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Silver Lining: While Keeneland Hall readied for students, staff find forgotten silver stash

A photo of the punch bowl being presented to the first Miss Keeneland, Mary Ann Tobin, can be found in the 1963 Kentuckian yearbook. The award was presented at the residence hall's Christmas formal held at Lafayette Hotel. In addition to her name being inscribed on the bowl, Tobin received a small bowl to keep herself. (Photo from UK)

A photo of the punch bowl being presented to the first Miss Keeneland, Mary Ann Tobin, can be found in the 1963 Kentuckian yearbook. The award was presented at the residence hall’s Christmas formal held at Lafayette Hotel. In addition to her name being inscribed on the bowl, Tobin received a small bowl to keep herself. (Photo from UK)

 
By Whitney Hale
Special to KyForward
 
In today’s smartphone society, it is hard to imagine a world where people took an hour each day to reflect and enjoy a spot of tea, especially busy college students. But a recent discovery at University of Kentucky’s Keeneland Hall suggests that wasn’t such a far-fetched notion years ago.
 
Last January, as UK Residence Life staff prepared the residence hall for the return of students for the spring semester, they decided it was time to find out what was behind the doors of a metal safe housed at Keeneland. Current staff had no information on what the storage was being used for or a key to investigate. After conferring with UK Auxiliary Services a locksmith was called in to drill the door open, so the staff could decide if the cabinet was needed or could be used for another purpose.
 

   The punch bowl shows a direct connection to the relationship between the residence hall and the historic Kentucky racetrack of the same name. (Photo from UK)

The punch bowl shows a direct connection to the relationship between the residence hall and the historic Kentucky racetrack of the same name. (Photo from UK)

To their surprise, UK Residence Life staff hit the mother lode, literally. Behind the metal doors was an abundance of silver, 93 pieces of silver serveware to be exact and a crystal ladle. The silver collection included three platters, two punch bowls and three ladles, three sugar and creamer sets, three coffee pot sets, a set of candleholders, a water pitcher, a percolator, an eight-piece tea set and 61 spoons.
 
To say the staff was excited by the discovery is an understatement. “It’s not every day you find treasures,” said Sarah Nikirk, associate director of UK Auxiliary Services.
 
In addition to the silver, staff also found an inventory list and an envelope containing negatives of the portrait of Sarah Blanding, a former UK Dean of Women from 1924 to 1941 for whom Blanding Tower and its affiliated low-lying building in the Commons Complex are named.
 

Among the 93 silver items found at Keeneland Hall was this eight-piece tea set. (Photo from UK)

Among the 93 silver items found at Keeneland Hall was this eight-piece tea set. (Photo from UK)

The punch bowl shows a direct connection to the relationship between the residence hall and the historic Kentucky racetrack of the same name. Keeneland Hall was named after the racetrack’s Keeneland Foundation, which donated $200,000 toward the building of a dormitory for women (more recently co-ed).
 
Engraved with Miss Keeneland, the bowl’s inscription notes the presentation of the bowl by the Keeneland Racing Association to former residents, who carried the title from 1962 to 1979. A photo of the punch bowl being presented to the first Miss Keeneland, Mary Ann Tobin, can be found in the 1963 Kentuckian yearbook. The award was presented at the residence hall’s Christmas formal held at Lafayette Hotel. In addition to her name being inscribed on the bowl, Tobin received a small bowl to keep herself.
 

   A locksmith was called in to drill the door open, so the staff could decide if the cabinet was needed or could be used for another purpose. (Photo from UK)

A locksmith was called in to drill the door open, so the staff could decide if the cabinet was needed or could be used for another purpose. (Photo from UK)

After the discovery of silver at Keeneland Hall, Residence Life boxed the treasures and sent them off to UK Special Collections Research Center and UK archivist Ruth Bryan to both research for any record of the collection and to also catalogue its breadth.
 
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While Bryan and Monica Stoch, of Auxiliary Services, could not find any concrete record of the collection, its future may shine on like the polished silver it is created from. UK Archives will retain the punch bowl celebrating the university’s Miss Keenelands.
 

Another historic photo from UK shows students enjoying a tea party held at the Student Union Building in 1957. (Photo from UK)

Another historic photo from UK shows students enjoying a tea party held at the Student Union Building in 1957. (Photo from UK)

 

Whitney Hale is an information specialist senior at the University of Kentucky.

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