From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rattlesnake Road

A back-road in rural Todd County, Kentucky


Rattlesnake Road, at
its intersection with
Allegre Road (Hwy. 171)
Last winter, I posted a photo I had taken of a creek ford on a rural road in northwestern Todd County, Kentucky. A visitor to the blog asked if the ford was on Rattlesnake Road. It wasn't -- it was on Flat Rock Road -- but the question planted a seed of curiosity in the wanderlust corner of my heart.

I decided that I would like to travel Rattlesnake Road when the weather dried up, and I said as much to the visitor. He (or she) replied:

Oh...then just trust me, Rattlesnake Road looks just about like your Flat Rock Road. I mean, you don't have to GO THERE...Rattlesnakes...and all...

My only trip there was in the summer years ago, the creek was incredibly high and there was no safe way to have crossed it. There was a roadway to the water's edge (and through it I presume) and a roadway came out the other side.

You could not have paid me any amount of money to get out of my car. Just the thought of it even today gives me the heebie jeebies!

Those words convinced me that I had to visit Rattlesnake Road and see its creek ford with my own eyes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yard Sale, Second Edition

Once more, with gusto


Lots of customers at 8:00 a.m.

Keely and I had a yard sale today -- an encore performance of last year's event.

This time, we advertised the sale in the newspaper as well as posting lots of signs. I think the $14 ad was worth it, even though Keely has an excellent location that attracts drive-by customers. We made a little more money this year than we did last year, even with fewer "big ticket" items for sale. Quarters and one-dollar bills, in quantity, can amount to a surprising sum.

Customers began arriving at about 6:30 a.m., even though we had advertised that we'd be open at 7:00 a.m. Between that time and 11:00 a.m., we were very busy. We had a dozen shoppers at once, several times, and we almost always had at least one or two customers.

In the crowd, there were a few familiar faces. Some were friends making a planned visit to our sale, and some were friends who just happened by and were surprised to see whose sale they were attending.

The hot weather made us think about closing early, but we resisted temptation and stayed open until 3:30 p.m. During the last three hours, we made an additional $50, despite marking down many items to half-price or even cheaper. There were two benefits -- the extra sales, of course, and also, the fact that other people packed our stuff away, so we didn't have to cope with it.

When we closed, we saved out a few items and took everything else to Goodwill. It wasn't a total "clean sweep", but very close to it.

About 2:00 p.m., with much less merchandise!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not a Pretty Picture

Drought-damaged corn



Here's a cornfield that I pass nearly every day. The leaves of the corn plants are rolled up tight to try to conserve moisture. We had a little shower today, and we're thankful for it, but I don't think it will do much for these plants.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tobacco Field

Summer in Christian County, KY



I don't know if the dead-looking leaves at the base of these tobacco plants have been caused by the dry, hot weather, or if the plants are suffering from some disease or fungus. A lot of the corn around Christian County has been damaged by lack of rain, but tobacco is usually a little more drought-resistant than corn.

Most Humid Places in the U.S.

Why Iowa and Kentucky have humid climates


One of the women at my workplace was talking to me about the high humidity we've had this week. (The National Weather Service issued heat advisories several days because heat indexes were in the 102°-105° F. range. Heat index is a "feels-like" figure computed from heat and humidity readings.)

"Oh, it's hot and humid here in Kentucky," Miss K. assured me. "But this is nothing compared to Iowa! I've lived all over the U.S., and Iowa has the worst heat and humidity of anywhere! Oh my gosh, Iowa was even worse than New Orleans!"

I had never thought of Iowa as a place that rivaled New Orleans in heat and humidity, so I mentally filed her remark under "Odd things people have said to me about the Midwest".  (Also in that mental file: a customer's remark that it's downright rude how people in Kansas talk so fast.)

Later, I did a little research and found the following chart on NOAA's National Climatic Data website.


I wasn't too surprised that no cities in Iowa made the list of the top ten most humid cities in the U.S!  However, I'm sure that Iowa gets a full share of humidity. I don't doubt that Iowa becomes an uncomfortable place on summer days when it's very hot and very humid.

You see, Kentucky and Iowa are in the same climate zone. Both states lie entirely east of the 100th Meridian. You may remember from geography class that meridians are imaginary lines that run from the North Pole to the South Pole. The 100th Meridian cuts through the middle of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

East of the 100th Meridian, we Kentuckians and Iowans (and the folks in various neighboring states) share a humid-continental climate. Our part of the U.S. is kept humid and rainy by the flow of warm, moist air northward from the Gulf of Mexico. West of the 100th Meridian, the climate is much dryer, and while summer temperatures can reach high levels, the average rainfall and humidity are much lower.

New Orleans is an entirely different climatic category. It has a humid subtropical climate, due to its location near the Gulf of Mexico.

Let's compare statistics from Weather Underground for July 2010, so far:


So, New Orleans wins both the high temps and the high humidity contest, so far in July 2010, for these three locations. I'm not shocked. Furthermore, it can't be denied that Des Moines has a much shorter summer than either New Orleans or Hopkinsville. I suspect that Miss K. was indulging in a bit of hyperbole or selective memory when she made that statement about Iowa's summers.


Monday, July 12, 2010

James Wilkins, Revolutionary War Veteran

Pioneer of Todd County, KY

Twilight falls on a small family graveyard
in Todd County, northeast of  Fairview, KY.

Around Christian County, we have many neglected old family graveyards. As time passes, the tombstones face many perils. Often, they are vandalized, pulled over by gravity, heaved out of the ground by frost, or damaged by tree roots, fallen branches, and toppled tree trunks.

I understand that people grow old or become ill, and sometimes, they are not physically able to provide the upkeep a cemetery needs or financially able to pay someone else to do it. And I understand that sometimes every member of the family died or moved away, long, long ago.

But I don't understand neglected cemeteries when younger, perfectly healthy members of those families live right in the neighborhood. I have a hard time respecting people when I know their family graveyards haven't seen any care for decades. Honestly, I'd be ashamed if I didn't try to keep the trees and brush down in my ancestral burying grounds, just a mile or two from where I live -- especially when those old tombstones have my own last name on them.

Feeling as I do about it, I'm always happy to see an old graveyard that does receive some caretaking. The little family plot in the photo is located near Fairview, KY. It  is the final resting place of James Wilkins, a Revolutionary War Veteran, who was an early settler of Todd County, KY, his wife Elizabeth White Wilkins, and several other family members.

Someone mows this little graveyard and keeps the stones standing. And someone has done the paperwork to get Mr. Wilkins a new gravestone from the Veterans Administration.

Who was James Wilkins?
About 1805, James Wilkins came to the [Fairview] district from North Carolina, and located about a mile and a half north of [Edward] Shanklin, where he remained until his death in 1836. Of his four sons and three daughters, four are now living here -- William G., Harriet Rolston, Lucinda J. Brown and Matilda Tilman.

Quoted from Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky: Historical and Biographical (p. 188), edited by J. H. Battle and W. H. Perrin, and published in 1884 by F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago and Louisville.

In the Christian County history book of 1991, I found that James Wilkins was held on a prisoner of war ship in the Charleston (S.C.) harbor by the British, during the Revolutionary War. You can read more about James Wilkins' war experiences at the Kentucky Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Decades of Beauty Contests

History of beauty pageants at the Hopkinsville Fair


Links in this article go to Kentucky New Era articles from years past, as found in Google's newspaper archives.

In 1988, Hopkinsville's newspaper, the Kentucky New Era, published a history of the Western Kentucky State Fair, written by historian William Turner. Turner wrote that the first agricultural fairs in Hopkinsville were held annually from 1857 to 1860. After the War Between the States, the fairs continued from 1869-1886. A property in the area of lst and Vine Streets was used as the fairgrounds.

After that fair folded, several other associations held fairs in or near Hopkinsville, according to Turner. None of the fairs had a run of more than five years, until the Pennyroyal Fair began in 1913 and carried on through 1926. Some of our older citizens probably remember this fair from their childhood days. It was held on a property on the Palmyra Road (now South Virginia Street).

Turner wrote that a "Miss Pennyroyal Fair queen" was crowned each year. If so, the chosen ladies were probably the first fair queens in Hopkinsville. I haven't been able to find any newspaper articles of the period to verify the selection of a fair queen in those years, but I take the word of our well-respected and much-beloved county historian.  He has many documents and other resources available to him, and he has spent his life acquiring an extensive knowledge of our local history.

After the Pennyroyal Fair died out in the mid-1920s, Hopkinsville went without a fair for over a decade. (There may have been street markets or other sorts of festivals, but no fairs were held where people exhibited plants and animals they had raised.)

Then, from 1938 to 1941, an annual agricultural fair was sponsored by the Hopkinsville Chamber of Congress. It was held in a large tobacco facility on Young Street. Mr. Turner does not mention any queens of this fair, and I did not find any mention of fair queens in the newspapers of those years. But who needed a beauty pageant, anyway, when the fair's local talent contest featured jitterbuggers, hillbilly musicians, and more?

The first Hopkinsville fairs after World War II -- 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1949 --were held at the Blue Lantern Farm, just west of Hopkinsville. Popularity queens were crowned at the fairs in 1948 (see page 7 for a photo of the contestants) and 1949. Apparently, the contestant with the most votes won the title of Queen. I am not sure how the elections were conducted.

In 1951, the Pennyroyal Fair, predecessor of today's Western Kentucky State Fair, was held for the first time. The festivities included a beauty contest won by Jo Nell Turner of Pembroke, the first of many beauty queens at the fair.  In the Kentucky New Era report from the fair of 1952, the winner is titled a  "Beauty Queen". The first few Pennyroyal Fairs of the 1950s (and their beauty contests) were held at tobacco loose floors in Hopkinsville, until the Fire Marshall ruled out such locations.  A large site on Richards Street was purchased in 1954 as a home for future fairs.

The beauty contests at the fairs of the early fifties established an unbroken tradition of beauty contests at Hopkinsville fairs. However, beauty contests were not new when the fair started having them. Many beauty contests were held in Hopkinsville and around Christian County in the 1930s, including a mock beauty contest for men, held at Hopkinsville's Alhambra Theater.

The Pennyroyal Fair was reorganized as the Western Kentucky State Fair in the early 1960s, and the title of the beauty queens was changed to "Miss Western Kentucky State Fair" (often shortened to Miss WKSF, when written). I didn't find any mention of the Mrs. Western Kentucky State Fair competitionin the Kentucky New Era until the 1980s. However, mother/daughter and father/son look-alike contests were held at earlier fairs. The Mrs. contest may have been an outgrowth of the look-alike contests, or it may have been related to the national Mrs. America contest.

In 1977, the Pioneers Club of Hopkinsville (a civic-minded local fraternity of mostly black men) sponsored the first Miss Black Western Kentucky pageant. The winner represented the Pioneers later that year in the Miss Western Kentucky State Fair contest. The Pioneers' annual competitions for Miss Black Western Kentucky continued through 2004.

For the youngest of beauties, a "baby contest" was held at the fair as early as 1913 -- a baby health contest, that is. The article suggested that the beauty of the baby might affect the decision of the judges because healthy babies are naturally beautiful. It also stated that the baby show was "an old story at state and county fairs", so the 1913 contest was probably not the first one in Christian County.  That tradition is still carried on, nearly 100 years later, at the Western Kentucky State Fair where there are baby pageants every year.

It may be 2010, but people are still asking, "Who's the fairest of them all?" And the answer is different every year.

Beauty Pageants at the Western Kentucky State Fair

Babes, babies, and more


The Western Kentucky State Fair (WKSF) is taking place in Hopkinsville as I type. It began last Friday night (July 2) with the Miss and Mrs. WKSF pageants, and it continues through Saturday night (July 10).

I've never attended the Miss and Mrs. WKSF pageants, but Keely has gone to them several times. Her friend Letha. must attend because of her job (she's a local radio reporter). Keely goes along to keep her company. The two pageants usually take about six hours in total, so it's a long evening that doesn't end until around midnight.

Besides reading the rules for the pageants on the Western Kentucky State Fair website, I interviewed Keely to find out how the pageant is conducted. She's becoming more of an expert on the topic each year.

The  contestants for Mrs. WKSF wear sportswear and formal wear, and the contestants for Miss WKSF wear swimwear and formal wear. Each contestant does an individual promenade in each outfit. The ladies go backstage and change their outfits during an intermission, midway through the program. Then there's another pause while the judges decide who has won.

While each contestant is walking down the runway, the announcer reads a spiel about her hobbies, future plans, etc. (This information is provided by the contestants when they submit their entrance fees.). Each contestant is also asked to speak briefly. The Miss WKSF candidates must introduce themselves, and each Mrs. WKSF candidate must give an answer to a question that she received in advance.

Pageants for younger contestants (infants through young teens) were held during the next several days of the fair. Little boys through age 8 can participate; above that age, the competition is limited to girls.

Pageants like these are fairly common entertainments at fairs and festivals across Kentucky. I've observed that folks are (usually) light-hearted about the beauty pageants. They want to look nice on the stage (or they want their contestants to look nice), but they realize that only one person will win the top prize.

The Western Kentucky State Fair is a regional fair, not just a county fair, so contestants don't have to live in Christian County to enter the pageants. A couple of the ladies in this year's Mrs contest were from Cadiz, and one lady was from Benton. The winner of the Mrs. WKSF pageant, Paula Turner, is from Gracey, a small town in Christian County, west of Hopkinsville.

The winner of the Miss WKSF pageant, Katie Leavell, is from Hopkinsville. According to a Kentucky New Era article about the pageant winners (subscription may be required), Miss Leavell is now eligible to compete in the Miss Kentucky County Fair Pageant in Louisville, early next year.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Pioneer Stories of Brown County, Nebraska

Names in Brown County history


I've been lurking around eBay quite a bit lately, and not surprisingly, I found a book that I needed -- Pioneer Stories of Brown, Keya Paha and Rock Counties, in Nebraska, published in 1980 by the Brown County Historical Society. (Brown and Rock counties are where I was born and raised.) I bid on the book and was happy when I won it.

Today, the book arrived in the mail, and I'm a little disappointed. The title is misleading. The Brown County section of the book has 581 pages. The Keya Paha County section has 165 pages. And the Rock County section has 16 pages -- yes, 16 pages. The book should have been titled Pioneer Stories of Brown County, Nebraska and subtitled With Additional Stories from Keya Paha and Rock Counties.

Despite the shockingly-short Rock County section, the book is interesting. I don't regret buying it. Leafing through the Brown County pages, I see many surnames that I recognize. I don't know the people at all, but I know their names.

My dad's mother was a Brown County resident most of her life and an enthusiastic genealogist. Sometimes Grandma Nora came to visit us for a week or two at a time when I was a kid. I remember her sitting at the dining room table with her embroidery, talking on and on about who was related to whom. Because of her, I recognize Brown County names like Hulshizer, Schipporeit, Bejot, Kackmeister, Wolcott, Mundorf, and Klapper. (I think some of the Kackmeisters may be cousins of my family -- we may share a great-grandmother or our great grandmothers may have been sisters. Then again, I could be wrong about that.)

Some Brown County names in the book do have personal meaning to me. The Gudgels drilled many wells for my dad. When I was little, we attended church in Ainsworth with the Bollers and Lotspieches, and my parents were always friendly with them. The Babcocks and Mengers lived in the western expanses of the community where I grew up. And there are other names that stir memories of faces and experiences.

Regrettably, no one from my family wrote up any of our history for this book. My great-grandparents on my dad's side of the family were homesteaders in Brown County, too. My great-grandfathers' surnames were Clark and Hill, and my great-grandmothers' surnames were Fisher and Mapes.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Frolics, Larks, and Capers

Family news


LARK -- Our son Isaac arrived home this week from his study-abroad trip to Germany. I drove to Cincinnati on Tuesday and picked him up at the airport Tuesday night. Except for the visit to the airfield maintenance section of the airport, it was an uneventful trip. (I followed my Google directions, and that's where they took me!)

Isaac's trip was a little more exciting than mine. His group missed the last plane of their long journey, so he didn't get to Cincinnati until 9:30 pm. It was about 26 hours from the time he woke up in Berlin to the time he finally went to bed in Cincinnati! He did get a few hours of airplane sleep along the way, but he was happy to take a shower and fall into bed at the hotel. While we were sleeping, his missing suitcase arrived at the airport, and the missing-luggage people delivered it to our hotel.

Since arriving home, Isaac has been getting over a bad cold and catching up on things he missed while he was gone (such as having ice in his drinks, hanging out with his friends, playing video games, and sleeping in his own bed). He's glad to be home, though he enjoyed getting acquainted with the city where he was born. His classes (Hitler and Nazi Germany, History of Berlin) were hard, but he thinks he did well in them. He has a few more days off, and then he goes back to his job until school starts again in mid-August. I will post some photos from his trip later.

CAPER -- In other family news, we learned last week that Keely has to move. Her landlords have new plans for the corner where her house sits, and they have asked for the house to be vacated by the first of September. She hasn't found another place yet, but she is seriously looking.

We already had planned to have a garage sale at Keely's house this summer, so she is setting aside garage-sale items as she packs for the move. I've also been finding, pricing, and boxing up my contributions to the sale. I hope her next house is as good a location for garage sales as the current house is!

FROLIC -- Keely and Taurus are getting married this fall -- a season of the year that is rapidly approaching, I note! Keely is making brooch bouquets for herself and her maid of honor. I had never heard of these before she started talking about them, but they're pretty (and also eco-chic when made with used jewelry). Brooch bouquets can be used instead of flowers, or fresh or silk flowers can be included in the bouquet with the brooches.

The first step is to acquire the brooches, so I've been busy on eBay this week. The photo at right shows what I have so far. I hope she can use most of these, somewhere. I also found a couple of flower brooches in my jewelry box, and Keely has been collecting too. (If anyone would like to contribute a brooch, please let me know.)

ANOTHER CAPER -- I've been working faithfully in my little vegetable garden and plugging away at many long-neglected yard chores. I'm also trying to do some deep house cleaning. We'll probably have several visitors around the time of the wedding, some of whom have never been here before. I'd like to delude them that we live in a "Better Homes and Gardens" world -- hahaha! (The laughter is not hysterical yet, but just wait!)

MORE LARKS -- We're hoping to go to Mammoth Cave to celebrate Keely's birthday in August and to the Nashville Zoo to celebrate my birthday in September. I've also consented to take a ride in a hot-air balloon, on my elderly neighbor's birthday in August. The balloon ride is a birthday gift from her daughter. It should be interesting!

At times in the next few months, I'm going to be very busy with the things I've described above, with stuff I haven't mentioned, and with other things that I don't even know about yet. I may be absent from my blogs for extended periods of time. Please be patient! Life should settle down briefly after the wedding and before the holiday season. :)
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.