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Kentucky by Heart: Some recent discoveries about Kentucky’s unique connection to American heritage

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

In the “Wondering If You Knew This About Kentucky” department, here are a few tidbits I recently discovered related to the state’s connection to its American heritage.

Thomas Edison House in Louisville (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the most famous inventor in American history, Thomas Alva Edison, was a resident of Louisville for over a year before he gained world-wide fame for his contributions. He came to the city in 1866 at only age 19, working as a telegrapher for Western Union. He lived in a “shotgun duplex” in an area of the city now known as Butchertown. His stay as an employee of Western Union didn’t end well, however. Working on the night shift in 1867, he was distracted by his interest in experimenting with a battery. Unfortunately, Edison spilled sulfuric acid on the floor. The acid ran through the floorboard and landed on his boss’s desk below. The next day, the future icon was fired.

From Louisville, he moved to Boston where he filed his first patent, a vote recorder. He had trouble getting people to buy it, so he moved on to produce other inventions that gained much interest. Ironically, during the Southern Exposition 1883-1887, held in Louisville, Edison returned to supervise the installation of 5,000 incandescent lamps that kept the exposition in operation at night. It is said that the large number was more than the city of New York had shining at the time.

Can we say that was Edison’s second venture to Louisville was certainly a “bright” spot in Kentucky’s past?

Happy Birthday to You! by Margot Theis Raven

And oh, the “Happy Birthday” song. Guinness World Records noted that it is the most recognizable song in the English language. I’m wondering how many people in the Bluegrass know that it originated in our fair state.

In 1893, siblings Patty and Mildred Hill, of Louisville, published Song Stories for the Kindergarten as a teaching material. According to reports, one song in the book, “Good Morning to All,” was changed by the sisters to “Happy Birthday to You.” The rest is history, as we all know.

After a long battle in court—long after the deaths of Patty and Mildred—a federal judge ruled that the song was part of the public domain and can be used without paying royalties to the Warner Chappell Company, who claimed they owned rights to the song.

The two accomplished much more after producing the upbeat song. Patty became a respected educational leader who later taught at Columbia University Teachers College and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Besides being an educator, Mildred was a composer, an organist, and pianist.

Another well-known aspect of American culture with its origin in Kentucky is the celebration of Mother’s Day. Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson, of Henderson, is recognized as the first person to celebrate Mother’s Day. It was in 1887 and a tribute to her own mother. She set out to promote the idea of a national holiday for mothers. She didn’t succeed, but paved the way for a woman from Pennsylvania, Anna Jarvis, who championed the cause and on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow signed a measure proclaiming the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, and it obviously has had staying power with Americans—thanks to Mary Wilson of Henderson.

The cemetary at Kentucy Bend (Photo feom Wikimedia Commons)

Moving southwestward past Henderson to the extreme western tip of our state, I learned about a part of Kentucky that technically is not touching the rest of the state! Kentucky Bend, also known by several other names, is, according to the Kentucky Tourism website, “an exclave of Kentucky, thirty square miles of land completely cut off from the rest of the state, all formed by a combination of surveyor mishaps and raging earthquakes.”

There is large horseshoe bend around the area, with the Mississippi River forming the horseshoe. The south land border is the Kentucky-Tennessee line, with the area outside the river being Missouri. It’s in the area of the New Madrid Faultline, which produced huge earthquakes in 1811-1812, creating the Reelfoot Lake, actually located in Tennessee. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, only nine people live in the Bend, though at times in the land’s history, hundreds resided there.

Kentucky Bend has also been called: Madrid Bend, New Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend, and Bubbleland. Here is an informative YouTube video, part of the “Travels with Phil” series, that tells more.

Our state has an interesting history, and I find out more every time I research it.

Hope you’ll share some of YOUR findings with me that I can pass along to our readers. Email them to sflairty2001@yahoo.com.

Sources: The Kentucky Encyclopedia (1992); historiclouisville.weebly.com; kyyouth.org; southernthing.com; explorekyhistory.ky.gov; Travels with Phil (You Tube); Kentuckytourism.com; onlyinyourstate.com; Happy Birthday to You: The Mystery Behind the Most Famous Song in the World, book by Margot Theis Raven

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 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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One Comment

  1. Sandra Schrader says:

    Misspellings: cemetery & from

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