A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Old Time Kentucky: Lincoln, a hero to legions, was largely unloved in his native Bluegrass State

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist No son of Kentucky is more famous or more revered than Abraham Lincoln, and rightly so. His 1809 birthplace near Hodgenville, the LaRue County seat, is a national shrine. Lincoln’s statue stands tall in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Yet no president was more unpopular in Kentucky than the Great Emancipator, who got less than one percent of the Bluegrass State’s...

Old Time Kentucky: Hickman Courier’s support of secession reflected South’s influence in the Purchase

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist One of Kentucky’s oldest newspapers has rebel roots. “The South,” the Hickman Courier editorialized in January, 1861, “is bound, in order to have her rights, in order to maintain her honor, and the honor of her citizens, to secede.” The Courier was one of the first, if not the first, Kentucky papers to advocate secession. Few Bluegrass State newspapers were...

Old Time Kentucky: Zollie Tree was longtime marker for case of mistaken identity turned deadly

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist A state historical marker commemorates the mighty Zollie Tree, which stood for as long as three centuries. The towering white oak was named for Rebel General Felix K. Zollicoffer who perished near the tree in the Civil War battle of Mill Springs in Pulaski County. From 1902 until a high wind blew it down in 1995, Dorothea Burton and her descendants annually decorated...

Old Time Kentucky: Gunboat to gunboat duel in the river would have been one-sided — if it happened

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Most old-time Kentucky duels were fought with pistols. But early in the Civil War, it looked like honor would be settled gunboat-to-gunboat in the Mississippi River near Columbus. “Some people still saw war in terms of the old code duello,” surmised historian John Kelly Ross of Clinton, near Columbus. Ross cited a Jan. 27, 1862, New York Times story that claimed...

Old Time Kentucky: Bluegrass sharpshooter Ephraim Brank, hero of New Orleans, never missed his mark

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Friend and foe remembered Lt. Ephraim Brank’s marksmanship in the Battle of New Orleans. The Muhlenberg countian was a hero to the victorious Americans. He was “some great spirit of death” to the vanquished British. “We lost the battle,” a Redcoat officer lamented, “and to my mind, that Kentucky rifleman contributed more to our defeat than anything else.” Fought...

Old Time Kentucky: For good fortune in the New Year, better eat your black-eyed peas

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist More than a few Kentuckians will ring in the New Year with a down-home feast of black-eyed peas, accompanied by cabbage and cornbread. The old Southern custom supposedly brings good fortune to those who observe it. 
 Black-eyed peas are seasoned with smoked pork, traditionally a ham hock or hog jowl. My mother usually substituted a bacon slice or a tablespoonful...

Old Time Kentucky: Remembering when state revelers welcomed the New Year by anvil firing

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist More than a few of our Kentucky forebears who sang “Silent Night” didn’t practice what they crooned. They noisily welcomed Christmas by shooting fireworks and firearms. But the biggest booms came from anvil-firing. Kentuckians forsook the custom long ago, possibly because it sometimes claimed lives and limbs. Even so, blasting anvils was popular from Paducah...

Old Time Kentucky: Christmas report of soldier’s Pearl Harbor demise was greatly exaggerated

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist The Hamlin home in Harlan was joyless seventy-five Christmases ago. On Dec. 16, 1941, Green and Molly Hamlin got the telegram parents most fear in wartime. “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, James Thomas Hamlin, fireman first class, U.S. Navy, was lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country…,”...

Old Time Kentucky: Was Christmas truce of 1914 a ‘rebellion against authority’ for soldiers?

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist It is hard to separate fact from folklore about the storied World War I Christmas truce of 1914. “The most important thing to know is that it was series of truces that were not connected to each other,” said Terri Blom Crocker of Georgetown, author of Myth, Memory and the First World War: The Christmas Truce, which the University Press of Kentucky published in...

Old Time Kentucky: Fayette native Jackson was only Congressman to fall in Civil War combat

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Congressman James Streshly Jackson of Hopkinsville wanted to do more in the Civil War than pass laws and make patriotic speeches out of harm’s way in Washington. He joined the Union army and lost his life in the bloodiest battle ever fought on Kentucky soil. “ON THIS SPOT GENERAL JAMES S. JACKSON FELL” on Oct. 8, 1862, says a blue state historical marker atop...

Old Time Kentucky: Dec. 7, 1941 proved to be no ordinary day for Gunner’s Mate Vessels

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Dec. 7, 1941, seemed like an ordinary Sunday morning in port for Gunner’s Mate Third Class James Allard Vessels of Paducah. His ship, the USS Arizona, was one of seven battleships moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The navy called the lineup of powerful dreadnoughts “Battleship Row.” Vessels, who died in 1981, rolled out of his bunk about five-thirty in the morning....

Old Time Kentucky: Home of BBN could have been called McConnell Springs instead of Lexington

By Berry Craig Special to Kyforward If the Redcoats and the Minutemen hadn’t tangled at Lexington, Mass., on April, 19, 1775, the capital of the Big Blue Nation might be called McConnell Springs. “A group of surveyors from Pennsylvania who wanted to establish a Presbyterian colony were camping here when they heard about the battle of Lexington from a rider from Boonesborough,” explained Steven...

Old Time Kentucky: Former Louisville Journal editor Prentice was all in on Lincoln’s Thanksgiving plan

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist George D. Prentice, sharp-penned Civil War editor of the Louisville Journal, was not an Abraham Lincoln fan. Even so, he was all in for the president’s “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” Nov. 26, 1863. “The spectacle of a whole nation at one instant of time pouring forth its united thankfulness to the Creator...

Old Time Kentucky: State’s only World War I Medal of Honor winner was also a modest hero

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist “The most modest hero of the world war” is buried in Louisville’s Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. That hero, Sgt. Willie Sandlin, was Kentucky’s only Medal of Honor winner in World War I. The Leslie countian single-handedly wiped out three German machine gun nests. He killed at least 24 enemy soldiers and reputedly helped capture 200 more in France in 1918. The...

Old Time Kentucky: Mountain man Smith earned moniker of Peg Leg while roaming Garrard County

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist There are two memorials to mountain man “Peg Leg” Smith in Borrego Springs, Calif. But he is unsung in his native Garrard County. He might merit a monument in Kentucky, maybe in Lancaster, the Garrard County seat. After all, when Smith was shot in the leg, he reputedly amputated his bloody limb himself and hacked a crude prosthesis from a nearby tree. Fact or...

Old Time Kentucky: On Oct. 31, travelers to Boaz feared close encounter of worst kind with ghosts

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Bud and Jake Johnson’s old coffin shop near Boaz, Ky., looked like the ruins of a little Greek temple. But at night, especially around Oct. 31… The wind rattled Virginia Creeper that clung to the front gable. Shadows danced spookily on its four columns. Dead leaves scratchily skipped across the front porch. Not a trace remains of the crumbling concrete structure...

Old Time Kentucky: Now rare as a May blizzard, Socialist Party once a big draw in Graves County

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Kentucky is one of the redder Republican Red states. But some real Reds used to live in rural north Graves County, about as far west as the Bluegrass State goes. In 1911, tiny Viola hosted the “Second Annual Summer Meeting of Graves County, Ky., Socialists” according to The Christian Socialist newspaper. Today, Socialists are about as rare in Kentucky as May...

Old Time Kentucky: Woolly bear caterpillars signal fall is here — but do they predict the weather?

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist The annual migration of woolly bear caterpillars will soon begin. Like the flowering goldenrod, the fuzzy little critter is a sure sign that autumn is upon us. The caterpillars are more than a harbinger of falling leaves, frosty pumpkins and football. For eons, they have been sworn by—and sometimes sworn at—as prognosticators of winter weather. Also known as “woolly...

Old Time Kentucky: Did Mayfield host the Bluegrass State’s biggest burgoo blowout in ’31?

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist Generations of Kentucky politicians knew that the true path to voters’ hearts ran through their stomachs. Servants of the people plied the body politic with burgoo. “A ‘burgoo’ is a cross between a soup and a stew, and into the big iron cooking kettles go, as we sometimes say in Kentucky, a ‘numerosity’ of things – meat, chicken, vegetables, and...

Old Time Kentucky: Little remains of Viola ammunition plant once among the state’s largest

By Berry Craig KyForward columnist EDITOR’S NOTE: The author’s late father, Berry Craig Jr., served aboard a rocket-firing Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) vessel in the Pacific Theater in World War II and shot down a Japanese warplane with a 20-millimeter cannon. Margaret Carrico “always thought of those navy boys” every time she approved a shipment of 20-millimeter cannon shells from the Viola...