A Walk in the Park: Gratz Park History

2 blocks North of Main Street in downtown Lexington sits a beautiful bit of green-space between Transylvania University and West Second Street. Originally dedicated as Centennial Park in 1876, Gratz Park was renamed for Benjamin Gratz, a prominent hemp grower who made his home amongst the Federal and Greek revival homes surrounding the park. And trust us, if ever you win the lottery, you’ll want to buy one of these houses- beautiful architecture in Lexington’s first historic district, and only 2 blocks away from downtown (where all the fun is if you ask us).

Between the beautiful, historic homes, the mirrored facades of Transylvania University and the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning (more on these later), the views of the Lexington skyline, and the peace and quiet, Gratz Park might be my favorite place in Lexington (C).

Probably the main reason Gratz Park is so cool, is just how much history you’ll find in a small, 1-block radius. Standing in the middle of the park you can see the oldest University west of the Allegheny Mountains, Lexington’s first public library, the John Hunt Morgan House, the birthplace of the Lexington Clinic, the headquarters for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, and the home of the founder of the Lexington Leader newspaper (later incorporated with the Lexington Herald to create the Lexington Herald-Leader).

The Three Ugly Sisters

Officially known as the Goodloe Houses, The 3 Ugly Sisters are one of the more popular Lexington history stories.  Originally built by the widow Mrs. William Cassius Goodloe for her 3 daughters around 1901, were the last homes built around Gratz Park. Now, I haven’t found any pictures of the Goodloe daughters while trolling about the internet, but I wonder how the popular nickname for the houses: “The Three Ugly Sisters” got started?

The Bodley-Bullock House

The Bodley-Bullock House is a sweet little mansion that sits right at the corner of Market Street and West 2nd. Originally built for former Lexington Mayor Thomas Pindell, it was soon sold to Thomas Bodley for whom the house is now named. During the Civil War, both the Union army and the Confederacy occupied Lexington, and where do you think they established their headquarters? Both factions requisitioned the Bodley-Bullock House for their use! Dr. Bullock, who’s claim to fame is as the founder of the Lexington Clinic, eventually bought the house in the early 20th century. The house is currently used by the Junior League of Lexington, is open with exhibits during GalleryHop, and one can often spy on weddings in the back garden during the warmer seasons.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning

Its pretty tough to miss the Carnegie Center when you go to Gratz Park- just look for the big, white building staring down Transylvania University from the other end of the park. Full disclosure: I have a very special place in my heart for the Carnegie Center both as a book nerd (the Center was Lexington’s first public library) and because I tutor there during the school year. Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries were funded and built by bleeding-heart industrialist and fellow book nerd Andrew Carnegie. Opened in 1905, the Carnegie Center has also served as a school, and now as Kentucky’s premier center for learning and the literary arts. The best part? Every time you visit the Carnegie Center you’re encouraged to take a book from the large selection donated  by like-minded book lovers!

The Fountain of Youth

Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll find the secret to staying young by drinking from this fountain, in fact we discourage you from drinking from ANY public fountain… Donated by beloved Kentucky author James Lane Allen (NOT Ponce de Leon) in 1933, the fountain is a “gift to the children of Lexington” (or anyone who needs a reminder to stay young at heart).

The Hunt-Morgan House

Not quite on Gratz Park, but still on Gratz Park, the Hunt-Morgan house is one of the better known Lexington historic homes (along with Ashland, the Mary Todd Lincoln House, and the Pope Villa). Here’s the family story: John Wesley Hunt, the 1st millionaire west of the Alleghenies built the house in 1814, and in case you were wondering, $1 million in 1814 is worth almost $13 million today! He liked to do business with people like Henry Clay and John Jacob Astor. His grandson, John Hunt Morgan was the famous Confederate Civil War general known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” who led Morgan’s raid in 1863. But the best story about John Hunt Morgan was his leap over the garden’s brick wall on horseback to kiss his mother goodbye. Now John Wesley Hunt’s (remember he built the house) great-grandson was Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan born in 1866. His pioneering work in genetics earned him a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. Whew! Try living up to that legacy!

Some Other Cool Places You’ll Find in and Around Gratz Park:

For more information on Gratz Park and ALL the buidlings/history you can find there, check out the Gratz Park Neighborhood Association webpage


A Road Trip Through Cheapside Park and Some Lexington, Kentucky History

In Lexington’s Cheapside Park, it isn’t uncommon to see people enjoying lunch at one of the cafes or restaurants that line the street, or lounging around on outdoor patios. In the evenings locals walk their dogs on the lawn of the old courthouse, and on summer nights, bands play on the Pavilion stage; on Saturdays, the street is alive with the local farmers market. It is a more modern version of the marketplace in this same place in the 1800s and early 1900s.

  Cheapside Public Square in April 1920

The courthouse that stands next to Cheapside Park — that is no longer a working courthouse, but now a museum and office space —is the fourth on that site. The first was built in 1788; Lexington had one courthouse before the construction of the first on this block. The current Lexington Circuit and District courts are located a few blocks to the east of this site.

A block to the west  on the southwest corner of South Mill and West Main streets is where the settling of Lexington began. A blockhouse was built in 1779 and eventually was expanded into a fort that stood largely between South Mill and South Broadway streets on West Main. The northern edge of the fort stopped in the middle of what is now West Main Street. (*Note: East Main and West Main are divided by Limestone Street. The road to the east of Limestone — or toward the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and toward the new courthouses — is considered East Main; the road to the west of Limestone — or toward Broadway and Rupp Arena — is considered West Main. The same is true for Vine and Short streets.)

The intersection where the settling of Lexington began. (And no, that orange construction barrel isn’t the marker).

Our friend over at The Kaintuckeean informed us that the plaque marking the town’s original settlement is located on Vine Street, just east of the Hilton Hotel entrance. Here it is:

original settlement at Lexington, Kentucky
This plaque marks the location of the original Lexington Fort. Photo courtesy of http://www.kaintuckeean.com

The 5/3 Bank building — or “Big Blue Building” as we wise locals call it — stands in stark contrast to how the block looked less than a century ago. The second photo was taken in April 1920.

Sometimes when Cameron and I set out on a road trip, we have a particular plan or goal in mind. That’s not to say that we actually stick to this plan, but we know where we are headed and what we want to see. This time around, we truly had no plan at all. So we just wandered.

When we met up in Lexington a few weeks ago, we left our cars parked along a curb downtown (expertly parallel parked, I might add — thanks for those driving lessons, Dad) and set out on foot. We walked through Transylvania University’s campus to Gratz Park and then continued down Limestone to Cheapside Park and Main Street.

It was one of those unbearably hot days of late summer — the air was so thick with heat that not even the coolest afternoon breezes brought any relief. But as we wandered along, stopping at all of those historical markers and learning a little more about the history of the town we grew up in, we stopped caring so much about that St. Bernard that seemed to be blowing hot puffs of breath in our faces, and we thought more about the origins of Kentucky’s second-largest city.

Not everything can be learned in one afternoon. And there are many, many things to do in Lexington that involve air conditioning and entertainment far better than Cameron’s lame banter (sorry, Cam). But if you haven’t done it before — and my guess is many of you haven’t — I’d invite you to get out and walk around the historic areas of Lexington … or of your own hometown.

It’s amazing the things you might learn.


• If you’re going to take a walking tour of Lexington, it’s best to do a little research ahead of time. There are many resources on the Internet that can help you find starting places for your self-guided tour as well as key points you won’t want to pass up. For Lexington, we recommend the Convention and Visitors Bureau Bicycle Tour of Historic Lexington. You don’t actually have to have a bike … we walked it. Also check out this Historic Downtown Walking Tour website for more information. If you are specifically interested in the African American Heritage Tour, check out this website.

• As always, make sure you have your camera.

• If you have a friend who has random trivia or historical knowledge (like Cameron does) take them along, it will provide information and entertainment along your journey.

• Take a water bottle — especially if you’re touring on one of those lovely late summer afternoons.

• Talk to the locals. We met a delightfully friendly and fun man who lived along one of downtown’s streets. He was walking his dog Winston Churchill and he had lots to tell us about Lexington.

• Read those historical markers. They were put there for a reason … they’re often filled with historical information.

• You’re not in a history class, it’s supposed to be fun. So make it fun! No one says learning has to be boring! (Now I’m REALLY starting to sound like Cameron).

What it’s going to cost you:

Not a dang thing. We had an afternoon of fun, laughter and learning for FREE. Well, unless you include the couple bottles of water we took with us. Oh, and the taco ingredients we bought after our journey … we worked up quite an appetite.

And if you’re looking for other fun and free things to do in Lexington, check out this list from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

And …

For more of our photos of downtown Lexington, check out My Old Kentucky Road Trip’s Flickr page.

A (Road) Trip Home to Lexington, Kentucky

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip, http://www.elliotthess.com

We started this road trip because we’ve lived in Kentucky our whole lives and have barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. The same holds true for the city we grew up in. Cameron and I were born and raised in Lexington and while we personally consider ourselves experts on the town, that is probably not in the least bit true.

So this weekend we’re going to explore some of the more historical points of our home town. We won’t hit every spot, but we’re hoping to traipse around the old neighborhoods of downtown and discover where some of the earliest Lexington settlers called home.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip, http://www.elliotthess.com

Until then, here are a few cool facts about Lexington to satisfy your growing appetite for our road trip recaps:

• Lexington was founded in June 1775 in what was then Virginia, 17 years before Kentucky became a state in 1792.

• The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817.

• The brass plate embedded in the sidewalk at the corner of Limestone and Main Street in downtown Lexington is a memorial marker honoring Smiley Pete. The animal was known as the town dog in Lexington. He died in 1957.

• The Jif plant in Lexington is the largest peanut butter producing facility in the world. And on warm summer days, you can smell the roasting peanuts several miles away from the factory.

• The great Man o’ War racehorse — who was born on Lexington’s Nursery Stud farm on March 29, 1917 — won all of his horse races except one, which he lost to a horse named Upset.

And don’t forget to keep up with our adventures both on and off the road by following us on Twitter! You can send us suggestions of places you’d like us to visit or offer us some good road tripping advice that you’ve learned on your own trips this summer.

If you’re still traveling, plan a trip to Lexington. Whether you’re interested in beautiful Thoroughbred horse farms (with barns bigger and more luxurious than your homes, no joke), history (you can visit the homes of Henry Clay, Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wesley Hunt, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis who attended Lexington’s Transylvania University), or outdoor adventures (visit the University of Kentucky’s Arboretum or McConnell Springs), there’s alway something going on in Lexington. Even when it isn’t UK basketball season.

Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip

This Weekend:

If you’re in Lexington this weekend, Gallery B is hosting a Paint-Out downtown on Saturday, July 30th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Artists will be set up throughout the downtown area painting Lexington cityscapes. A reception will follow that night.  To learn more, visit Lexington’s Gallery B website.

It’s OK to be Scared of Kentucky’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium … You’ll Still Have Fun

Waverly Hills Sanatorium stands tall and intimidating on top of one of the highest hills overlooking Jefferson County, Kentucky. It is a massive building — 180,000 square feet — and foreboding in it’s darkness and mystery. Think of all of the ghostly adjectives you can and Waverly is all of them — creepy, eerie, spooky, bone-chilling, hair-raising … we could go on, but you get the point.

When Cameron and I decided to embark on this road trip, we did so fully prepared to be spooked. A tuberculosis hospital where thousands died — some estimates say as many as 64,000 died there before the antibiotic streptomycin was discovered in 1943 — and that has been deemed one of the “scariest places on earth” couldn’t possibly be anything other than frightening.

And while the tour proved to be scary in its own right, it was also an extremely informative, interesting and fun experience.

I’m going to pause here to interject this public service announcement: If you get spooked easily, hate horror films and scary movies, or don’t believe in ghosts … this experience MIGHT not be for you. I say ‘might’ because Cameron is guilty of all of the above … and she had a blast. She nearly clawed the skin off of my right arm, but she had a blast. A lot of people died in Waverly Hills — that isn’t speculation or folk lore or a ghost story. It is fact. Many tens of thousands of people suffering from tuberculosis in the 1920s and 30s died there. And whether or not you believe in the paranormal, it’s hard to think that anywhere in the world has ghosts if this place doesn’t. So if this freaks you out, skip this road trip. But if you can go into this experience with an open mind, open eyes and open ears, and listen to what your guide has to tell you, listen to the history and then to the ghost stories, I guarantee that you’ll be just the right amount of scared, and more intrigued than you may have expected.

Patients were wheeled out of their rooms into an open-air solarium to receive their daily heliotreatment. Photo courtesy of Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
What the solarium outside of patients’ rooms looks like today.

After a mere 2 hours in Waverly Hills, I could talk about it for days — the history of the hospital built on a hill, the patients that went through its doors, the ghosts that still wander the halls — and this post could get really long. So in an effort to keep things (kind of) short, I’m going to list the top 5 things you should know about Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Everything else … well, you’ll just have to take the tour for yourself.

The top 5 things you should know about Waverly Hills Sanatorium

1. A little bit of history. A wooden, two-story hospital was originally constructed in 1910, but with tuberculousis rampant in the area, the building wasn’t big enough to house all of the patients. So a new building was constructed in 1924 with five floors designed to house 500 patients — though in the height of the epidemic it is believed there were more than 1,000 occupied beds at Waverly Hills — and the new sanatorium opened in 1926. Waverly was its own community — it had its own post office, dentist and barber shop — and because they weren’t sure how TB was contracted, once you came to Waverly as a patient or as staff,  you weren’t permitted to leave until a cure was found. By the 1950s, tuberculosis was nearly eradicated thanks to the antibiotic and the hospital was closed in 1961. It reopened a year later as the Woodhaven Geriatrics Sanitarium but was closed by the state in 1980 after rumors of patient abuse. It was purchased in 2001 by Charlie and Tina Mattingly who have opened it up for tours. You can learn more about the history here.

2. The body chute wasn’t originally intended to be for bodies at all. When the building was constructed, architects didn’t plan for how to heat such a massive space. Doctors didn’t want furnaces or boilers on top of the hill because they interfered with the patients’ heliotherapy which was basically fresh air and sunlight. So this tunnel was built to move heat and later supplies from the bottom of the hill up to Waverly. But when the TB epidemic reached its height and death counts were high, the tunnel was used to move bodies out of the sanatorium so that the surviving patients wouldn’t see hearses pulling up on the hill and wouldn’t know how many people were dying.

3. Room 502 was actually a washroom. This room is one of the most famous at Waverly Hills because it is rumored to be one of the most haunted areas. It was a washroom where nurses could shower and dress between shifts. A young nurse committed suicide outside of this room after she realized she was pregnant — and unmarried — and had contracted tuberculosis. Years later, it is said another nurse killed herself by jumping from the room’s window. Our guide told us that it is common for women to become very nauseous or dizzy when they go inside this room, especially if they are pregnant.

4. If you’re looking for ghosts, visit the 4th floor. Despite the sickness and death, we’re told Waverly Hills was a hopeful place. The sick spent lots of time together, kids played games on a rooftop swing set. They made the best out of a difficult time. Because of this atmosphere, many of the ghost stories you  hear from Waverly are fun and light-hearted ones: kids playing with rubber balls and plastic trucks that people leave for them, a man playing catch with his dog in the hallway. But on the 4th floor, scarier things have happened. People getting locked into rooms even though there are no locks on the doors. An ice cold feeling of dread filling your body for no reason. Shadow people, lights coming from rooms with no electricity, door slamming shut when no one is around them. Even our tour guide said he didn’t much like the 4th floor. So if you’re looking for ghosts on your trip, try starting there.

5. There was little reason for autopsies at Waverly. The morgue had only 3 body coolers because very few bodies were kept for any length of time. Very little was known about TB and because it was labeled “The White Plague,” many people immediately thought of the Black Plague and were afraid to touch the bodies of those who’d died of the disease. In actuality, a person can’t contract TB from a dead body, but none of this was known at the time. The bodies moved through the morgue and out of the body chute quickly where they were claimed by family members or — because many were superstitious about the disease and thought the spirit of the illness would “jump” to them if they were around their deceased loved ones — many bodies were placed in a mass grave on the property. Waverly did perform some autopsies because at the time a hospital was required by law to conduct an autopsy on 17% of the dead. An autopsy table, the body coolers and several beds still hold residence in Waverly’s morgue.

Our take

Check out what we had to say right after walking out of Waverly Hills:


Normally I’d offer you the address (4400 Paralee Lane, Louisville, KY 40272) and wish you well. But we found the directions to Waverly’s front doors are nearly impossible to follow whether by Google Maps, your trusty GPS, or vague landmarks from a local gas station attendant. What they should tell you is: “Turn right at the golf course, go left at the fork and then follow the narrow, dark, winding road up, up, up until you break over the top of the hill.” Because from there, you can’t miss the old tuberculosis hospital towering over top of you.

Here’s our best advice: get directions to Bobby Nichols Golf Course (4301 East Pages Lane, Louisville, KY 40272). When you turn into the golf course, follow the road around a couple of greens and when it forks, go left. Follow that road (it’s sort of scary, see our description above) through the iron gates and you can’t miss Waverly Hills in front of you.

What it’s going to cost you

The 2-hour guided tour that we took is $22 and worth every penny. We walked through all five floors of the hospital with an extremely knowledgeable guide and got a lot of history of the building, its former patients, and its ghosts. We actually spent about 90 minutes inside of the hospital and body chute; the first half hour was devoted to a video about the sanatorium and a few clips from ghost hunting shows it has been featured on.

The cost of tours goes up from there. The 4-hour (half-night) paranormal investigation is $50 and goes from midnight to 4 a.m. The 8-hour (full-night) tour and paranormal investigation is $100 and goes until 8 a.m. No one under 18 is allowed on these investigations.

These tours are available March through August on Friday and Saturday evenings. Reservations are required. Waverly Hills also offers a few day time historical tours and private all-night tours. For more information about all tours available, visit the Waverly Hills website. 

Are you Afraid of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium?

Let me preface this by saying we are both scaredy-cats, Cameron probably more so than Blair. Either way, you won’t find either of us first in line at the latest Wes Craven or Saw 5,324 (gosh, how many of those are out now?). So maybe we’re crazy, but we’re also really excited to go on a ghost-hunt this weekend!

We’ll be on one of the many tours offered by the Waverly Hills Historical Society (and probably clinging to each other for courage and moral support). Waverly Hills first opened its doors as a tuberculosis hospital in 1910 and expanded to its full size during the 1920s tuberculosis epidemic in Louisville. As advances in antibiotics reduced the staggering numbers of TB patients, Waverly was turned into a geriatrics center until it was closed down by the state in 1980.

Those of you who DVR Ghost Hunters or any other paranormal TV shows/specials are probably already well aware of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, and it has consistently ranked among the Top Most Haunted places in the country.

Waverly Hills is considered haunted for 2 main reasons:

1. The usual myths, stories, and urban legends that seem to come along with old, creepy-looking buildings, including the legend of Room 502 which was explored on a popular episode of Ghost Hunters. Room 502 was allegedly the scene of a nurse’s suicide in the 1930s after she realized she was pregnant…and unmarried (gasp!) Unfortunately for the nurse, the sexual revolution didn’t occur until the 1960s.

2. The Body Chute aka The Death Tunnel (dunh! dunh! DUNH!) Originally built to carry supplies and utilities into the hospital without dragging them up the hill, the tunnel was re-appropriated as a route to move deceased tuberculosis patients out of the hospital without upsetting the still-living patients.  Oh, by the way, did I mention that electricity was never installed, so the tunnel is COMPLETELY DARK aside from what light filters in through air vents every 100 feet?

So wish us luck and endless battery-life in our flashlights and we’ll try to bring back some photos of creepy apparitions and unexplained lights…if we don’t bring anything back, you’ll know we chickened out.

Don't you wish this show was still on?

A Taste of the Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour

We’ve somehow forgotten to mention one of the most important rules in the road trip handbook: Your voyage won’t always be planned.

It was by this rule that we found ourselves relaxing on the couch one moment and driving the winding country roads — and we do mean winding — to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, just a short hour and quick gas station Diet Coke and snack mix stop later.

We had guests on this road trip. Some of our best friends were visiting Kentucky from England and we jumped at the chance to show them one of Kentucky’s proudest treasures: bourbon.

There are few things greater than taking a spur-of-the-moment afternoon trip that requires very little travel, even less money, loads of information, lots of fun, a bourbon tasting … and manages to get you home by dinner time. Our tour of the Maker’s Mark Distillery was a perfect Kentucky afternoon outing with our out-of-town friends.

Facts you should know about Maker’s Mark bourbon

  • Bill Samuels, Sr. cooked up the first batch of Maker’s Mark in 1954 after tossing out his family recipe (Bill’s family had been bourbon makers for six generations) and replacing Rye with red winter wheat as the flavor grain. Learn more of the company’s history here. 
  • Bill may have been in charge of the recipe, but his wife Margie is largely responsible for the product you’ll find on liquor store shelves today. Margie was the brains behind Maker’s Mark marketing. She developed the shape of the bottle, the famous red-wax seal, the company logo and even the name ‘Maker’s Mark.’ Marg was a genius!
  • Ever noticed the S IV symbol on a bottle of Maker’s Mark? Here’s what it stands for: The “S” is for the Samuels family. The “IV” is the Roman numeral four, representing which generation of Samuels created Maker’s Mark. At the time, Samuels thought he was the fourth generation of the Samuels family in Kentucky. It was later discovered he was actually the sixth, but it was too late to change the seal. And the star in the design is for Star Hill, the location on which the distillery sits.
  • Maker’s Mark makes only two products: Maker’s Mark Bourbon and Maker’s Mark 46. The MM 46 product is just a couple of years old and is only a slight variation on the original bourbon. 46 is aged 2 to 3 months longer than Maker’s Mark (which is aged at least 6 and a half years) with French oak staves added to the interior of its aging barrel to give the drink a more woodsy and smoother taste. MM 46 is bottled at 94 proof — 4 points higher than Maker’s Mark — and is supposed to have a smoother and richer taste.

What’s a bourbon?

All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons. Here are the requirements — by law, we might add — for a whiskey to be a bourbon:

  1. It must be made in the United States (but not necessarily in Kentucky as many people think, though 90 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in the state)
  2. The grain mixture used to make the bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn.
  3. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and bottled at at least 80 proof.
  4. The bourbon must go into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.
  5. The bourbon must be aged for at least 2 years in a new charred, oak barrel. *Maker’s Mark note: MM has a contract with a company in Scotland who takes shipments of the used-once barrels and uses them to age scotch.
Learn more about the Maker’s Mark recipe and cooking process here.

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What it’s going to cost you

Not a thing! The distillery tours are free and start from the office every hour on the half hour 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday tours go from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The distillery is open on holidays except for Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. To learn more about tours and hours, go here. 

In the gift shop, you get a do-it-yourself opportunity to dip a bottle of Maker’s Mark into the famous red wax! You must purchase the bottle first, they start at $18.95 and go up with the size of the bottle.


Do you guys know how to get to Loretto? Yeah, neither did we. Turns out Google Maps took us on a “short cut” (Read: a very scary, tiny, two-laned country road that while swerving along Cameron declared, “I’m laughing so hard I’m crying! And I can’t see!” Oh we’re having fun now …) But once we figured out that we weren’t completely lost, the Maker’s Mark Distillery is actually pretty easy to get to from Bluegrass Parkway (Just see our map for directions).

Here’s the address for your GPS: 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, KY 40037

You can also find directions on the Maker’s Mark website.

The Best of Danville’s Lawn Chair Film Festival

Forget the maps and the snack foods, the itineraries and the Twitter updates. The most important thing you need to know about taking a road trip, is that it is supposed to be FUN.

On Friday, Cameron was in the middle of moving apartments and I’d been on the road with my (real) job for a couple of days. We were tired, we were stressed out.

That is, until we arrived at Danville’s Lawn Chair Film Festival.

It started out like this:

Hilarious right? We thought so too. And things really only got better from there. Popcorn in hand, the lawn chair audience was treated to the top 17 films – some were funny, some were confusing, some were scary, some had a real message to them. All of them were great. But of course, it was a film festival, not a “all-these-film-are-great-celebration,” so there had to be winners. Here they are:

The Golden Lawn Chair Award:
“Mr. Duffy Finds a Friend” – Christian Loftus and Brenna Howard won the grand prize of the evening, materialized in an actual golden lawn chair, for their short and truly innovated stop motion animated piece utilizing cardboard cutouts.
Best Drama:
“Fair Trade” – Elisa Plattilero and Molly Hoy won for their 8-minute drama shot entirely in Danville’s own The Hub Coffee Shoppe and Café.
Best Comedy:
“Le Salle de Juex” – Tim Miller’s spoof of French cinema had the audiences howling and took home the award for best comedy.
Hometown Pride:
“The Flyers” – 9-year-old filmmaker and Danville resident Charlie Hall won this award, which celebrates local film talent, for his tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds.”
Lawn Chair Challenge:
“Steven’s Script” – In a special new category, filmmakers were asked to create a film specifically for the festival using several random elements: A quote from an Eminem song, a football as a prop, a shot of a spinning fan, a character being referred to as “Captain”, and the quote “I don’t dance unless I hear music.” Director Jim Stout won for his hilarious entry.
Audience Award:
“Bizarnival” –At the end of the night, the audience was asked vote for their favorite film through paper ballots or text message votes. Scott Stafford and Walking Softly Film’s “Bizarnival” won by a landslide.

Sponsored by the Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Heart of Danville Main Street Program, the Lawn Chair Film Festival kicks off the Lawn Chair Summer Theater schedule which is available here. Popular movies are shown on a large outdoor screen in Constitution Square all summer.

If you want to keep up with the film festival over the summer, “Like” their Facebook page. And make plans to attend next year. If nothing else, the entertaining MC introducing each film will make it worth your trip. (And if you guys know the film makers of “On a Boat” offer to loan them yours … apparently, they don’t have one.) At the end of the day, it was a great road trip … because we  had FUN.

So until next year, here is OUR favorite film festival entry. Tim Miller’s “Le Salle de Juex” Enjoy!

la Salle de Jeux from OfficeRocker Productions on Vimeo.

OH! And if you want a cool tshirt with the film festival’s awesome logo and you live in the Danville area, tshirts are available at Grayson’s Tavern for $10.

Destination Danville: Swirl, Sip, & Shop

If you’ve been following the blog, you already know we were really excited to go check out Danville’s Lawn Chair Film Festival this past weekend (more on that later). We were pleasantly surprised (and excited) however, to receive an invitation to The Heart of Danville Swirl, Sip, & Shop that took place throughout downtown right before the film festival.

Now that Boyle County is no longer a dry county, the door was open for a really great benefit event featuring the shops and business in downtown Danville. With wines selected by V The Market (a GREAT shop by the way), downtown businesses such as The Purple Pearl, The Community Arts Center, Carol’s Bridal Shop, Buttonheads, and Myrtle’s Market (among MANY others) kept their doors open late for guests to come sample one specially selected red wine, and one specially selected white while browsing around the shop and running into and meeting all sorts of wonderful people.

Now, not to sound like a couple of lush’s, but this event was definitely up our alley. We discovered some great new, reasonably priced wines (and went home with a couple of bottles), and had a great evening walking around Danville, checking out the shops before the film fest. We have to admit, Danville may be the next, great Central KY shopping destination.

Not only was this a great way to explore a beautiful city, and sample wines to your heart’s content, but also a fantastic fundraiser for the Heart of Danville Main Street Program. The Heart of Danville is working to not only revitalize the city, but to preserve historic architecture and districts, support economic development, develop new streetscapes and solutions for pedestrians and parking.

If you missed the Swirl, Sip, & Shop AND the Lawn Chair Film Festival, don’t worry too much, check out additional photos from The Danville Advocate-Messenger  and  the plethora of fun events on the calendar coming up soon! Check out the full listing of wines and shops from the Swirl, Sip, & Shop after the jump!Continue reading “Destination Danville: Swirl, Sip, & Shop”

Pull Up a (Lawn) Chair: We’ll See You at Danville’s Lawn Chair Film Festival

Post by Blair: 

When I was a kid, my parents used to load my brother and I up in my dad’s pick up truck, toss a couple of lawn chairs and blankets in the back next to a cooler and bag of snacks, and we’d head to the drive-in. I remember a few of the movies we saw — Jurassic Park scared my mother to death. In fact, I remember quite clearly her terror when the skunk pranced by our truck in the middle of the movie, she claims she thought it was going to spray us … really, she thought it was a Velociraptor — but what I remember most about those trips was sitting in lawn chairs in the back of my dad’s truck, listening to the movie through those static-filled little metal speakers that hooked onto the side of your vehicle, and contently watching the films play out on the gigantic screen in front of me.

In my memory, those lawn chairs were better seats than any cushy movie recliners.

It could be my nostalgia over drive-in movies (or over lawn chairs) that inspired our next road trip … or it could be the awesome uniqueness of this annual event we found in Danville, Kentucky.

Either way, on May 20 our road trip will make a stop at Constitution Square for the Lawn Chair Film Festival.

The film festival accepts entries in several different categories from amateur film makers. This years categories include:
• Best Comedy Under 5 Minutes
• Best Comedy Over 5 Minutes
• Best Dramatic Piece Under 5 Minutes
• Best Dramatic Piece Over 5 Minutes
• The Out-of-the-Box Award
• Best Documentary
•  Best Animation
• Audience Award (determined by applause)
• The Lawn Chair Challenge
• Cell Phone Action
• Grand Lawn Chair Award for Best Film

The festival runs from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at Danville’s Constitution Square. In the case of rain, check back and we’ll let you know the backup location.

This film festival kicks off the Lawn Chair Theater summer film series. To learn more about this event and more of what you can find in Danville, Kentucky, visit www.betterindanville.com.

For more information about the Lawn Chair Film Festival, check out its Facebook page.

Danville has a number of activities going on prior to the film festival. Swirl, Sip and Shop, sponsored by Heart of Danville, is a wine tasting and shopping event that will be held 5-8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15; call (859) 236-1909 for more information.

What it’s going to cost you:

The film festival is FREE! If you’re interested in other Heart of Danville events, you can learn about pricing here.


As always, if you’re sick of listening to your bossy GPS and Google Maps just doesn’t seem to make sense, feel free to email us at myoldkyroadtrip@gmail.com for directions! Hope to see you there!

Historic Kentucky: Floyd Collins Trapped in Mammoth Cave

Sometimes known as “The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known,” Floyd Collins was a pioneer cave explorer and news sensation. The Collins family were owners of Crystal Cave- a lesser known, and more isolated section of the Mammoth Cave system. In a stroke of marketing genius, Floyd Collins decided he would begin searching for a new entrance which would tie Crystal Cave more closely to Mammoth Cave, thereby increasing tourists to the often ignored Crystal Cave. However, cave exploration in the early 1900s was not quite as safe or easy as it may seem today.

On January 30, 1925, Collins became trapped in a small passage on his way out of the cave, a mere 150 feet from the entrance. Friends found him the next day and worked quickly to bring hot food and light. He survived for over a week while efforts to rescue him were made. On February 17, rescuers found Floyd Collins dead from exposure and starvation. Deciding it was too dangerous to remove the body, they left it where it lay and hastily filled the shaft with debris. A doctor later estimated he had died three or four days previously, February 13, being the most likely.

A Publicity Frenzy

Newspaper reporter William Burke “Skeets” Miller from the Louisville Courier-Journal reported extensively on Floyd Collins’ attempted rescue and subsequent death, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1926. Skeets’ reports were published in newspapers and via telegraph across the United States, including coverage by the fairly new broadcast radio media. The publicity brought droves of tourists to Sand Cave (as it was called by the media), at one point numbering in the tens of thousands. Vendors set up to sell food and souvenirs, contributing to a circus-like atmosphere. The Sand Cave rescue quickly grew into one of the biggest media events of its time. Though Collins himself was unsuccessful in discovering a new entrance, his death achieved his goal of bringing tourism to the Crystal Cave system; the media attention helped fuel interest in the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park, of which Sand Cave became a part.

Read more about Floyd Collins:


Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins


James M. Deem