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  • michellebennington

Mysteries & Histories: A Slice of Kentucky

In the past couple weeks, I've had the great pleasure of attending two fascinating lectures. One was at the public library in my town and the other was at a historical home dated back to the late 1700s. Mysteries, true crime, and history are my absolute favorite genres, so it was a little like being a kid in a candy store--a strange, bloody, old candy store that Stephen King might envision. Okay, I'm really laboring on that metaphor, so I'll move on.

First, the true crime lecture. Keven McQueen is a fellow Kentucky author whom I've only just recently met. Oddly enough, several years ago I happened upon one of his books Offbeat Kentuckians, which is full of funny, strange, and bizarre true stories based in Kentucky's history--and there are some doozies.

Flash forward to 2023, he somehow, for some reason, located me on Facebook and we've been communicating there for a few months until we finally met recently. He was kind enough to purchase my book, Devil's Kiss, and I brought Offbeat Kentuckians to the lecture with me and we signed each other's books. That was cool and fun. After his lecture though, I just had to purchase a couple more of his books. I can't wait to dive into them. I don't care to tell you that reading true crime and true history is where I get a lot of my ideas. Of course, at this moment, I have more ideas than I can shake a stick at, so I kind of afraid of reading his books because I'm concerned I'm going to inadvertently open up a can of new ideas.

Nevertheless, speaking of candy stores, I thought I'd share one of the stories McQueen mentioned in his lecture. I want to note upfront that I might have the names wrong or misspelled them because I was taking notes as fast as I could. So, if you want ALL the facts 100% straight, I suggest you get McQueen's book releasing in September 2023, called Creepy Kentucky. Unfortunately, because I might have names wrong, I couldn't locate images of the people or events in question. And, since we're talking about 1853, images might not exist anyway. So, anyhooo...

In 1853 in Lexington, Kentucky, there was candy store named D.H. Daulhaus (sp?). A woman by the name of Mrs. William Liggett (sp?) entered the store and the clerk Mr. Cushing approached the woman and said nothing more than "Is there something you'd like to see?" Now he might have said it in a suggestive way so as to cause offense. Whatever the case, Mrs. Liggett left the store in a high dudgeon. She beelined to tell her husband, whereupon Mr. William Liggett took the matter into his own hands. He entered the candy store and shot Cushing dead.

William was taken into custody and spent the new year in jail. In June 1854, he stood trial. On June 24 he was sentenced to a public hanging--a common occurrence of the day. On August 12, he was led to the scaffold and before the preacher could even pray, Liggett jumped off the deck and hung himself. So, legally, I guess he committed suicide.

McQueen told several other stories during the lecture and then hosted a Q & A afterward where he shared some even wilder stories from some of his other 23 books he'd written over the course of his career. I was really glad I went to the lecture (I almost didn't because bad weather loomed and I was tired after a long day at work). And even though I'll probably be plagued with a dozen more story ideas, I'm looking forward to reading his books!

The other lecture I attended was at a late-Georgian style mansion named White Hall on the outskirts of Richmond, Kentucky. The house was enormous. Construction began in 1781, nine years before Kentucky existed as a state; two years before the American Revolution ended, when King George was still king in England; eight years before the Reign of Terror in France; thirteen years before the Napoleonic Wars began. So, the house is OLD. The original house was much smaller, about the size of The Walton's House (for anyone old enough to remember that iconic show).

But over the years (until about 1860!) the family continued to add on to the house, growing it larger and grander as the family grew in stature and prestige. For those who don't know, White Hall (originally Claremont) was the house of Green Clay who fathered the emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay who was cousin to the famous statesman Henry Clay. The family hobnobbed with the likes of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln and Czar Alexander II of Russia.

Inside the house is beautiful, decorated with a blend of the antebellum and early modern styles. The lecture wasn't specifically about the house, but about the family who built the house, and the extensive history the house has witnessed. Below are various pictures from inside the home, but these are only a few of the grand interior.

The lecture began with the history of Green Clay himself who immigrated from Wales and eventually married Sally Lewis. Now, I will say I'm only giving the tiniest nugget of a more complex history. So please don't read this as a complete story.

Below is a gallery of just a few of the Clay family. From Left to Right: Green Clay and his wife Sally Lewis and one of their sons Cassius Marcellus Clay. (I think George Clooney should play him in the movie...LOL. He's very modern-looking, don't you think?) At the bottom is Laura Clay, first president of the Kentucky Women's Suffrage Association, and one of Cassius' children. Beside her is Green's cousin, the famous senator Henry Clay.

So in the days of Clay, anyone who could survive Indian raids, disease, highwaymen, and the wilderness could survey and claim land. He worked with a surveying company for awhile, but through some wily and cunning maneuvers snagged thousands of acres for himself. In many ways, he reminded me of a trickster personality. Once he began to settle down, he built the seed of White Hall. He was an incredibly savvy businessman, albeit a litigious one, and set up several businesses in the area ensuring a quick rise to wealth.

The lecturer, Mathew Parrish, also mentioned a preacher, Reverend John Tanner, who set up a homestead on the estate property only about 80 yards from White Hall. Tanner was a rebellious preacher from Virginia (when Kentucky was still the Virginia Territory) who traveled and got arrested for preaching without a license. He also caught a bullet for Baptizing a man's wife without the husband's permission. Over time though, John Tanner was eventually bought out (or litigated out) and forced off the property by Green Clay. But he still had plenty of land left. He moved a little further west and established Tanner’s Station, which was the first settlement in Boone County, Kentucky. In 1818, the name of the village was changed to Petersburg (pictured below).

One of the most action-packed stories of the evening involved John Tanner's son, who was abducted by Anishinaabe Indians when he was nine years old. He spent the next 30 years of his life with the tribe and became completely assimilated to the culture. Later, he tried to come back to white society and couldn't fit in. He wrote an autobiography of his life in a book titled, The Falcon (the English version of his assigned Indian name, which I didn't catch because it was a long word).

For the sake of time and space, I can't go into all the fascinating stories Parrish told, but it was apparent that frontier life was full of violence, strife, turmoil, fear, and more hard work than any modern person can really imagine.

Apparently, this was the first lecture in a series and I'm looking forward to attending the next one for sure! It's going to be about a famous duel between Cassius Clay and Robert Wickliffe, Jr.

Like many historic homes, this one has tours throughout the year. I haven't been on the actual house tour yet, but am looking forward to attending one in the future. If you're ever in the Richmond / Lexington, Kentucky area, I highly recommend a tour of White Hall.


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