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Attractions and Oddities in Western Kentucky

I've never been to the Kentucky Derby, and I've never toured a bourbon distillery. Western Kentucky isn't quite as brochure-ready as sites such as Churchill Downs and the Lincoln Memorial, but we have plenty to be proud ofWestern Kentucky isn't quite as brochure-ready as sites such as Churchill Downs and the Lincoln Memorial, but we have plenty to be proud of — and if you're traveling through the state on I-65, you can easily access much of it. Here are my north-to-south recommendations:

1. Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave, KY.
In my short story "Allegory of a Cave," Ben, an earnest sixth grader, is promised a trip to Mammoth Cave — but his father takes him to a strip club instead. You, however, shouldn't miss a tour of the world's longest known cave system: "367 miles explored," the website promises. I've been on the two-hour Historic Tour several times — it's a rite of passage for Kentucky elementary schoolers — and hope to someday return for one of the more rigorous hikes, such as the Snowball Tour or Violet City Lantern Tour.

2. The National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, KY.
Fathers figure loom large in my story collection, and the father in "Proof of God" insists to his son that "Corvettes...[are] the only American vehicle worth a goddamn anymore, and made in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at that. Good for the local economy." If you're a car enthusiast, this is worth the very quick detour off of I-65. If you're like me and would rather have a plate of barbecue, hold tight.

3. Old Southern Deposit Bank, Russellville, KY.
There are two major sources of civilian pride in my hometown of Russellville, Kentucky: One (and I can't get definitive Internet confirmation of this) is that Russellville was briefly the capital of the Confederate States of America; the other is that Jesse James and his gang robbed the Old Southern Deposit Bank in 1868. The bank is a museum now, and if you can delay your travels until October, you'll be treated to Russellville's Tobacco and Heritage Festival, where a reenactment of the infamous robbery is staged with real horses and fake pistols.

4. Roy's Pit Bar-B-Q, Russellville, KY.
The real reason for Russellville civic pride, if you ask me: shredded, seasoned pulled pork (or beef, or mutton), served on bun or cornbread cakes, delicious with or without the optional hot and mild sauces. My parents like it Carolina-style, piled high with coleslaw, but why gild a lily? The scene in my story "Good Girl," in which Jacob first meets Helen, takes place at Gary's Pit Bar-B-Q — which is Roy's, down to the UK prints on the walls and the shaker of Lawry's Seasoned Salt on the table.

5. A cheat, with apologies.
The honest Kentucky saleswoman in me would direct you to Shakertown at South Union, Kentucky, where you can tour a Shaker village and learn about the lifestyle and craftsmanship of one of America's most fascinating religious sects. But I have an unhealthy appreciation for oddities, especially misguided ones, and so I can't help but mention as well the Jefferson Davis monument in Fairview, KY, which is southwest of Russellville. A smaller replica of the Washington Monument in D.C., this concrete obelisk juts out over gently rolling farmland like the proverbial sore thumb, memorializing a man that many would sooner forget. Highway 68's a beautiful drive, though, taking you through some of Kentucky's Amish country — and along the path of the annual 400-mile yard sale — and this odd attraction is worth at least a conflicted glance along the way.

÷ ÷ ÷

Holly Goddard Jones's stories have appeared in New Stories from the South, Best American Mystery Stories, and various literary journals. She is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the winner of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Girl Trouble: Stories (P.S.)
    Sale Trade Paper $5.98


Holly Goddard Jones is the author of Girl Trouble: Stories (P.S.)

4 Responses to "Attractions and Oddities in Western Kentucky"

  1.  
    sherri s. September 10th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Holla from another Kentucky girl (central KY, Lexington) now living on the West coast. I'll have to read your book; I'm glad to have discovered it here. My mom, who is claustrophobic to the max, took us to Mammoth Cave when we were little. She had a panic attack and dragged us kids along as she RAN through to the other side! True story--AND that was the story I told to Alex Trebek when I was on Jeopardy a few years ago. (The Shaker museums are pretty fab...Pleasant Hill rocks, as does the lemon pie served there. I have to confess to not having visited South Union's. I HAVE done that yard sale though...super fun.) Thanks for a nice post!

  2.  
    Will Owen September 10th, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    For a bit of extra local color on your Mammoth Cave trip, not to mention surprisingly comfy and cheap accommodations, check out Wigwam Village #2 in Cave City. We and 30-some of our best friends have booked this place in October every year but two in the last 20. Strangely enough, we have yet to get to the cave! We mostly spend the weekend antiquing and lounging around. Pretty spot, friendly proprietor, good gift shop. 12 concrete tepees with one double bed, two larger ones with two beds; AC/heat, color cable TV, NO PHONES - perfect!

    Thank you for the skinny on Russellville; I'm thinking about detouring there when we go from Nashville to Cave City next month, just because I've not had any barbecued mutton in over 30 years. And if that's not reason enough for a 50-mile detour, what is?

  3.  
    ginger September 10th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Ok, sounds like some fun times there Holly, but how about real Western KY, where you're not but about an hour or so drive from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee? You can get into the Land Between the Lakes, they have some real Buffalo roaming there! Paducah has gotten on the map for it's quilts & the Western Baptist Hospital has some real beauties I got to see while I was there with my Dad when he was having his angiogram. There are a lot of hard working farmers and honest good hearted people & several towns that if you blink, you'll miss. That's where I'm from, the real Western KY. Fredonia, KY.

  4.  
    Joanne September 10th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I think you're describing south-central KY. At least, that's how the WKYU NPR station in Bowling Green defines it. Congrats on your new book!

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