It has been awhile since our last Unseen Louisville posting. That our latest entry should be relatively unknown should not be surprising, since it is new, or rather, is a newly monikered way to present a setting that was already there. In a low-lying heavily wooded area adjacent to the ever-growing office sprawl in the Hurstbourne Lane and Ormsby Station Road area of Eastern Jefferson County is a graveled fitness trail cut through some of the last (relatively) untouched deep woods in that part of town. The Forest Green Fitness trail begins at the back edge of a vast parking lot for several new post-modern glass boxes a few hundred yards south of a McDonalds. (Specifically the parcel is bounded to the north by Forest Green Blvd which parallels the slightly more northerly Hurstbourne Lane and to the west by the head of Dorsey Way and to the east by Dorsey Lane). The woods there seem to have been set aside as part of mitigation, I suspect, required by planning and zoning to ensure that some green space remains in the area. I visited the trail this past weekend, and a nice day it was too, as the following pictures will show. On the way there I checked out another bit of unseen Louisville that I only recently discovered—a wide tunnel that passes directly under Hurstbourne Lane adjacent to the McDonalds. I’ve biked through this tunnel several times in the last few weeks without ever encountering one soul there. If you go there, be careful, it gets mighty dark; the lights do not appear to be working. If you bike, be careful not to hit anyone that might pop up while you’re going through there. Use a headlight. The fitness trail to the south is officially closed after dusk, which only makes sense. You probably don’t want to be down there after hours. During the day the dense foliage makes the air noticeably cooler. While I was visiting, a group of kids were sitting at a picnic table in a clearing, resting from doing whatever it is that kids do in the woods. Make sure you have good heavy mountain bike treads if you try to bike the gravel, as it gets fairly thick and loose in spots. The sign at the ‘official’ entrance (although there are several places to enter the trail) says the path is a mile long, but it only seemed to me to be at best a half mile, at least on the parts passable by bike. I know it only took me a couple minutes to bike it from west to east. There are some wooden steps to the east that were impassable by bike, so maybe that constitutes the rest. A walking trip in the future will tell or not. The creek water that runs alongside some of the trail is contaminated by suburban runoff, as several ‘no swimming’ signs note. I ran into at least three spider webs across the path, indication that not too many people walk through here much. Anyway, here are some views of the trail and of some of the office park area surrounding. You’ll notice my old Roadmaster pressed into service in some of these shots; that’s because my regular bike is in the shop for repairs (broken axle; happens to me all the time). Also, at the end of this series is depicted an awesome perfect anvil-shaped cloud that I captured just before it dissipated at dusk. -EG
Can You Hide a House? Old 851 Mansion at Spalding University Proves You Can (Unseen Louisville No. 3)July 9, 2007
Spalding University between Third and Fourth streets in Louisville has its own version of that novelty in the form of an 1800s Gilded Age mansion enclosed within its larger administration building.
Some of the tour books mention this attraction, but I know of nobody in my circle of acquaintances who is aware of it.
When I visited the mansion last week, Spalding’s administration building was quiet and almost lifeless. Summer is the slow time, as it typical at a university, and even though a few students and administrators wandered through the halls, I pretty much felt like I had the mansion all to myself. The tour is self-guided, so you can hang around the old dark house without anyone so much as noticing.
The mansion entrance is just a few feet to the right of the reception desk in the administration building. I flagged down a student to ask if she knew of anyone could turn on a few lights for better picture taking. She didn’t know but pointed to a table that was supposed to have a booklet explaining the history of the mansion. But there were no brochures available.
Obviously this is one attraction that is handled very informally by the university, which can be a good and a bad thing.
Bad because the lack of security makes me feel that some of the holdings here could be vulnerable to mischief. Good, because one can enjoy and contemplate the spaces without bother.
Because the mansion mainly serves as a cut-through access point for the rest of the administration building it is probably not noticed by the university employees and student people going about their everyday business.
But is it worth seeing? Yes, I would say so—if you’re in the area and have some time to check out a lovely curiosity that’s hidden and unknown to most folks. Finding such nooks is always cool.
Spalding’s website has some info on the 851 Mansion. The quick and dirty is that the house was designed and built in 1871 for local importer Joseph Tompkins and was later owned by some distillery tycoons. Spalding has occupied the place since 1920, but no reference is given as to when the administration building was built around it.
People interested in home interior designs and accents will be very interested in the mansion’s features which include stained glass, Viennese glass, a gas chandelier, walnut stairway and lots of handcarved moldings and old furniture.
Because it’s free and sort of unique, I’m going to give this attraction a respectable two-star rating. I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list, but if you want to see something different and don’t have much time and have empty pockets, this could be your destination.
The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places.
at Spalding University, Louisville, Ky.
-EG (all photos in this posting copyright 2007 Evan G)
A few more:
Why, you ask, is Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, wearing Revolutionary War garb? Well, this, of course, is not Ken. (Because, as you know, he and the Beaver were killed in Vietnam, fighting alongside the Red-bearded G.I. Joe.)
No, what we have here are some anonymous cannoneers from our great war of independence.
Where we are is 1000 S. Fourth Street (Fourth and Kentucky streets), in Louisville, Ky., USA, and this is PART TWO of our ongoing “Unseen Louisville” series of places around town that you probably don’t know about, but maybe should.
Extrapolating from an unscientific poll of folks I queried, it’s probably safe to say that virtually nobody in Louisville knows about the existence of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, or at least that its headquarters is just a few blocks south of the Louisville Free Public Library main branch. Even worse, that means the locals are missing out on a pretty nice little museum that encompasses the first and part of the basement floors of the facility.
This is the kind of place you’d expect to find in Washington, D.C., and indeed this headquarters was in the nation’s capital until it moved to Louisville in 1978, according to Denise Hall, a representative who spoke to me as I toured the building.
Eyeing the rather undistinguished-looking concrete slab office structure from the outside doesn’t bode well—no wonder so many people pass by this building without a notice or thought.
Yet, what’s inside is a treasure trove of authentic and reproduced Revolutionary War paraphernalia—and lots of vintage colorful paintings of war scenes and heroes.
It is in fact not really considered a museum, just a headquarters. The exhibits are displayed in the main lobby, several side rooms and some stairwells—all of which adjoin various administrative offices. The mix of real-use offices and museum space gives the place a nice vibe actually. Bunches of old geezers with bright vest coats flit about back and forth amid the bric-a-brac of their long-dead ancestors. A nice sense of continuity and living history in that.
Displays include a full-sized replica of George Washington’s office (immediately to the right of the entrance), a “Martha Washington” room that includes an actual letter from George and a remnant from a dress of the First Lady. There’s also a remnant of a flag Washington carried into battle, an actual ring worn by him, and a life mask.
Highlights also include a letter from later president, James Monroe, original 13-star and 25-star flags, an enormous bronze bust of Washington and full-sized reproduction of the Liberty Bell, authentic period costumes and guns, and baccarat crystal objects containing likenesses of Revolutionary War figures. And the place is filled with beautiful oil paintings—many enormous—of period subjects.
This is one museum I plan to visit again to explore in greater detail.
And it’s free and open to the general public during business hours (despite a misleading sign on the door that says it isn’t.)
While I was touring the lobby, a super-nice lady at the entrance desk named Senoria Williams was putting together for me a packet filled with informational brochures and a mini American flag suitable for desk mounting. I did not ask for this, she just did it.
Seems the organization is in the middle of a fund-raising drive to build a new, larger geneological center on an adjacent lot.
I hope, though, that the historical collection remains in its present building. It fits nicely in there and the lighting is good, using big windows and exterior sunlight well.
Plus, it’s a no-frills, old-school museum setting—and that’s what I like.
The organization really could use a better website, though, especially with a less dismal-looking photo of its building (it obviously was scanned, poorly, right off a brochure). I would suggest to them that a picture from their display area (like the one I took at the top of this posting) would look better.
It was kind of cool that when I took this last shot against the backdrop of the headquarter’s side entrance, the wind caught the little flag on my brochure packet and it unfurled just as I snapped. Karl Rove couldn’t have orchestrated it better.
-EG (all photos in this posting copyright 2007 Evan G)
FYI: below are a few other images from my visit:
Having been almost fully dependent on my bike for more than a year now, I’ve more clearly noticed the surroundings and all the good things I used to ignore as I tooled around in an auto in this here hometown metropolis of mine, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
At some point during the process yesterday of adding lots of new links to my “Louisville, Ky. Stuff” blogroll over there at page right, it occurred to me that this is a damn fine city.
I’ve been to a few other places: Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and so on, and been impressed by what some of those cities have done. San Francisco is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen; Chicago is the most exciting (I’m probably the only person I know who still has never been to New York City, but I’m sure that would be even more exciting).
By contrast, Louisville to me seemed a backwater, a surrogate target of my own scorn, maybe even a reflection of self-loathing and an inferiority complex.
Part of that notion might also be due to the influence of various well-meaning but misguided local businessmen and “leaders” who think we need things like professional sports teams and giant new stadiums so that we can be like Indianapolis or Atlanta. There’s a certain unseemly penis envy about this kind of manly inferiority between cities. Who the hell wants to be bigger, more congested and more polluted, anyway?
Louisville isn’t going to have a better quality of life or be better loved by locals or more admired by outsiders just because it has a pro basketball team. That’s dime-a-dozen shit, and pea-brained thinking to boot.
By getting out and about more, I’m discovering what makes Louisville unique and different. And none if it has to do with, nor will it ever have to do with, having some tax-sucking sports franchise that costs the average family $200 a game.
But, getting out of the car and getting around on my own power has opened my eyes. I breathe the open air and feel the atmosphere around me better perhaps. I’m more curious to explore, and more fascinated by what I see.
Part of that has to do with aging, and part of that maturation has to do with seeing the positive in my own back yard.
I’ve come to realize that we’ve got it pretty damned good in good ole Louisville.
Consequently, an almost embarrassingly maudlin sense of pride about my hometown has overtaken me of late. I might even be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my days here.
Why that is would take a lot of pages to explain, and would sound too much like I was a shill for the convention and visitor’s bureau. Anyway, this organization has named our River City/DerbyTown USA/Lou-a-vuhl one of America’s 30 Most Livable Communities.
As far as culture and recreation go, we are really wanting for nothing in this town. We have nationally respected theatre (stuff has premiered here at Actors Theatre before becoming hits on Broadway), opera, ballet, a fine orchestra, dance groups, literary groups, chamber ensembles and a Bach Society, a bohemian strip along Bardstown Road where edgy indie bands play and great restaurants abound and every hot young thing wants to be seen, classy gentrified and beautifully restored and preserved 19th-century neighborhoods and downtown iron-cast storefronts, a good library and universities, a super art museum with a real Rembrandt, a recently developed recreational waterfront on the Ohio River, triple-A minor league baseball in a spiffy new riverfront park, and unique museums and other attractions all over the place, including a planetarium and an old steamboat.
The Louisville Place has to be one of the most stunning venues for live and film entertainment in the country.
Not only do we have the Kentucky Derby, but we have a Derby kickoff event that has far surpassed it in scope and attendance, Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks display on the continent.
And there are lots of funky nooks and crannies that make a city a real city, not just a collection of big suburbs surrounded by a tiny core of pathetic buildings that lack cultural cohesion and breadth (I’m thinking, of course, of Kentucky’s second-largest “city,” Lexington).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a hipper music store than Ear-X-Tacy anywhere else in the United States, or a better video store than the amazing Wild & Woolly Video, or a funkier bookstore than the rambling All Booked Up—all of them on Bardstown Road.
In Louisville we can go to a jazz nightclub, or turn on our radio 24 hours a day and hear Beethoven or Mahler or Duke Ellington or Tom Waits or Stereolab. That’s because we have three topnotch public radio stations. Very few cities this size can boast that.
And if we want to get our rocks off we can go to Louisville’s vast, evil network of adult businesses, and there are lots of them all over town, from the Lion’s Den to Priscilla’s to Deja Vu to Frederick’s of Hollywood to message parlors and escort services and gay bars. You see, a lot of us ’round these parts figured out that sex is natural and necessary and a basic human need. In fact, Louisville just oozes and reeks with dirty, filthy sinful SEX. Ewwww, gross.
But if you want to go to church here, there are even far more of those around—for all denominations and faiths. And there’s country line dancing too at Coyote’s nightclub.
So, we are weird, in a good way. We are diverse and eclectic and eccentric and stark raving mad in a joie de vivre sort of manner. In other words we are not bland or banal or predictable or stuck in a go-nowhere dusty vacuous stark and repressed past or satisfied with everyone’s else’s low-bar expectations.
For these things, of course, the rest of the state of Kentucky hates us. And that just makes me fall in line in loyalty to my city all the more. Louisville pays the bulk of taxes for this Commonwealth and gets far less back in investment in return. And the gratitude we get for this is concealed jealously and scorn and stupid laws aimed against our progressive, cosmopolitan ways by the legislators who prefer to answer to the retrograde Rev. Billy Bob Chickenplucker types from Hogshit, Ky.
Hate and ignorance aren’t good enough for Louisville.
A similar vibe struck me a few years back when some fundamentalist-type southern Kentucky relatives of my wife—nice and polite folks, I’ll grant you—visited us at our suburban Louisville home and we took them out to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom amusement part next to the fairgrounds. That’s all well and good, but that’s all they wanted to do. They didn’t want to go downtown and see other attractions with a true local flavor because they were “afraid” of crime. Never mind that Louisville’s crime rate is low—or that they’d be more likely to be struck by lightning on their rural spread than mugged on our city streets. Expanding their cultural horizons was really what they feared.
Through political fashions, including the 30-year trend toward electing conservative Republicans in practically every office in this state, the mayoralty of Louisville has remained staunchly and solidly Democratic, as has our aldermanic board. That’s because people here like solid, competent, dependable leadership, and prefer not to trade good basic governance for irrelevant, divisive ideology. God doesn’t make government work, thinking and working people do.
Although he has enemies as all politicos do, long-time Mayor Jerry Abramson (or as one local radio DJ calls him, “mayor for life”) is probably the most liked politician in the country.
Meanwhile, our Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, can’t even get our downtown I-65 bridge painted properly without corruption and in a reasonable time…
As in the past, I intend to post more stuff about Louisville in and among my other various ramblings. My intention is to keep the blog split about 50-50 between Louisville stuff and other various non-Louisville related topics.
As I tool around on my bike with my digital camera, I’m snapping pix like a fool. What I hope to cover are people and things that the local media and others ignore or miss. Some of it will be ugly and some beautiful.
To me, even some of the ugliness is beautiful. Industrial ruins for instance; the despised and forgotten corners of Louisville’s past.
I hope to talk to poets and street people and people who ride the buses, and report what I find.
I recently interviewed Louisville’s number one atheist. I have some good snaps of this unique individual and his mission and hope to have an article on him soon.
I want to photograph the interiors of funky musty bookstores and other unique venues.
I will wax nostalgic about past people and places in this here town
I might even complain about some of the bad things that plague us here: the unpredictable weather and heinous summer humidity, smog and pollen and the shitty Keystone Kops way our police do traffic control during special events and so on.
Whatever the case, I hope you can take the journey with me.
And in case I haven’t made it clear yet, Louisville is fuckin’ cool.
—photo credits/ All images were borrowed from publicly displayed and openly accessible websites/ if anyone has a problem with their images being displayed here, please tell me and we can either take it down or re-do the photo credit to suit your needs:
Louisville Skyline at night found at Louisville Metro Guide.
Thunder Over Louisville by Gene Burch found at Gene Burch Photography
Let me explain.
Every so often back in my preteen days in the late ’60s and early ’70s the family would pile into the auto and trek from suburbia into the city to visit grandma, my dad’s mother, at her shotgun house off Oak Street, not far from the old Louisville incinerator.
I hated these trips because everything about my grandma’s home and neighborhood creeped me out; everything was different from the suburban brightness, openness and spaciousness I was used to. The darkness of the home’s interior, the cramped living room with a shaft of light coming through the front window barely illuminating the ancient bric a brac, such as the old early 1950s TV (long unworking) with its tiny round screen and behind it on a tall spindly wooden shelf an old set of encyclopedias dating from the 1920s and 30-year-old pictures of relatives (one of whom—my father’s sister—had left the home back in the 1940s and simply vanished off the face of the earth). Yet, there she was, a long-lost member of the family staring right at me. In a sitting room further back of the house toward a kitchen was an old Victrola from the 30s, with Al Jolson and Vaughn Monroe 78s and some weird generic albums of carillon performances and such bought from thrift department stores for $1.99—still with the tag on. In the kitchen was a fascinating faded browning color reproduction of a painting of a 30’s vintage girl in a one-piece swimsuit in a diving pose on a seaside boulder. I never quite understood that one. It seemed to add an element of sexuality in a house that otherwise seemed to me dark and lifeless, with a quality resembling Mrs. Haversham’s time-stands-still home in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
And, sad to say, in my young shallow ignorance, I was not too crazy about grandma either. She was chubby, dowdy and seemed to always wear the same long conservative brown dress. She looked to me like W.C. Fields in drag, with glasses and a wig. She was standoffish, mild, out of touch with current culture; and was not one to spoil her grandkids. She was a God-fearin’ woman, the product of poverty and thrift, and me and my sister were too young to understand any of that.
She wasn’t anything like my mom’s mother. By contrast, my other grandma was a hip, lively swinger. She didn’t look her age, not yet anyway (alcoholism would later take care of that), she dressed brightly, wore pants, drank and smoked and cussed and showered me and my sister with anything we wanted anytime we wanted it. She had a chintzy cool loungey bar in her basement, with lighted bar signs for atmosphere, no less. She even let me taste beer when I was 10. She had Elvis Presley records. We liked her.
I’ve sidetracked a bit in reminiscences here, but what I was driving at is that the old neighborhood of my dad’s mother symbolized to me at the time everything that was menacing about the big, rusty crumbling old city.
And on the trip to that shotgun house we would always approach a railroad track and to the left of that, towering and glowering above an old brick factory building was a rusty bulbous old water tower. Whenever we approached those tracks, my head went down below the window. You see, I didn’t want to see that tower, or it to see me.
In my childlike imagination, there was something creepy about that hulking steel tower, which still stands today, as though a retro space ship from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds had descended and extended its landing gear.
There are so many from coast to coast, in fact, that one wonders if they’re tied together somehow as part of some New World Order plot to take over America.
I’m talking about the giant lumberjacks and the giant muffler men.
While searching Google Images looking for art to post on my Mega Super Mammoth MP3 Blog List page, I stumbled onto a bunch of pictures of giant lumberjacks.
The more I looked, the more astounded I was at the sheer number of these things towering over restaurants, campsites, gas stations and other venues across the continent—such as this mammoth dude who watches over Bangor, Maine. A great website called Roadside America even has a running catalog online of these tacky fiberglass giants, which even includes their repair or disrepair status. It even includes updates on giant roadside men who have been destroyed, moved, damaged or even repurposed.
Another big category of giant roadside behemoths is the so-called muffler men. For some reason, muffler and auto shops have been big adherents of the giant-man-as-advertising idea. This fellow to the right who graces lovely Jersey City, New Jersey, appears to once have been a Paul Bunyan converted into a muffler man.
I guess a giant man is supposed to mean that your muffler shop is more “manly” than your competitor’s.
And when I say coast to coast, I mean it. There are giant lumberjacks stretching from Bangor, Maine to the east to California redwood country on the west and all the way to points south such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, Flastaff, Ariz., and Raleigh, N.C. And, of course, there are some in Canada, too.
A lot of them seem to have been repurposed. Where once sat an ax handle in their palms now sit giant mufflers. With a little repainting, a lumberjack can morph into a grease jockey.
These are just a few of the lumber-giants I pilfered off the web. Most of the pictures can be credited to Roadside America.
The Lake George resort area of New York state appears to be gound zero for creepy giants. There are so many of these fiberglass dudes in the area that we might well assume that this town is perhaps the epicenter of the giant man invasion to come. This fellow wields an ax, evidently daring put-putters to send a ball rolling between his legs. Though distracting, I doubt that mini-golfers feel intimidated. But mark my words and mark me well, this big guy remembers. And he will get you.
Here’s another Lake George lumberman who seems to be a little more up to date, what with the chainsaw and all. Evidently, this guy has met with a great deal of disrepair of late. Just like his buddy, he will not forgive humanity for that. So beware.
This guy seems to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere in Aline, Oklahoma, safeguarding whatever town there might be.
By now, you’re probably noticing a great similarity in the face and body designs of these giants. I’m sure there’s a story in this that I haven’t researched. It appears that a company mass produced these things as promo-advertising gimmicks. If I find out more I’ll add that info here.
This guy, like so many, appears to have been demoted from lumberjack to friendly tire-store salesman. No doubt he met a giant woman while he was in the Yukon who married him then dragged his now-domesticated ass back to Wilson, North Carolina, to get a “real” steady job selling tires at White’s. He might look friendly, but he’s forcing that smile.
And there are a lot more where these came from.
I have no ending for this—just a word of advice: Steer well clear of these lumberjacks, but if you must get up close to one treat him with respect and make sure the ax doesn’t move.