EV: Jim Varney (Lexington Cemetery, Part IV)

Jim Varney’s Grave – Lexington, Ky.

James Albert “Jim” Varney Jr. was born June 15, 1949 in Lexington, where he was raised before heading off to Murray State University, the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville and eventually stardom. Varney, who starred a multitude of movies and TV shows, is probably best remembered for his character Ernest P. Worrell, or his portrayal of Jed Clampett in the remake of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Ernest made his first appearance in an advertisement for Bowling Green’s Beech Bend Park in 1980. Ernest was just one of Varney’s many characters that usually found their way into Ernest movies or TV specials, of which there were more than a dozen. I absolutely LOVED Ernest movies as a kid, and while back I watched a couple of his movies again. I was shocked to discover that they’re still pretty funny as an adult.

Varney was also good friends with country music legends like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristopherson, with whom he would appear on TV and variety shows in the 1970s and ’80s. He starred in movies up until his death, and kids today would probably best recognize Varney most as the original voice of the Slinky Dog in Toy Story and Toy Story 2.

A life-long smoker, Varney was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998, and died February 10, 2000. He was only 50 years old. Curiously, Varney’s grave is covered in pennies. Anyone know what this is about?

EV: King Solomon (Lexington Cemetery, Part III)

The Grave of King Solomon – Lexington, Ky.

There are a ton of famous people whose final resting place can be found within the walls of the Lexington Cemetery. Confederate war generals, statesmen, basketball coaches, etc. We’ll get to those folks, but I wanted to cover a few of the less-known residents who are equally famous in their own right.

If you stray south upon entering the grounds, signs will direct you to the grave of King Solomon. William “King” Solomon was Lexington’s folk hero of sorts during the cholera outbreak of the 1830s. John Wright describes this outbreak in great detail in Lexington: Heart of the Bluegrass. Cholera, a disease originating in India, was brought to the U.S. through New York in 1832, and spread through shipping lines quickly. It made it to Maysville in 1833, and quickly spread to Lexington. In Lexington, it started along Water Street behind what became the Lafayette Hotel (roughly in the location of the current city parking garage). The town’s water supply was dependent on springs and wells and was therefore vulnerable to contamination from floods. A downpour on June 3, 1833 did just that. The overflowing Town Branch spread disease to High Street and then the rest of downtown. The whole town shut down – a third of the population fled the city, and bodies started piling up at the few organized cemeteries the town had in place. Cholera was a horrible affliction – extreme diarreah, vomiting and muscle cramps, which led to dehydration and eventually death. There were few gravediggers to handle the enormity of the job.

King Solomon (Source: Wilson

Family Photographic Collection

Which is where King Solomon comes into the story. Solomon, a once-reputable member of the community, had been driven to drink and vagrancy by the circumstances of life. His services had been purchased at auction by a free black woman just prior the plague. Something seems to have clicked in Solomon during the crisis, and he worked day and night digging graves for the dead. He rarely drank water, which was said to have protected him from infection by the disease, and as stated by Wright “if any stray bacillus had entered his bloodstream it would have died immediately from the alcohol content.”

Following the plague of 1833, Solomon became a town hero. He sat for his portrait and was honored at a special ceremony at the courthouse. He was later memorialized by the short-story writer James Lane Allen. When he died in 1854, he was buried in Lexington Cemetery. The monument marking his grave pictured above was dedicated in 1908.

This is part 3 in NRK’s Lexington Cemetery series. Read Part I: Introduction and Part II: Flora & Fauna. Some of the above text quotes or paraphrases of Wright’s Lexington: Heart of the Bluegrass. Quotation marks have been omitted for the sake of readability.

EV: Lexington Cemetery (Part 2)

EV: Lexington Cemetery (Part 1)

The Cemetery was chartered in 1848. Prior to the establishment of the Cemetery, early settlers were buried on “First Hill” – near where Main and Vine meet currently in Lexington – or in family graveyards. This was not a terribly sanitary practice, so to avoid contamination of the water supply and other sorts of problems, the Cemetery was established. Among those who were a part of the group that chartered the Cemetery were Benjamin Gratz (namesake of Gratz Park) and David Sayre (of the Sayre Female Institute). The area that is Lexington Cemetery was known at the time as Boswell’s Woods, and had been hunting grounds for Thomas Boswell. The cemetery board paid $7,000 for the land, and a small family graveyard on that original site remains.

The grounds were laid out by Charles S. Bell, a Scotsman and horticulturist whose goal it was to create a park-like, landscaped cemetery. Bell – known as a perfectionist, would not open the cemetery until the grounds were finished. The first burial took place on October 2, 1849, when A.B. Colwell, a community businessman who had died of cholera, was laid to rest with his infant son.

The Elkhorn Vale

Walt Whitman

A few months ago I spoke with my good buddy PJWB about documenting some of my occasional travels outside of the courthouse collecting that I usually post about. After all, we wanted this site to have as much information about Kentucky as possible. So it seemed like it was high time for that thing that PJWB loves: a BRAND NEW HASHTAG!

From here on out, I (NRK) will post on travels not relating to courthouses using the #ElkhornVale tag.

The term comes from Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s famous poem. In context, Whitman was accounting for his one-ness with others of this nation – in his own perhaps overly romantic way. Here is a portion the passage:

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff
that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same
and the largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant
and hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the
limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin
, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier,
Badger, Buckeye . . .

– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.

Anyway, I hope to provide some interesting content over the next few weeks.

No DestiNATEion (see what I did there?) – Alice Lloyd College

Founder’s Cabin at Alice Lloyd College, Pippa Passes, Ky.

This a rarity here folks – a No Destination post by Mr. Kentucky120.

My wife is a proud graduate of June Buchanan School – a K-12 school located on the campus of Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.

I certainly knew that June Buchanan School was small; my wife was in a graduating class of nine. But for some reason I don’t know what I was expecting when I finally made the trip over to Pippa Passes. Alice Lloyd College is quite a wonderful little place. The school was founded in 1923 by Lloyd and Buchanan, who travelled to Kentucky trying to improve the educational system of those in Appalachia. What began as a model Appalachian community transformed into the Caney Junior College. The school became a four-year college in 1982, the same year that June Buchanan School was founded.

Interestingly, all students, regardless of how much they pay to go to school, are required to perform some job at the school. They may work as janitors, tutors or do some other work study, but all of them must have a job. The school averages around 500 students.

The origin of the name Pippa Passes is among the more interesting stories I’ve heard. I always assumed it had something to do with a mountain “pass.” The real story is more interesting though. The name comes from one of Alice Lloyd’s favorite poems – “Pippa Passes” – by Robert Browning. The poem is famous for the line – “God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world.” The name Pippa Passes actually relates to the unknown goodwill and happiness that the title character Pippa brings to those that she passes.

Spontaneous Sightseeing: Sanders Cafe: Corbin, Ky.

Last Thursday I happened to be in Corbin for a hearing. Corbin, interestingly enough, is one of few cities in Kentucky that is in two counties (Whitley and Knox). In fact, an unincorporated portion of Corbin is actually in a third county (Laurel), but due to state law, a city cannot be located in three counties.
I found Corbin to be notable because of its relative lack of a cohesive downtown area – probably because it isn’t a county seat, and lacks a true courthouse area and the traffic and businesses such a center brings. Anyway, I decided for some random reason to go through town on my way back home, and I literally stumbled upon the Sanders Cafe – the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had yet to eat lunch, so I figured why not? So I followed my instincts and “ate where it all began.”
The Sanders Cafe is weird. Putting aside the fact that it is a KFC with a museum in it, the building itself is a bizarre blending of the past and the present. Imagine taking a full service KFC counter and those plastic booths they have and dumping it inside of a Cracker Barrel. This is sort of the feel of the place. There is also a fully accurate recreation of Colonel Sanders’ kitchen, and a mock up of what a room in the old hotel that the Colonel ran looked like.
As I ate my chicken sandwich and potato wedges, I began to realize that given its stature throughout the rest of the world, I was probably sitting in the most famous place in all of Kentucky. In a way, I guess this was sort of sad, but in another way I guess its better than what other states have as their claim to fame.
I guess its better than nothing to be known around the world for good food and hospitality – and pretty cool string ties.