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American by Birth
US 60 Part 6
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-12-02 11:13 (KST)   
Traveling south along Interstate 71 through Louisville to connect back to US-60 was interesting precisely because it was so boring.

If we did spot something of interest we'd already past it by the time we thought of stopping which was out of the question, of course, as the only place you can stop on an interstate is at the end of an off-ramp.

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It wasn't long after we were back on US-60 that we saw signs for Fort Knox, the US Bullion Repository, and the General George Patton Museum.

Having grown up in the United States, I already knew that Fort Knox is where gold is kept. But Sueko didn't have any idea, and I didn't have any details. Later that night I looked on Wikipedia.

Prior to 1932, gold coins were legal money and gold bullion (valued by weight) was owned by banks and other private entities. In 1933 as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, gold was removed from circulation as money and private ownership of gold bullion became illegal (except for coin collections and jewelry). All gold was seized by the government in exchange for dollars at a fixed rate of $20.67 per ounce. Naturally the government wound up with with a large amount of gold with no place to store it. The Gold Vault was constructed at Fort Knox as the answer.

Fort Knox and the Patton Museum aren't directly on US-60, but instead lie just a few miles south and you come to the Museum first. It's easy to find as the there are at least a dozen tanks in front of the main building. It turns out that while the Museum is named for General George Patton (1885-1945) and documents his career as "America's Fightingest General," it has a wider focus, namely, the Evolution of Armor and Mechanized Cavalry.

If you want to know more about Patton and his controversial outspokenness and strong opinions, best to see the movie as it has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

While it may not be absolutely, 100% historically correct, I believe the opening scene where he stands in front of an enormous American flag and says, "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country," carries the day.

If you want to know more about the evolution of armor and mechanized cavalry, the Museum is the place to go. It's not just a bunch of tanks left over from a war, but feels like the war is still going on and the tanks have come in for repair, muddy tracks and all, with mechanics hard at work to get them back into action.

At lot of work went into the presentation, especially the open-sided, tennis-court-sized diorama showing the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion crushing the defenses of the Hindenburg Line on September 29, 1918. The German solders are targeting the tank's vision slits and one has just thrown a hand grenade. I didn't feel I was looking at it as much as I was in it.

301st Heavy Tank Battalion crushing the defenses of the Hindenburg Line, September 29, 1918
©2009 D. McLane

FORT KNOX WAS ONLY A HALF-MILE FURTHER ON, and we made it as far as the visitor check point only to learn that the only visitors allowed as those who can produce 1) the registration of the vehicle, 2) adequate identification with photo, and 3) the name and on-base telephone number of the person they want to visit. Ooops, we thought we could get a tour of the Bullion Repository. Fat chance.

Back on US-60 we went through some nondescript CDP's (Census Designated Places) until we saw a huge building that looked like a bunch telephone poles stuck in muddy earth with red metal siding that didn셳 reach the ground and tobacco hanging inside. We quickly flipped a U and drove off the highway onto an access road and found that's just what it was. Nobody was around so I laid some planks across the mud to get close enough to get a photo.

Unfinished tobacco curing barn, east of Hardinsburg, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

CONTINUING WEST, WE CAME ON A MCDONALD'S, so it was time for lunch and a coffee break; lunch in the van, coffee in McDonald's where we could check e-mail.

There was a sign saying something about the business district so I decided to have a look and went down a side road. There wasn't much to the business district but there were many houses decorated for Halloween. After I'd shot a few, I noticed somebody coming out of a place I'd already shot and went over and talked with her while her dog stood guard.

Mai Miller, Hardinsburg, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Her name was Mai Miller and she said the house was a Sears Roebuck kit house purchased by the original owner in 1945. Mai changed the weatherboard siding and installed the five-globe lamps but otherwise it hasn't changed much. As for the decorations, when she moved in nobody did much of anything and she was the first on the block to spend time decorating; nowadays most everybody does something.

When she found out we were traveling west on US-60 she said to make sure and stop in Cloverport as it had some interesting buildings and for sure not to miss walking along the river as it has plaques giving the history on the town. We said we'd have a look.

Later, when I tried to find out exactly where we'd stopped, I found out why Google Maps sometimes gives screwy directions. I was pretty sure the McDonald's was Hardinsburg, Ky. but Google said the nearest McDonald's was about 10 miles away at "1116 Old Highway 60, Hardinsburg, KY." When I doubled checked that location with Google Earth, there was nothing there, no buildings at all. I tried again the next day thinking that maybe I'd made a mistake typing, but the result was the same.

Finally it came to me to check the location with MapQuest. It said that McDonald's was at "1116 Old Highway 60, Hardinsburg, KY?," the same as Google but it showed it at a different place, namely near where 3rd Street intersected, US?60. When I looked with Google Earth, there was McDonald's!

Conclusion: The maps used by Google and MapQuest are different. In this case Google was out to lunch which explained why we had sometimes arrived at nowhere using Google's directions. Maybe the same holds true for MapQuest but so far Google Maps and Google Earth take you to the same place so we continued to use Google but realize that sometimes you have to use MapQuest or stop and ask somebody.

AS MAI HAD SAID CLOVERPORT HAVE SOME INTERESTING BUILDINGS, and the walk along the river was informative due to its information plaques. In short:
  • 1792 - 1802 The area is settled due to interest in the trading potential of the thick virgin woods and access to the Ohio River.
  • 1804 - 1813 The town of Joeville is created east of Clover creek. A wharf is built and becomes the shipping point for the surrounding area.
  • 1816 - 1828 Due to the dense clover growing on its banks, the West Side of the creek is called Cloverport and a bridge is constructed to connect it to Joeville. The family of Thomas Lincoln, including Abraham Lincoln, aged seven, crosses the river to Indiana on a log raft.
  • 1830 - 1860 Coal is discovered and Queen Victoria becomes a stockholder in a coal company which builds a railroad from the mine to the wharf. The coal is used to light Buckingham Palace in London. On February 11, 1860 Cloverport and Joeville incorporate to become the city of Cloverport.
While the riverside walk was well-cared for, the businesses on Main Street were in various states of repair and disrepair. Of particular interest was a business fully restored as a residence next to a building where the only thing left was the brick facade, the rest being rubble.

Business restored as residence, Cloverport, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Just down the street was the City Hall and Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber wasn't open but had a rack of information in the hall including a pamphlet on the Lincoln Heritage Trail with a map and short summaries of 27 places in Kentucky with a connection to Lincoln: birthplace, boyhood home, and so on.

As we were looking at the pamphlet somebody came down the hall and asked if we needed help. It turned out to be the Mayor, Dan Allen, who had been born near Cloverport but then left for 36 years to work as a pipefitter and welder before returning to Cloverport. Not only is he mayor but the head of a three-generation family: four children, nine grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. He said the town had almost died around 1980 but people have pulled together and it's been reborn as a tourist destination.

Dan added to the information we'd picked up along the river by saying that the Ohio river forms the northern border of Kentucky from Catlettsburg in the east to Wickliffe in the west. Towns like Cloverport developed in the 1790s, contributing to the growth of Kentucky and the movement west. As river traffic increased, there were often steamboat races, the most famous being when the Robert E. Lee, built by John Cannon at Hawesville just down the river, defeated the Natchez on July 4th 1870 in a race from New Orleans to St. Louis (full story).

Since Dan seemed to know a lot about Kentucky history, we asked him about the five pointed stars we'd seen on the sides of houses. He said he didn't know, but a friend of his, Penny Smiley, might know and gave us directions as to how to find her.

WE HAD TO BACKTRACK A FILE MILES to find Penny, but there she was in her "Family Ties" gift shop with various kinds of stars. She didn't know what they meant either but said people like to buy them so she stocked them along with other Americana items.

Penny Smiley, Hardinsburg, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

When asked how she started the business, Penny said she started working for her sister and took over the business when the sister lost interest. The shop is just down the hill from her house so she can spend time with her husband and children and still run the shop.

When Sueko remarked, "You have everything, house, store, husband, children," Penny replied, "Yes, and I go to church." When asked for details, she said she'd been raised as a Methodist, a general Christian: "I believe in Jesus, and if the things I do accord with his life, I'll be all right." Most of her brothers and sisters are Baptist, one is Catholic.

When Sueko asked Penny about creationism versus evolution, Penny thought for a few moments and said, "I'm not sure about that. All I know is God makes things go."

CRUISING THROUGH HENDERSON THE NEXT DAY, I saw what looked like an original cottage-style gas station, now Ricky's Pizza.

Rick's Pizza, Henderson, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

We stopped and I went to investigate. Ricky's wouldn't open until later that day so I went to the shop next door and asked if they knew anything about the place. The owner said, yes, it used to be a gas station, they'd pulled out the pumps and tanks only a few years back. Other than that, he knew nothing but said perhaps somebody at the historical society at the Depot Community Room would know. It was over on Water Street, next to the river.

We went over to the Depot Community Room and found the full name is the Henderson County Genealogical & Historical Society. Tamara Self was on duty. She knew where Ricky's was, but didn't know much about it. However we had a long talk about the history of Henderson.

Sometime back in the 1700s, Richard Henderson and a group of investors bought much of what is now Kentucky and Tennessee from 1,200 Cherokee Indians with the idea of reselling it to settlers. They hired Daniel Boone to help settle the region but the deal was voided by the Virginia General Assembly. However, they gave Henderson & Company 200,000 acres (800 km2) for their efforts in developing the wilderness area. Henderson never actually visited the area and died before it was developed, but in 1797 when the plans were laid out, the town was called Henderson.

When I mentioned that the main street of Henderson looked it was still alive compared to other places we'd been, Tamara said perhaps I could learn more at the Tourist Commission across the hall.

THE TOURIST COMMISSION OFFICE HAD A WHOLE WALL OF PAMPHLETS, but information about how the main street of Henderson managed to make it into the 21s century came from Administrative Assistant, Alice Siemers.

Alice Siemers, Henderston, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

Alice said that Henderson never had a shopping mall, probably because it's only 10 miles to Evansville, Ind. on the other side of the river which is much bigger. While Henderson does have a Wal-Mart, it's not near the original city center where the existing stores have changed their marketing.

The economic base in 1800 was tobacco and distilled liquor shipped when the river was navigable. This changed in 1880s with the arrival of the railroad and tobacco became an even bigger player. Alice said the building we were in was built in 2005 and is a slightly scaled-down replica of the original 1901 Union Station Depot which is still standing, but not used.

The Depot, Henderson, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

That afternoon we went over to the 1901 Depot and, sure enough, it was basically the same except for the ornament on the top of the central tower, and the portico which was much more ornate.

THE RAIN STARTED AGAIN AS WE LEFT HENDERSON and headed west towards Paducah, another large city we were going to skip, but planned on camping there at Wal-Mart as it was the last one in Kentucky.

Along the way we came on I don't know what: a Western Auto store? A tractor repair shop? An eclectic collection of metal signs? Nobody was there, and nobody was next door. We went on.

Western Auto, Salem, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

The next morning I just had to shoot the front license plate on a car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Front license plate, Paducah, Ky.
©2009 D. McLane

I looked up "American by birth" with Google and got almost 97,000 hits. It's the name of a song on the 1985 album "Heros" by country singers Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and has many variations. Here are a few:
  • American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God
  • American by birth, Texan by the Grace of God
  • American by birth, Italian by the Grace of God
  • American by birth, Irish by the Grace of God
  • American by birth, Irish by blood
  • American by birth, Spanish at heart
  • American by birth, Marine by choice
  • American by birth, Biker by choice
  • American by birth, Rebel by choice
  • American by birth, Cowgirl by the Grace of God
  • American by birth, Muslim by choice
  • American by birth, Liberal through fear of rejection

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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