Friday, February 27, 2009
Are there any restaurants in Louisville even more visually interesting than the delightfully garish Lynn's Paradise Cafe? Yes, there is: the terminally hip Spinelli's Pizza, located at 614 Baxter Avenue.
One wall is completely wallpapered in comic book covers. The bathroom is a masterpiece of graffiti. The floor is an exquisite mosaic of various tiles and ceramic fragments. There's a mechanical fortune teller, and a cadillac with a dining booth inside it. All this in a building that looks like something out of the Simpsons come to life. And then there's that stylin' Iron Maiden delivery van.
Oh yeah, and if it matters, the pizza is the best in town. Seriously. If you like New York style/Philly style, there's no reason to eat anyone else's filthy pizza. (Well, except Arni's, but that's over the falls in Indiana.)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
In Louisville, near the corner of Breckenridge and Dutchmans Lane, directly behind Red Lobster and directly facing Books-A-Million, there is a large parking-lot island circled with dense hedges.
Many have parked here, driven past, walked by many times over the years and never stopped to notice that this square of hedges has a gate on one side. A gate that leads inside to a hidden cemetery.
What surprises me most is how visually interesting all of the graves are. In some cemeteries you could trudge for half an hour and still not find a stone with anything really worthy of being photographed, but here every marker has real character and attributes that make it special.
Although it seems moderately maintained, one of the stones has tipped over (apparently long long time ago) and no one ever saw fit to stand it back up. Now it's practically merged with the ground. The other stones are all in decent condition, although one is slightly askew from its base.
See it aerially on Google Maps here.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The Floracliff Nature Preserve, located in southern Fayette County, is an amazing 287-acre haven for wildlife, especially known for its varied collection of wildflower species. But what interests me most about it is an enormous weird mineral tufa.
According to naturepreservesky.gov:
"Floracliff also harbors a significant geological feature. Below Elk Lick Falls is a tufa formation, which resembles a frozen waterfall. It is considered one of the best tufa formations in the eastern United States. Similar to stalagmites in caves, tufas are formed when minerals within dripping water are deposited on a surface. Travertine is the primary mineral composing this tufa. The formation is 61 feet high and 8-12 feet in diameter. The rich flora, ravines, cliffs and waterfalls of Floracliff make it one of the more scenic areas in central Kentucky."
Upcoming events at Floracliff include:
According to an article in the Lebanon, KY Enterprise, a "Donkey Basketball" event planned for Marion County's Lady Knights basketball team, has been cancelled. Council members expressed second thoughts about the event, based on new concerns that the sport is allegedly cruel to animals.
I'm betting these council members got their information from Wikipedia's page on the subject, which comes up first in a Google search. The page reads from start to finish like a total advertisement for the kooks at PETA and their skewed position, rather than a meaningful and informational article about Donkey Basketball itself.
I can certainly see an incompetently-managed donkeyball game being hard on the animals, but I don't necessarily think we can say all instances of children riding donkeys while attempting to shoot basketballs into hoops is an evil and abusive crime.
Personally, I could care less about basketball; I just think it's a shame the kids didn't get to ride donkeys.
Occasionally Ellis Park Racetrack in Henderson, KY hosts specialty events, including camel races and even ostrich races!
Considering how persnickety and obstinate both animals can be, I can't imagine being a jockey on one, let alone making it to the finish line.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Nationwide drinkers of Falls City Beer probably thought the stuff was named after Falls City, Nebraska or Falls City, Oregon, if they even gave much thought to it at all.
But Falls City is actually an old nickname of Louisville's, one which may seem confusing at first since, after all, Louisville doesn't have any waterfalls, right? And then it hits you, oh yeah, we do - the Falls of the Ohio.
The Falls of the Ohio is generally associated with the Indiana side of the river, mainly because they've (sort of) preserved the fossil beds on their side, and built a park and "Interpretive Center" museum celebrating it. Unfortunately, there's not much left to celebrate - the original falls has been nearly decimated by removal of most of its limestone by the city of Louisville in the late 19th/early 20th century. What was once a towering and grandiose waterfall is now a gentle step only a few feet high.
And the much-touted fossil beds have frankly become a bit of a pathetic joke. According to the official Falls of the Ohio website, "The 386-million-year-old fossil beds are among the largest naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world." And yet, tourists are allowed to tromp all over them, there is essentially zero security to keep people from plucking the beds clean of fossils, and at any given time, the place is filled with garbage, driftwood, dead appliances, chemical drums and other debris. It's not a very pleasant place to be.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
There's been a lot of confusion for a long time about the on-again/off-again existence of Falls City Beer.
Originally it was made by Louisville's Falls City Brewing Company from 1908 to 1978, then went through a long period of absence. In the early 1990s the name came back under the auspices of the Evansville Brewing Company (but hardcore fans say it just wasn't the same).
Evansville Brewing closed in the late 1990s and the Falls City brand was purchased by Pittsburgh Brewing Company. They, in turn, chose to stop selling it. So now we're in another dry spell in Falls City's history, but something tells me we haven't seen the last of it.
The Falls City logo, however, is extremely popular with beer collectible enthusiasts and remains highly visible on bar signs in some parts of Kentucky.
Falls City, incidentally, was the originator of the "sta-tab" opening for canned drinks. They introduced it 1975 and by the early 1980s, all soft drinks and beers were using it.
Another cultural icon we have Falls City to thank for: Billy Beer, launched in 1977 as a way of piggybacking onto the beer-swilling notoriety of Jimmy Carter's brother Billy. Although it was a huge success, it just as abruptly nose-dived in popularity along with the Carters themselves.
According to Wikipedia, "It was a light-bodied golden lager of the American standard or American pilsner type. It was brewed with six row malted barley, corn or rice adjunct and was lightly hopped". If they say so. Personally, I don't remember anything remotely hoppy about the stuff. In a blind taste test, I couldn't tell Falls City from Black Label from Old German from Wiedemann from whatever else you find on the left-hand side of the liquor case in any given gas station. As a cultural icon, it rocks; but as a beer, one might as well have tucked a piece of bread in a glass of water and left it in the sun to ferment for a few hours.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
I've always loved this abandoned and rotting old building in downtown Louisville, and dearly wished they were still in business; I'd probably be one of their best customers if they were.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I hyped this building on page 162 of Weird Kentucky, and for good reason: once built, it will instantly be the most unusual and unique structure on the Louisville skyline. Not to mention the tallest. It will be a major architectural revolution for Louisville, and indeed the whole Ohio Valley.
The construction on the building has been temporarily postponed, but fear not: co-Developer Craig Greenberg has recently issued a public assurance that the project is in no danger, and it's still, in principle, all systems go. According to WLKY:
"We are a 'shovel-ready' project that can begin construction as soon as we receive construction financing for this project," he said, adding that he couldn't commit to a time-line for that taking place. "Financing projects like Museum Plaza can be difficult if not impossible today," he said. "Nonetheless, we continue to make progress." Greenberg said LG&E has been relocating underground electrical lines and moving a large transmission tower currently on the property.
Sooner or later Museum Plaza will be up and running, and when it does, I will have office space there, both for my artwork and my theatre company.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
David "Stringbean" Akeman, star of the Grand Ole Opry and Hee-Haw, was born in Annville, KY (also the birthplace of world champion fiddler Freddie Langdon) in 1916. Although he began his musical career as a banjoist at the age of 12, joined old-timey legend Asa Martin's band, and performed solo on radio stations such as WLAP in Lexington in the 1930s, it wasn't until the late 1940s when he really came into his own as a country music superstar.
That's when he struck up friendships with Grandpa Jones and Uncle Dave Macon, and became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. A recording contract with Starday Records soon followed, and hit records such as "Chewing Gum". This, in turn, led to his stint on the hugely successful Hee-Haw television show, where he performed his old-timey tunes for a new generation of appreciative ears. He also had a running gag playing a scarecrow with a crow squawking on his shoulder, and did a regular routine called "Stringbean's Letters from Home" wherein he'd read mail (ostensibly) from the folks back in Annville.
Like many who grew up during the Great Depression, Stringbean had a great distrust of banks, and walked around with several thousand dollars on his person, in the front zip-pouch of his ubiquitous overalls (The overalls, by the way, were not a pose or a affectation - that's what he wore pretty much 24-7, onstage and off). It was well known around Nashville that String had his life's savings stashed away somewhere at home.
Some writers have hinted broadly that certain Hee-Haw cast members may or may not have been indirectly responsible for Stringbean's murder because of their blabbing about his money to others; but the fact is, Stringbean himself made it no secret, and often flashed the fist-sized wad of bills. Not out of ostentatiousness or bragging, but perhaps merely out of an innocent naivete about the evil and corrupt nature of his fellow man.
On November 10, 1973, John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown conspired to follow Stringbean to his home as he left the Ryman Auditorium, for the purpose of taking his life's savings at gunpoint. Just as with the Kansas robbery-turned-murder case popularized in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, the men failed to find any money in their home invasion, and out of frustration and confusion, ended up killing Stringbean and his wife Estelle for no good reason.
But the question then remained: what did happen to Stringbean's money?
It wasn't in the cookie jar, the medicine cabinet, under the mattress, pressed inside the family Bible, nor stashed in a sock drawer. The murderers had plenty of time to tear the place apart looking for it, but they found nothing. All they got away with was a saw and some of String's gun collection.
For years, fortune-seekers and treasure hunters risked arrest to trespass on the property, armed with metal detectors. They were certain that String had followed the longstanding southern tradition of burying his riches in tightly sealed mason jars somewhere in the yard, surrounding acres, or nearby wilderness. The money has to be here, they all thought, it simply has to be. Where else could it have gone? The house itself had seemingly been thoroughly ransacked, first by the burglars, then by everybody and their brother.
And they found..... nothing.
Had String been fibbing about his wealth? Had he actually secured a secret bank account, and used the "home under the mattress" story as dazzle camoflage to throw snoopers off the track?
23 years later, in 1996, the mystery was solved. Stringbean's lost treasure was accidentally discovered by a man who had moved into the house. A removable brick near the chimney revealed a hiding place in which over $20,000 in cash was found stashed, but the bills were decayed and partially eaten by rats. According to Wikipedia, $20,000 in 1973 was roughly equivalent to $98,565 today. Given String's income and his spartan, no-big-spending lifestyle, it's entirely possible that twice that amount could have originally been stashed, but ended up completely destroyed and lining some rat's nest.
Nowadays, the Stringbean Festival is held every year in Annville to pay tribute to the man. I was fortunate enough to have attended the inaugural event, which featured appearances by Grandpa Jones, Ramona Jones and Porter Wagoner, plus an early appearance by one of my favorite local combos, The Moron Brothers. The black Stringbean t-shirt I got there was my lucky fishin' shirt for years when I used to live in Berea and cast my line out at Owsley Fork.
The site for the Stringbean Festival consistently spells his name as "Akemon", but his own grave spells it "Akeman".
Hear some Stringbean mp3s by clicking here.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Josh Flowers, a filmmaker in Ft. Mitchell, KY, made this fascinating mini-documentary entitled Still Life which can be viewed on YouTube.
In it, he goes one by one through a section of gravestones in a cemetery in Napoleon, KY, tracks down relatives of each of the deceased, and telephones them to share an anecdote or two about the person.
The backside of the Mellwood Art Center is particularly encrusted with interesting graffiti; that is, if you find graffiti interesting (I do.)
Apparently, according to what I've heard, at one time the Mellwood had some sort of program that allowed serious graffiti artists to come out and paint murals on a specially-designated part of the rear of the building. That didn't work out so well, because people just couldn't stay restricted to the designated area. Plus, apparently it made the building a magnet for every dumb kid in the county to deface the serious mural pieces with their toy tags.
People who try to be "seriously artistic" about the graffiti game are pretty much fighting a losing battle, something akin to keeping a sand castle intact on a stormy beach. Graffiti is not an art gallery where you can hang a picture and expect everyone to come pay their respects to it - graffiti is more akin to an internet message board where anyone can come and chime in, and it's a given that a good percentage of them will be obnoxious morons. That's Earth for you.
Meanwhile, the graffiti remains, for better or for worse.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A couple days ago, it was reported that the FAA admitted the weird booming sounds heard in Kentucky were pieces of the U.S. and Russian satellites that collided last week, burning up on re-entry.
Now, the FAA have abruptly changed their story.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Astronomers say bright lights in the sky and noises like thunder observed over much of Kentucky were meteors.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that after the reports came in from people in Kentucky and Texas late Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration cautioned pilots to beware of satellite debris, but the advisory was quickly withdrawn.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said it was a natural phenomenon.
That's how the AP wire story (cited in the Paducah Sun) described it, but if you look here at kentucky.com, you'll see that's not quite what Bergen said. What she said was "It was the result of some sort of natural phenomenon".
Some sort of. Meaning she doesn't really know. Meaning no one really knows.
It also says that the FAA space-junk advisory was quickly withdrawn "after the military advised that no satellite debris was falling". I find this to be most interesting. How exactly is the military in a position to state unequivocally that no satellite debris has fallen? How do they know?
Even if they have super spy-telescopes pointing both up to space and down at the Earth's surface, and even if they have teams of secret agents combing the hills with secret tracker gizmos, how can they be so sure of themselves?
The recent satellite collision has released, in the BBC's words, "massive clouds of debris" into orbit - so much debris, in fact, that the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at Johnson Space Center has been thrown into a tizzy trying to sort it all out. Such a task will take months, maybe even years. Are the military claiming they've achieved it in just a few days?
"Move along, folks, nothin' to see here."
Monday, February 16, 2009
Did you know that Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, spent time in Louisville? According to lds.org:
Joseph Smith, the first President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, likely preached in Louisville, Kentucky, on his way to Missouri. He stayed in the city for three days and later revisited in 1832. An Indiana covert began the first congregation in Licking River. In 1835, two missionaries baptized 22 people. The first group of Kentucky Saints to join other Church members in the West left for Missouri in September 1836. In July 1843, Church leaders Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff preached in Kentucky. Though persecution existed, some 1,170 members of the Church lived in the state in 1900.
Automobiles and road improvements caused Bradfordsville, Kentucky, to become a main gathering place for Church members. One traditional Church-sponsored activity in Bradfordsville was a July 4th fish fry with fiddle and banjo music and food for up to 200 people, including many who were not members of the Church.
According to church doctrine, when Smith was 14 years old, God and Jesus Christ both appeared to him and said that "the true Church of Jesus Christ" had not yet been established on Earth, and that they had chosen Smith to make it happen. A few years later, Smith had a visitation by an angel called Moroni, who instructed him what to do to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
According to WKYT-TV last night:
27 NEWSFIRST started receiving phone calls tonight telling us a loud boom, or series of booms were heard this evening in Southern Kentucky. So we called emergency officals, to find out what is going on.
Brian Reams of the Laurel county EMS tells us they've had calls from Jackson to London, about a loud boom. He says there are no reports of any injuries or damage.
In the last little bit, Reams says he's been told by the state police in London that according to the FAA, the boom is from falling debris, coming from two satellites that collided in space. The debris re-entering the atmosphere caused the loud boom, and then burned up before hitting earth. Reams says it could have covered a 500 mile area.
I just checked and sure enough, there was a collision between two satellites in space, but it was last Tuesday.
So, if the FAA has indeed advised the police that pieces of satellites are raining on Kentucky, shouldn't that be considerable cause for alarm? It's a bit weird that this news story is more concerned with the 'boom' sound rather than the fact that chunks of hot metal are apparently falling on us, and I don't necessarily accept the assurance that they're all burning up before they reach the ground.
If anyone finds any burnt metal they believe to be a piece of the space debris, let me know! I'd be very interested in examining it.
There are many useful functions to the new "Street view" mode on Google Maps, but for me, none are as fascinating as the thrill of using it to navigate the wrong way down one-way streets, getting a driver's seat view that few people ever have... except maybe those who are new in town, or are evading police in a high speed chase.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The Alfred M. Hubbard story - what little we know of it - is one of the strangest, most mysterious tales of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, skullduggery and adventure I've heard. And of course, he's a good Kentucky boy.
(As if all of this isn't a highly bizarre and improbable-sounding life story already, just wait, it gets weirder...)
What I haven't been able to determine is exactly where in Kentucky Mr. Hubbard was from. Anyone got a clue?
(Thanks to Todd Brendan Fahey, for his seminal research on 'Captain' Al Hubbard"!)
Friday, February 13, 2009
The legend of Springheel Jack, or Spring-Heeled Jack, began in England when reports began to surface about sightings of a strange humanoid creature with batlike wings, small pointy horns or ears, a black leathery flowing cape, and an ability to jump and bounce like a kangaroo on steroids. That may sound somewhat ludicrous to readers today, and yet over a century ago thousands of people in England were completely convinced Jack was real.
And I'm not saying he wasn't.
Spring-heeled Jack was so named for his ability to leap great distances in a single bound, a feat testified to by many sane and sober sworn witnesses of the day. Even the British Army took the notion completely seriously and issued warnings about him after he was allegedly spotted defying the laws of physics by leaping from the ground to the rooftop of one of their sentry guntower posts in 1870.
At the time I wrote the Weird Kentucky book I'd relied on a source that said 1837 was when the Jack reports began, but since then I've read another source that recounts an 1808 letter to the Sheffield Times, telling of Jack sightings from many years prior. This puts the earliest days of the legend of Spring-heel Jack firmly into the 18th century.
Many believe that Jack, if real, somehow made his way to America and came to Kentucky. Researcher Jim Brandon tells of reports from July 28, 1880 of a "tall and thin weirdo" appearing out of nowhere and terrorizing citizens of the "Old Louisville" section of downtown Louisvile (which wasn't so old then).
Reportedly this Kentucky Jack caused chaos in the streets with his high-jumping antics, and tore clothing from random females. Eyewitnesses described his superhuman ability to jump impossible distances and heights, evading capture by leaping over horse-drawn carriages and onto roofs. This Jack was described as wearing a cape and a helmet, and having an eerie glowing light emanating from his chest.
We can also deduce that this Jack appeared in outlying farm country - probably in the direction of Butchertown - because one of the sightings mentions him jumping over haystacks, and then vanishing behind one.
Spring-heel Jack may well be the template from which sprung a number of bogeymen popular in our collective unconscious today: the reports sound as if they're describing Batman to a T, and some have also compared the phenomena to the Mothman. The whole idea of "Jack the Ripper", including the name, may also have been inspired by the Springheeled Jack stories.
Turn to page 58 in your copy of Weird Kentucky.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
In September 1989, the National Register of Historic Places voted to include this large sandstone outcropping that protruded from a cliff overlooking Highway 66 at Eriline, KY.
It was covered in petroglyphs made, presumably, by ancient man. In 1994, the rock spontaneously broke off and fell into the road, surprisingly intact. Just two days later, arrangements were made to move the giant stone to the Clay County seat of Manchester, where it can be viewed on display to this day.
Bill Thayer at the University of Chicago does an excellent job of deconstructing the markings seen on the stone, and debunking some of the odd claims made about the meaning of the glyphs. One of the most prominent markings on the stone has been interpreted as meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of the Father" in a mixture of Hebrew and Greek. However, the glyph in question has absolutely zero resemblance to Hebrew and Greek, and most certainly does not say "Jesus Christ, Son of the Father" in said languages. Whoever came up with this idea clearly knew nothing about Greek, and even less about Hebrew.
The closest connection with Christ one could remotely draw from this glyph would be that there are two intersecting lines that are not unlike the Christian cross. I shouldn't have to point out, however, that the Christian faith has no exclusive right to two intersecting lines. This is something cavemen have been etching for millions of years prior to the Christian scholars who adopted the cross as their symbol long after Christ's crucifixion.
The sign also interprets a simple circle shape as definitely being a "sun disc" intended to symbolize Ra, the Egyptian Sun God. Again, early primitive man was rendering circle shapes long before the Egyptian culture. There's zero reason to find a circle on a rock in Kentucky and declare it to be the work of someone wanting to exalt Ra, especially when seven other languages are supposedly represented here as well.
As Dr. Thayer puts it:
So why do we have eight scripts proposed here? Very simply, because someone has gone fishing for them to support a preconceived notion. If this squiggle isn't Greek, well it's Ogham or "South Semitic" — this last term, by the way, covering several dozen languages modern and extinct, none of which has signs for vowels — or Punic or Runic. Worse than "not true", this is... boulderdash; and very likely with something of an agenda: see this page on Chief Red Bird and the petroglyphs.