Kentucky Adventure, Part 5 (In the Middle)

We cut north into Kentucky’s central interior, into the outer rings of the Bluegrass Region or into the Knobs Region, or perhaps into some other distinct geographic designation. The territory fell across several different regions or maybe no region, seemingly at a crossroad amongst regions or perhaps into its own Kentucky netherworld. I noticed that it aligned pretty closely with the geographic center of the state so I’ll call it "the middle" for the sake of convenience. I’m sure someone in the 12MC community will let me know if another territorial term would apply more appropriately.

Bourbon



Maker’s Mark Distillery

Well of course I had to mention bourbon eventually. Some of you probably wondered why it hadn’t happened earlier. It took me awhile to get to the part of Kentucky covered by the bourbon trail. Most of the time I’d concentrated in a corner of the state rooted more firmly in the Bible Belt, with county-after-county either either completely dry or barely moist. I never did get used to restaurant menus without beer or wine lists. I finally arrived in an area known for the hard stuff, though, Kentucky’s famous Bourbon Whiskey. That, for those of you not aware (and I could imagine that population being very small) is a distilled and aged product made from at least 51% fermented corn. It’s the signature spirit of the Commonwealth.

We selected the Maker’s Mark tour located at their single distillery outside of Loretto, Kentucky. As an added bonus, Loretto was one of those odd circular-shaped towns albeit they’d annexed two small road segments at some point, making the shape look like the top view of a ladybug. I’d seen plenty of circular towns in Georgia, a few in South Carolina, and now this initial example in Kentucky. The Twelve Mile Circle has an obvious fondness for circular towns.


Maker's Mark Distillery

Maker’s Mark can be recognized by several trademarks, with a distinctive red wax sealing the bottle cap perhaps the most noticeable. It served no useful purpose other than to make the bottle stand out on a shelf; it’s a marketing ploy developed decades ago. Still, it’s oddly comforting to know that each bottleneck continues to be hand-dipped into hot crimson wax by an actual human. I’m not sure why that’s important. It just is.

The guide acknowledged without prompting the controversy that took place in February 2013. Bourbon has grown increasingly popular in Asia and all distillers are having trouble keeping up with demand. Maker’s Mark hoped to reduce its alcohol content from 45% to 42%. Watering it down slightly, they figured, would stretch the supply without changing the flavor appreciably. They reversed course after a strong consumer backlash.

The tour came with a nice taste of four samples at the end, too.


Lincoln



Lincoln Homestead State Park

While Abraham Lincoln has been associated primarily with Illinois, he was born and spent his early years in Kentucky. His birthplace became a National Park. The Lincoln Heritage Trail featured a number of Kentucky sites. Lincoln’s grandfather had been one of those early pioneers who hiked through the Cumberland Gap with his family (which I visited a few days earlier) to settle the wilderness beyond the Appalachian Mountains.


Lincoln Homestead

We didn’t visit Lincoln’s birthplace because it wasn’t on our direct path. Instead, we settled for the homestead of his father and grandfather, the Lincoln Homestead State Park. President Lincoln got a national park. Dad and grandpa merited only a state park, and most of that was actually part of a golf course in spit of grandpa getting killed by local Native Americans while he lived at the old homestead. Most of the buildings are reproductions except for the Francis Berry House (pictured above) where Lincoln’s mother lived and where Lincoln’s dad met her.

Truth be told, the primary reason we stopped here was to guarantee that I’d snag Washington County, KY for my county counting list. I couldn’t simply leave a blank Washington County when it was so temptingly nearby, now could I? That would have been wrong. Shhh…. don’t tell the family though. We’ll let that be our little secret. They thought they were learning history.


Turtleman



Marion County Heritage Center

My kids love Animal Planet’s "Call of the Wildman." It features Ernie Brown, Jr. as the Turtleman who operates a pest removal business and catches pesky critters with his bare hands. The show exaggerates probably every backwoods southern redneck, hillbilly stereotype conceivable. That seems to be a common television theme lately. I’ll let others decide whether that’s exploitative or not. I view the genre as caricature while rolling my eyes at times because I know better, and view it as relatively harmless otherwise.

He’s from Kentucky and lives in the vicinity of Lebanon, a town in Marion County, and our path took us directly through the Turtleman domain.


Turtleman Exhibit

Naturally — naturally! — we had to stop at the Turtleman Exhibit at the Marion County Heritage Center. I sensed from the docents that Turtleman had been the biggest thing to happen at the Marion County Historical Society in a long time, maybe ever. I’ve seen lots of small county museums over the years and they tend to have a sameness to them after awhile, including a skew towards the interests of older patrons. The Heritage Center in Lebanon probably followed that same model two years ago. Now they’ve cleared-out half of their display space for the Turtleman phenomenon, and visitors come from around the U.S. and indeed from around the world, including droves of children.

The exhibit was a hoot. They provided a DVD player featuring Turtleman and his sidekick Neal James (who I suspect is the brains of the operation in spite of his portrayal on the show), describing all of the nicknacks and doodads in the exhibit, in their trademark style. It was like watching a never-released episode of Call of the Wildman.

I could imagine that Lebanon may have mixed feelings about the Turtleman. He does attract a lot attention and probably tourism dollars although the show admittedly panders to a stereotype. Turtleman’s actual Marion County should not be equated with Dogpatch. It’s the home of Maker’s Mark.


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