If you frequent this blog, you know that I touch on multiple subjects, but one that I can never stay away from very long is Hazard, Kentucky. The Queen City of the Mountains. The epicenter of “Black Gold,” and the place I call home. As I have said before, this place has a way of pulling you and making you fall in love, but why does she deserve a royal nickname? My answer would be that nobody gets that kind of status without earning it. Let’s take a look at the crown and talk about a few of the dents, scratches and some of the jewels.
Hazard/Perry County Kentucky is a wondrous place. Full of history, and intrigue, our small town is full of surprises. Many people of prominence have visited here, and many people of prominence have hailed from here. Hazard has suffered historic catastrophes, erected unique landmarks and heralded extraordinary people way ahead of their times. Perhaps you know about some of these facts, or folks, perhaps you do not. Either way, I hope you learn something from them, and gain insight into this unique little town, and the people, and events who have paved the way for all of us.
1: Senator Robert Kennedy visited Hazard in 1968, one week before he announced his candidacy for the President.
RFK & Bill Gorman. Photo by Paul Gordon.
He was later assassinated only three months after his visit. In Hazard, along with then mayor Willie Dawahare, he visited Liberty Street. Dawahare told Kennedy he needed 10% more HUD funding to pave Liberty Street and build more housing. Before leaving, Kennedy and Carl D. Perkins did a live television interview with our late Mayor, Bill Gorman, who owned a television station at the time. Kennedy’s visit sought to better help him understand poverty and the way of mountain life. He aimed to envision a new America, where everyone was able to hold steady jobs, provide for their families, and live comfortably. He later delivered a speech at Alice Lloyd College, with Carl Perkins in attendance,about the importance of young voters.
… I’ve seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia who wish only to work in dignity, but they cannot, for the mines have closed and their jobs are gone, and no one — neither industry, labor nor government — has cared enough to help …”
– Robert F. Kennedy, 1968
2: Bill Clinton delivered a speech on Main Street in July of 1999.
Clinton speaks to a very hot Hazard crowd.
I was there, and as my Dad hoisted me atop his shoulders, I got to shake his, and Rev. Jesse Jackson’s hands. I was 9 years old. I remember it being so hot that people were fainting, and water was being passed around in buckets. Downtown was a spectacle, shoulder to shoulder, and so tight you could hardly breathe. Clinton’s aim was to bring business to poverty stricken areas, long forgotten or ignored in the boom times of the 1990s. Around 2,000 people came out, waving American flags and suffering the 90 degree heat.
“When I’m gone, I hope you will remember more than that the president came and you were hot. I hope you will remember that it was the beginning of a new sense of renewal for this region and for all the people of our country,”
3: The Great Flood of 1957: Hazard’s Catastrophe
|Downtown Hazard during the flood of 57.|
The flood of 1957 is one of the worst natural disasters to ever befall Eastern Kentucky. Swirling flood waters, reaching depths of ten feet, raged for more than 18 hours in downtown Hazard. Three people lost their lives, and many were left homeless. 50 homes were swept away by the raging current. Hazard was left without phone service, electricity, the Miners Memorial Hospital (old ARH) was left without power and much of it’s lab equipment was destroyed. Ft. Knox and The Red Cross had to bring relief. Flood waters reached downtown at around 11 am and rose nearly 6 feet in two hours. The streets were filled with slime as silt mixed with the coal dust that covered the buildings. Dewey Daniel, President of People’s Bank had estimated that river areas from Neon to Irvine had suffered losses equal to 250 million dollars.
4: Willie Sandlin: American War Hero
A native of Buckhorn, Sandlin was the only Kentuckian to receive The Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I. Of all Americans in service during that time, only Sergeant Alvin York received more decorations than Sandlin. Sandlin single-handedly destroyed three German machine gun placements, and killed 24 of the enemy at Bois de Forges. After the war, he settled in Owls Nest Kentucky, and was active in The Frontier Nursing Service, in Hyden Kentucky. In 2000, Sandlin’s family donated his medal to The Kentucky National Military Museum in Frankfort, Kentucky.
If you’ve ever driven through Hardburly, you can still see the remnants of a once booming place. The Coal Camp back in it’s hey day was said to be a great place to live. By all accounts, the Camp was like residing in town, and the company provided handsomely for it’s miners and their families. Rows of homes, a commissary and everything needed to sustain a community was prevalent during this bi-gone era. There was a Union Hall, snack bars, doctors offices, and a movie theater, along with various churches. The area even had it’s own Sheriff.
6: The Amazing and Colorful Life of Nan Hagan Gorman, our current Mayor.
Mayor Nan Gorman.
Moving to Hazard, Kentucky in 1929 with her family, Nan Hagan grew up loving the beauty of Appalachia. After graduating from The University of Cincinnati, and attending the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, Nan worked as a freelance artist. She eventually would become the first to be employed by the Commonwealth, a job that lead to her designing the state seal, which we still use today. At age 50, Nan resettled in Hazard, marrying Mayor Bill Gorman, her high school sweetheart. He remained mayor for 35 years. After his death, Nan won Mayor as a write in candidate with a margin of 3-1. She continues to pay homage to her late husband’s legacy today.
I have included a link to an article by Elaine Chao that details Nan’s extraordinary life.
7: Britt Combs, Hazard Kentucky’s first black physician.
Born Sept 15, 1897-Died Oct 1957. Dr. Combs, in his day, was Hazard’s first and only black physician. His business, however, became so popular, he was forced to buy a bigger building, employ a staff, and have not only one, but two horses.
8: Hazard/Perry County in Popular Culture. Many songs have been inspired by, or have mentioned Hazard. Those include: Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter-Pete Seegar, The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore-Jean Ritchie, Nine Pound Hammer-Merle Travis, High Sheriff of Hazard-Tom Paxton, Hazard Kentucky-Phil Ochs, Funky Grass Band-Portor Wagoner, and lastly, From Hillbilly Heaven to Honkey Tonk Hell-Kenny Chesney.
9: Ernest Sparkman; A Pioneer in Radio Broadcast.
Ernest Sparkman while playing for UK.
Ernest Sparkman was a past President of the Kentucky Broadcaster’s Association, and started WSGS, the first FM broadcasting station in the Eastern Kentucky coal fields. Sparkman also started the East Kentucky Sports Network and broadcasted the games for nearly forty years, longer than any other broadcaster. Sparkman was not only a great sports caster, but also played the game very well. He played basketball under legendary coach Morton Combs, and later under Adolph Rupp himself. Under his leadership, WSGS became an invaluable asset to the mountains, and even today his legacy is being kept alive by his sons.
10: The Story Behind “The Mother Goose House”.
The Mother Goose in the 50’s.
George Stacy completed the home known to everyone in Hazard as “The Goose” in 1940. Taking the Stacy’s nearly 6 years to complete, the building is made from sandstone that was hauled to the site by the builder’s sons from nearby creeks all over the area. No one seems to have ever figured out why George Stacy, a regular man from Hazard who worked for the L & N Railroad, came up with the idea to build his home like a goose. The Stacy’s resided there for many years, and later added a grocery store. It is rumored that the building contains rocks from various states and Canada. The home has been featured in many national newspapers and television shows, including The New York Times, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
So that’s my short highlight reel. There are plenty more that I agree need to be incorporated, and you’ll have to stay tuned to read about them (or to make sure I don’t forget any). Hazard, and eastern Kentucky in general, has such a rich and strong heritage, its not just a privilege to learn or remember where we came from, its our obligation. Talk to your grandparents, talk to your grandchildren, read a locally written book, go see sights, do whatever you can to learn whatever you can about these mountains, especially if you are from them. If you aren’t, don’t let that discourage you. We are all friendly, hospitable and anxious to show the world it could learn a lot from the history we have.