Wednesday, March 30, 2011

UFO Blitz in the Bluegrass Triangle

Found in the labyrinthine recesses of my archives: a newspaper clipping from a 1978 National Enquirer, exact date indeterminate. Says here that central Kentucky was reportedly experiencing a "UFO blitz" back in those long-gone days of disco and punk.

What exactly did this blitz consist of? According to the article, one of the incidents involved a pair of Madison County firemen called upon to put out a grass fire that turned out to be a "blazing red UFO" - which they then proceeded to follow across Richmond in hot pursuit for over an hour. One of the firemen, Robert Murphy, described it as a "classic" flying-saucer shaped spaceship.

Another case was a preacher and his wife who, and I quote, "encountered a gigantic, dazzling UFO on the way to church." Elmer Hardy, then 73 years old and pastor of Bybee United Methodist Church, said they were driving to Sunday night services when the UFO approached them head-on and hovered above them. "It was about 10 stories high and 20 stories wide, with a zillion lights on it," Hardy is quoted as saying.

Then there's 16-year-old Terry Kirby from Irvine, who the Enquirer says was chopping wood when suddenly a glowing oval-shaped UFO descended upon him. Kirby had the quick wits to run in the the house, grab a polaroid camera, and snap a shot. The article also quotes other Irvine citizens like police chief Marcus Cole, who says there have been many eyewitness of flying saucers in Irvine; and Guy Hatfield, publisher of Citizen Voice & Times, is quoted as defending the experiencers: "These were all solid citizens, with no reason to say it unless they saw one".

Another Irvine sighting report was from a Kentucky State Trooper, Jim Whitaker. He spotted a car-sized UFO with red/white/blue/green pulsating lights hovering over a field in Irvine on "February 19" (presumably 1978). "Whitaker, a veteran of 1,500 flying hours in Navy helicopters, said the craft definitely wasn't a helicopter or airplane." He chased the car for two hours in the Estill County night, and made a very interesting observation: "When an aircraft approached it, the intensity of its lights would die down... and once the aircraft was clear, it would light up again!"

The article, although rather well-written for a tabloid rag, fails to mention the presence of the Blue Grass Army Depot at the epicenter of this "Bluegrass Triangle" of UFO activity they posit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reservoir Hill

This patriotic water tower can be found in Bowling Green's Reservoir Hill Park, where it's a well known local feature. I have a thing about water towers, and this one is right up there near the top of my hit parade along with other notable Kentucky examples as "Florence Y'all", the giant Dixie Cup, and the now-departed Lakeland Asylum suicide tower.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stalkers and Dollars and Bones

Life moves pretty fast in the wilderness of Kentucky, and if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Then again, even if you don't go looking for adventure, as often as not adventure finds you.

Not long ago, I was hiking in the woods on a crisp windy morning. As I began my sojourn, I passed a nondescript sort of fellow walking out as I was walking in. Blue flannel shirt, pullover cap, short beard. I gave him the usual guy-nod, and he slightly acknowledged with one of his own.

Now, this was in a large open field area just before you reach the dense forest. When I got to that point, I stopped to open my thermos of coffee and have a slug, and looked around. No one in sight.

Yet, about half an hour later, by which time I'm deep in the heart of darkest America, I hear a sound behind me as I'm crossing a creek on half-submerged rocks. I look back, and I'll be damned if that guy isn't right behind me, standing on the other side of the creek, staring at me with a creepy expressionless face. Uh.... dude. Sup?

Think on this: I know he didn't turn around and start following me as soon as I originally passed him, because I had looked back across the open field and he was nowhere in sight, right? So in order for him to get from wherever he was then to suddenly be standing right behind me now, he had to have ran like hell to catch up with me. Not only ran like hell, but also at some point stop running and then silently start sneaking, in order to get that close to me without me having heard another presence in the forest.

So I'm thinking, this guy is either a park ranger or a pervert. Both, maybe? I reached into my camera case and pulled my camera out and the guy took off. Okay. Pervert it is, then.

I watched him flee until he was out of sight, then continued to listen to the sound of his escape. There was a false stop as he must have paused somewhere along the way, then I heard him trudge off on a slightly different trajectory into the distance.

No sooner had I turned around and continued along the trail I was on, than I came upon a folded dollar bill, laying plainly out in the open. The hell? I looked around, felt guilty for a moment for taking something that wasn't mine, but hey, I'm ten miles from civilization in any direction - obviously whoever lost it isn't going to trudge back out looking for a missing George, right? Finders keepers, losers weepers, right? Anyway, a gust of wind could have blown it into the creek at any moment, right?

Oh yeah. Hmmm.

Logically, then, Mr. Watson, we can conclusively deduce that this dollar, however and by whomever it came to be here, hadn't been here for very long. Still uneasy over the creep who was stalking me, I became even more wary about the dollar bill, folded in such a way that the Illuminati's eye in the pyramid was watching me. I felt like Deckard in Blade Runner finding one of Gaff's origami.

Looking back, the spooky dude and the dollar bill were most likely unconnected, of course. Probably just a coincidence that both incidents occurred within 60 seconds of each other, and within ten feet of each other. But sometimes even when a coincidence is just a coincidence, it still doesn't mean the Universe isn't trying to tell you something.

And on the way back home, I chanced upon a gnawed raccoon carcass with exposed vertebrae - and it hadn't been there on my way in on that same path. Probably dropped there by a hawk or turkey buzzard, who are notorious for clumsily dropping bones in flight. I tend to find a lot of bones in the woods, and often save them for art projects. This one, however, I didn't mess with. The buzzard clearly wasn't finished, and might be back to gnaw on this some more. I felt as if I was being watched - perhaps the bird was watching me from a high treetop, telling me "get away from my lunch." Or perhaps that weird guy was still lurking. Either way: predator.

Is there any overarching message to be gleaned from all this? Oh, probably not; maybe just that nature is filled with opportunities, and not all of them are good. Finders keepers, losers weepers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kentucky Rain

When I was a little kid, I used to play my parents' Elvis records, including the then-brand-new hit "Kentucky Rain", which reached #16 on Billboard's Top 100 charts, and #3 on their Adult Contemporary charts in 1970.

Then, as now, I listened to the song and could only think of one thing: I wanted to know exactly what Kentucky towns Elvis was singing about as he walked and hitchhiked his way across the state!

Being as my stomping ground as a child was the area encompassing Boonesboro, Winchester, Richmond, Berea, Waco, College Hill, Bybee, and Irvine, I often imagined Elvis as the song's protagonist traipsing through these places when I listened to "Kentucky Rain". The line about "thumbing for a ride on this lonely Kentucky backroad" usually conjured up images of Flint Road in Waco, or Redhouse Road in Madison County, between Richmond and Redhouse.

The part where he talks to a couple of old men sitting on a bench outside a general store made me think of a gas station/grocery in Irvine with tobacco-chewing guys sitting out front. (The place is still there, in fact, but I'm drawing a blank about what it's called.)

The song was written by Eddie Rabbitt, who unfortunately died thirteen years ago so we can't ask him if he had any specific locales in mind when he came up with it.

Did the song ever make you picture any familiar Kentucky places in your head? Or am I the only one?

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Ásatrú, also known sometimes as Odinism, has its basis in Germanic Neopaganism but sprouts tentacles off in many different directions with many different factions, many of whom don't always see eye-to-eye.

In very general terms, Asatru is a polytheistic faith, centered around worship of the ancient Norse Gods and Goddesses. Many of the names of these gods and goddesses remain part of our modern culture, such as in the days of the week: Wednesday is Woden's (Odin/Wotan's) Day, Thursday is Thor's Day, Friday is Freya's Day. Ásatrú - the true Ásatrú - is open to everyone, regardless of gender, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, language, sexual orientation, or any other divisive criteria.

The current leading Ásatrú organization seems to be Ásatrú Alliance, which succeeded something called the Asatru Free Assembly which was also succeeded by something else called the Asatru Folk Assembly. According to Wikipedia, the Asatru Alliance was founded by Michael J. Murray, the former Vice-President of something else yet again, called The Odinist Fellowship.

Confused? Me too. It's like trying to sort out a bucket of nightcrawlers. At night. Let's not even get into the more hardcore "Odinist" types like The Odin Brotherhood, The Odinic Rite, The Odinist Fellowship, Holy Nation of Odin, and Wotanism.

The problem with Asatru/Odinism is that it's too "open source" a concept - the danger with starting a religious organization that you can't maintain strict control over is that before you know it, all kinds of kooks are starting rogue versions of your religion, and using it for unsavory purposes that you didn't intend. And so we have people out there calling themselves Odin worshippers who couldn't be more different from one another, ranging from young left-wing hippie girls to ultra-right-wing shaven-headed nutcases. Still others are merely attracted to the swords and the costumes and the mead, and would probably be better off visiting a Rennaissance Fair than changing their religion.

Because of its anglo-centric nature, it has attracted both gentle Wiccans and psychotic "White Power" supremacists - neither of which, needless to say, want to have anything to do with each other. For the most part, the peaceful ones just want to be left alone, and it's the stupid skinheads with skulls tattooed on their necks who stir up trouble and give the larger body of Ásatrú a major PR liability.

It's enough to make an Ásatrú practitioner throw up their hands and say "to hell with it, I'm just going to go over here and start my own personal Scandinavian-flavored thing and stop using the names "Asatru" or "Odinist" entirely".

And many, in fact, are increasingly doing just that, preferring to keep it vague and unaffiliated, and just calling themselves "heathen" or "pre-Christian" and leaving it at that. Many keep their groups tightly-knit among a close circles of family and friends, and have moved past the idea of belonging to over-arching all-encompassing organizations where you end up side by side with people whose reasons for interest in all things Germanic may be more sinister than yours.

Kentucky has a local Ásatrú chapter located in Hazard, called the Kentucky Ásatrú Alliance. According to their website (which is currently offline for some reason):

"More and more people are moving away from universal religions that assert their path as the "one and only right way" for all humanity, and returing to the tribal paths of their own ancestors. These ancestral "folk ways" are after all, an expression of the totality of the people who developed [with] them as ways of understanding and expressing existence. Since much of our being (both physical and psychological) is passed on to us from our ancestors, their natural spirituality is surely the most compatible with our own instinctual being."

Another site of theirs, FrithNet, is still online but doesn't look to have been updated in over a year. And it in turn links to a worldwide Ásatrú auction site called FeeFum, which shows a little more activity, but not much, and the items being auctioned are predominantly jewelry. And yet another site, Samfelag, ostensibly for networking, also seems little-used.

Does this mean that the Ásatrú faith is in decline? No, far from it. I'd say it most likely means that the kind of people drawn to true Ásatrú would be the kind of people who don't spend a whole lot of time fiddling around on the internet - and for that, I say more power to 'em. Then again, they are on Facebook, which is unfortunate.)

Other Ásatrú organizations around the world seem to still exist - such as Asatru Alliance in Arizona, Asatru Folk Assembly (though their site still says 2008 at the bottom), The Troth in Connecticut, Irminsul Ættir in Washington state, and The Canadian Asatru Portal, who provide an exhaustive array of further Asatru links here.

Given that most seem to be sticklers for historical authenticity, something tells me they're not going to like the upcoming Thor movie, which bases itself on the highly off-model Marvel Comics version and takes it even further off-model.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chained Rock

High above the city of Pineville, there stands an immense protruding rock held in place by an old rusty chain. This is "Chained Rock", a peculiar tourist attraction in the Pine Mountain State Resort Park (established in 1924 as Kentucky's first state park).

Accounts vary regarding how the rock got its chain. Some sources say the rock is/was genuinely unstable and the chain is what's saved Pineville from a dangerous rockslide. Others say that was a just a pretense for a publicity stunt to deliberately create the tourist attraction. And still others say that both are to some degree true; that the rock could indeed have fallen without restraint but also that the danger was exaggerated for the sake of a good story.

Furthermore, there are also accounts that the chain was originally put in place because parents had already been telling their children for years not to worry about the very visible outcropping rock falling, and made up a story about how the rock was safely chained in place. After these stories got around, so legend has it, enough out-of-towners started inquiring about the chained rock that the city government decided in 1933, "heck, maybe we really do need to put a chain around it."

And finally, there's also the odd note on the historical plaque (see below) that the chain that was installed in 1933 actually was a replacement for a much earlier pre-existing chain. Puzzling evidence.

The chain itself is said to have been acquired from a rock quarry's steam shovel in Virginia and painstakingly lugged up the mountain by Boy Scouts, the local Kiwanis Club, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a team of pack mules. It weighs 1.5 tons and is 101 feet long.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lexington Woman Finds Frog in Beans

UPI is carrying a story today about a woman in Lexington who was traumatized to find a dead frog inside her can of Wylwood Blue Lake Cut Green Beans.

She told WLEX-TV that she purchased the can of green beans at the Save-A-Lot store on North Broadway in Lexington and described it as "the grossest thing I've ever seen".

Although it's certainly regrettable that a dead frog would turn up in a can of beans, and I certainly would not eat the contents of the can, one should remember where beans come from- nature. A lot of products out there, notably sacks of pinto beans, contain language warning the consumer to go through the contents closely and pick out any "foreign matter" that inevitably finds its way in sometimes.

To me, this isn't nearly as disgusting as when a Louisville family found a dead mouse in a carton of milk - and after they'd already been drinking from it for several days!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kentucky's State Gun?

Okay, so Utah has taken the nation once more where no state has gone before: they're now the first to designate an official state gun.

The state gun of Utah is now the Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol, and Governor Gary Herbert is defending this groundbreaking move from anti-gun critics. "It's about honoring John Moses Browning and paying tribute to the man as an innovator and entrepreneur and someone who has given a lot to the state of Utah," he said. And according to the TPM story linked to above, the Utah State Senate insisted that language be added to the bill that states that the designation in no way condones violence.

I've always seen a lot of similarities between the great state of Utah and our glorious commonwealth. Both have histories speckled with intrigue, exploration, and freethinking in the finest sense of American frontiersman tradition. So it probably won't be too long before somebody in Kentucky legislature decides to join our colleagues to the West and get on the gun tip.

I have some modest propopals here.

The Kentucky Long Rifle would be the most obvious choice, seeing as it was Daniel Boone's favorite rifle. He nicknamed his "Tick-licker", stemming from boasts of his shooting accuracy, hyperbolically stated to be so great that he could shoot a tick off a deer. The Long Rifle has a ridiculously long barrel by modern standards - sometimes more than four feet - and displays very attractively.

However, there's also the popular concept of the Kentucky Dueling Pistol. Without making a specific nod to any single manufacturer, Kentucky could simply appoint the "dueling pistol" to be its official state firearm represented by an image of a pair of them in a velour-lined case.

On the other hand, the Thompson machine gun, or "Tommy Gun", was invented by Kentuckian John Taliaferro Thompson, and a historical nod to him might be analogous to what the folks in Utah did. However, there would be an inevitable outcry from people saying that the gun's association with gangsterism would set the wrong tone.

But in the final analysis, I believe it would be most fitting to honor Kentucky artist J.T. Dockery, who recently celebrated a gallery exhibit of his graphic novel Spud Crazy, by nominating the official Kentucky weapon to be the Spud Gun.

Either that or the Love Gun.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pope Villa

Benjamin Henry Latrobe is considered "the Father of American Architecture" in many circles, and perhaps rightly so: he's the brain behind the design of the U.S. Capitol, the Baltimore Basilica, and the U.S. Custom House of New Orleans. Many buildings in Lafayette Square were designed by him, including even portions of the White House.

This being the case, you'd think people would have striven to preserve his residential buildings as well, but no. Of the many homes created by Latrobe, only three remain standing today.

Lexington's Pope Villa (326 Grosvenor Avenue) is best of the three by far by virtue of its peculiar - some have even called it avant-garde - design. According to its official website: "Its plan is unique in American residential architecture: a perfect square, with a domed, circular rotunda in the center of the second story. Latrobe drew inspiration from 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, but unlike Palladio’s villas, the cubic mass of the Pope Villa conceals within itself a surprising sequence of rectilinear and curvilinear rooms, dramatically splashed with light and shadow. Latrobe called these interior effects “scenery”."

Pope Villa's making a big comeback, with plans underway for a full restoration to its old-timey glory, thanks to the still-surviving blueprints found in the Library of Congress. The image above shows Pope Villa as it currently appears, and the image below shows it more as it looked during its heyday. The home was originally designed for Senator John Pope and his wife Eliza.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Augustus Owsley Stanley II

This past weekend, Owsley Stanley died in a car wreck in Australia. If you've never heard of the man, you probably aren't a Dead-head; which is to say, you should count yourself lucky.

Augustus "Bear" Owsley Stanley II was born in Kentucky to a wealthy political family. His father was a government attorney and his grandfather, A. Owsley Stanley, was the 38th Governor of Kentucky and a member of the United States Senate.

Like similar characters in these circles - notably, another LSD-obsessed Kentuckian, Alfred M. Hubbard - it's hard to make sense of the events that led up to their life's apex. In 1956, Owsley entered the Air Force. In 1958, he became intensely interested in the Russian Bolshoi Ballet, and made the unlikely career change from military pilot to ballet dancer. But by 1963, he was attending UC Berkeley taking classes in electronics, and it's here that he became fascinated with hallucinogenic drugs. He was producing thousands of hits of acid in his bathroom on campus, and from there they quickly spread all over the country to be consumed by the curious. Apparently even Lee Harvey Oswald tried some of Owsley's LSD just before the Kennedy Assassination, according to FBI memo #NO-89-69-80.

By the summer of '65 Owsley was cranking out 300,000 doses per batch, and was possessed with an almost religious zeal to get everyone on the stuff, by any means necessary. Soon he was best friends with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and became their primary LSD supplier. The Grateful Dead practically adopted him as an auxilliary member, becoming a fixture in their entourage as roadie and drug dealer, and it's said their "dancing bear" logo is an homage to him.

One glowing obituary of the man speaks of him as "a colorful figure who would pour acid into a squirt bottle and spray musicians and fans alike at shows". Whether these people in the audience wanted to be sprayed with LSD, even at the height of the flower power craze, is something that apparently didn't concern Owsley. Jerry Garcia, who apparently didn't care either, is quoted as saying: "There’s nothing wrong with Bear that several billion fewer brain cells wouldn’t fix."

Owsley was the Beatles' LSD caterer during the filming of their disastrous Magical Mystery Tour TV special, which was so monumentally hated by BBC viewers that Paul McCartney issued a statement apologizing for the film's acid-addled self-indulgent nature. As Peter Brown in The Love You Make noted, "It was the first time in memory that an artist was obliged to make a public apology for his work."

In typically naive hippiethink, Owsley defended his LSD crusade this way:

"Psychedelics are a gift of nature that brings tribalism to people; they bring an understanding of the ecology of the planet and the interaction of all living things, because that’s one of the first things you become aware of when you take psychedelics—how everything is alive and how everything depends on everything else. You go take a look at every indigenous culture that has a respect for its environment — unlike the hierarchical approach of the feudalistic structures that the world is now run by — and you will find that these people use psychedelics of some sort, usually in a regular, ritualized manner."

This childish assessment is so blatantly false and ridiculous that I don't even think it needs dissecting here; its naivete speaks for itself. Unfortunately, this dangerous sort of thinking still has a foothold today and many young kids are lied to by bargain-basement "shamans" who really believe that harsh brain-damaging unnatural chemicals have some sort of divine connection to ancient tribal cultures, and that therefore, you should ingest them.

Some may feel I'm being too hard on the guy, especially so soon after his death; but I can't underscore enough the number of lives lost and minds ruined by his shenanigans. That "he meant well" is no consolation. As far as I'm concerned, this guy ruined everything that was great about the 1960s.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Browning Boys

One from my writing blog:

This month's installment of Commonwealth Curiosities: did you know that the original "Louisville Slugger" Pete Browning and the pioneering Hollywood director Tod Browning (the man who brought us Freaks and the original Bela Lugosi Dracula) were related? And did you know that both these Kentuckians led extremely eccentric lives? Just how eccentric? Pick up the latest copy of Kentucky Monthly and find out!

View from Bakery Square

One from our high view department: a relatively high crow's-nest view looking down at Butchertown from the top of Bakery Square.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Yellow Cardinal Sighting

This just in: a reader from Pikeville sent these two photos and says: "My daughter took these pictures this morning (3-13-2011) through the kitchen window."

Recently, ultra-rare mutant yellow Cardinals were spotted in Boyle County, causing quite a stir in the world of ornithology.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Haunted Christian Science Church?

There's a ghost story that perenially makes the rounds of, well, those who pass along ghost stories, regarding a haunting on the steps of Louisville's magnificent First Church of Christ, Scientist at 1305 South Third Street.

As the legend goes, a woman in 1918 paced around the front steps of the church, which was the prearranged place where she was to meet her husband. When her husband, who was a soldier stationed at nearby Camp Taylor, never arrived, she took it as a sign that he no longer cared for her.

Okay. That's the first part, and there's something of a leap on logic, rather like a poorly-constructed plot, between that and the next bit: unbeknownst to the woman, her husband had actually died of Spanish Flu, and then she herself died of that very same disease a week later.

Furthermore, the story is sometimes embroidered with the factoid that the woman and her soldier boy were actually not married, and that they had made secret plans to elope to Chicago that very night. But if they were secret plans, and they both died, how did anyone know this and how did that info become part of the story?

And, of course, the tale has the inevitable punchline that even to this day, late at night when the moon is just right, you can sometimes see her ghost still pacing around the steps of the Christian Science church. Yada yada yada.

(I'm pretty sure David Dominé deals with the subject in great detail, and probably much more accurately than the specious and sketchy online accounts I've perused, but I've misplaced my copy. When I find it, and if better data is to be gleaned, I'll update this post.)

I wonder what the parishioners of the First Church of Christ Scientist must think about all this. Apparently some local "ghost tours" take people by the church so they can gawk and hear the hearsay and say "golly, Martha, sure am spooky."

I'm not exactly certain what the Christian Science position is regarding ghosts, but I do know they don't believe in Heaven per se, at least not in the conventionally understood manner. (On the other hand, the term "Holy Ghost" does appear in their writings often.) The faith's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, stated in her autobiography that from the age of eight, she began hearing disembodied voices.

Often confused with The Church of Scientology, the Christian Science religion was formed in February 1866, after Eddy had a severe fall which caused a major spinal injury. According to her own account, Eddy unexpectedly made a full recovery after reading Matthew 9:2. She subsequently claimed to have helped to heal others via Bible Study, and also to have taught others in the precise way to do it most effectively. By 1875, this belief system was fully formed and expressed in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Today, Christian Science reading rooms can be found all over the world, and most people have come to look at their newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, as one of the best sources of journalism available.

The Christian Scientist radio program can be heard every Sunday in Louisville at 8:00-8:30am on WAVG-AM 1450, and 9:00-9:30am on WKJK-AM 1080.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kentucky's Deadliest Tornadoes

Since we're not in the tornado-heavy plains states, some might find it rather surprising that Kentucky has placed two entries in NOAA's top 25 deadliest tornado systems in U.S. history.

We bottom the list and then top it: Kentucky squeaks in at #25 with Louisville's tornado outbreak of March 27, 1890. This tornado family spawned at least 24 tornadoes that killed 76 people and destroyed 766 buildings between Parkland and Crescent Hill.

Falls City Hall on Louisville's Market Street was destroyed in the storm, killing at least 55 people by one source's tally but around 200 by another. This also has the distinction, by some estimates, of being the highest death toll due to a single building collapse from a tornado in America. Historian Bryan S. Bush writes:

"Most of the lives lost occurred at the Falls City Hall, located on Market Street, within five minutes the building collapsed with two hundred victims trapped in the rubble. Several activities occurred when the tornado hit the building. The Falls City Hall had a dancing class, which took place on the second floor, with sixty mothers and small girls occupying the class. Only twelve escaped the carnage. In another room the Roman Knights held their meeting, in which seven members were present, the Knights lost one man. On the third floor, the Knights and Ladies of Honor held a meeting with 150 members present, but only a few escaped. The Ancient Order of Foresters had eighteen members present in another room, with all members lost."

And if you've ever wondered what the heck this less-than-impressive minimalist sculpture is (see image below) in downtown Louisville, now you know: it's a monument to the 1890 disaster.

Kentucky was also involved in the #1 tornado, which is generally called the "Tri-State Tornado of 1925" but actually struck more than three states: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, and possibly other states were hit by this storm system on March 18, 1925.

Louisville wasn't the only part of Kentucky affected by this group of tornados: at least three people died in Pewee Valley; 39 died in an F4 that swept away farms and homes across Allen, Barren, Monroe, and Metcalfe counties; and an F3 passed throgh Marion, Washington, Bourbon, Mercer, Jessamine, and Fayette counties, killing two and injuring 40 before it finally sputtered out near Lexington.

Southern Indiana was also badly ravaged by the twisters. The town of Griffin was nearly completely wiped off the map, and the town of Elizabeth suffered devastation of several farms.

I'm puzzled why the Super Outbreak of April 1974 didn't make NOAA's top 25 charts, because by all accounts 330 people were killed from a series of 148 twisters in 24 hours. Can someone explain this omission to me?

Apparently NOAA is choosing to count each of these tornados as a stand-alone event rather than grouping them all together, yet it is by grouping twisters together that they arrive at the aforementioned "Tri-State" event and the 1890 one.

The photo below shows a tornado from the Super Outbreak approaching Richmond, from Mike Schwendeman by way of

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Krampus the Cat!

Here's a shout out for the original lolcat! Don't forget to check out the official blog of Krampus, the world's best cat. Of course, I could be said to be biased since the aforementioned pet is mine. (Or am I his?) Krampo's blog is updated daily most of the time, with sexy color pictures of his majesty suitable for framing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kentucky Coffeetree

Some of you may think of the coffeehouse in Frankfort when you hear the name, but the Kentucky Coffeetree was briefly our state tree, from 1976 to 1994.

It had originally been the Tulip Poplar, but in 1976 it was discovered that this had never officially been made legal in the Kentucky statutes. Rather than simply make a quiet adjustment to the statutes, the lawmakers felt the thing to do was to totally reopen the issue all over again. Louisville Courier-Journal writer Joe Creason campaigned hard to have the Kentucky Coffeetree appointed our new state tree, and soon he had the masses riled up behind him supporting this change. (Ironically, some say that Creason had originally intended his campaign as a joke, but when the public rallied behind it, he went along with it.)

Early European frontiersmen exploring Kentucky, having run out of coffee, would resort to roasting and grinding the beans of this tree as a (very poor) substitute for their java jones. George Washington was fond of the tree, and mentioned it in his writings. George Rogers Clark gave seeds to Thomas Jefferson, and the resultant trees can still be found on the lawn of Jefferson's Monticello today.

There are only two other species in the genus Gymnocladus, both of which are native to China, which makes me wonder - how came it to these shores? (The idea that Chinese explorers made it to North America long before Columbus is one that's gaining currency.)

This helpful site shows you in copious detail what the Kentucky Coffeetree and its seed pods look like. I can't condone anyone actually trying to make coffee from these seeds, because it just isn't safe. Like Cashews, the seeds are poisonous in their regular state and must be baked or roasted for at least three hours at 300 degrees.

Regarding its distribution, Wikipedia says: "Widely dispersed, but rare. The Kentucky Coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioicus, is considered a rare tree species. "Rare species are those that are so uncommon that they should be monitored to determine whether their populations are becoming threatened". Meanwhile, the Arbor Day Foundation says: "Resistant to disease and able to adapt to a wide variety of soils and climates, the Kentucky Coffeetree is an excellent choice for parks and golf courses. It is also widely used as an ornamental and street tree". Which begs the question, how has it become borderline-endangered if it's so hardy and easily adaptable?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mosques of Kentucky

Some of the most interesting buildings in America come from the tradition of Islamic Architecture, and Kentucky's no exception. Pictured above is the Masjid Al-Farooq in Prestonsburg, and below are further examples:

Islamic Center, Elizabethtown.

Muslim Community Center, Louisville.

Islamic Center, Somerset.

Islamic Center, Bowling Green.

Bosniak-American Islamic Center, Louisville. (A typical quaint country home, but with a Minaret!)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

James Best

You probably know James Best as the man who played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, or perhaps as Jim Lindsey on The Andy Griffith Show , but he's actually had a long and checkered career in the world of film - he was in The Caine Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart (1954), Seven Angry Men (1955), Forbidden Planet with Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen (1956), Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958), The Naked and the Dead (1958), Ride Lonesome with Randolph Scott and Lee Van Cleef (1959), Three on a Couch (1966), Firecreek with Jimmy Stewart (1968), Ode to Billy Joe (1976) and Hooper with Burt Reynolds and Adam West (1978).

(But me, archivist of moldy old b-movies that I am, I know him best as the star of 1959's The Killer Shrews with Ken Curtis!)

He's also made over 280 TV show appearances including The DuPont Show with June Allyson, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Frontier, Sheriff of Cochise, Pony Express, Stories of the Century, Behind Closed Doors, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel,Trackdown, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Tombstone Territory, Whispering Smith, The Twilight Zone, Overland Trail, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Man and the Challenge, Combat, The Mod Squad, I Spy, Perry Mason, The Incredible Hulk, The Fugitive, Stagecoach West, and In the Heat of the Night.

And, as you've probably figured out if you've read this far, Mr. Best is a good Kentucky boy! He was born and raised in Powderly, a small town in Muhlenberg County, and his uncle was none other than Ike Everly, the country music bandleader who spawned the Everly Brothers. An even more surprising branch in the family tree, Best is the father-in-law of Michael Damian.

James Best will be back in his native Kentucky TODAY, March 5th, at the >Dale Hollow Lake Hunting and Fishing Expo. It starts at 9am and runs till 8pm, admission is FREE, and special lodge room rates for the weekend are only 50 smackers. Call 1-800-325-2282 for more information, and tell 'em I sent you by!