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Kentucky by Heart: A look at events that could be included in Kentucky’s own ‘You Are There’ TV series


Author’s Note: This is the first of two-parts exploring what might be included if there were a ‘You Are There Kentucky’ TV series.

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

As a child, my natural interest in history was encouraged by watching old reruns of the You Are There television series. The show originally appeared on both CBS Radio and Television, with the radio version from 1947 to 1950 and the television version running from 1953 to 1957. The iconic newsman Walter Cronkite hosted the TV program. The series portrayed American and world events; it had the feel of being in a history class with a dynamic teacher and leaving me disappointed when the class was over.

I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of events from Kentucky’s past that might make good on TV today, a sort of You Are There in Kentucky. Here’s my list, with brief comments; the inclusion choices are purely my own, arbitrary and I only touch on a few basic details. Hopefully, these mentioned will spark some interesting conversation and inspire a thirst to know more:

The discovery of Big Bone Lick in 1739 and its significance

Fossils at Big Bone. (Photo from Big Bone Lick State Historic Site)

In 1739, French explorer Charles Le Moyne le Longueuil discovered what became known as Big Bone Lick in today’s Boone County. Mary Draper Ingles was captured by Shawnee Indians in 1755 and later forced to participate with them and French traders in a salt-making expedition at the Lick. In 1803, explorer Meriwether Lewis sent fossil specimens from the area to President Jefferson, arousing the President’s interest, and four years after Jefferson sent Lewis’s partner William Clark to Bone Lick for a dig. The area became a significant salt industry find. The popular Big Bone State Park, in modern times, is designated on the National Register of Historic Places.

Daniel Boone and the Wilderness Road

In 1775, Daniel Boone and about 30 road cutters, representing the Transylvania Company, started “blazing” a trail from modern day Kingsport, Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and eventually to Boonesboro and beyond to Louisville. It was an important step in opening America’s West, and it is estimated that two to three hundred thousand setters used the trail between 1775 to 1810.

The founding of Harrodstown (Harrodsburg)

In 1774, James Harrod founded the first permanent settlement in Kentucky and first permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, Harrodstown. It later became known as Harrodsburg and is often referred to as “Birthplace of the West.”

Besides nice folks in town, the town has some good restaurants and Ft. Harrod State Park, along with a well-established writing group, the Nomadic Ink, formed in 2006.

Kentucky’s bloodiest Civil War battle near Perryville

The Civil War Battle of Perryville, fought on October 8, 1862, pitted about General Braxton Bragg’s 16,000 Confederate soldiers against Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s 58,000 Federals. The Kentucky Encyclopedia noted that the battle “was a tactical victory for the South but a strategic defeat, breaking the back of the Confederacy’s Kentucky campaign.” Reports are that the battle resulted in 510 dead and 2,635 wounded for the Confederates and 845 dead and 2,851 wounded on the Union side.

Ken Hamilton, who both collects and sells Civil War relics and walked the Perryville battlefield as a child looking for Minie ball bullets, talked about the effect of the battle. “That was pretty much the best effort the Rebs could muster, and with all the other fronts commanding attention, they pretty much abandoned hopes for Kentucky after that! Bragg had hoped a victory would bring out scores of recruits for the Confederate Army, and it didn’t happen,” Ken said. He noted that the effects of the skirmish especially affected Kentuckians with Southern leanings.

The William Goebel assassination

The assassination of William Goebel (Image from Completely Kentucky Fandom)

William Goebel, just elected Kentucky’s governor, was shot in front of the Old State Capitol on January 30, 1900. Still alive, Goebel was sworn in as governor on the next day. He died from his wounds on February 3, the only governor in the United States ever assassinated.

The event was quite consequential, according to Ron Elliott, author of Assassination at the State House: The Unsolved Mystery of Kentucky’s Governor Goebel. “The political fallout in the aftermath of the William Goebel assassination created a bitter animosity between Kentucky’s Republicans and Democrats that has endured for more than a century,” he said.

The 1937 flood that ravaged much of the state

This natural catastrophe had immediate effects in Kentucky from January to June, especially along the Ohio River, causing great damage to property and lives in such cities as Paducah and Louisville, but also sending reverberations inland in such locations as Frankfort. Governor Keen Johnson addressed the state with these words:

The worst catastrophe in the history of Kentucky has fallen upon our people in the valleys of the rivers and streams of Kentucky and the Ohio River. Thousands upon thousands of families have been driven from their homes without food or clothing. Many thousands of these people have lost all their personal belongings . . .Let me call on the citizenship of Kentucky to get in touch with the Red Cross units or other organizations in the stricken communities at once and offer what they have in the way of food, clothing, bedding and money for these thousands of stricken homeless people.”

The old-timers still talk about the flood back in the day.

Sources: nps.gov; The Kentucky Encyclopedia; harrodsburgcity.org; historicmartinsstation.com; completely-kentucky.fandom.com; wikipedia

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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