Sunday, June 27, 2010

Books and Barbaro! Churchill Downs

A Hot Day at the Racetrack

Continuing on my little visit to Louisville last month, I took one afternoon to visit the track and facilities of Churchill Downs, the famed location of the Kentucky Derby. I didn't realize that it was actually in Louisville itself, and is fairly easy to access. It is situated in the southern portion of the city, near the Louisville airport. The day that I went on the tour it continued to be blazing hot in Louisville, and I attempted to find a place to hide from the relentless sun. A group from the ATLA conference took a bus (with air-condition!) to the track and headed in quickly to the inside of the Churchill Downs buildings, where the Kentucky Derby Museum was located. Unfortunately, we didn't spend much time indoors, instead we went out back to see the stables, but again most of us retreated for shade during the tour of the grounds.

There were a few books on premises, so I snapped some images for your viewing pleasure. Most of them were in the book shop, such as this one called "Gallopalooza!"

Some horses resting in the museum stable area.

And everyone had a designated "parking space," though it was unclear if this was for their car or their horse?

The area where bets are placed (above) and continuation of the massive complex (below).

Above the view from the stands, as well as others viewing the track below (on the tour).

The bibliotourist pauses to take shelter from the sun.

The track is really a remarkable piece of engineering, even though it is an old dirt/sand track. Here's an eye-level view.

Again, pausing for photos. Below we discovered old-technology emissions. And I must announce that I was not the only one on this tour photographing these processed piles of equestrian product! It was as if the tour group had seen thoroughbred gold! Snap! Snap! Snap!

We retreated back into the cool-air museum to rest and enjoy the history, before getting back on the bus. Below we find an exhibit of ladies' hats and jockey uniforms.

Finally some books!--here was a book display of some Stephen Foster artifacts, which were quite interesting. Specifically "My Old Kentucky Home!"

Of course, there were some more desirable biblio-items in the book and gift shop. And I figured these would bring us back to our biblio-earth. For those of you who enjoy the photos, I've kept the writing down today. I figured I wouldn't...pardon me..."horse around" with some extra verbiage. And I've got a whole lot more to write about this week. So stay tuned and enjoy!

On Louisville Streets: Libraries, Lewis, Levees, and Ali

Some Curiosities...and a Few Books

Continuing on my jaunt through Louisville, I discovered a handful of attractions that were of either natural or historical interest. And then a few others, which I thought were of "display value." One such curiosity was this street number, for a building, which indicated either the present location of the "Falls City Clothing" shop, or the original location. I wasn't looking closely enough to determine this though. All I saw were rectangular stones with engraved numbers and images, such as this one. And it was so out-of-the-ordinary, that I decided to snap a photo of it! This was located not far from the Louisville Slugger museum, and there were other similar "building numbers" located along the sidewalk.

The morning was getting increasingly hot and humid, so I continued to my next destination: the Muhammad Ali Center and Museum. The building is quite extraordinary--very modern, seemingly well-built, and with various touches of artistic flare. When you are at a distance, either across the river in Indiana or on one of the riverside walkways, you can see the image of a boxing Ali done up in a metal lattice-work along the top of the structure. During a tour I went on later in the day, the tour guide told us that the roof of the building is in the shape of a butterfly and you can see that from the air! (Remember: "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!") That was Ali's famous quote, and the architects and designers took in many ideas and concepts around the legendary boxer when they built this structure.

Of course, one of my interests was to find some books about Ali or at the Center. But there was one hitch: the morning I went to visit, the air conditioning system broke down. When I entered I was told that the museum was closed because of this. It was quite hot and humid inside. They told me that they'd have to keep the museum closed for at least a week or so, because that's how long it would take to fix the problem. So, I was rather disappointed by this. I also asked whether or not they had an Ali library. The folks at the front desk didn't seem to know. One said they didn't think there was one; the other said no. But then I met a fine gentlemen, who was actually a docent, and he offered me free tours upon my next visit to Louisville. He did know about the books and library of the Ali Center. Down in the lobby, where I was still standing, he pointed up above our heads and said: "right up there--we're building a library and research center. It's not done yet. But you can come back when it is!"

Before leaving, I checked out the gift and book shop...sort of! Well, the fact was that the shop was closed. As you can see from the sign: "Retail Closed Due to Extreme Heat." It probably should have said "Store Closed Because of Broken AC System." So, in the end, I didn't really get to see any Muhammad Ali books or library or research center, or even the museum itself. And all because of a broken cooling system! I wonder what the champ would think if he knew his center was being compromised by a little wimpy heat!? I mean, come on now, when did heat stop a boxing match? (Oddly, the icon on this sign looks like a building on fire!)

Now, on this very same morning, with the "extreme heat" closing the Ali Center, I found this woman sitting on a bench...reading in downtown Louisville! Of course, I had to take a photo of this Herculean pose: readers and readership on the street! It wasn't too hot for her to pause on a downtown bench, pull out a volume and read a bit under the warm gaze of the morning sun. Note also, she is sitting in front of a Print Shop. A small sign above and to the left of the reading woman shows this. It seems as if readers are like the post matter rain or shine, sleet or snow, they still deliver! ...or read! Reading in sleet might be hard, though.

On this same afternoon we were on a bus tour to see some of the "hot spots" of Kentucky history, and this included crossing over into foreign territory: Indiana, which rests on the north shores of the Ohio. And in antebellum times, Indiana was free territory. In fact, this region was a trading and auction center for slaves, which makes the Church history of the Ohio River Valley very complex--since it was also the same region where the Beecher family ended up after preacher Lyman's move from the east coast in the early 19th century to Lane Seminary. And it was his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was surely influenced by the happenings in this area. The biography of McCormick Seminary finds its predecessor seminaries not far from where these photos were taken, in New Albany, Indiana--where the school remained for a dozen or so years in the 1840s onward, before moving again and finally to Chicago. Louisville was a key location between Cincinnati and the Mississippi trade economy, where human "cargo" could be moved easily over water. It makes one pause to think about the geo-politics of our own country and how it once was, ...a river dividing freedom from slavery.

Below one of the major rapids (seen above), which has been partially tamed by the Army Corps of Engineers, there is one of the largest fossil beds in the world. During our visit it was covered by runoff from excessive rains. The statue below depicts Lewis and Clark (even though it looks more like Lewis and Napoleon!). As the tour guide noted, many cities claim that the expedition started "in their city." This was Indiana's claim! Louisville, too, has many commemorative signs and even some statues depicting York, Lewis and and Clark's black scout and co-traveler, who played a major role in the expedition, but is often lost in our public school history books.

The Ohio River used to flood quite frequently, and the image above is of a cement levee. Other portions are made of raw earth. Transitioning back into Kentucky and Louisville, from our sojourn into Indiana, we find the public library system: below is a side image of the Louisville Public Library...

The old facade and main entrance above and below are beautifully crafted and Carnegiesque. The link is, for those interested. According to this site, Louisville has had a library since 1816! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to go inside the library, but it looked very impressive. Simply too many other things to do during the visit. And as I noted, it was quite hot. So it was more inviting to be on an air-conditioned bus covering far more ground, than peddling on a bike and getting sun-burned! Books and sun-burn? Now that's an interesting combo. Perhaps I should have called today's entry "Books and (Surviving the) Heat."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Books and Bats (Sluggers, that is!)

Looking through a Window, Darkly?

One of the most touristy places in all of Louisville is the Louisville Slugger factory. This showroom, museum, factory, and gift/book shop are all held under one roof. It is located on Main Street along with the SAR Research Library, the Frazier International History Museum, and many other fine stores and coffee shops. I took the tour of the factory, which was rather impressive, and which pumps out a brand new Louisville slugger (bat) every few seconds. Blocks of wood go through an automated process--nearly everything is driven by fancy computer systems, replicating the exact details of bat design, which are formed by templates. The wood blocks used to be carved out by hand on rotating platforms, and would take the better part of an hour. Now the computers control the details and spit them down conveyer belts in seconds.

Here's a link to the museum:

A few books can be seen in the gift and book shop here.

Inside the museum and gallery were other examples of "books." This one above was a display, but made in book-form. And below is an exhibit at the entrance of the tour in the factory. We were not allowed to photograph the factory or its processess, but this display gives an idea of the work behind the Louisville slugger.

And, of course, no baseball museum would be complete without a wax statue of Babe Ruth!

Unmistakable. That's the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. You can't miss the darn place, when you walk through downtown. It has a signiture bat that stands taller than the building itself, the world's largest bat! So, if you're ever in Louisville, and you want to find some books on baseball, or just see how the sluggers are made, "swing" by. You'll even get a "free" mini-bat at the end of your tour. Just remember to check it in your luggage. Airlines consider it a weapon and the Louisville airport has a container full of confiscated mini-bats from the musuem. Better off carrying a book. It's a less obvious weapon.

The Boone Bible

The Boone Family Bible

One of the most interesting places I visited during my Louisville trip was the Frazier International History Museum. Now that name is a bit curious, when you think about it. I must admit, I had no idea what an "international history" museum would have exactly. In fact, it is "international" in some regards, but its focus appears to be military and weapons history. But let me back up a moment and introduce this piece with a little secret. When I visited the museum one early morning--I think it opens at 9AM, and there were plenty of school children running about on tours--I went up to pay for my ticket at the front counter. The woman behind the desk asked if I were a student.

I said "No--no more!" The tickets were listed as either $9 or $10 for adults. Students get a reduced entry fee. But then, for some reason, I said, "but I'm an educator!" It just came out of me. I'm a librarian. I teach classes and seminars and workshops. So it just came out. Then another woman who worked at the museum overheard me and piped up: "well, teachers get in for free!" Well, that's the best discount of them all then! The woman behind the counter said: "do you have your work ID?" I did. And I handed it to her. "That works for me," she responded. And I got my free ticket. And I went in to enjoy another fine museum. It always seems like the best times are had when the best deals are had. Like a good meal, it tastes better when it doesn't cost much. Of course, this isn't always true, and sounds a bit cheap-skate-ish. But there is some psychology there.

What I'd say also, though, is that by giving me free admission, I'm more likely to donate to this museum, because they provided this option. And I'm more likely to respond positively to museums and institutions who treat patrons well. Back to the point of this museum and its bookish wares: this was overwhelmingly a weapons and war museum. When I mentioned this to someone during the conference, I was told that they changed the name of the museum or had considered its potential names for publicity reasons. They figured that not many people would want to come to a "war" or "military" or "weapons" museum outside of the middle-aged male demographic. So they reformulated and reformatted it to "international history." Don't get me wrong, it's a fine and informative museum. Just a lot of guns and weaponry.

My main interest, of course, was in the books. There was a gift and book shop in the museum, right near the entrance. You can see part of it here. But the real gem, in my opinion, was the Boone family Bible, which can be seen in the first photographs of today's blog. The placard notes that the Bible doesn't conclusively show that it actually belonged to Daniel Boone himself; rather it was his family's Bible. Still, this is a fine bit of bibliographic history, and one which I'm rather fascinated by. There is a certain bit of mystique to the possessions of famous people, but even greater mystique to the possessions of legendary people, like Daniel Boone. Perhaps this goes with the fact that we don't have a photographic image of such characters, like Boone, who have been turned into veritable Greek myths of the American frontier. And the closest we get to such illuminations of the past in our own space and time is through their objects. It is a bit like Roman Catholic reliquaries containing the bones, blood, or hair of a saint. It somehow emotes a magical-mystical aura of history, power, and godliness...into the present.

Now this Bible may not even have been held by Daniel Boone, but it was certainly in the possession of his family. And still, it possessed, at least for me, that sort of powerful semiotic function of binding the (perhaps created) heroic past of a Kentucky frontier with the less than heroic, quiet, uneventful, sunny morning in downtown 21st century Louisville. Sometimes a 200-year-0ld Bible will do that to a person: leather-bound word o' God meets iPods and cafe latte. That's a bit of a culture shift. The artifacts of history will undoubtedly make you reflect, and consider a world without such amenities and pleasantries as soy milk, espresso, air conditioning, and GPS. All Daniel Boone had was his cap, satchel, and musket! And probably a Bible.