Friday, July 10, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 4

I was unable to post last evening due to technical limitations at Shaker Village, but I will pick back up where I left off last; entering Day 4.

We left the Brown Hotel in Louisville Thursday morning after another wonderful breakfast and traveled to Bardstown to visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park (formally known as Federal Hill and pictured above). We toured the house, the first part of which was built in the late 1700s, and were provided with some special information about the ongoing effort to present the African American story at Federal Hill. Over the years the park has for whatever reason not discussed the enslaved people at My Old Kentucky Home, but now with the help of one of our visiting scholars, Dr. Gerald Smith of the University of Kentucky, they are learning and telling more and more of that story. As was the custom on plantations and manors, slaves and the master family were usually buried in separate cemeteries. At Federal Hill, the slave cemetery is now in the middle of the park's golf course. Golfers hit balls into what should be a respected area on a daily basis, and walk disinterestedly among the graves looking for errant shots. The staff is looking into measures to stop this disrespect and also include the slave cemetery in their grounds tours without visitors being subjected to flying golf balls.

A monument placed in the slave cemetery on July 4, 1945, was the focus of our discussion there. The monument says "This Memorial is Dedicated to the Faithful Retainers of Judge John Rowan Immortalized in the Songs of Stephen Collins Foster. Erected July 4, 1945 By the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels 'Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant' St. Matthew 25-27." What was possibly meant to be respectful in 1945, now sounds very patronizing and paternalistic in a post-Civil Rights Movement world, especially considering that the largest lettered words on the monument are JUDGE JOHN ROWAN. In the present, the words of choice..."Faithful Retainers" just seem wrong somehow. We have come a long way in historical understanding and in race relations since 1945.

After leaving Bardstown we traveled toward Hodgenville, Kentucky the closest town to where Lincoln was born in 1809. Before arriving in Hodgenville we stopped at the Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek Farm (pictured above) where we were presented a talk by Ms. Brooks Howard whose husband's family owned the land for many years where the park is now located. She gave some interesting first-person information about the site and how it has changed over the years.

The cabin that is now there is not the Lincoln's family dwelling, but, many of the logs were taken from the Austin Gollaher cabin. Gollaher was Lincoln's boyhood friend and he once saved Lincoln from drowning in nearby Knob Creek. The Lincoln's never owned the land that they farmed there; they rented the 30 acres. They had moved from the Sinking Springs farm about eight miles away (where Lincoln was born) to the Knob Creek farm while a boundary dispute was being settled on the Sinking Springs farm. The Lincoln's left Knob Creek farm in the fall of 1816 after they lost the case and moved to southern Indiana.

We were next treated to a catered lunch of Kentucky products at the Lincoln Museum, which is on the square in Hodgenville. After lunch we toured the museum individually and had a group picture taken with the Lincoln monument on the square.

The next stop was at the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site (Sinking Springs Farm). Here we saw a short 15-minute film on Lincoln and his birthplace and boyhood home places and then we were given a tour of the grounds that included visits to the spot of the "Boundary Oak," the Sinking Springs, and the Memorial building which houses the "symbolic" (not the real deal) Lincoln birth cabin. The get to the memorial we had to walk the 56 steps, which are there for the 56 years of his life. Five presidents have visited the site, the last being Eisenhower in 1954.

Our next stop was to Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site (pictured above), which was the largest battle in Kentucky during the Civil War. On October 8, 1862 the Union and Confederate armies stumbled into each other while searching for water along Doctor's Creek. This encounter eventually brought the two armies into a deadly battle that left almost 8,000 soldiers as casualties, of which 1,422 were killed outright. Due to the drought being suffered at the time, many of the wounded eventually also died from exposure and disease associated with their wounds.
Today the battlefield is one of the best preserved in America, largely due to its rural setting. While there we saw an excellent video presentation, toured the park's small, yet still impressive, museum, and had costumed interpreters demonstrate items related to the common soldier's life.

After what was a very full and fun day, we made our way to Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. The village is a real gem if you are a preservation enthusiast. Over 20 buildings the Shakers used have survived, a number of which have been converted into guest rooms. Other buildings are used to create the crafts and tend to the period-type livestock that populate the village.
Getting to see all of these sites leaves me wanting to return to spend more time. Hopefully I will get to do just that in the very near future.

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