Friday, October 29, 2010

My Library Memories

I can remember the first time I went to the Mercer County Public Library, it was still located in historic Morgan Row. The building was old and this was in the late 1960s, so the wooden floors squeaked as you walked across them. Although the building held only a limited number of books, it was like the church sanctuary to me. I felt calm and at peace and free to touch and look at all the old books.

I didn’t get to go to the library much when it moved to the corner of Lexington and Main Street, but I did use the Bookmobile. I can’t remember what day the Bookmobile came to Riverview, but I always had a list of books I was looking for. Many times the Bookmobile Librarian would recommend a new book, but more times than not, she would have to bring the books I wanted back to me in two weeks.

As an elementary student, my favorite library was at Mercer County Elementary School. Ms. Joy Gash instilled the love of books and reading into my heart and I’ll forever be grateful to her. She always knew the perfect books to choose for me and many times would quiz me on what I had read. Even at this early age, I grew an attachment to certain books and when I started my own home library, these were the books I started with. “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Little Women,” “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” and the “Betsy” books were just a few of my favorites. I never was much for Nancy Drew, but I loved Trixie Belden.

It was my babysitter’s daughter who got me attached to Trixie Belden. I read all her books and then had to have my own collection. These were my pride and joy and I read each one of them so many times, I knew them by heart. Momma would always take me to J. J. Newberry Department Store on Main Street to find the newest book.

When I was 16, I thought I had outgrown Trixie, so I let a neighbor girl borrow my books – I never saw them again. When I started having children of my own, I would buy Trixie Belden books to read to them, but by this time, the books were all paperback. If I’m going to have a book in my home collection, it has to be a hardcover –unless the book comes no other way.

I had the Whitman 1970s edition of the hardcover books – the original 16 books. One year for Christmas, my wonderful hubby surprised me with a boxed set of all 16 of the Trixie books, just like the ones I had. He had monitored eBay for weeks trying to find just the right editions and the most perfect condition. You could tell that the girl who owned this new set of books had loved them and read them often, because I could feel her presence in every well-worn page and gently cracked spine. This has been one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever.

When I had my first children, the library was one of the first places I took the girls when they were old enough to behave in public. At three and four-years-old, Marie and Amber would attend summer library story hour with Mrs. Kathleen Day and the girls loved it. We would check out several books for the week. It was harder to make time for the library when I started nursing school, but we made do by checking out even more books when we went.

By the time Christine was born, Marie and Amber were not as interested in reading and had quit letting me read to them at bedtime. So, I read to Christine, even though she wasn’t old enough to understand.

When Christine was old enough to attend the library story time, Mrs. Day was still there and Christine fell instantly in love with her. We couldn’t check out enough books to last a full week and we ended up making two to three trips to the library per week.

Christine loved books so much, she started to have her own favorites, just like I did. If we would check out the same book more than four or five times from the library, then we would have to try and buy this book to have at home. Sometimes these books were easy to find; others were a little harder because they were older. One example is “The Best Little Christmas Tree” – we had to have it ordered from Tony Sexton’s bookstore that used to be where the Mercer Humane Society is now. We still read this book at Christmas and it still makes me cry.

About three years ago, I started a book blog – Bobbi’s Book Nook – and would post reviews of the books I read. It is unbelievable the number of book review blogs there are on the Internet. I was shocked; I had no idea there were so many. Even though the blog was for my personal use – mainly to help me keep track of the books I had read – I soon realized I enjoyed writing books reviews. Now I have a book review column “Kentucky Monthly Magazine” and for “GoodReads.”

With the opening of the brand-new Mercer County Public Library, I feel like a little kid again. No longer creeping across creaky wooden floors, but browsing almost 10,000 square feet of books and magazine. Some people may think enlarging the library was a waste of time and money, but for avid readers like myself, it is a treasure to the versatility of our community.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hallowed and Hushed

Unknown. Hallowed and Hushed be the place of the dead. Step Softly. Bow Head.

Living in Harrodsburg my entire life, I have a sentimental attachment to Youngs Park, located on Linden Avenue, between the Mercer County Fairgrounds and James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital. I have so many memories of playing in the park, eating picnic lunches and attending family functions. My Granny Devine lived within walking distance of the park and I’ve walked the short block from her home so many times, I could walk it blindfolded.

Youngs Park has always been one of my favorite places to escape to when looking for a nice, quiet lunch. Many times I have driven behind the park to the lower picnic tables and enjoyed a sandwich while watching the antics of the squirrels. The squirrels have become so used to human contact, they will sit within easy reach of picnic tables or cars, eagerly waiting for a scrap of bread or a French fry to be thrown their way.

Many of my fondest memories of Youngs Park occurred during my Girl Scout years and our annual summer Day Camp. One week of each summer was dedicated to numerous scouting projects with a different theme for each day. I can remember tie-dying T-shirts, painting pictures, cooking over a campfire, learning how to mark trails, just to name a few activities. During the summer of 1971, our favorite song to sing – and we sang it at the tops of our voices – was Three Dog Night’s “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” We thought we were so cool.
The highlight of the Day Camp would be the sleepover on Friday night. For the sleepover, the Boy Scouts would come and help us set up tents in the back portion of the park. Camping out was exciting and we looked forward to it every year. Campfires, homemade stews, and s’mores were all on the list of activities.

Another eager awaited tradition for the sleepover was the telling of ghost stories. Because most of the Girl Scouts ranged in age from 8 to 14, we were all susceptible to having the beegeezus scared out of us! And Youngs Park was the perfect backdrop for these scary stories because of the legend of the “girl who danced herself to death.”

I’ve heard the story all my life – an unknown young girl arrived at the long-gone Graham Springs Hotel and attended a lavish ball where she danced all night. She eventually danced herself to death, collapsing onto the ballroom floor at the feet of her partner. She was buried in an unknown grave on the Graham Springs property. It is only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve had the desire to check more into this legend.

Historic Graham Springs was located in the area of the current Physician’s Park and Haggin Hospital and was on the site of a natural spring. There were numerous springs in the Harrodsburg area and they were reported to have healing and restorative properties.

This Spring, that would eventually be called Graham Springs, was turned into a spa as early as 1807. In 1827, Dr. Christopher C. Graham purchased the Springs and in 1842 constructed the main hotel, Graham Springs Hotel. The hotel was a brick four-story building which Graham said would hold one thousand people.

Graham charged a fee of $20 per month to stay at the Springs and “take the waters.” Not only did guests enjoy and benefit from healing waters, they also joined in a lively social season which lasted from June until September. Balls and other entertainment occupied the guests while they drank the mineral waters. Graham claimed the waters helped to alleviate the aches and pains of people who suffered from such aliments as gout, rheumatism, dropsy, neuralgia, and “Autumnal fevers.”

Often called the “Saratoga of the West,” Graham Springs flourished until 1853, when it was sold to the United States Government for use as a military asylum for aged and invalid soldiers. Fire later destroyed main buildings and the place fell into disuse.

Sometime between 1842 and 1853, legend says a beautiful young lady appeared at the Springs. No one knew who she was, but it is rumored she came from “down South.” When arriving at the Springs, she signed the guest register with a fictitious name. After her dancing death, she became known as the “unknown lady,” although most people from Mercer County still refer to her as “the lady who danced herself to death.”

After her death and burial at the Springs, a mon-ument honoring her was erected. Currently, the tomb is located between the road and the shelter house, with a sign bearing the words:
Hallowed and
Hushed be the
place of the dead.
Step Softly.
Bow Head.
As I child, I thought I saw the ghost of this mysterious lady on numerous occasions, but as I’ve grown older, I realize it was probably mass hysteria brought on by ghost stories around the campfire. Although, there was one night in 2004, as I was leaving work at the Haggin Hospital at three o’clock in the morning, I would swear I saw a woman dancing through the park. She appeared to be dressed in white and was walking near one of the large oak trees in the middle of the park. Thinking back, it was probably exhaustion or my mind playing tricks on me. But then again …

Added note: As recently as 2002, an article appeared in the Mercer’s Magazine claiming to have finally learned the identity of this unknown woman. This article can be read in its entirety at:

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank my brother-in-law, Don Rightmyer, from the Kentucky Historical Society for helping me find information on Graham Springs.