Sunday, June 27, 2010

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."

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