Welcome to Bubbleland: Life on a Strange Little Chunk of Kentucky

For most of its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River takes a pretty direct path. Sure, it zigs east here and zags west there, but nothing too crazy. Around Kentucky, though, the river’s course gets a little convoluted. It turns north before heading south again in several places. These detours are what geologists call meanders and one notable example is the Kentucky Bend, also known as the New Madrid Bend, Madrid Bend, Bessie Bend and Bubbleland.

Map credit: Jim Efaw

The meander - caused by a series of earthquakes - is in the southwest corner of Kentucky, where the commonwealth stabs its pointy end between Missouri and Tennessee. It threw a monkey wrench in the work of surveyors plotting the line that would mark the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.

At the time the quakes occurred, the team hadn't yet pushed that far west and had only estimated where their line would meet the Mississippi. They soon found that the parallel they had chosen cut right through the meander’s loop, crossing the river twice and creating a small Kentuckian peninsula bound by their border on one side and the river, Kentucky’s western border, on the other three. All around the peninsula, the land on the other side of the river belonged to Missouri. The surveyors weren’t about to change their line, and the they certainly couldn’t move the river, so the 17.5 square mile, teardrop-shaped hunk of Kentucky wound up cut off from the rest of the state.

For a while, Kentucky and Tennessee fought over the Bend. Despite the clarity of the borderlines, Tennessee felt it had rights to the land and administered it as part of its Obion County until the mid-1800s, but eventually dropped its claim.

Tennessee no doubt regretted giving up on the Bend, since it turned out to be extremely fertile cotton-growing land. The 1870 Census counted more than 300 residents on the Bend, mostly cotton farmers. The small population even had their own cotton gin and a couple of sawmills.

Bubbleland Today

Today, the Bend’s population is much smaller and the cotton business is bust. All that’s left is a handful of houses, a graveyard, a few fields of corn and wheat, and some small fishing lakes. Kids living on the Bend take a bus to Tiptonville, Tennessee, site of the nearest school (and boyhood home of rockabilly legend Carl Perkins). Tiptonville also provides the Bend’s residents with their closest medical care, grocery, and even mailing addresses. Elections require Benders to travel to the nearest voting machines in Hickman, Kentucky, which means a 40-mile trip and drive into Tennessee and then back into Kentucky. The closest library is 55 miles away in Fulton, but the few Benders with library cards are spared the trip by the librarian, who brings her bookmobile out to the Bend once a month.

Life on the Bend wasn’t always so dull. For sixty years, a violent feud – sparked by an argument over a horse, or maybe a cow – raged between the Darnell and Watson families. Mark Twain wrote about the feud in Life on the Mississippi, saying “in no part of the South has the vendetta flourished more briskly, or held out longer between warring families, than in this particular region…Every year or so, somebody was shot, on one side or the other, and as fast as one generation was laid out, their sons took up the feud and kept it a-going.”

The feud ended in the late 1800s when the last of the Darnells, an elderly father and his two sons, decided to flee the Bend by steamboat. The Watsons were told of the escape plans (word travels fast when there’s only 300 people) and showed up just as the Darnells were about to leave. They opened fire from the riverbank, killing the younger Darnells and snuffing out the family line.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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