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Chloe Effron

25 Fine Facts About Kentucky

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Chloe Effron

Once a year, the nation turns its gaze to Kentucky for two adrenaline-packed minutes better known as the Kentucky Derby. But there’s much more to the Bluegrass State than horse racing, or bourbon for that matter (though those are two very fine things to be known for). There’s also the state’s colorful musical history, the world’s one and only Corvette factory, and a criminally-overlooked barbecue scene. Here are a few things you might not know about Kentucky.

1. The state’s most famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone, is a tall tale come to life. After blazing a trail through Cumberland Gap and establishing Fort Boonesborough in 1775, Boone was captured by Shawnee Indians and whisked away to their home base of Chillicothe, in modern-day Ohio. Boone gained his captors' confidence and even became a member of the tribe, only to escape after six months, riding a stolen horse 160 miles back to Fort Boonesborough. He made the journey in five days—just in time to lead the fort’s successful defense from another attack.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

2. Before Kentucky was a state, it was a county. In 1776, Virginia established Kentucky County as its westernmost territory. Residents didn’t feel adequately served by the far-off capital of Richmond, however, and a separatist movement took hold. After several petitions for statehood, Kentuckians finally received their blessing from Virginia. In 1792, Kentucky became the nation’s 15th state.

3. Although none of the battles fought during the War of 1812 actually took place in Kentucky, more than half of the soldiers killed were from the state.

4. The two commanders of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, were born less than one year and one hundred miles apart in Kentucky. Lincoln spent his early years near Hodgenville, while Davis grew up in Fairview.

5. In 1817, the first U.S. performance of a Beethoven symphony took place at Postlethwaite’s Tavern in Lexington. The conductor, a former merchant from Austria named Anthony Heinrich who’d gone bankrupt during the Napoleonic wars, led a small orchestra through the composer’s Symphony No. 1. Heinrich became a notable bard of the Bluegrass State, writing such compositions as “Hail to Kentucky” and “A Sylvan Scene in Kentucky.”

6. Kentucky is the only state to have an acting governor assassinated. On January 30, 1900, hard-charging politician William Goebel was walking to the state capitol in Frankfort to protest the recent gubernatorial election, in which he was declared the loser, when an assassin’s bullet cut him down. While Goebel clung to life in a nearby hospital, the state’s Democratic legislature upheld his claim of ballot fraud against his competitor, Republican William Taylor, and on January 31 named Goebel the state’s governor. Goebel died three days later.

7. Thomas Edison worked for two years as a telegraph operator in Louisville’s Western Union office. He would have stayed longer, but in 1867 he was fired after accidentally spilling sulfuric acid all over his boss’s new furniture (performing one of his side experiments, naturally). Sixteen years later, he returned to the city’s Southern Exposition to showcase 4600 of his incandescent bulbs.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

8. The only chief justice of the Supreme Court from Kentucky, Frederick Vinson, was born in the Louisa town jail in 1890. It’s worth noting that his father was the jailer, and this was back in the day when most births took place at home.

9. Chartered in 1780 by the Virginia General Assembly, Transylvania University in Lexington is the oldest university west of the Allegheny Mountains. Its name derives from the Latin phrase meaning “across the woods,” which was fitting for the school’s early days. The first classes took place in a local minister’s cabin.

10. The first commercial winery in the U.S. opened in 1799 near Lexington. The founder, a Swiss businessman named John James Dufour, settled on the location because of a shipping port on the Kentucky River that gave him access to New Orleans and other points south. Today, a descendant of one of Dufour’s first shareholders maintains the winery. It is, appropriately, called First Vineyard.

11. Why is Kentucky such a hotbed for horse racing? Locals would have you believe it’s the calcium-rich grass, which gathers minerals from the limestone bed that runs beneath the state’s central region. But according to several sources, Kentucky’s equine prowess is due to strict gambling laws in the late 19th century that outlawed betting in east coast states, where horse racing was prominent. Because Kentucky didn’t outlaw horse betting, breeders moved their operations there and took the state’s racing industry from a trot to a gallop.


12. Bluegrass music has its roots in European folk traditions. But it was Kentucky native Bill Monroe (born in Rosine in 1911) who gave the genre its name and quick-picking, high-wailing style. Influenced by the fiddling and folk songs of his youth, Monroe upped the tempo and added in mandolin, banjo and other instruments along with a vocal style he called “that high lonesome sound.” His Blue Grass Boys set the gold standard for traditional bluegrass, and influenced a wide array of future musicians, from Elvis Presley to Jerry Garcia.

13. The “Happy Birthday” song originated in Louisville in the late 19th century. Patty Hill, a teacher at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School, collaborated with her sister Mildred, a piano instructor, on a song called “Good Morning to All” that became a greeting teachers would sing to students. It’s unclear how, exactly, the tune morphed into “Happy Birthday to You,” but today it’s the most recognizable song in the English language.

14. In case you weren’t convinced that bourbon is big business in the Bluegrass State: The number of bourbon barrels currently aging in Kentucky distilleries outnumbers the state’s population by more than a million (5.6 million vs. 4.4 million, respectively).


15. There’s a 17-square-mile patch of Kentucky that’s not physically attached to the rest of the state. The result of a surveying error in the late 18th century, the Kentucky Bend, as it’s known, is located in an oxbow bend of the Mississippi River at the state’s south-westernmost point, and connects with Tennessee directly to the south. The residents—all 17 of them—collect their mail in Tennessee, and have to drive 40 miles through Tennessee and back into Kentucky in order to vote.

16. One of the state’s most endearing roadside sights, a red-and-white water tower along Interstate 75 that reads “Florence Y’all,” is something of an accidental monument. Built in 1974, the tower originally read “Florence Mall” to promote a soon-to-be-built shopping center. State officials, though, said the tower violated state laws that restricted the height of advertisements. Rather than tear down the tower or repaint it, the mayor of Florence, C.M. “Hop” Ewing, decided to remove the “M” and replace it with a “Y” and an apostrophe. The revision cost the city less than $500. Today, there are T-shirts and even a local festival devoted to the water tower.

17. Bowling Green, located in western Kentucky, is home to the world’s only Corvette assembly plant. The one-million-square-foot compound was built in 1981, after GM decided to move the facility from St. Louis. Bowling Green is also home to the National Corvette Museum, where in 2014 a sinkhole opened up and swallowed nine cars.

18. Kentucky may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think barbecue, but pit masters throughout the state want you to know they’ve got some serious chops, too. Cuts of meat and sauces vary throughout the state: Hickman County, near the Mississippi River, offers smoked turkey with a vinegar and cayenne pepper sauce, while in Henderson County you’ll find brisket served with a tangy Worcestershire dip. Owensboro, which hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival every year, features signature mutton dishes, including a hearty stew of mutton, chicken and vegetables known as burgoo.

19. Kentucky is a playground for boaters, with more navigable miles of water than any other state in the continental U.S. Its 1100 miles of rivers and lakes are second only to Alaska.

20. In 1997, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources began reintroducing elk into eastern Kentucky, where they once roamed in the thousands but were hunted out of existence following the Civil War. Today, the herd numbers more than 10,000—by far the largest east of the Mississippi River. It’s a victory for conservationists, if not so much for residents who have complained about their yards and gardens getting trampled.

21. The longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave, is located in southern Kentucky. Spelunkers have explored nearly 400 miles of underground caverns to date, with untold more miles still awaiting discovery. Early guide Stephen Bishop called it a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.”


22. Kentucky has had some issues with its state slogan. In 2002, officials came out with “It’s That Friendly” and a corresponding license plate that showed a smiling sun rising over a field. Residents weren't feeling the cheery design, however, and after just a few years the state scrapped the effort in favor of a new license plate featuring the current slogan, “Unbridled Spirit.” That still hasn’t sat well with the ruthless citizen-editors of Kentucky. Two years ago, an ad firm in Lexington came up with a rogue campaign that’s gaining serious traction: "Kentucky Kicks Ass."

23. Write this one down and stick it on your fridge: Post-It notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

24. In 1930, Harland Sanders opened a service station in the town of Corbin and began serving up his original recipe fried chicken. Several years and scores of satisfied customers later, he opened a restaurant across the street, and the rest, well, is history. The Harland Sanders Café and Museum, as it's known today, is a shrine to Kentucky’s most famous chef.

25. The infamous family feud between the McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky and the Hatfields of Mingo County, West Virginia officially came to an end in 2003, when representatives from each side signed a truce on national television.

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
10 Pirate Landmarks You Can Visit
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hungering for a scurvy-ridden romp across the seven seas? We’ve mapped out an international journey that will take you through 10 historic places with maritime yarns to unravel. From a rediscovered wreck to the site of real buried treasure, these locales will set your timbers a-shivering.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1695, Scottish privateer William Kidd was hired by an English governor to fight pirates in the Indian Ocean. But he made one critical mistake. On January 30, 1698, he captured the Quedagh Merchant, a treasure-laden ship flying a French flag. Since England was at war with France, Kidd believed he had a legal right to seize this ship. However, a nobleman who stood to lose his riches on board complained to the British East India Company, which put out a call for Kidd’s arrest. Unable to prove his innocence, Kidd was convicted and hung by an English court in 1701.

As for the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd had abandoned the vessel and its final resting place remained unknown for centuries. Marine archaeologists discovered the wreck off the coast of Catalina Island in 2007. The site is now a protected marine area where divers can read about its history on underwater plaques.


Kristenlea71 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Born in Maryland, William Augustus Bowles was a British loyalist during the Revolutionary War. While stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he married into the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and, later, fought on behalf of both nations against Spain in the Gulf of Mexico. Bowles would later establish himself as a pirate and self-appointed representative of the Muscogee Nation, and secured Great Britain's support for establishing an independent Muscogee Republic. In those roles, he attacked numerous Spanish ships and was arrested by the Spanish authorities. He escaped from prison and was on his way back to Florida in the British schooner HMS Fox when it went aground on St. George Island at a site now called Fox Point. A historical marker commemorates the Fox’s wreck.


Howard Pyle, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Contrary to popular belief, most pirates did not bury treasure. (People who steal loot generally want to spend it right away.) In fact, the only pirate known to have stored booty underground was William Kidd. Prior his arrest by the British authorities in 1699, Kidd paid a visit to Gardiner’s Island, a spot between the forks of Long Island. Its owner, John Gardiner, agreed to let Kidd bury some valuables there. Accounts differ about what happened next. Some sources say that Gardiner decided to come clean and tell the colonial governor, Lord Bellomont, about the treasure. Others say that Bellomont learned of its whereabouts directly from Kidd. Either way, the loot was exhumed and taken to Boston. The gold, silver, and other valuable items were worth more than $1 million in today's U.S. dollars. Today, a stone plaque marks the spot.


Ejkastning, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1658, a group of buccaneers landed in Lynn, Massachusetts. Most were arrested, but a pirate named Thomas Veal escaped into the forest. Legend has it that a huge geologic formation now called Dungeon Rock became his hideout. Once a spacious cave, it was reduced to a pile of boulders by an earthquake, entombing Veal and his treasure within.

Almost a century later, a spiritualist named Hiram Marble, who believed Veal's ghost had contacted him from the afterlife, bought Dungeon Rock. He and his son, Edwin, spent their lives digging for the treasure but found nothing. Since then, the site has been incorporated into the Lynn Woods Reservation. A door bars the entryway to the rock's interior, which is open to visitors during certain times of the year. Nearby, you can pay your respects to Edwin Marble at his modestly marked grave.


Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Lafitte’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but he arrived in New Orleans around 1806 with his (alleged) brother, Pierre. They organized a fleet of smuggling vessels and conspired with potential business partners at a colleague's blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street. Now a popular bar, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

During the War of 1812, Lafitte offered his ample supplies, experienced sailors, and local knowledge to the American forces under General Andrew Jackson, in exchange for the release of some of Lafitte's men then in prison. At the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15, Jackson's and Lafitte's forces helped repel the British attack, and the two Lafitte brothers both received federal pardons.



Soon after the Battle of New Orleans, the city's elites grew tired of tolerating the Lafittes. In 1817, Jean Lafitte decamped to Galveston, Texas, with seven ships and a few dozen followers. They established a town called Campeche with its own boarding house, taverns, and courts, while continuing to prey on Spanish ships in the gulf and operating a large slave market. In 1821, the U.S. government ordered them to clear out. Nothing can be said with certainty about Lafitte's post-Galveston exploits. Just like his origins, Jean Lafitte’s fate remains the stuff of speculation.

A relic from his time in Galveston can be found at 1417 Avenue A, where Maison Rouge, Lafitte’s home and fortress, once stood. The grounds are protected by a chain-link fence, which also surrounds the remnants of a second building that was built on top of Maison Rouge’s foundation in 1870. Learn more at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast, a local attraction which focuses on Lafitte’s life and deeds.


m kasahara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blackbeard—whose real name was either Edward Teach, Edward Thatch, or some variant thereof—settled in Bath, North Carolina, for a brief period of quasi-retirement beginning in 1718. His place of residence was reportedly somewhere on Plum Point, an outcropping which cuts into Bath Creek. Despite his track record of plundering and theft, he was constantly getting dinner invitations from curious families. According to regional lore, he paid multiple visits to the Hammock House, an elegant white building thought to be the oldest surviving house in Beaufort, North Carolina. This city is also home to a gigantic Blackbeard statue on U.S. Highway 70. Beaufort’s branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum contains numerous Blackbeard artifacts.


JialiangGao, Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

In the Age of Sail, pirates operated in nearly all of the world's oceans. Île Sainte-Marie, near Madagascar, was a magnet for pirates back in the 17th and 18th centuries. The island had plentiful fresh fruit to prevent scurvy and convenient natural harbors for safe anchorages. So many crews visited the island regularly that trading posts run by and for pirates became a vital part of the local economy. In its heyday, more than 1000 pirates lived on the island. A great many now lay buried in a cemetery near Ambodifotatra, Île Sainte-Marie’s biggest city. The 30 on-site tombstones of pirates can be identified because they were given etched-in skulls, crossbones, or both.


Daniel Defoe, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Typically cited as the most successful pirate of all time, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was born in the Welsh village of Casnewydd-Bach in 1682. In 1719, the crew of the slave ship he worked on elected Roberts, an experienced navigator and seafarer, as their new captain. Roberts really seemed to like the name Royal Fortune, which he gave to multiple ships. He also authored a pirate’s code of conduct for his crew in 1721.

The dreaded “Black Bart” would seize more than 400 ships before he died in battle on February 10, 1722. His hometown acknowledges its native son with a memorial stone on the village green.


Charles Ellms, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our adventure ends with a visit to a place that once displayed Blackbeard’s severed head [PDF]. North Carolina's governor, Charles Eden, granted the pirate a pardon in exchange for a hefty share of his loot, which upset the colony's wealthy planters. The elites asked Virginia's governor, Alexander Spotswood, to get rid of Blackbeard permanently. Spotswood sent a naval force led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard to engage the pirate's crews in combat. Maynard caught Blackbeard by surprise in North Carolina's Ocracoke Inlet, and a great battle ensued, with Maynard coming out on top. Blackbeard was killed in the fight and Maynard mounted the pirate's head on the bowsprit of his ship on their way back to Virginia. Later it was suspended from a pole at Tindall’s Point, at the confluence of the James and Hampton rivers, where it served for several years as a warning to anyone else with piratical designs. Tindall Point is now called Blackbeard’s Point.


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