Archive | February, 2012

Notable Kentuckians: The 2 Cassius Clays

21 Feb

A few years ago, I was flipping through cable channels when I came across a program description that alarmed me. A local television station was airing a documentary on Lexington’s White Hall, the historic home of famed 19th-century abolitionist Cassius Clay. The program description read: “The history of White Hall, former home of Muhammad Ali.”

Now, I’m not a huge history buff. But I know enough to know that White Hall was built more than a century before the legendary boxer was born in Louisville.

An editor somewhere failed to catch a problem we have in Kentucky – we have two famous Cassius Marcellus Clays.

Cassius Clay Lexington Kentucky

The first was born in 1810. He was a newspaper publisher, a naturalist, a politician who fought against slavery, and an orator (this is an occupation that no longer exists, but basically means he was a motivational speaker without the books and late-night infomercials). From 1861 to 1869, the first Cassius Clay was the U.S. minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps unfortunately more notably, he married a 15-year-old girl when he was 84.

Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay Kentucky

The second was born in Louisville in 1942. This guy is a boxer. And not just any boxer, he is the self-proclaimed Greatest (and few can argue his point). He is a man of many accomplishments – Olympic champion, three-time heavyweight champion, and orator in his own right. This Cassius Clay changed his name in 1964 to Muhammad Ali to reflect his embrace of the Muslim faith. He retired from boxing in 1981, but remains one of the most famous people in the sport. Think: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee …”

Kentucky (Tall) Tales: Oddly-Named Kentucky Towns

16 Feb

I spent one summer a few years ago working for a daily newspaper in Hopkinsville in Christian County, Kentucky. Even though my grandparents have lived in a town not too far from Hopkinsville my whole life, I wasn’t very familiar with the area but trusted my GPS to take care of me. My new co-workers laughed at me when I began dutifully punching in addresses to Garmin.

“That’s not going to help you,” my boss said. “That GPS isn’t going to be able to get you to Possum Trot.”

To where?

“Possum Trot.”

Now, if I thought Hopkinsville’s nickname, “Hop-Town,” was strange …

Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky

Possum Trot is an actual town. It’s a dot on the map in Marshall County, Kentucky, east of Paducah. On the western side of that western Kentucky town, you’ll find Monkeys Eyebrow – note, that is not a possessive monkey’s – in Ballard County (Garmin, however, will pretend the place doesn’t exist, despite the signs that say it is so). Officially, it isn’t actually a town because it has never had a post office. But don’t say that to the locals.

Here are more of Kentucky’s oddly-named towns:

Rabbit Hash – really just a general store in Boone County on Highway 536 just southwest of Cincinnati. Supposedly, the name comes from the recipe that helped the town residents survive a harsh flood in 1816.

Mud Lick – there are actually 9 towns with this name in Kentucky. You’ll find them in Anderson, Elliott, Greenup, Knox, Lewis, Robertson, Russell, Perry and Pike counties.

Paint Lick – this seems more dangerous than the above. You’ll find this town on Highway 52 in Garrard County. It’s named for a salt lick marked for prime hunting by Native Americans in the area.

88 – yes, it’s a Kentucky town. In Barren County on Highway 90, 7 miles south of Glasgow. It is rumored to get it’s name because one of the town’s founders had 88 cents in his pocket when they were trying to pick a name. Talk about running out of ideas. Other rumors say the local postmaster had such terrible handwriting that he picked the name because he was sure everyone could read those two numerals.

Future City – in Ballard County. This town reportedly got its name from the developer who put up a sign at the edge of the land where he intended to build a town that read: “Future City.” And then he never got around to building anything.

Lamb – there are two of these, one in Kenton County and the other in Monroe County.

Typo – in Perry County, you can make up a good story for that one.

Bush – in Laurel County. This town was named after George Bush. No, not THAT George Bush. No, not that one either. This George Bush founded the town in 1840 when he opened the post office and the general store. The first President Bush did campaign there in 1988, and newspaper headlines read: “Bush Returns to Bush”

The Beverly Hillbillies Bugtussle, Kentucky

Bugtussle – on Highway 87 south of Tompkinsville in Monroe County. This is popular with fans of the Beverly Hillbillies, who may remember that the Clampetts were from Bugtussle … only they were from Bugtussle, Tennessee. Well, Monroe County IS near the Tennessee border. Bugtussele is another word for a backwater town.

Black Gnat – in Taylor County

Black Snake – in Bell County

Co-operative – in McCreary County

Crummies – in Harlan County

Hi Hat – (as in ‘hello’ and not way up in the sky) in Floyd County

Quality – in Butler County

Subtle – in Metcalfe County

Susie – in Wayne County

Whoopee Hill – (not cushion) in Ohio County

Wild Cat – (Go Big Blue?) in Clay County

Kentucky (Tall) Tales: Kentucky’s Many State Slogans

15 Feb

Kentucky License Plate

As seen on TV our state license plates, Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State – despite the fact that few people outside of the state have any idea what bluegrass is, or that it isn’t always blue (In all seriousness, I was watching a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field once, and the little boy was reading in his program that the field was sodded with Kentucky bluegrass. He looks up to his father with a terribly confused face and says, “But it’s green grass, Daddy. It’s green grass!”). I’ll refrain from getting into the debate that the grass really does have a blue tint to it in the early dawn hours when the day’s first sunlight hits the dew resting on top of the blades of grass … we can discuss the color wheel and how it relates to agriculture later.

Moving on …

Kentucky is truly a land of strange curiosities, and there are a number of things we could slap on our license plates as the state slogan. Here are a few of them:

Gateway to the Wild West – Judge Roy Bean, Jim Bowie and Kit Carson were all born in Kentucky.

The Post Office State – Kentucky has more post offices per capita than any other state.

The Governor State – More than 100 native Kentuckians have been elected governors of OTHER states.

The Volunteer State – OK, so technically this one belongs to Tennessee (though what exactly is a Tennessee Volunteer and why do they insist on sporting that awful shade of orange? Bleh.), but in the War of 1812, more than half of all Americans killed in action were Kentuckians.

The Game Show State – Famous game show hosts Jack Narz (CBS’s quiz show Dotto … and he was also a narrator of ‘The Adventures of Superman’), and Chuck Woolery (the original host of Wheel of Fortune) were born in Kentucky.

Just something to think about. Kentucky’s been known to have some strange license plates before (who remembers the smiling sun that even Jay Leno made cracks about). Who knows what the boys in LaGrange will  be banging out next? … did you know all Kentucky license plates are made at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange?


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