Archive for the ‘Bardstown’ Category

Will Bevin, Kentucky GOP be ‘Happy Together’?

First published June 19, 2015

If you think Matt Bevin is a dour revolutionary, watch the video. It’s the funniest thing in Kentucky politics since Mitch McConnell’s hound dogs treed Dee Huddleston.

As the Turtles song “Happy Together” plays in the background, Bevin wakes up in a Team Mitch T-shirt, goes to work in an SUV with a Team Mitch license plate and gets a Team Mitch tattoo.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit, but it’s so worth it,” he says.

In one scene, he phones McConnell to warn him: “The word on the street is that Rand is going down to the Senate floor right now. He’s got his pockets filled with energy bars … .They say he’s going to be out there until at least Tuesday.” Then he adds: “Hey, that’s what friends are for, sir.”

It ends with Bevin talking to McConnell like a love-struck teenager.

“No, you hang up. No, really, you hang up,” he says.

Bevin, who won the GOP nomination by 83 votes in a four-way race, probably wasn’t McConnell’s first choice for governor. A year ago, Bevin challenged the Godfather for his seat and reportedly was ungracious after McConnell rolled over him and his Democratic opponent.

Then there was the bitter gubernatorial contest. I figured Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer would win the primary and beat Democrat Jack Conway in the general. Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might have had a chance, but I wouldn’t have placed a $2 bet on Bevin or retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, whose shoe-leather campaign never gained traction.

That was before the rumors about Comer’s woman problem.

Less than an hour before Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal broke the story based on an interview with Comer’s college girlfriend, a Heiner supporter called to tell me it was coming. When I read the story, I knew it was over for Comer — and probably for Heiner too, because his people were likely behind it.

That left Bevin, who had taken the high road, as the obvious beneficiary.

But Bevin?

Like Rand Paul, who ran against the party establishment and had to accommodate it once elected, Bevin must do the same. The video was a clever way of admitting it.

On June 10, I interviewed Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, on PLG-TV, and he told me he didn’t like labels.

“A tea party favorite? I’m not sure what that means,” he said.

He said he had never belonged to a tea party group, but was of “like mind” with them on constitutional government, lower taxes and individual responsibility.

He also said the bad blood between McConnell and himself was fiction, and he had “voted for the guy every time” except when he ran against him.

Make no mistake, Matt Bevin is the most far-right conservative who has ever run a race for governor in Kentucky. He has said he would like to reduce or eliminate taxes except for “consumption” (sales) taxes and reduce spending. He wants to make Kentucky a state where those who work in places that have won the right of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to pay for union representation. He is against raising the minimum wage and would end the prevailing wage. He would take away teachers’ defined-benefits pensions and enroll them in something like a 401(k).

His first executive order would be to abolish Kynect, the state’s popular health insurance exchange, and he would reverse Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid. He opposes Common Core and supports charter schools.

How this agenda will play out in a purple state where Republicans historically have been more like John Sherman Cooper than Ted Cruz remains to be seen. But if Bevin can take a page from McConnell’s playbook on how to pivot, he could succeed.

Family stories are Kentucky’s history

First published April 17, 2015

When the big snow of February 1994 brought Lexington to a standstill for two days, I didn’t mind because it gave me time off from my job at Transylvania University to read Robert V. Remini’s magisterial biography of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay.

The setting for reading the book was ideal. The building I worked in, Old Morrison, was built under the supervision of Clay, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, candidate for president and one of the great senators of the antebellum era. He also taught law at the university, and his little law office still stood about a block away from my apartment, which overlooked the backyard of the Hunt-Morgan House in historic Gratz Park.

Clay and his family worshipped at the Episcopal cathedral on the other side of the park, Christ Church, and theirestate, Ashland, was only a mile or so away.

Living in the Bluegrass, I was always reminded of the Clay family. The old Colby Tavern near my parents’ home in Clark County was a stagecoach stop between Lexington and Winchester where Henry Clay sometimes stayed the night before trying cases at the Clark County Courthouse.

On the way to Richmond, where I cut my teeth as a young reporter, was White Hall, the mansion of Henry’s cousin, Cassius Marcellus Clay, the famous abolitionist, newspaper editor and President Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia. The hospital in Richmond was named for his daughter, Pattie A. Clay.

And in Mount Sterling, I lived on Clay Street, named for Cassius’ father, Green Clay, who owned land for miles around, and a little red brick house down the street belonged to his family.

The Clays’ rich legacy is a reminder that the history of Kentucky is the history of the families that made our commonwealth what it is today. But that history is not only the story of the great and famous, but of those who aren’t as well known, yet made important contributions — families like the Coomeses of Bardstown.

If you read this column regularly, you may remember that last year around Veterans Day I wrote about Bill Coomes, a Marine in World War II who fought in the bloody Battle of Iwo Jima.

We’ve all seen the iconic image of Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi, but Bill saw it firsthand from a few hundred yards away. When I interviewed him, he told me his father had fought in the trenches in World War I, his brother served in Korea and his son in Vietnam.

Days after the column was published, Bill stopped by the office to thank me for mentioning him, and he had a thin green folder containing some family background.

I learned the Coomeses played an important part in Kentucky’s story long before the 20th century.

If the genealogy is accurate, Bill’s great-great-great-great grandparents, William Coomes and Jane Frances Greenleaf Coomes, were an Irish Catholic couple from Maryland who came to Kentucky in 1775 with a party led by Abraham and Isaac Hite. They helped establish the first colonial settlement in Kentucky, Fort Harrod (now Harrodsburg) and defended it against Indian attacks.

William, who also fought in the Battle of Blue Licks during the Revolution, and his family moved in 1783 to Kentucky’s second city, Bardstown, which they also helped establish. They played a major part in the formation of the Catholic Church in this area, and donated part of their farm to the new western diocese for its see, which is now the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.

And Jane Coomes, according to the history, was Kentucky’s first schoolteacher.

That, as the late radio announcer and armchair historian Paul Harvey would say, is “the rest of the story.”

Negotiation requires dialogue, mutual respect

May 9, 2015

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The quote from the 1967 film, “Cool Hand Luke” is first spoken by a prison warden before he starts pummeling the prisoner played by Paul Newman — and later by the prisoner himself when he’s surrounded and about to be shot.

I remembered that line last week when I was working on a story about “negotiations” between the Bardstown Fire Department and the nonprofit group known officially as the Bardstown-Nelson County Volunteer Fire Department and unofficially as “the corporation.”

When I went on PLG-TV Tuesday to talk about Bardstown Mayor John Royalty’s latest contract proposal, I mentioned that he and City Fire Chief Marlin Howard (who is also the fire chief for the corporation) want to hire a consultant to study a possible merger of the two departments.

At the time, I thought that was still the plan. I learned about an hour later that there wouldn’t be a study when the mayor asked the Bardstown City Council to “strike that” from the budget.

“The 20,000 for the consolidation study — that’s out,” he said.

Under the mayor’s proposal, he wants the corporation to contract with the Bardstown Fire Department to cover fire and rescue services in its service area outside the city limits and increase its $50 “membership fee” (actually a flat tax) as well as the amount of funding the corporation provides the city for joint operations.

The way I read it, the BNCVFD would still exist on paper but would be reduced to a funding mechanism for the Bardstown Fire Department. It would still own its trucks and buildings, but they would be maintained and used by the city. The volunteers would all be under the city’s authority.

Royalty has feels that Stacy Faulkner, the chairman of the corporation board, has been dragging his feet on negotiating a new contract for the fiscal year that begins July 1. According to the mayor’s administrative assistant, Kathy Graham, the corporation didn’t want to contribute $20,000 to the consolidation study, so the mayor decided on a new approach.

Faulkner, however, said he told Royalty the corporation board would fund its half of the study and pay for it by deferring the purchase of some equipment.

“We never said we weren’t going to fund it,” he said.

Faulkner also said he asked the mayor if there was “room to negotiate” on the latest proposal, but was told it was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

The chairman said he hasn’t had a chance to talk with the other board members about the proposal. Their next meeting is May 12. And the mayor wants the signed contract on his desk May 15 — or the corporation can pack up and leave.

As a reporter, I can’t take sides. Besides, I don’t know whether it would be best for the two departments to consolidate or separate.

Maybe the mayor’s proposal is the best option, or maybe there should be a countywide special taxing district, as Chief Ted Shields of the Northeast Nelson County Fire Protection District has suggested. It isn’t for me to say.

What I can say is what Chief Howard has said time and again — that the most important thing is for the fire service or services to provide the best protection they can for its residents, both in the city and in the unincorporated area.

The two sides need to work out something from a standpoint of mutual respect or agree to amicably go their separate ways.

And time is running out to make a decision.

Lessons in faith from servants of the homeless

Published Feb. 20, 2015

Two out of three Sundays, my niece and I attend a Eucharist service in Lexington’s tony Chevy Chase neighborhood. The liturgy always ends with these words — “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Then we drive back, past stately old houses and leafy yards, bicyclists, bakeries and boutiques, and onto Winchester Road, past greasy diners and gas stations, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and street people, and a brick building with a large Latin cross.

I never knew what the building was until I went there recently with students from St. Catharine College. It’s an overnight shelter, the Community Inn, run by the Catholic Action Center, which also feeds, clothes and provides laundry service to the destitute at other facilities nearby.

In these places, saints and sinners love and serve the Lord by loving and serving those he called “the least of these.”

The St. Catharine students’ class on faith and homelessness is taught by Matthew Branstetter, professor of philosophy and religion, who volunteered for the Catholic Action Center while he was in seminary in Lexington and was changed by his encounters with the poor. Now he wants his students to consider how they are changed once they’ve looked into the faces of those in need, and consider questions such as whether charity is enough and what their religious traditions say about poverty and social justice.

Helping the hard-core homeless can be frustrating and humbling. I know. For many years, I led a group of volunteers from my church who served meals at Lexington’s Hope Center to drug addicts, mentally ill men and some who seemed normal. It was as discouraging to see new faces and wonder how they ended up there as it was to see the same old faces month after month for nearly a decade.

Some of the Hope Center’s guests were ingrates. Others were gracious, like the ragged man who held my eyes with his when I asked how he was and answered with sincerity, “I’m blessed. I really am.”

In that moment my own hurts and disappointments didn’t seem so important anymore.

Sojourners founder Jim Wallis said, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.”

Ginny Ramsey, Gary McKinley and Barry McGuffin are believers. They spoke to the class on Fridays in February. Ginny runs Catholic Action and often does battle with city officials on behalf of Lexington’s outcasts. Gary is a Purple Heart veteran and cook at Catholic Action’s kitchen and ministers to homeless veterans. Barry is a pastor who operates Bethany Haven, a transitional homeless shelter in Bardstown.

Something I’ve learned from these people — and I hope the students have learned too — is that that to effectively serve those who are broken, you have to look past “their hang-ups,” as Matt said, and see them as our neighbors.

Barry told us Bethany Haven’s success rate — which is defined as someone getting an income and a permanent place to live — is a little better than 50 percent. But he added, “I can’t dwell on the 48 percent who don’t succeed because that would be devastating.”

While Bethany Haven serves women and families as a transitional residence, there is no emergency shelter or homeless shelter for single men in Nelson County. Barry and others hope to change that.

The need is great. We have people living in caves and woods, and, as I described in a recent story, in their vehicles in the brutal cold.

Some local leaders I’ve talked with about the need for an emergency shelter, who have a heart for the poor, are concerned that the shelter would attract vagrants and undesirables from other counties. It would. But there are ways to coordinate efforts among social service groups and faith-based charities to make sure those people aren’t gaming the system, and there are leaders among us who know how to make that work.

As I write this on Ash Wednesday, I’m reminded that each of us has failed. The fact that others have made mistakes shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can to help them.

We’ve heard it said God only helps those who help themselves. Nothing could be further from the Gospel. God helps those who deserve nothing, and so should we. And sometimes our helping can be the spark that reignites hope in them that they can help themselves.

‘On the Edge’ — Poverty amidst plenty

Published Jan. 31, 2015

On the Bardstown Angels Facebook page, I learned that “Mr. Scott” was no longer living at America’s Inn, where I had interviewed him a couple of weeks ago. He was living in his truck again in the old KFC parking lot.

I went looking for him Thursday afternoon at the Dollar General Market, where he works part-time, and a young lady in the office told me I had just missed him. Moments later I found him walking around the vacant KFC building with a trash bag, picking up litter. The parking lot isn’t his property, but it is his home, and he wants it to look good.

Scott, who is in his 50s, greeted me warmly, and I offered him a cup of coffee and asked him why he had lost his motel room. The manager, he said, had insisted that he come up with $100 by the end of the day he talked with him, and he didn’t have the money, so he showered and shaved, packed up his clothes and moved out.

While we were talking, a friend drove up to take him to look for less expensive insurance for his truck. Scott told me the next day over bowls of chili that if he had $100, it had to go toward his truck rather than rent.

He borrowed money against the truck to pay his last month’s rent at his apartment in Shepherdsville.

“I’m afraid they’re going to take my truck, and if I lose that, I’ll lose everything I’ve got,” he said. “It’s my house.”

Scott Deacon is a good example of what journalist David K. Shipler, author of “The Working Poor: Invisible in America,” means when he writes about how the problems of the poor are interconnected.

“Poverty is a constellation of difficulties that magnify one another: not just low wages but also low education, not just dead-end jobs but also limited abilities, not just insufficient savings, but also unwise spending, not just poor housing but also poor parenting, not just the lack of health insurance but also the lack of healthy households,” Shipler wrote in a 2007 essay, “Connecting the Dots.”

In Scott Deacon’s case, a work-related injury, an increase in his government subsidized rent and a decrease in his food stamp allocation all helped create a perfect storm that resulted in him becoming a minimum wage employee without a home who gets by because of his faith in God in the generosity of strangers.

There are two persistent myths about poverty and the poor. One is that poverty is entirely the fault of the poor person who has made poor choices. The other myth is that it’s all the fault of society for not providing opportunity. In most cases, it’s both. The causes of poverty are far more complicated than any ideology can explain, and any solution must address a myriad of interrelated causes.

Shipler’s conclusion is insightful. “There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty. Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise,” he wrote. “Relief will come, if at all, in an amalgam that recognizes both the society’s obligation through government and business, and the individual’s obligation through labor and family — and the commitment of both society and individual through education.”

At one of The Kentucky Standard’s first newsroom staff meetings of the year, our editor, Forrest Berkshire, challenged each of us reporters to find something we’re passionate about and report on it thoroughly throughout the new year.

At once I knew what my issue would be. Poverty. Throughout my career, it’s been something I’ve cared about and written about. But with a series beginning next week, “On the Edge,” I want to explore poverty in a more comprehensive way, understand it better and explain it to readers as best I can.

I also hope that by doing so, I can open people’s eyes and hearts to those who are unfortunate.

Dr. Thomas Boyd, a sociology professor at Berea College I knew when I was a reporter for a daily, used to say many of us are “one paycheck away from being homeless.” There have been many times that would have been true for me had I not had a family to fall back on, and it’s true today for many people we know, even if we’re not aware of it.

Making people aware is my purpose in doing this series, and I welcome any input that might help me help others understand.

You may call me at (502) 348-9003, extension 114 or by email at, or stop by the office to talk.

Parents, teachers, students must end bullying

Published Jan. 23, 2015

As a reporter for more than 30 years, I have covered the funerals of three police officers who were murdered. I have interviewed parents and grandparents of soldiers who died in battle and the young daughter of a firefighter who gave his life trying to save the lives of others at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

In my work for newspapers, I have also attended memorial services for children, including the football stadium funeral of a high school athlete who died in a horrific accident in front of a crowd of onlookers, as well as a concert honoring another teenager, and her mother, who were brutally slain.

I have even sat next to the hospital bed of a young acquaintance in the last days of a terminal illness and talked with him about life, faith and death.

But the saddest thing I’ve ever had to cover was the funeral Jan. 10 of a little 12-year-old girl who took her own life because she was being bullied — at school and after school — and thought she couldn’t bear it any longer.

Reporters, like nurses and firefighters, aren’t supposed to cry. Through training and experience, we learn to steel ourselves against showing our emotions. But on that day, as I sat in that church, surrounded by Reagan Carter’s relatives, friends, acquaintances and many others who didn’t know her, watching images of this child’s once joyful life and listening to songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I couldn’t help but wipe my eyes with the sleeves of my sweater while trying to take notes.

I have a niece, a couple of years older than Reagan, who won’t go into a school restroom even once during the day because it’s a frightening place. She’s a normal kid with friends and strong family support, but I’ve seen her hurt because of rejection and unkind words spoken by mean girls. I couldn’t imagine losing her.

Being 12, 13 or 14 years old is an awkward time in a child’s life, and it’s hard enough without having to live in fear.

All of us have a responsibility for preventing bullying, but especially parents, teachers, school authorities and other students.

Since this tragedy occurred, I’ve heard from some who say a lack of parenting is a big part of the problem. Many young parents act like juveniles themselves, and instead of correcting their children when they do something wrong and teaching them respect for authority, they let them do whatever they want and confront the educators instead of the child.

Punishment is part of parenting. Sending a child to her room with her iPhone isn’t punishment. Taking it away if she uses it to bully other children is. And any parent who isn’t monitoring her child’s texts, email and social media is neglecting his responsibility.

At a meeting last week with state legislators, the husband of a former teacher’s aide mentioned that teachers are no longer allowed to discipline students. They can’t even touch them on the shoulder to get them back in line, he said. And he told of teenage boys who intimidate teachers by flicking pocketknives open and closed in class. Children shouldn’t be allowed to have anything in school that could be considered a weapon, and their smartphones should be turned off from the time they enter the building until they leave.

We also need to return to strict discipline in schools, including corporal punishment. If parents want to sue, let them.

At the meeting with the legislators, Reagan’s stepfather, Bill Hack, and another man, Jonathan Hahn, asked the lawmakers to look at New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, which Hack said requires immediate reporting of bullying incidents to authorities, investigation of every incident within a short time frame, and more accountability all around. Mediation isn’t the answer, he said, because in his daughter’s case, all it did was give the bullies more information to use against her after they were away from adult supervision. A tougher state law sounds like a step in the right direction, but it’s only part of the solution. One element of it should be to make it easier to take disruptive children out of the school and put them in an alternative program. The victims shouldn’t have to be the ones to change schools.

Changing the toxic atmosphere in schools and among teens is also important. As Nicholasville Police Officer Scott Harvey, whom I knew from church when I was editor of The Jessamine Journal, told Bardstown Middle and High School students last week, “your school will no longer have a bullying problem when the students decide to do something about it.” Students need to stand together and stand with those who are being abused. If anyone deserves ostracism, it is the abuser, not the victim.

Finally, all of us need to engage in a conversation about this problem and ask ourselves what we can do about it. Being role models and mentors, convincing kids that bullying isn’t cool, reporting incidents to those in authority and, as a community, embracing children who suffer ridicule, exclusion and threats are good ways to begin.

Light Up, lights out and the coming of the Light

Published Dec. 6, 2014

The morning after Light Up Bardstown, our downtown went dark.

I was about to get in the shower when the lights went out and I found myself fumbling for a flashlight. Then I found the bill I hadn’t opened because I don’t believe in doing today what can be put off until tomorrow.

The disconnection date was the day before.

I texted Jeff Mills, Bardstown’s electrical engineer, asking for leniency.

“Could you get it back on today? I’m on my way to City Hall to pay,” I pleaded.

He replied that the city was experiencing a widespread outage.

Jeff was in Owensboro, but he helped me track down Jeff Miller, the superintendent, who was at the substation on Bloomfield Road trying to get the power back on.

He said a squirrel had gotten into an overhead switch connecting two substations.

It’s always a squirrel.

The grays have been waging war against our power grid for as long as I’ve been a reporter. Our infrastructure is somewhat resistant to wind, ice coatings, trucks that take out utility poles, hackers and other enemies, but there’s no good defense against suicide attacks by rodents.

By the way, Jeff, if you’re reading this, the check is in the mail.


I like Light Up Bardstown because almost everybody, it seems, gathers on Court Square to see the Yule tree lit and commence the countdown to Christmas.

The best part for me is Stephen Foster Singers’ performance of a medley of carols, from the haunting “What Child is This?” to the jubilant “Joy to the World.”

My assignment that weekend was to cover Small Business Saturday, which I enjoyed. I got to meet some of the nicest visitors, most of them relatives of Bardstonians.

I also talked with merchants who said the weekend after Thanksgiving was their best ever for sales. That’s great because it means the economy is improving, and it shows shoppers aren’t neglecting neighborhood stores for big box stores.

Small businesses are the economic engine of America’s heartland, and we should strongly support them.


I think the “war on Christmas” is malarkey, but the war on Thanksgiving is real. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s the least commercial. It’s about family, feasts and football, but most importantly, it’s about taking time to thank God for what we have instead of wanting more. That’s been changing, though, as stores not only open on Thanksgiving, but open earlier every year.

When I read that Target and Kmart managers told employees they would have to work on Thanksgiving or be fired, I vowed I wouldn’t spend a dime at those stores that weekend, and I didn’t.

I was pleased to see that, although Thanksgiving sales were up 24 percent this year, Black Friday sales were down, and sales for the weekend were down by about 11 percent. That tells me retailers can wait until Friday and Saturday to have those big sales without it hurting them.

I hope next year more of them will opt to close their doors on the one day that should be about gratitude and not greed.


Now that Thanksgiving is over, some have said, the Christmas season is “officially” here. Not so.

For centuries, the church has said (officially) the Christmas season is from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 — the 12 days of Christmas. The month or so leading up to the holiday is the Advent season, a time of waiting for God’s presence by celebrating the birth of the Christ child, and also by awaiting his coming again in glory to conquer darkness and make “all things new.”

Advent is the beginning of the church year.

I’m a traditionalist, but I’m also a realist. I know it’s pointless to expect most people to wait until closer to the holiday to begin their celebrations. But maybe it would enrich our Christmas to find at least a little quiet time during Advent to reflect on the coming of the Light of the World and make room in our hearts for him. It is a time to pray, as Mary did, for his purposes for us to be fulfilled in us.

Talking with the dead – a skeptic’s story

Oct. 28, 2014

When my niece was a toddler, my sister was startled to hear her laughing and talking to someone when only the two of them were home.

“Who are you talking to?”” Kim asked when she burst into her daughter’s bedroom.

“That lady there in the window,” Kamille answered. “She’s waving to me.”

There was no one at the window.

Kim and her husband, Stan, who were newlyweds, had moved into Stan’s grandmother’s house soon after the old woman died. Kamille never knew the woman that her older cousin, Kelsey, called Great Ma.

Sometime after the incident, Stan’s mom was showing the family some old photographs and asked Kamille if she recognized anyone in a group picture.

Yes, the little girl said, pointing to her great-grandmother and telling Grammy it was the lady who had visited her that day at the window and made her laugh.

“That’s Great Ma,” she said.

Let me say this for the record — I don’t believe in ghosts. But there are things I can’t explain.

Once when I was living in Nicholasville, for example, there was an elderly woman who lived next door who would pester me to take dictation for her whenever she wanted to write a letter to the editor or an announcement because he hands shook.

So one day after work, as the sun was going down, I was sitting with her in the living room of her 19th century house, surrounded by her memories, as she showed me pictures and talked about the people in her past.

I was bored and hoping she would get on with the task at hand when I happened to notice a woman in a dress walk past the doorway in the darkened room behind us.

I started, and my elderly neighbor noticed my astonishment. Her ancient eyes shone as she asked me, “What? Did you see someone in there?”

“I thought I saw a woman,” I said.

She just smiled and didn’t mention it again, and I never saw nor heard the mystery woman the rest of the time we were there.

Like many children, I had grown up with ghost stories. My mother’s family, who were tenant farmers, lived in a huge antebellum farmhouse with outbuildings that had once been slave quarters. Sitting around the old coal stove or the kitchen table, they would tell “true” stories. Once, for example, my cousin Eddie had come in from working in the field to get a cold drink and for several minutes heard footsteps above the kitchen. But no one used that because the only access to it was by an outside staircase that had been torn down many years ago.

That old house terrified me. I’d have dreams that I was floating from my bed toward empty rooms where I didn’t want to go.

My parents, however, assured me there was no such thing as ghosts, and I believed them. Later, I was taught in the holiness church I grew up in that the spirits of loved ones are no longer with us, but demonic spirits sometimes disguise themselves as spirits of the dead, and can’t be believed because they serve the Father of Lies.

However, I was also taught that the Bible warns us not to consult spiritists who conjure the dead, and that King Saul had a medium conjure the spirit of the prophet Samuel. Yet another biblical verse says that “the dead know nothing … for the memory of them is forgotten.” That seems a little ambiguous to me.

Last Friday night, I participated in the Spirits of Wickland tour at the old Bardstown mansion that was the home of a family that produced two Kentucky governors and a governor of Louisiana. The group gathered in the basement as the medium passed around copper dowsing rods so that the guests could ask questions of the spirit of a slave boy, Antoine.

I didn’t do it because I was there as an impartial observer, and besides, I don’t believe in ghosts.

Later, though, when I was transcribing the audio recording of the guests laughing and asking the spirit questions about whether someone was going to have a baby or get a job promotion, I heard a ghostly whisper that sounded like it was only inches from the microphone. I played it again and again to make sure I had heard it.

The words sounded like “an quoi,” which, according to Google, means nothing in French or any other language. Or maybe the words were, “Ask why.”

It was the kind of spectral voice you only hear in a horror film, and it made chills run up my spine when I heard it on the recording, because I didn’t hear it when I was actually there in the cellar.

I still don’t believe in ghosts — but I wouldn’t stay overnight alone in Wickland’s basement.

Signs of change in Bardstown

Sept. 27, 2014

Giant purple gorillas.

Dancing stick people.

Millions of metallic streamers.

Signs stretching into the stratosphere.

Nicholasville Road was a freak show.

As editor of the weekly in Nicholasville, I was a relentless advocate for better planning, and what I had in mind for U.S. 27 was something like U.S. 31E and Ky. 245 in Bardstown — clean, uncluttered, classy.


Recently, a politician asked me why I had chosen Bardstown. Caught off guard, I said the work brought me here. And I liked the people and the place.

Later that day, I wished I had told him why I think our city is pleasant and prosperous.

In a word, it’s beauty.

When Rand McNally named our little burgh the Most Beautiful Small Town in America in 2012, it was only for a year, but we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

Aging gracefully means not neglecting the things that matter, so it’s fitting, especially during a local election year, to give thought to what makes our town beautiful and what it means for our future.

Although Bardstown is Kentucky’s second-oldest city, it doesn’t look old in the sense of being derelict. Our architectural heritage is meticulously preserved. Whether it’s Georgian townhouses from the early 19th century or Craftsman bungalows from the early 20th, the houses in the historic district are mostly well kept.

That wasn’t true in Winchester when I lived in an elegant old neighborhood that had seen better times. I’d call it “shabby genteel.” The difference is that in Bardstown, owners in the historic area are required to keep up their property and are given generous tax incentives to do so.

In Nicholasville, too, I lived in an area surrounded by buildings that dated back to about the time the county was founded in 1798. But right in the middle of it was a convenience store that stuck out like a red hoodie at a black tie affair. Maybe there’s a place for plastic displays, vinyl siding, LED lights and tall signs, but it wasn’t that place.

I was told by local officials then that a convenience store “is what it is,” and residents of that area needed one. But here in Bardstown, we have a Five Star on East Stephen Foster Avenue that blends in beautifully with its surroundings. The store is covered in brick that has a vintage look, there are no high signs, and it doesn’t clash with the historic homes and offices around it.

We’ve shown that even a filling station can look good.

Stringent requirements on building design and historic preservation make our city a better place for everyone, and make it more attractive to residents, customers and businesses wanting to locate in a place that has a good quality of life.

Our sign ordinance is also restrictive, for the same reason.

It’s always baffled me why car dealers in most towns think they must have those gawd-awful streamers and balloons. Like you can’t tell that the place with the rows of shiny F-150s is a Ford dealership? And why does a Wendy’s need a sign that’s so high it poses a hazard to low-flying aircraft? It doesn’t.

Sign clutter makes it harder, not easier, to find businesses, and it makes an area look trashy.

If we look hard enough, we can find regulations that are unnecessarily restrictive or outdated. I see nothing wrong, for example, with allowing downtown shops to have sandwich boards, if they’re tasteful, like the little wooden chalk board signs in front of businesses on Third Street. But big, bright yellow plastic A-frames on wheels with changeable plastic letters won’t do.

Likewise, electronic reader boards at the Walgreens on Ky. 145, where cars speed by on a four-lane highway a good distance away from the store might be appropriate, but putting the same kind of sign at Crume Drug Store on Flaget in the heart of the historic district shouldn’t be allowed.

Different situations require different regulations.

What we’ve been doing here in Bardstown in terms of planning and historic preservation is a model for our commonwealth and our country. We need to think hard about making changes to rules and standards that have served us well for many decades.

Unbridled freedom has unintended consequences.

Whiskey women — an acquired taste

Sept. 24, 2014

Whiskey and women have been a volatile combination for me, so when my editor, Forrest Berkshire, asked if I’d like to cover a talk on “whiskey women” last week, I said yes, but without enthusiasm.

First, a little background.

When I was a reporter for a daily newspaper, I was smitten by a beautiful and intelligent college student I met on a bus on the way to a rally in Washington, D.C. My infatuation was unrequited, so one night after talking with her best friend about the hopelessness of my desire, I drowned my sorrows in a bottle of bourbon.

The next morning at a Fiscal Court meeting, while someone was proposing a tax increase or a big outlay of taxpayers’ money, I passed out. The presenter, I was told, said he thought someone might faint, but he didn’t think it would be a reporter.

Before I could object, the paramedics, who were there for the meeting, had me on a stretcher and out the front door of the courthouse and past a crowd of gawkers. Because it was raining, someone pulled the sheet over my face, and by the time I got to the hospital — if I may borrow a quote from Mark Twain — rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated.

I was mortified but not ready for the morticians.

The paper I worked for paid pauper’s wages (which I misspent), so I had to moonlight as a pizza delivery driver for a few weeks to pay off my chauffered trip to the ER — which resulted in a column about my “pie by night” enterprise. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first persons I encountered while wearing my Marco’s Man costume was the lovely young lady who had been the object of my misplaced affection. She looked confused, and I felt ridiculous.

That’s just one story involving whiskey and women. There are others as embarrassing.

Let’s just say they were teachable moments.

Twenty-five years later, I’m not a bourbon drinker. I like Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, bourbon bread pudding and bourbon-flavored everything. But, except for the rare bourbon on the rocks with my coworkers at Xavier’s, I tend to avoid the spirit in its pure form.

I might tip the scales at 280 pounds, but when it comes to holding my liquor, I’m a lightweight, so I practice moderation.

Since moving to Bardstown two years ago, however, I have come to appreciate bourbon lore, the sweet scent of sour mash on splendid autumn days — and whiskey women.

Not the ones like Toby Keith’s “Little Whiskey Girl” — “rough” and “ragged on the edges.” Some of the finest and most elegant ladies I’ve met around town are women who are in some way connected to the bourbon industry.

Which brings me back to where I was going with this — the lecture.

Fred Minnick, author of “Whiskey Women: How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey,” does the fair gender justice in his treatment of the important role women have played in the development of whiskey. After hearing his fascinating talk, I have a deeper respect for female pioneers and entrepreneurs — like Margie Mattingly Samuels, who came up with the Maker’s Mark name and the distinctive red wax design — as well as a new generation of bourbon businesswomen.

Strong women and strong spirits are acquired tastes.

Let’s just call it a teachable moment.


During a presentation on cocktails by Joy Perrine, the “Bad Girl of Bourbon,” Jude Talbott asked how I could be in Bardstown and Scotland at the same time, because he had seen pictures on Facebook and read my posts about the referendum on Scotland’s independence. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I’ve been obsessed with the subject because I love Britain and was thrilled the Scots voted to remain part of that great union.

However, I’ve never actually visited Scotland. I’ve traveled by train through the Garden of England, overlooked the dreaming spires of Oxford, trod the bricks of Grafton Street in Dublin and witnessed fairytale rainbows on Antrim’s craggy coast, but the part of those pleasant isles I’ve never seen is the country of my ancestry, Scotland. It’s on my bucket list, though, and when I get there, I hope it’s still part of the United Kingdom.

“What we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder,” said one of my favorite Scots, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

I’ll drink to that.

June 2017
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