William H. Mumler: One of Photography’s First Forgers

Ever heard of Spirit Photography? The occupation entails exactly what it implies: the attempt to capture paranormal entities on film. The field has been disregarded completely now, and all of the photographs have pretty much been disproven, but it’s regarded as one of the biggest hoaxes in the early days of photography and one of the first instances of photography forgery. So in honor of the holiday that revels in bamboozlement, let’s take a look at these incredibly fake, but still uncanny, photographs.John_J_Glover

While it is common knowledge now, the idea of double exposing photos was a foreign concept when Spirit Photography came to public’s attention. After taking a self-portrait of himself in the early 1860’s, William H. Mumler (pictured below) discovered the outline of a figure standing behind him.

gm_10226501Mumler thought nothing of it, but the people he showed the photograph thought it resembled the likeness of his deceased cousin. Seeing the opportunity to make a profit, Mumler started his very own Spirit Photography business, operating as a medium for families that lost family members in the Civil War. His charade didn’t last long however; Mumler was brought to trial in 1869 on accounts of fraud. He was dumb enough to get caught by putting the ghostly apparitions of still living residents of Boston in his photographs. Not surprisingly, people started to recognize the “spirits” in their portraits walking down the streets. Mumler’s trial garnered so much attention that the famous P.T. Barnum testified against him, unsuccessfully though. Mumler failed to be found guilty, but his photography business was ruined, leaving him penniless until his death in 1884.   Mumler_(Herrod)

The most famous picture Mumler ever took was of Mary Todd Lincoln actually. Mumler didn’t know it was actually her at the time of photo, as she used the pseudonym at the time of the session. The photograph was widely circulated and is now known to be fake, but it one of the first examples of photography forgery.

Mumler_(Lincoln)Learn about more hoaxes, historical and mythical, from some of our books here.


Kentucky Travels: Books to Bring On Vacation

Are you going on a trip soon? Are you looking for the perfect book to bring along, but don’t quite know where to start? If you answered yes to both of those questions then keep reading! Today we are featuring some of our favorite new/vacation-related books to bring along on your next trip. Even if you aren’t going anywhere special we think you’ll really like these. Take a look:

  • Olmsted Parks of Louisville: A Botanical Field Guide by Patricia Dalton Haragan – This book combines nature, Kentucky, and history all in one! Featuring the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted; over 380 species of trees, herbaceous plants, shrubs; and where and how these plants grow in Kentucky; this book is interesting and resourceful for those nature enthusiasts.
  • The Kentucky Barbecue Book by Wes Berry – Just released in March of this year, this book is a feast for readers who are eager to sample the finest fare in the state.  What’s interesting about this book is that many of the establishments featured are dedicated to the time-honored craft of cooking over hot hardwood coals inside cinderblock pits. If you’re a food lover looking to spice things up, definitely check this book out!
  • Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 by Emily Satterwhite – We consider this one an oldie, but a goodie! As a 2011 winner of the Weatherford Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Sturm Award, this book is worth having in your collection, especially if you’re someone interested in popular culture and Appalachia. Satterwhite examines fan mail, reviews, and readers’ geographic affiliations to understand how readers have imagined the region and what purposes these imagined geographies have served for them.
  • Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder by Robert Crane – The title of this book certainly speaks for itself. Written by the son of star, Bob Crane, actor in Hogan’s Heroes. This book goes beyond the big stars and behind-the-scenes revelations to tell a riveting account of death, survival, and renewal in the shadow of the Hollywood sign and makes a profound statement about the desire for love and permanence in a life where those things continually slip away. A truly unforgettable and deeply human story we think you won’t be able to put down this spring break!

What do you think? Tell us in a comment below which book you’re most interested in!

Kentucky Travels: Our Top 10 State Parks in Kentucky

For today’s post we’ve put together a few of our favorite Kentucky state parks from The Complete Guide to Kentucky State Parks. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or something fun to do for the afternoon, we think you’ll find something you’ll like. (Photographs courtesy of parks.ky.gov)

  1. General Butler State Resort Park – Carollton, KY – Named after General William Orlando Butler who fought in the Revolutionary War, this is a place where visitors can hike the wooded trails along the ridges and cliff edges, paddle out on the lake, fish, or golf.
  2. White Hall State Historic Site – Richmond, KY – Featuring a ghost mansion with 44 rooms and full of rich, Kentucky history this is a very unique place to visit.
  3. Barren River Lake State Resort Park – Lucas, KY – A much less wooded, more open park that is great for a quiet getaway including a beach, pool, hiking trail, and golf course.
  4. Lake Cumberland State Resort Park – Jamestown, KY – A great place for fishing and hiking, this park is full of natural Kentucky wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.
  5. Carter Caves State Resort Park – Olive Hill, KY – If you ever wanted to tour bat caves this is the place for you. This gothic-style park features an underground Dance Hall and summer evening movies for visitors.
  6. Paintsville Lake State Park – Staffordsville, KY – A relatively new place founded in 1984, this state park features boating and a campground for those who just want a relaxing time with family.
  7. Lake Barkley State Resort Park – Cadiz, KY – A canal connects Lake Barkley to Kentucky Lake, forming the largest engineered body of water on earth. Beautiful and elegantly decorated, this is wonderful for a family vacation.
  8. Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park – Dawson Springs, KY – Named after the pennyroyal plant that grows here this is a more inconspicuous location but is beautiful year round. A lake, hiking trails, and beautiful scenery is what you can expect by visiting here.
  9. Breaks Interstate Park – Breaks, VA – This park is located across Virginia and Kentucky and is one of the most notable geological features in the United States. Whether you choose to kayak or explore the 60 different species of trees, this is the right place for those who want to embrace nature and encapsulate themselves in Kentucky wildlife.
  10. Kentucky Horse Park – Lexington, KY – We end this list with a place that is nearby our home at UPK. Horse exhibitions, art galleries, as well as the chance to ride the horses here are what intrigue visitors of this park.

What do you think? Tell us in a comment below if you plan on visiting any of these state parks! Don’t forget to check out Susan Reigler’s book The Complete Guide to Kentucky State Parks to learn more about other great Kentucky state parks to visit.

Kentucky Travels: Top Travel Destinations from My Old Kentucky Road Trip

Are you planning a trip to Kentucky anytime soon? You know, the Derby will be here before you know it. Whether you’re from Kentucky or are traveling here soon, My Old Kentucky Road Trip (a blog, and now a book, coauthored by current staff member, Cameron M. Ludwick and former staff member, Blair Thomas Hess) has a few suggestions for the next time you’re up for some uniquely Kentucky fun!

My Old Kentucky Road Trip

reposted with permissions from MyOldKentuckyRoadTrip.com; originally published November 17, 2011. Photos courtesy Elliott Hess Photography, elliotthess.com

Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union and the first on the western frontier. High Bridge located near Nicholasville is the highest railroad bridge over navigable water in the United States. Post-It Notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana; the exact number made annually of these popular notes is a trade secret. The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817. Pikeville annually leads the nation in per capita consumption of Pepsi-Cola. Teacher Mary S. Wilson held the first observance of Mother’s Day in Henderson in 1887; it was made a national holiday in 1916. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893. More than $6 billion worth of gold is held in the underground vaults of Fort Knox; this is the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville. Middlesboro is the only city in the United States built within a meteor crater.

There’s no other place like Kentucky.

©Elliott Hess Photography www.elliotthess.com

In the spirit of the Kentucky Department of Travel’s “There’s Only One” campaign, we’ve put together a short list of some of the “Only One” destinations we’ve visited. We’ve had a great time on our travels so far—we want you to enjoy the Bluegrass State as much as we do!

  1. Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World
    OK, we’re a little biased here. We’re both born and raised Lexintonians, and we’ll be the first to tell you there’s no where else in the world like it. The rolling hills of Bluegrass and sweeping fields of thoroughbred horse farms are just the start of its beauty. While you’re there, take a walk through Gratz Park or visit downtown and Cheapside Park. There are tons of great things to do in Lexington
  2. Take to the high seas Ohio River on the Belle
    The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamer docked on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. Take day cruises, dinner cruises or special event cruises. A few years ago, our friends joined us for a special fireworks cruise on the Belle on the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful night of dancing and fireworks.
  3. Take a tour of Bourbon Country
    We road tripped to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. It was a fun an informative day full of good friends and great bourbon. But the Maker’s Mark distillery is just one stop on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. 95 percent of all bourbon is distilled, aged and bottled right here in Kentucky. That makes it a must-see.©Elliott Hess Photography www.elliotthess.com
  4. Hang out with the buffalo in Land Between the Lakes
    Blair has a soft spot for Land Between the Lakes and the bodies of water that surround it (Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley). Her grandparents live in one of the neighboring counties, and she spent countless summers growing up there with her brothers and sister. Enjoy the great food, all of the miniature golf, the lovely resorts along the lake — Lake Barkley State Resort ParkKentucky Lake State ParkPrizer Point, just to name a few — and if you look close enough, you’ll even spot a few buffalo. How very uniquely Kentucky.
  5. Whether to rock climb or to eat some delicious pizza, people come from around the world to see Red River Gorge
    This canyon system on the Red River in east-central Kentucky is about 44 square miles of high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, waterfalls and rock shelters. ‘The Red’ attracts rock climbers and boulder-ers from around the world to experience the tons of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone. When you’re there, be sure to check out Natural Bridge State Park. This natural sandstone bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. And don’t you dare leave without stopping at Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. Some of the best pies we’ve ever tasted.

Check out more of the items from the “There’s Only One Kentucky” list here.

©Elliott Hess Photography www.elliotthess.com

Photo by Guy Mendes

Kentucky Travels: Featuring One of Our Favorite Kentucky Writers

When you live in Kentucky, it’s hard not to be Kentucky proud, and we’ve certainly got a lot to be proud of! Wonderful sports, parks, derby races, food, bourbon—the list goes on. Part of what makes Kentucky so great is the support and love you feel as a community, and today we are sharing one of our favorite Kentucky native authors, Gurney Norman.

Gurney Norman is a professor at the University of Kentucky in the English Department and currently teaches and advises students interested in creative writing. He started out as a student at the University of Kentucky, and, after graduating, moved to California to attend Stanford. Being from a small town in eastern Kentucky has not limited Gurney to one place. As a young writer Gurney traveled across the country, and his experiences have been reflected in his writing throughout the years. Gurney has written numerous books and essays, including Divine Right’s Trip: A Folk-Tale and Kinfolks (“Fat Monroe” was actually made into a short film that you can view here). He also was a contributor to Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes which is published by the University Press of Kentucky. In addition,  Gurney has over 16 awards/honors to his name, including being named Poet Laureate in 2009–2010.

Gurney has left his mark on the hearts of the people of Kentucky through his writing, his teaching, and his storytelling, and we thought he deserved this honorable mention. While corresponding in email with Gurney, we discussed his writing and I decided to ask him the question: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What made you want to pursue a writing career? To which he answered:

“I was fifteen when I actually wrote a complete story. It was a mystery story in which a boy was fighting his ‘evil’ uncle on a narrow footbridge only inches above the raging waters of a river in flood. The man was his uncle-by-marriage. The aunt was out of the picture, suggesting that the man had murdered her. The bridge might be swept away at any moment but the boy and man kept on fighting. I can’t remember the boy’s name. My later stories featured a boy named Andrew. In this first story I imagined the boy to be about twelve years old.
Unfortunately I did not write the last page of the story, so it still is not finished. I seem to have lost the manuscript some time in the past sixty years. The story was handwritten, about seven or eight pages.

Interestingly, to me at least, my father had died about a month before I wrote the story. It was not about my father but I was still in a certain mood following my father’s funeral so I do feel a connection between the two events.”

Gurney’s writing heavily involves family and traditions, reflecting his deeply rooted love for Appalachian culture. Being raised in both Virginia and Kentucky, Gurney feels a strong connection to the land and the people of Kentucky and has involved himself in Appalachia his whole life. Even though Gurney has been firmly rooted in the Bluegrass for quite some time now, this did not keep him from spending time out west or joining the U.S. Army.

If there is one thing we can learn from Gurney, it’s to remember where we came frombut to not forget to travel, explore, and grow. As Kentuckians we should always be proud of where we come from, and we can show this by traveling and cultivating ourselves in the outside world and through our writing and creative outlets. Kentucky is a wonderful place. Let us show the world how great it truly is.



Kentucky Travels: Buffalo Trace Distillery

If you’re from Kentucky then I’m sure you’ve heard the name Bourbon Country before. While Kentucky is known for basketball, horses, and fried chicken; bourbon also tops this list as a favorite among the 21+ crowd, providing a popular tourist attraction for locals and non-locals. Whether you’re travelling near or far for spring break, Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries are a great place to check out.Reigler_Cover_HI

Kentucky is home to several bourbon distilleries, employing over 3,000 people and generating $3 billion in gross state product. It’s no wonder bourbon is so important to Kentuckians, but how much do we really know about bourbon production or the history of the distilleries in Kentucky? Susan Reigler and Pam Spaulding’s book Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide details some very important information on bourbon and the distilleries located here in the Bluegrass state. One, very notable distillery mentioned in this book is called Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Located in Frankfort, Kentucky, Buffalo Trace is just a short 40-45 minute drive from Lexington. With over 200 industry awards, Buffalo Trace has certainly outperformed all other distilleries in the area. They offer several different tours: The Trace Tour, The Post-Prohibition Tour, The Hard-Hat Tour, and The Ghost Tour. (Each tour is also complimentary, so you really have no excuse to not visit!) Each of these tours are unique and offer a variety of interesting information on Kentucky’s first bourbon distilling industry. With over 100 buildings and 130 acres of land, you can’t possibly explore it all at once. No matter when you visit you can always come back and learn something new each time. Whether you want to learn about the Buffalo Trace’s rich history, view the beautiful architecture, or visit a haunted mansion – Buffalo Trace is the right place for you.

If you want to learn more about these wonderful distilleries located in Kentucky, pick up a copy of Reigler and Spaulding’s book Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide. This book includes nearly 150 full-color photographs and a bourbon glossary, following the Urban Bourbon Trail and the localities surrounding it. Reigler and Spaulding also share their favorite restaurants, lodging areas, attractions, and shopping centers nearby. This book is essential to those who are looking for something fun to do on vacation, or for the locals who just want to spend a day exploring.

Here are a few pictures one of our interns, Nicole, took from a visit this past week. We’d love to see your travel pics, tweet us them @KentuckyPress!

Tell us in the comments below, what are you doing over spring/summer break?

Dancing with ‘Charles Walters’ by Brent Phillips

via New York University Newsoriginally published March 11, 2015

The MGM ‘Company Man’ Who Made Everybody Dance

A conversation with Brent Phillips, author of Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance. For more on the book, or to purchase via the University Press of Kentucky, please visit our website.

Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent PhillipsBrent Phillips knew he wanted to be a dancer from the time he first saw the movie Singin’ in the Rain, at the age of 13. The revelation inspired a ritual unusual for someone his age—tuning in to his local PBS channel each week to watch Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 50s.

It also shaped the course of his life: Within a decade, Phillips would become a soloist in New York City’s renowned Joffrey Ballet. But when he finished his career dancing, a new passion emerged. To ensure that the beauty of each fleeting performance lived beyond photos and newspaper reviews, Philips transitioned to work as an audiovisual archivist at NYU’s Fales Library, where since 2003 he’s been safeguarding nearly 90,000 pieces of media in the library’s theater, music, dance, television, and cinema collections.

Over the years, though, Phillips never quit thinking about something that had puzzled him since those adolescent days geeking out in front of the TV. Who was Charles Walters? He’d noticed the name in the credits to several favorite movie musicals—Easter Parade, High Society,and many others—but when he searched for details on the mysterious man, he rarely found more than a bare-bones biographical sketch: “dancer turned choreographer turned director.” His curiosity grew and grew.

Finally, Phillips realized that if he wanted to learn the whole Charles Walters story, he’d have to piece it together himself—by pouring over archival documents, searching for rare footage,  and interviewing Walters’ few surviving colleagues and friends. In December 2014, the University Press of Kentucky published his book Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, the first-ever full-length biography on the idol he now refers to familiarly as “Chuck.”

Walters, born in California in 1911 and raised on a diet of touring vaudeville shows, headed east to dance on Broadway for a decade—to rave reviews in shows like Cole Porter’s Jubilee and DuBarry Was a Lady and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s I Married an Angel—before making a go at Hollywood. Though he had little formal training and liked to describe himself as “a lucky, poor little son of a bitch from Anaheim who never had a dancing lesson,” Phillips points out that in New York he worked with legends like George Balanchine and Albertina Rasch—and closely shadowed Robert Alton, the veteran Broadway choreographer who would eventually create the dance sequences in beloved films such as White Christmas.

Starting out on just a four-week contract, Walters quickly made himself indispensable to MGM by demonstrating a knack for accommodating the idiosyncrasies—and overcoming the insecurities—of the day’s A-list personalities, from Joan Crawford and Esther Williams to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Walters was particularly adept at making non-dancers feel comfortable with choreography, and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Judy Garland, whose movement he directed in Meet Me in St. Louis, including that film’s famous trolley scene. The fact that he was gay and relatively open about it, for the time—sharing a home with his longtime partner John Darrow, a prominent Hollywood agent—didn’t seem to hinder his success.

Crucially, Walters developed a reputation for being able to “save” pictures that just weren’t working—including Gigi, for which director Vincent Minnelli ultimately won an Academy Award, but only after Walters smoothed the edges of some scenes that hadn’t gone over well in a sneak preview. Evolving from dance director (on 14 films) to director (on 21 films) over the course of a 22-year career at MGM, Walters choreographed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ final dances together in The Barkleys of Broadway, directed Doris Day in her last last big musical, Jumbo, and led Debbie Reynolds to an Oscar nomination for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among a long list of achievements. He earned his own Academy Award nomination for director for Lilli, starring Leslie Caron.

After a brief stint teaching film at the University of Southern California, he died of lung cancer in 1982.

Beyond giving this largely forgotten Hollywood hitmaker his due, Phillips’s book also offers a fond look back at a style of film whose open-hearted earnestness and unbridled exuberance some of us, in this, an age of irony and cool aloofness, might miss more than we’d care to admit.

As Ethan Mordden put it in a review for the Wall Street Journal, “This is the story of a time in American culture when our life coaches were singers and dancers, because they made happy endings look easy, even deserved. Forget your troubles and just get happy.”

NYU Stories asked Phillips, with his dancer’s eye for joyous elegance, to try and help us recapture that feeling.

Eileen Reynolds

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