Latest Exhibit “A Salute to Lexington’s Greatest Generation” Opens Saturday

Latest Exhibit “A Salute to Lexington’s Greatest Generation” Opens Saturday

wwii exhibit

LexHistory Salutes Kentucky’s Greatest Generation
Exhibit to Commemorate 70th Anniversary of World War II’s End to Open at Library
January 31, 2015 – March 29, 2015

Lexington, KY – To commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end, LexHistory will remount A Salute to Lexington’s Greatest Generation: World War II on the War and Home Fronts for a two month engagement at Central Library’s gallery space. Prior to the closing of the Old Fayette County Courthouse, this exhibit opened on the eve of Pearl Harbor’s 70th anniversary. Salute will run Saturday, January 31, 2015 to Sunday, March 29, 2015 and will be a stop on the March LexArts Hop. The exhibit will be open during library hours and is free and open to the public.

Learn how everyday Americans helped with the war effort, with rationing, victory gardens, war industries, and more. What was it like for soldiers to live through the intensity of battle and the long stretches of boredom away from home? What opportunities were there for women on the home front and abroad? On display will be the spoils of war that our soldiers, sailors, and airmen brought back home. The exhibit will also feature a Wall of Honor listing the names of those Kentuckians that gave their all to protect America and liberate the world.

Lee Overstreet 022


Left: Longtime Lexington History Museum volunteer Lieutenant Virginia Lee Overstreet (1920-2012)served as an assistant recruiting officer of the Atlanta office of the WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp).

Right: Lee observing the exhibit before the closing of the Old Fayette County Courthouse. She passed away in 2012.

“We hope to show how this event really defined a generation, how people coped and how their outlook changed, all coming out of this period of war,” said Debra Watkins, who is curating the exhibit. “The whole country was at war. You were doing scrap drives; you were buying war bonds; you were donating to the Red Cross. Every single American was involved.”

The Lexington History Museum opened in 2003 as the city’s only free historic site with the mission to engage all citizens of Lexington and the State of Kentucky in their history. Currently a museum without walls, LexHistory continues to engage the public through dynamic programming, lectures, walking tours, and online offerings such as WikiLex and The Athens of the West blog. 2014 was the organization’s best year, serving over 17,000 through outreach, school programs, and events.

LexHistory is a new and markedly different chapter for the former Lexington History Museum. Administrative offices are located in The Square in Lexington, Kentucky. For more information, visit
Debra Watkins, Director
(859) 907-9585 (office)


Lexington’s Most Colorful Characters

Lexington’s Most Colorful Characters
by Jamie Millard
March 31, 2010

With the death of Louis “Shoeshine” Cobb this past November, Lexington lost its latest in a string of colorful characters that stretches unbroken to the community’s founding days in the late 1700s. Certainly, anyone who takes on a wildcat (of the four-footed kind) with his bare hands must be quite a character. Thus, one John McKinney qualifies as the town’s first such type (and its first school teacher), as in early June 1783 he was attacked by a strangely behaving cat inside the one-room schoolhouse on the site of today’s Lexington History Museum. As the cat’s claws dug into his torso, its teeth deep in his shoulder, the commotion from the fight convinced the other settlers of an American Indian attack. Finally, McKinney got the upper hand and choked the cat to death. After being bandaged, McKinney called his class to order and resumed their instruction for the day. Understandably, shortly thereafter, McKinney left teaching to take up farming in Bourbon County, helped write the state’s first constitution, and was elected to the first legislature.

William “King” Solomon is also counted among the town’s earliest characters. Reputedly the scion of a wealthy Virginia family, he migrated to Lexington and took up residence – as the town drunk. One day, while inebriated, he climbed a tree, only to fall and land on a constable. Promptly arrested, Solomon was auctioned to pay his fine and debts. Bought for the sum of 50 cents by a free black woman known as Aunt Charlotte (for which the East End’s Charlotte Court is named), he was essentially enslaved – a white man to a black woman. Solomon’s lasting fame stems from the 1833 cholera epidemic. Because he drank whiskey, not water (or so the story goes), he was impervious to the water-born germs in polluted wells. As even the grave diggers fled for safe haven, Solomon calmly stayed behind to bury the dead at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground on Third Street at today’s Elm Tree Lane. Upon his death in 1854, Solomon was buried in the new Lexington Cemetery, and a statue declaring him a “hero” was erected at the gravesite. (Footnote to history: Solomon was not the only person digging graves. Two others worked with him: London Ferrell, a free black who is the only non-white buried in that graveyard, and a young U.S. Army Lieutenant Jefferson I. Davis, graduate of Transylvania University and later president of the Confederacy.)

After the War Between the States, former soldiers on both sides returned to their communities to live out their lives with memories of heroic wartime adventures. For years, Col. O.F. Redd, CSA, celebrated his exploits by leading the town’s many parades high on his cavalry steed. Sometimes, he would swoop a watching youngster up on his saddle where she had a bird’s eye view of the parade route. At the terminus of the parade, he would always remove his hat with a grand gesture, stand in the stirrups, and let out a blood-curdling Rebel Yell.

Of course, regular readers of the Chevy Chaser and its sister publications are familiar with the visage, if not the story, of the dog known as Smiley Pete. For 11 years, Pete, a mixed breed with an apparently fixed grin, was a fixture at the corner of Main and Lime, holding court outside Hart’s Drugstore. Nearby merchants saw to his nutritional needs.When the regular rabies outbreak occurred, Smiley Pete took up residence at Del-Tor Veterinary until the crisis passed. In 1952, Pete sired his only documented litter. But his loose living caught up with him, and he died on June 17, 1957. A plaque is in the sidewalk at “his” corner, and he is buried near the old Fairlawn mansion on North Broadway, where the marker reads: “Pete/Our Dog/A Friend to All/A Friend of All.”

Lexington’s colorful characters have been such to prompt newspaper editorials. The Lexington Leader of April 5, 1965, pays tribute to no less than five individuals whose antics entertained the community, if not the police department. Lost John wore a top hat and tails, strolling around downtown and the UK campus, playing the harmonica. Evidently, he came into a few hundred dollars, which he splurged on a motor scooter, extending the speed and range of his wanderings. Eddie Young was banned from Main Street after he suggested how an inquiring woman could “catch a streetcar.” Pete McGarvey, whose residence was listed as the Workhouse on Bolivar Street, spent his non-jail time preaching to whomever would listen from his perch on Cheapside “while he got himself in shape to go back to jail.” Walkin’ Munn Wilson was a perennial candidate for political office who would “preach politics and brimstone” until led away by the police. And there was a certain Mrs. Littleton who took Lexington society by storm – until a police detective recognized her as a former resident of The Hill (the city’s red light district).

No accounting of Lexington’s colorful characters would be complete without mention of James “Sweet Evening Breeze” Herndon. Known as “Sweet Evening” or just “Sweets” (and rarely called or even known by his given name), Herndon was born in 1889 in Scott County. Allegedly, the youngest of eight children was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment of an eye injury – and abandoned. Miss Lake Johnson, the administrator, took a liking to him and provided living space at the hospital. He paid for his room by running errands for the hospital and playing ukulele for patients. In time, he trained as an orderly, and earned a reputation for his skills of tenderly turning the bedridden. He also earned a reputation as the city’s first cross-dresser. Many a Saturday evening found Sweets dressed in feminine finery, wearing makeup and sporting a handbag while he strolled downtown streets. Many legendary tales are told about Sweets, perhaps the most memorable being when he was lowered in a basket from the Woodland Auditorium ceiling to perform the “Passion Dance of the Bongo Bongoes.” Sweets died Dec. 16, 1983, and is said to have donated a hefty sum to Pleasant Green Baptist Church, of which he was a longtime member.

Now that “Shoeshine” has joined the pantheon of Lexington’s colorful characters, who stands ready to take up the mantel?

The Lexington History Museum is currently developing an exhibit based on the lives of many of these colorful characters. We would like your input. If you feel that we have omitted any treaured Lexington character, please letus know.

New exhibit “Lexington 1810” opens today, February 5!

The Lexington History Museum will open its newest exhibit, “Lexington: 1810,” at Noon today!

The exhibit notes the life and times of the Town of Lexington 200 years ago. Barely 30 years old, the town was the largest in the West with a population of more than 4,300. Ironically, 1810 was Lexington’s zenith year. As river trade opened up, the landlocked town went into commercial decline, a trend only overcome in the years following World War II.

“”1810 is a fascinating year for Lexington,”” observed Bradley C. Canon, Ph.D., the retired University of Kentucky political science professor who conducted research for the exhibit. ““Lexington saw itself as one of the great cities of the nation, if not the world. The year represented the city’s vision of itself that continues today.””

Displays include newspaper articles from The Kentucky Gazette and The Lexington Reporter, a book published in Lexington that year, and a letter written by Henry Clay while he was serving as a Congressman in Washington, D.C. The latter two artifacts are on loan from the Special Collections & Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries. The newspaper articles are from the Kentucky Room, Lexington Public Library.

“Lexington: 1810” will run through June 2010, after which it will be replaced by “Lexington: 1910,” recounting the city 100 years ago.

Located at 215 W. Main St., The Lexington History Museum is open Friday-Monday, Noon-4 p.m. It also opens early Saturdays at 10 a.m. Admission is free. For more information call 859-254-0530 or visit

The Lexington History Museum engages all people in the discovery and interpretation of the history of Lexington, Ky., and the Bluegrass Region.

Spend Thursday celebrating “Christmas in the Camps” and discussing the Breckinridges!

This Thursday, the Lexington History Museum will open its Christmas exhibit “Christmas in the Camps” — a depiction of how the four Christmases, 1861-1864, were observed by the soldiers in the field during the War Between the States. The exhibit features contemporary diary entries from soldiers on both sides as well as historic artifacts and authentic reproductions, describing how the men reconciled their warlike status with their religious traditions. “Christmas in the Camps” will open Thursday, November 19 at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception and will run through January 4. Admission is free and the exhibit is open to the public.

Also on Thursday, State Historian Dr. James Klotter will present “The Breckinridges of Kentucky” at 7:30 p.m. The Breckinridges of Kentucky are one of the two most important families in Kentucky history. Well-known members range from presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge, who served as the nation’s youngest vice president, to educational and religious leader Robert J. Breckinridge to newspaper editor Desha Breckinridge to health-care advocate and founder of the Frontier Nursing Service Mary Breckinridge, among others. Dr. Klotter, Professor of History at Georgetown College, has long studied the family and their place in the state’s story. That work includes his book, The Breckinridges of Kentucky. In this talk he will discuss what lessons he has learned over the years from that study.

Join us as we kickoff the Christmas season at the Lexington History Museum. Located at 215 W. Main St., The Lexington History Museum is open Friday-Monday, Noon-4 p.m. It also opens early Saturdays at 10 a.m. Admission is free. For more information call 859-254-0530 or visit The Lexington History Museum engages all people in the discovery and interpretation of the history of Lexington, Ky., and the Bluegrass Region.

Exhibit Shows that History Is Not Just Black and White

Though the photographs are black and white, the subject matter of the In Black and White exhibit at the Lexington History Museum depicts a vividly colored history which dates from the early days of Lexington and continued through the tenuous events of the Civil Rights Movement. In Black and White, a Photographic Retrospective of African-American Life in the Bluegrass allows visitors to see the experiences of the African-Americans throughout Lexington’s history. Funded by a grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council, the photographs featured in the exhibits are in large part from the family albums of Lexington’s African-American community. Ranging from simple church services to a lynching of an accused rapist, the collection represents the events that occurred in Lexington from the Civil War until the Civil Rights Movement.

Lexington was a very urban area even during the Civil War. As the heart of the Upper-South, Lexington was a crossroads and a commercial center. Cheapside, the open market at the site of Lexington’s courthouse square, was home to the largest slave auction in Kentucky and, for a time, in the United States. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, Lexington saw an influx of rural slaves looking for work and freedom in the city. A separate community formed within Lexington and African-Americans founded churches, schools, fraternal organizations, neighborhoods, and business districts. The city became an educational, social, and religious center for African Americans. The Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association began sponsoring a black fair in September 1869 in Lexington. Visitors from across the United States were attracted to the fair and it remained a popular social event well into the twentieth century. In Black in White reflects the history of the most intense racial struggle in American history.

A remarkable part of the exhibit is the ability for visitors to comment on the pictures which are included. Post-It Notes line the walls where visitors have added to the commentary of pictures, including naming previously unidentified person in the photographs. The exhibit is a permanent part of the Lexington History Museum’s collection and can be visited Sunday through Friday 12-4 and Saturday 10-4. Access the museum website for more info.

This Day in History — February 12

On February 12th, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks in a one-room log cabin on Sinking Springs Farm, in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County), making him the first president born outside the original Thirteen Colonies.

As part of the nationwide celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial, the Lexington History Museum invites you to attend the exhibit opening of Window on the War at 6:00pm tonight for a special reception, featuring foods made by Mary Todd Lincoln while she was First Lady. If you are present between 6:00pm and 6:45pm, you may see one of the original volumes of the Peter Diary – something rarely seen outside the University of Kentucky Archives. Also, don’t miss the Special Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial “An Evening with Our History” presentation at 7:30 p.m. Learn about Mary Todd, “the Quintessential Hostess”, a special presentation by Donna McCreary, author of Lincoln’s Table: A President’s Culinary Journey from Cabin to Cosmopolitan and Fashionable First Lady: The Victorian Wardrobe of Mary Lincoln. abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portrait

Window on the War

In celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial, the Lexington History Museum will be opening its Window on the War exhibit on February 12th, highlighting the diary of Frances Peter, a young girl who lived in Lexington during the Civil War.

Frances Peter was born in Lexington on January 28th, 1843 to Dr. Robert Peter and Frances Paca Dallam Peter, and was the fourth of eleven children. The family lived at the corner of Market Street and Mechanics Alley, facing what is known today as Gratz Park. Frances had epilepsy, and because of that never married, living a retired life in the home of her parents. She was eighteen at the start of the Civil War.

dr-peterjpg-croped Dr. Robert Peter was a native of Cornwall, England, who moved to the United States in 1817, eventually settling in Lexington in 1832 to study at Transylvania University. He received an MD from Transylvania in 1834, and was the Chair of Chemistry, Pharmacy, Dean and Librarian of the Medical School for many years. Considered one of America’s most respected physicians, Dr. Peter served as a U.S. Army surgeon for troops stationed near Lexington during the Civil War.

Frances Paca Dallam Peter was born near Lexington in 1815, and was a descendant of the famous Henry, Preston, and Breckinridge Families of Virginia and Kentucky. Her great uncle William Paca of Maryland was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Frances, or Frank, as her family called her, was described as a “talented charming girl,” who enjoyed drawing, reading and writing. She was educated at the Sayre Female Institute and obtained high marks in reading, writing, composition, arithmetic and history. Though she was afflicted with epilepsy, an illness that was only beginning to be understood, she maintained a positive outlook on life and refused to pity herself. During the Civil War, Frances became very interested in the state of Kentucky politics. She was a Unionist, despite not always agreeing with or supporting President Lincoln, and she objected to the Emancipation Proclamation at one point, though her view of this changed over time. peterhouse

Her diary was made of stitched-together pieces of military hospital supply paper, and in it, Frances faithfully reported on the war. She used all of the sources of information available to her, including newspapers, local gossip, information from soldiers stationed nearby, and her own first-hand experiences. Her diary also contains a great deal of information about the Morgan family, who had been close friends with the Peter family before the war drove them apart. Frances died of a seizure on August 5, 1864 at the age of 21.

On February 12th at 6:00pm, come to the Lexington History Museum to be a part of the Window on the War exhibit opening and celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday! There will be a reception featuring foods that Mary Todd Lincoln served before and while she was First Lady, and a lecture presented by Donna McCreary, about Mary Todd, “the Quintessential Hostess.” As with all of our events, the exhibit opening is free and open to the public. We look forward to seeing you!