sorry, a deal's a deal - you made me promise you could never enter the gates of Hell!"

Jack is forever doomed to wander in limbo and on Earth, unable to ever rest his soul in Heaven or Hell. Some versions of the story have him holding a lantern consisting of a candle inside a hollowed-out turnip; in others, it's a rutabaga, a gourd, or a pumpkin. Somewhere along the way, his actual head became that hollowed-out flaming vegetable lantern.

Meanwhile, back to the mushroom, I should also point out that it is extremely poisonous, but looks very similar to the highly edible Chanterelle mushroom which is equally common in Kentucky. If you aren't 100% percent positive, do not eat. (And of course, the corollary is: make sure you have the right shroom so that you don't sit in the darkness staring at a Chanterelle and waiting eternally to see the bioluminescence.)

Kingston Advice

I often bemoan how the internet is increasingly cluttered with junk data, and here's a prime example. Check out this Topix post made last weekend, advising us of some alleged paranormal phenomena described in only the vaguest possible terms:

Lots of strange things have been happening around the area of kingston. Strange lights in the sky and weird shadow-like things seen moving on the streets and through peoples yards. It seems like it came out of nowhere. I first noticed it a couple of weeks ago. No one around here is talking about it though.

"Lots of strange things?" Okay, so what are they? "Strange lights in the sky and weird shadow-like things"? Well, there's two. Two isn't "lots". Why were the lights "strange"? They didn't say. Who, exactly, saw these "shadow-like things", and can they give us a better description? They didn't say. Did the poster see these events firsthand? They didn't say. And if not, how did they hear about it if "no one around here is talking about it"?

(Am I some sort of jerk for wanting people to actually communicate if they're going to communicate?)

Fortunately, one of the few - very few - useful things about the interactivity of the internet is that sometimes a post of useless rumors can lead to others chiming in with more detailed reports:

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has noticed. I live in the Kingston area (Bobtown) and it's been going on for quite a while now, actually.

There's been a few curious incidents (I've seen quite a few shooting stars or what appeared to be shooting stars over the course of the course of the past year and a half) but on Friday October 23rd, 2009 around 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. sometime far before the sun had started to set and dusk started to settle in, I observed a strange white light in the Eastern sky that seemed to be located somewhere in between Smith Lane and the end of Blue Lick Road. It looked just like a bright, white star in the daylight, moving quite slowly. I observed this peculiar anomaly for about a minute and a half before it finally vanished behind a distant tree line. I haven't seen it since.

Well, okay, this is better. Now we have a time, a date, and an actual location. Even if the story turns out to be nothing, at least the post seems made in good faith, and is real data, not junk data.

Unfortunately, the poster doesn't tell us what is such a "peculiar anomaly" about a point of light moving slowly thru the sky at dusk. The poster doesn't say why he doesn't believe it was a plane, which is what it sounds like.

Another poster adds:

I for one know that there are strange things happening in the Kingston Area, i live beside Kingston Elementary School, i see a lot of bright lights in the sky in the kings trace sub. There have also been people saying that their car alarms are going off at the same time almost every night. I dont know whats going on, but it's creepy. And if i'm not mistaken that area was a battlefield.

Need more info. Lots more info. It's the 21st century and the sky is, at any given time, filled with planes, biplanes, jets, military craft, drones, helicopters, autogyros, satellites, meteor showers, hot air balloons, weather balloons, and the Heene family.

I see what are essentially less-than-100%-identified lights in the sky every day. For it to be something really strange or weird or spooky or creepy, it had better contain a bat-frog-man or have a pulsing light and throbbing hum. It better look like 2001's monolith, or freak out an entire airport, or contain aliens who tell you to "Drop the Tunug!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Starks Bldg. Skylight

Now that the brilliant Mendel Hertz has taken over Louisville's Starks Building, the 1913 structure's original glass roof has been restored to its original glory.

See more Hertz-Starks Building photos here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption

Not to be confused with Louisville's Cathedral of the Assumption, this is a Catholic Basilica located in Covington. The structure, laden with gargoyles, is one of our state's most amazing religious and architectural treasures.

The cathedral project was begun in 1984 by the Diocese of Covington's Bishop Camillus Paul Maes. Oddly, the construction was terminated in 1915, and remains incomplete and unfinished to this day. It is one of only 35 minor basilicas in the United States - Pope Pius XII elevated St. Mary's Cathedral to the rank of Minor Basilica on December 8, 1953. (There are only four Major Basilicas, all of which are in Rome.)

The interior of the cathedral contains murals by the great Kentucky artist Frank Duveneck, born in Covington.

Flickr user ucb411 has some truly amazing photos of the Basilica, apparently done in time-lapse so that the clouds seem to be moving, and at dusk for heightened contrast with the evening lighting. An example is below; click here to see more!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pirate Treasure in Kentucky

An article in the Hardin County News-Enterprise pointed me to an interesting-sounding book I wasn't aware of: Robert Prather's The Strange Case of Jonathan Swift and the real Long John Silver.

In it, Prather makes the case for the semi-mythical pirate Jonathan Swift and the semi-mythical pirate Long John Silver being one and the same man, and suggests that Swift may have buried his fabled treasure (and concealed a gold/silver mine) somewhere on his thousands of acres of property he owned in Kentucky.

(We're speaking here, of course, of the Jonathan Swift who is said to have discovered a vast gold/silver mine somewhere in Kentucky, not the Gulliver's Travels author.)

Prather suggests the Swift cache sits near the Hardin-Breckinridge county line, in the middle of an “X” formed by the towns of Eastview, Westview, Centerview and Grandview.

Furthermore, Prather points out an old newspaper article from 1902 that mentions a goldmine near Easy Gap, just a few miles from the area in question.

Wikipedia says:

"Tradition holds that he [Swift] was an established Indian trader, but some historians came to believe he was a pirate who preyed on Spanish merchants and made his frequent trips into the wilderness not to retrieve his treasure, but to hide and coin it. A resident of Laurel County, Kentucky named William Reams held that following Swift's visit to the mine in 1769 – the last trip recorded in the journal – he and his accomplices agreed not to claim any of the treasure they had hidden in the area until 1790. When they did return, Swift was overcome by the sight of the wealth and killed the other members of the party while they slept. Following this action, he was struck blind and unable to recover the treasure."

Henry Harvey Fuson's 1939 History of Bell County, Kentucky, on the other hand, pooh-poohs the whole notion and does so in a rather disingenuous manner:

"The mountain people in the past have been good subjects for the creation of this folk-tale, since no mines have been found that we can trace to Swift. They lived for a century far from railroads in a wilderness of mountain country. They made a living, a bare living in many instances, by the hardest of work. People in this condition dream of wealth and luxury.

The story of Swift fell into fertile soil of their dreaming minds and became fixed there as a fact. After it became fixed, and no mines could be found, then reasons were invented to account for not finding the silver. Hence, dark caves with heaped-up silver guarded by demons, great kettles of silver deep down in the ground protected by a league of devils, and many other stories grew up around this tradition. What better modern folk-tale could we have?"

(For those who find significance in synchronicities for their own sake, you may be intrigued to note the promixity of Swift's alleged buried treasure site to that of Fort Knox. Likewise, you may note the fact that the Long John Silver's restaurant chain is owned by the Kentucky-based Yum! Brands.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Country for Young Kids

Another dubious first for Kentucky: our state is now ranked #1 for the highest rate of child abuse and neglect deaths of any state in the country.

Curiously, Kentucky also has the 2nd lowest abortion rate in the nation.

There's some dots to be connected there, maybe.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cafe Metro's Mural

I never really cared for Louisville's Cafe Metro (which has recently gone out of business - see our Whitewashed Windows and Vacant Stores blog for more on that). I was also always disturbed by their mural, the symbolism of which I find most unsavory.

Hopkinsville Hoofer Mistaken for Suicidal Swan-diver

From the Kentucky New Era:

Jeremy Johnson said he was dancing on the top rail of a bridge in Hopkinsville, but drivers below thought he was going to jump and called police.

Johnson's job is to advertise Quizno's by dancing on the roadside near the Pennyrile Parkway while holding a sign for the sub shop. The Kentucky New Era quoted Johnson saying he was taking a break Saturday and was rolling a cigarette when drivers honked and waved at him.

Johnson said he lighted his cigarette and started dancing on the rail in response.

Police didn't join in the dance. They cited him for disorderly conduct.

Concrete and Pavement Tainted?

Recently 60 Minutes ran an expose on the dangers of coal ash, and how it's turning up in unexpected places - like road asphalt.

The stuff has already been wreaking havoc on the environment for many years now, like in October 2000 when a coal ash sludge impoundment in Martin County gushed into a underground mine and sent an estimated 306 million gallons (1.16 billion liters) of sludge into tributaries of the Tug Fork River. This incident was investigated in the documentary film Sludge by Appalshop filmmaker Robert Salyer in 2005.

Scary thing is, now Kentucky's coal ash is being used as an additive for the manufacture of pavement used on highways, as an ingredient in some brands of concrete, and even in household materials like carpeting and kitchen countertops.

The EPA doesn't seem to have a problem with this, and even promotes the practice by claiming that using coal ash as an additive has the net effect of "decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from avoided cement manufacturing". (Uh.... but what about the greenhouse gas emissions that resulted in the creation of the coal ash in the first place??)

The folks at Earthjustice are working to make the EPA properly regulate coal ash as the toxic and dangerous substance that it is. The EPA promised to regulate coal ash after more than 1 billion gallons of it burst from a Tennessee storage pond last December. So far they have not kept that promise.

According to the Earthjustice website:

This waste can cause cancer, birth defects, lung and organ damage, and other health threats. It contains such dangerous chemicals as arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium. There is enough coal ash in ponds and landfills across the country to flow continuously over Niagara Falls for more than 3 days straight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interstate 66 Defeated?

The Courier-Journal is reporting that the controversial I-66 project may finally be dead.

I-66, if you hadn't heard, is a proposed new interstate that would ruin much of the Daniel Boone National Forest and other nature territories in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. The project has long since been given up on by everyone but Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY) who continue to push for the destructive and unnecessary development. Rogers has, according to his own website, "directed $96 million in targeted federal funding for development of I-66."

According to Elana Schor in the DC Streetsblog:

But even if I-66 lurched back to life in the coming months, the four-land highway still would face stiff challenges from environmental groups. The Kentucky Resources Council is one such local opponent, having taken on the state government in 2007 for attempting to exempt I-66 from an existing river-protection law.

As conceived, I-66 also would cut through hundreds of acres of the Daniel Boone National Forest, raising the prospect of significant environmental degradation in the area. (Incidentally, Kentuckian explorer Boone was the original namesake of the controversial road, but Rogers later took over that role.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Belle of Louisville Haunted?

This past weekend, the Belle of Louisville had an unfortunate incident about a quarter-mile north of Harrods Creek: reportedly a strong and unexpected gust of wind blew the ship off course, crashing it into a parked barge on the Ohio River.

According to FOX News:

Belle of Louisville CEO Linda Harris told The Courier-Journal of Louisville that about 300 people — many of them elderly — were aboard the steamboat and that about six to eight people suffered minor injuries.

David Karem, executive director of the Waterfront Development Corp. that manages the Belle for the city, said the steamboat was pushed into the barge by a strong wind while it was on a public cruise that started around noon.

The Belle suffered paddlewheel damage and lost power.

According to various online sources, the Belle is supposedly haunted by a former Captain named Ben Winters who died on board from a heart attack. says:

Workers have also died in both the engine room and by the paddlewheel. One of these men was crushed to death when a piece of machinery was turned on by accident, and the other man was killed while conducting maintenance on the paddlewheel because it went into motion. Ghostly activity has been known to occur in these areas, primarily in the morning hours when just the workers are around. When new people begin working on the Belle of Louisville, they are told that they may potentially experience paranormal activity.

If they do, they are allowed to talk about it amongst themselves, but no official record can be released due to fear of scaring people away. Due to this policy, no official record of a haunting has ever been released to the public.

Robert W. Parker's Louisville Ghost Walks site suggests that the steamboat's name may be part of the reason for the ghost of Captain Winters' displeasure. The boat was originally called the Idlewild but was renamed to the Avalon on his deathbed, as his final request. (Does anyone know why he made this request?) But in 1963, it was changed to the Belle of Louisville.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Gone Home by a Shorter Way"

Another Georgetown Cemetery grave with an interesting epitaph, source unknown:

We stood at the place of parting,
And the clouds were leaden gray
That hid from our sight our darling,
Gone home by a shorter way.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Abandoned House in Scott County

On Friday I was driving on some road - can't remember which - that leads out of Georgetown, and somewhere I took a wrong turn. The paved road transformed into a muddy gravel one, and then that road forked off into two, one of which had monster-truck tire gouges in the mud, so deep that no ordinary vehicle could traverse it without scraping its underbelly.

I found myself in a remote dense forested area surrounded by old dumpsites of household garbage, appliances, portions of automobiles, etc. I ventured into the woods to check out what turned out to be a portion of either a very old fireplace or some sort of outdoor furnace. It looks like it's actually been used relatively recently for burning something. Some sort of cult pyre, or merely an outdoor grill for hobos?

From there, I spied the remains of an old house and took a few pics. Some kids have already discovered the place, as kids always do, and added some touches of graffiti.

For some reason, two different Georgetown street signs are stashed out here, to the side of the house. Probably acts of vandalism from those aforementioned clever rugrats.