Tag Archives: Lexington

Q&A with Maryjean Wall, author of Madam Belle

WallCompF.inddIn this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment—her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.

Join the Kentucky Book Group on Thursday, September 20th from 6:30-7:30 at the Paul Sawyier Public Library for a riveting and engaging discussion on MADAM BELLE.

 

How did you first become acquainted with the story of Belle Brezing?

Soon after I moved to Lexington in the mid-1960s, I began to hear about Belle Brezing and the infamous mansion for men she had operated near downtown. She had been dead only twenty-some years and many people recalled her presence in this city. If you mentioned Belle’s name, people knew of whom you spoke. William H. Townsend, a Lexington attorney and historian, published a seven-page pamphlet in 1966 titled, “The Most Orderly of Disorderly Houses” and this pamphlet undoubtedly kept the legend going. Who wouldn’t have been interested in knowing more about this woman who ran a famous house of ill repute and was the prototype for the madam in Gone with the Wind? The mystery and mystique of Belle inspired me to explore further.

Belle was a businesswoman ahead of her time. Despite it being a brothel, what particular challenges did she face establishing and maintaining her own business?

She faced gender and poverty issues. In the beginning as a 15-year-old, when she’d already had a baby, seen her mother die, and been evicted by her mother’s landlord, Belle faced a grim future. She had a bad reputation in this city and probably was not going to get a job in a decent establishment. Or, perhaps she did not want to support herself in that traditional fashion. She turned to prostitution. But she did work her way up the financial ladder. It’s an amazing story.

The gender issues she faced were the same that all women faced in the 1880s, the 1890s and the early twentieth century. Women did not even have the vote yet. They could not exercise public power. Most women occupied the domestic sphere, raising families, and maintaining a home for their husbands. Belle chose to handle gender issues in non-traditional fashion. She worked disadvantages to her own advantage, improving her position in this community until she owned property, was wealthy, and operated at the city’s center of power.

What role did Lexington play in enabling Belle to develop her business as successfully as she did?

Lexington was a city of its time, embracing the 1890s notion that prostitution—called “a necessary evil” at the time—was best handled by segregating prostitutes into a red-light district. Any madam running prostitutes in her house was complicit in the corruption pervasive among city authorities. Also, Kentucky’s rising horse industry during the post-Civil War decades enabled Belle’s rise to power and fame, just as Belle’s identity as a southern belle played a role in crafting a most advantageous southern identity for Kentucky and its horse industry.

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ICYMI: Holiday News Break Edition

Welcome back from the holiday break! Pardon us while we brush off the cobwebs and shake out the mothballs in our brains…

Our break was full of all kinds of exciting news and tidbits, like this fascinating article from Terri Crocker (The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War) in the New Republic:

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“Perhaps it is time we stopped expecting history to behave like a good story—featuring obvious heroes and villains, a dash of irony and a clear moral, with a football match thrown in for good measure—and start assuming it looks more like real life: messy, inconclusive and hard to pin down. Since history is, after all, just life that happened in the past, it’s time for us to get over our need for simplicity, and accept that the past, just like the Christmas truce, is always a lot more complicated than we want to believe.”—Terri Crocker for the New Republic

Crocker also published an editorial, “Civility: The True Lesson of World War I’s 1914 Christmas Truce” in the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal.

Over the break we also celebrated Bradley Birzer’s russell_kirk7.inddRussell Kirk: American Conservative, a biography of the great public intellectual, being named one of the Library of Michigan’s Notable Books of 2016. Kirk’s The Conservative Mind shaped conservative thought in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Elsewhere, Russell Kirk was listed as one of the Best Books of the Year by Daniel McCarthy, editor of the American Conservative

The high-flying, tumbling, falling, gutsy heroines in Molly Gregory’s Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story have been featured in the New York Timesthe New Republic, Variety.com, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and now in the Washington Post.

“Much like the story of women in almost any industry, this one is a tale of struggle, progress and tempered triumph. . . . In her engaging and enlightening book, Gregory digs into this little-known corner of Hollywood history and gives voice to the women who have risked their lives for a few (perilous) moments on the big screen.”—Becky Krystal, Washington Post

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For the late holiday shoppers, The Baltimore Sun suggested Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of Our Greatest President, and the Louisville Courier-Journal had a whopping 38 suggestions for local books to give as gifts, including: Kentucky By Design, The Birth of Bourbon The Manhattan Cocktail, and Venerable Trees.

Bawden_Miller_CoverThis morning, on the first day back in the office after break, we were greeted with a lovely surprise from the inimitable columnist Liz Smith, who offers this excellent preview of Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era, one of our most anticipated books of 2016!

“[A] dazzlingly entertaining new book. . . . [Conversations with Classic Film Stars] is a treasure trove of info, scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.”—Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

We hope you had a restful holiday (or a grand adventure!) Holler at us in the comments or on Twitter and let us know how you spent your winter break.

A Spooky House in Lexington

We don’t know about you all, but the UPK team is getting really excited that Halloween is officially less than a week away! To help put you in a spooky state of mind, we have been rifling through our best ghost stories that are sure to give you goose bumps before October 31st. For our friends in Fayette County, we are unleashing a tale from Tales of Kentucky Ghosts by William Lynwood Montell, which recounts a memory from a woman who grew up here in Lexington, KY who had some strange encounters throughout her childhood, namely at one particular house in her neighborhood:

A Spooky House
Fayette County

“This is a story about what took place when I was a little girl about ten years old. The street behind the house where we lived had an old house located on Tahoma Road in Lexington. There was a lady that had lived there, but she moved to Florida, supposedly because her little girl had gone outside to a little pond [in the yard]. It was kinda like a fishbowl, and the little girl drowned in it. But the story goes on to tell that something like a demon or something pulled her under.

The old house was real old and creepy, had vines growing up all around it, and the grass was always not mowed. We could look inside the letter box that was on the door. We could lift it up and look inside the house, and when you looked in there, we always saw a light on the right at the top of the steps. You could see the living room if you looked real hard in the daytime, and there was candy in dishes that were always on the table. The chair there by the table, and the table itself, always looked like they had just been cleaned.

The strange part about it was that nobody lived there then. It was always real musty smelling, and there was always a kind of a cold feeling there. I mean that was when I was little and stuff. It was spookier then than I guess it would be now. But that was when I was little and we used to walk there and scare ourselves to death.”

Tory Combs, as told to Leslie Calk, Lexington, 1972.
Courtesy of Folklife Archives at Kentucky Library,
Western Kentucky University

For more creepy stories like this one, be sure check out the rest of Tales of Kentucky Ghosts.

Stop Two: St. Joe’s Oak

Happy first day of fall everyone! Considering this is one of the most beautiful times of the year due to the progression of tree leaves through many vibrant colors, we decided to make a pit stop on our Journey Through the Bluegrass road trip at one of Kentucky’s most historic trees: St. Joe’s Oak.

St. Joe’s Oak has an undocumented and impressive history in the bluegrass. Today, the tree can be found inside the parking structure at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, KY, but it has presumably been here since before Lexington was even founded. When St. Joe’s was originally built, there was much talk of tearing down the amiable arbor, however, the contractors could just not bring themselves to obstruct such a beautiful and historic site. Now a monument in the center of the St. Joseph’s parking structure, this giant oak still stands proud for all to look upon. If you want to make a pit stop to gaze upon this beauty, you may find it at One Saint Joseph Drive, Lexington, KY 40504.

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A photograph of St. Joe’s Oak in front of the newly build St. Joseph’s Hospital.

If you want to learn more about St. Joe’s Oak and other venerable trees of the bluegrass, check out our recently published book, Venerable Trees: History, Biology, and Conversation in the Bluegrass by Tom Kimmerer. Featuring more than one hundred color photographs, this beautifully illustrated book offers guidelines for conserving ancient trees worldwide while educating readers about their life cycle. Venerable Trees is an informative call to understand the challenges faced by the companions so deeply rooted in the region’s heritage and a passionate plea for their preservation.

And, bonus! We are actually giving away a copy of this book in honor of it being the first day of autumn, so happy fall, y’all! If you want to sign up for our book giveaway, click here! The sign ups will be active until the end of the day on Sunday, September 27, so don’t miss out!

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Stop One: Lincoln’s Boyhood Home

Welcome back to Journey Through the Bluegrass, folks! We are super excited to get started on this virtual road trip. Our first stop begins with a specific moment in the history of our great nation. As many of you history buffs probably know, today is the 153th anniversary of the date the emancipation proclamation was enacted by our great former president, Abraham Lincoln. In honor of this monumental feat towards the equality of mankind, we decided to pay some homage to the man responsible.

One of the most well-known facts about Kentucky is that this is where Lincoln grew up. I think we’ve all heard the term “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home” a couple hundred times too many, but how many of you can actually say that you’ve visited it? There are actually two locations that can still be seen today. This first is Lincoln’s first home, a log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky, in which the great president was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln on February 12, 1809. This home is still a standing structure, although may have looked closer to this image back in its prime:

To visit the birthplace unit, you can travel to this location: 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, Kentucky 42748.

A couple years later, at the ripe age of two and a half, this 16th president of the United States of America was uprooted from one log cabin to the next which was located on a farm on Knob Creek. While this location is also a memorial that you can physically travel to, we would advise that you wait until the latter part of this year since the site is currently under heavy construction. Should you find that you wish to travel there, the address is 7120 Bardstown Road, Hodgenville, Kentucky 42748.

For directions to either site based upon starting locations of various large cities, please visit this website.

Additionally, if the travel bug has bitten you already, you can explore the Mary Todd Lincoln house, the family home of the Abraham Lincoln’s First Lady, which can be found in Lexington, KY. The property was the Todd family residence from 1832 to 1849. Mary Todd resided here from the ages of 13 to 21, before moving to Springfield, Illinois, to live with a sister in 1839. There she met Abraham Lincoln and they were married in November 1842. To visit this historic home, the address at which it is located is 578 West Main Street, Lexington, KY.

The Mary Todd Lincoln house as it stands today in Lexington, KY.

Have we piqued your interest in Lincoln yet? You may want to spend more time getting this know one of the greatest presidents in history. If this is the case, you should check out our recently published book about this historic president’s last moments. In Lincoln’s Final Hours, author Kathryn Canavan takes a magnifying glass to the last moments of the president’s life and to the impact his assassination had on a country still reeling from a bloody civil war. With vivid, thoroughly researched prose and a reporter’s eye for detail, this fast-paced account not only furnishes a glimpse into John Wilkes Booth’s personal and political motivations but also illuminates the stories of ordinary people whose lives were changed forever by the assassination.

For more information on this title, click here or on the picture below.

Kathleen Driskell at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference 2015

One of Lexington’s most anticipated literary events is happening this weekend! The Kentucky Women Writers Conference is the longest running literary festival of women in the nation. Launched by the University of Kentucky in 1979, it is a premier destination for the celebration of women’s arts and letters. See some of the highlights from this year’s conference below.

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Also, don’t miss out on the opportunity to see one of UPK’s very own authors, Kathleen Driskell! She will be doing a reading at the conference from her most recent book, Next Door to the Dead, which features poems on Driskell’s life and experiences living in an old church that was just steps away from a graveyard.

“I’ve always loved Keats’s phrase “the mighty dead,” but I never understood it fully until I read Kathleen Driskell’s quietly explosive meditations on life and death. There’s a somber beauty to these poems; in them, the dead and living visit each other easily, singing of the rich mysteries on both sides of the divide.” — David Kirby

This Thursday is the grand opening of David Zurick’s art gallery, 38.05°N, 84.50°W!

Attention all art lovers! Be sure to clear your evening for this Thursday, February 19, 2015 and head over to the Mill & Max Contemplative Art Gallery for an evening of photography and ambiance. The evening will begin at 6 pm with the Opening Reception and Artist’s Talk with UPK author, David Zurick!

To prepare yourself for the event, catch yourself up Zurick’s works in the UPK books, Land of Pure Vision: The Sacred Geography of Tibet and the Himalaya and Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya.

Here are some of Zurick’s photos from the gallery “Sacred Geography series” on his website:

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Can’t make it to the grand opening? No worries. The gallery will be displayed from February 19 – March 22! We hope to see you there!