Road Trip with The Cranky Traveler – Louisville, Kentucky to New Harmony, Indiana, USA
Road Trip with The Cranky Traveler
Louisville, Kentucky to New Harmony, Indiana
Jenny and I have known each other a few decades, since the old days of high school. She now lives in Georgia, and I in Northern California. We decided to meet up in Louisville, Kentucky and then drive across Indiana to New Harmony, the “Athens of the West.”
Louisville was named for King Louis XVI of France, in appreciation for his assistance during the Revolutionary War.
It is home to the Kentucky Derby, the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Belle of Louisiana, which is the oldest Mississippi-style stern wheel steamboat still in existence. It has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city. (The restaurant “Kaelins” claims to have invented the cheeseburger.)
We arrived on a Thursday evening and, after checking into the hotel, we headed over to the Phoenix Hill Tavern, a local favorite, for a drink to christen our trip. Posted at the bar’s entrance were two signs, one indicating it was Ladies Night (good for us!) and the other advised that no weapons were allowed inside the premises. Nevertheless, we entered fully armed with our rapier wit, which could instantly bring a pathetic pick-up artist or potential stalker to his knees.
At the entrance, the walls were lined with star-shaped plaques showcasing musical artists who have graced the tavern, such as John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and the Marshall Tucker Band.
It is a dream haven for short attention spans. There are seven unique atmospheres (e.g., The Solarium, Saloon and Piano Parlor) competing for one’s attention. In addition, on weekends, three live bands perform on three separate stages. During summer evenings, you can dance (or cool off) under the stars at the double-decker 7,000 square foot outdoor Deck Bar and Skywalk. The décor – neon tropical trees, free flowing fountain, flamingo mural – add to the fun, open atmosphere.
Food-wise, they offer standard bar fare, such as buffalo wings, chips and salsa, as well as hamburgers and sandwiches.
We enjoyed a bourbon (when in Kentucky) and a rock band on the main floor, which includes a very large dance area with plenty of seating. We met a friendly patron named Angela who advised us that she was a “happy hooker.” In the spirit of sisterhood, we offered words of encouragement and solidarity. She laughed and confided that she actually knit sweaters with ye olde hook and yarn.
This was a fun, social spot and it was easy to see why it’s such a favorite among the locals.
Where there is Kentucky, there is bourbon. The following morning, we set our sights on two of Kentucky’s oldest distilleries – Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.
The Jim Beam Distillery is located about 30 miles south of Louisville, where you can take a tour or walk around the beautiful grounds.
You’ll find Jim Beam’s American Post (designed as a replica of an old tobacco barn), which offers a diverse selection of items for sale (including bourbon candy!), and the Beam family home, circa 1911, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public.
We then headed towards Maker’s Mark, which is said to be the oldest continuously operating distillery (they’re in the Guinness Book of World Records), and the only operating distillery to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Long and Winding Road from the Jim Beam Distillery to Maker’s Mark took up way too much of our allotted time.
On the grounds of Maker’s Mark is the Old Gristmill, Master’s Distiller’s House, The Toll House, Fire Department, The Still House, Fermenting Room and Barrelling Warehouse. It is pristine. Picture postcard perfect. Perfectly manicured lawns. Perfectly sterile. Perfectly dull. It looked like a movie lot that wasn’t being used.
They offer museum and plant tours, and a limited gift shop (although my eyes did seem to gravitate repeatedly to their Mint Julep Bourbon).
Good little heathens that we are, we easily segued from distilleries to the spiritual grounds of the Gethsemani Abbey. (Contrary to Rand McNally, 52 does not dead end into 457. Let us pause, and give thanks, for the heroic fireman at the New Hope Fire Station who rescued us lost heathens and provided correct directions.)
Founded by French Trappist Monks in December 1848, the Gethsemani Abbey is the oldest monastery in the United States still in continuous use.
Thomas Merton lived here for awhile, and his writings are said to grace the Abbey, although we chose not to enter to validate this. We were two of only about five people strolling the beautifully landscaped grounds, which included a large meditation fish pond. It has the peacefulness and serenity one would expect of an abbey, with nary a nun to be seen (although I did experience a brief nun sighting – She Who Is Silent and Hidden briefly exposed herself, so to speak, before retreating behind the cover of trees).
Jenny appreciated a section of wall where a St. Benedictine quote accompanied three-dimensional wall art, where a face and hands were pushing out of the wall toward the visitor. (I found it a little creepy.)
The monks support themselves by selling mail-order gifts of homemade fruitcake, cheese and bourbon fudge.
We traveled on to Bardstown to visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, which houses a collection of rare artifacts and documents relating to the American whiskey industry, from pre-Colonial days to the post-Prohibition years.
A visit to the museum is both entertaining and educational. The collection includes fruit-shaped flasks, an 1854 E.G. Booz bottle (from which the slang “booze” is derived), information on Carry Nation and Al Capone, prescription forms used during Prohibition for “medicinal” alcohol, and a confiscated copper still that once belonged to George Washington.
The museum is located in Spaulding Hall, which first served as St. Joseph College and Seminary, followed by a hospital and an orphanage. You’ve come a long way, baby.
We headed back to Louisville and to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Known for the giant baseball bat (an exact-scale replica of Babe Ruth’s 34″ Louisville Slugger) that leans against the building, a 17-ton mitt and ball sculpture are housed inside as well, in front of “home plate” which is painted on the floor.
The museum houses several venues, including a theater and small interactive “playing field.” In the Oval Room, you can see original “sticks” used by greats Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron, and learn some baseball history. For example, once referred to as the “Louisville Slugger Trophy,” the coveted Silver Bat is presented annually to the batting champ of the American and National Leagues. It was first given in 1949 to George Kell of the Detroit Tigers and Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Q. Why was manager Charles Dillon Stengel called “Casey”?
A. He was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.
Today, over 60% of Major League players use the Louisville Slugger bat. A personalized miniature bat makes a great souvenir.
That evening, we dined at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. What a treat! Not only are your taste buds scintillated, but your other senses are as well.
As you enter the parking lot, you are met with sentries of large concrete coffee cups and a large, tiled coffee pot which pours water into the cup below it. Water flows from the spout in the pot into the cups below, and then recycles the water back to the pot. On the stormy day we visited, the pot was pouring fresh rain water.
There is ambiance, and there is ambiance. Described by founder/owner Lynn Winter as “an art project that got out of hand,” the decor is submitted by local artists, which changes frequently, so you can always find something new and unusual to discover. During our visit, the curtains were comprised of vintage aprons tied together by their own strings. There was a chandelier made out of several used tea bags (the tags providing some color). A corn cob tapestry in the image of a lobster was displayed in the front window. There were large paper lanterns, and each table had a unique kitschy lamp and small toys to amuse yourself while waiting for your meal. Country and western music from the 1930s and 1940s played in the background.
The food was delicious. We both ordered Chicken Kentuckian (chicken breast, braised in bourbon cream with fresh herbs, mushrooms and baby spinach). With each entree you have a choice of three side dishes. They serve generous portions and the price is reasonable. Two thumbs up.
After dinner, we made brief stops at Homemade Pies and Ice Cream, and Hawley-Cooke, a local bookstore. We were then ready to head back to the hotel and to the Land of Nod. The mischievous Gods of Louisville weren’t through with us, however.
Unable to locate a direct route back to the hotel (a.k.a. lost), we found ourselves in Audubon Park, an affluent residential neighborhood which includes a bird sanctuary. The Dogwood Festival was in full bloom (no pun intended), and many of the beautifully landscaped homes had small flood lights strategically placed to highlight the flowering trees and other flora. With windows rolled down, we slowly cruised the streets admiring nature’s illuminated beauty.
We became aware of singing which emanated from a home with people sitting on the front porch in formal attire. A tuxedo-attired gentleman (with matching fishing hat), was offering his rendition of “King of the Road,” karaoke-style. We pulled over to the side of the road and listened to the rest of his “set,” then got back on track to the road leading back to the hotel (finally) and a good night’s sleep for the drive across Indiana the following day.
Although we were in Louisville during the Derby Festival, we didn’t have time to catch a race. However, due to the close proximity of Churchill-Down to our hotel, in the morning we decided to visit the Kentucky Derby Museum gift shop. At age 45, we were the youngest customers there. The gift shop was rather limited and expensive, but we were able to purchase a couple of satisfactory items.
We crossed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge over the Ohio River into Clarksville, Indiana to visit The Falls of the Ohio. In the 1800s, The Falls of the Ohio (now known as Clarksville) couldn’t really be satisfied as waterfalls, but it was a popular place for travelers to rest and stock up on supplies. It was, in fact, the main navigation barrier on the Ohio River during the Civil War.
Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and crew met up here on October 14, 1803 and formally became the Lewis and Clark Expedition. During the next 12 days, they spent their time in the area (Louisville-Clarksville) preparing for the excursion.
The Falls of the Ohio Museum is just on the other side of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, but if you are not familiar with the area, you immediately become lost. What is with these inaccurate maps? We drove in circles (and various other geometric designs) until we located an information center, whose staff acknowledged that most people arriving at the center complained about getting lost. He provided us correct, but incomplete, directions.
The road leading to the museum suddenly forks, without any signage indicating which direction to turn. Naturally, we picked the wrong one. We executed a U-turn (admiring a home’s rather large fish mailbox), returned to the fork and proceeded down the correct road. Directly in front of us was a rotund-shaped building, which we assumed was the museum because, again, no signs. A side lane on the right led us to the back of the building to a parking lot. There were no signs on the back of the building either, indicating the location of the entrance. Unsuspecting tourists role playing Lewis & Clark explorers is an apparent source of amusement for the locals.
The lack of promotional interest applied toward the museum up to this point didn’t give us much hope that the museum itself would offer much benefit to our trip. So, we headed directly to the gift shop with endearing optimism of purchasing an interesting Lewis & Clark souvenir item.
Unfortunately, the gift shop was the size of a walk-in closet. Selection of Lewis & Clark items for sale? Books. You know, those things you can find at ANY bookstore in ANY city in the country?! In an effort to cool down my irritation, I proceeded to an exhibit in the lobby to at least try to obtain a little more information on what Lewis & Clark did during their stay in the area. The woman in the gift shop frantically ran after me (I’m not kidding), advising that I had to pay admission to look at the exhibit. Then why was it in the lobby?!
We then walked outside, directly behind the museum, where fossilized coral reef beds extend along the banks of the Ohio River within generally flat rock. It is difficult to imagine that at one time Indiana was submerged under oceanic water. The fossil beds are not fenced in, and one may freely walk about for closer inspection.
We then headed toward Utica. Along the way, we stopped at the Howard Steamboat Museum, another institution that didn’t believe in free enterprise, as their gift shop (I’m being generous here) was paltry as well. Not even a postcard with a picture of a steamboat. Sigh. It appeared they had recently painted the building, however.
Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica is a treasure. Creatively landscaped, this eight-acre display of rare and unusual plants, interspersed with beautiful and whimsical sculptures, is a treat for all the senses.
As we walked onto the grounds, a lawnmower came barreling down on us. Wearing a big grin, the driver introduced himself as Bob Hill and recited a brief orientation.
Although we admired the unusual plants (eg., a weeping lilac bush), the creative (and often humorous) art pieces were what struck us the most. We enjoyed a mosaic polar bear, small train track, sentry made of an old coffee pot and other kitchen utensils, and several patina-tinged metal frogs in various scenes, such as a couple playing pool, one holding a martini glass, one singing into a microphone (“Frog Crosby”) and one about to jump into a pond with scuba gear. A circular wall of rocks with a self-standing window in the center was entitled “Room With a View.” I spotted a plaque on the side of a landscaped mound that read, “Bob Hill, Elevation 4 feet,” no doubt an homage to the owner.
This is a nursery first, however, and plants can be shipped. The art pieces change throughout the year and you can always expect a pleasant surprise when you visit. A gift shop is available as well.
Heading west on I-64 is mind numbing. A somewhat solid wall of trees running alongside both sides of the road blocked anything that may have lay beyond.
One sign that frequently appeared advised, “No Stopping. No Standing. No Parking.” Got it. We also passed a sign which read, “Prisoners in area. Do not pick up hitchhikers.” Spoil sports.
In Jenny’s ongoing pursuit of miniature metal license plates to add to her collection, we stopped at Possum Junction, a small pit stop along the highway. Although they did sell Road Kill Cafe t-shirts, no miniature metal license plates were to be had, so we returned to the highway, looking forward to reach our destination – New Harmony.
We arrived in the small town of New Harmony in the late afternoon. Home of two 19th century Utopian communities (Harmonites and Owenites), the town is listed with the National Register of Historic Places and is the site of the U.S. Geological Survey’s early headquarters. During the early stages of the Smithsonian Institute, the site provided geological and natural science collections.
We stayed at the Harmony Inn, which was built and decorated simply, much the same way as the original Harmonites who founded the town had done. It also, unfortunately, smelled like a nursing home, and the bathroom was built for very short people. For instance, the sink was about three feet high and the shower head was so low you had to assume the limbo position to wash your hair.
We walked over to the Red Geranium restaurant to make dinner reservations and noticed that it, too, had the faint odor of a nursing home. (Hey, I’m not ready yet!) The woman taking reservations advised that we couldn’t dine until 8:00, as it was prom night and pictures were going to be taken there. She also shared an observation that students don’t wear the same formal gowns as when she was that age. Under her breath, she muttered, “Here come a couple of them.” Two female high school students walked by in their formal best, one blatantly displaying her best attributes. The hostess commented that she didn’t look like that when she was in high school. We nodded and sighed in commiseration.
We set out for a walking tour of New Harmony, absorbing the town’s peaceful ambiance. Inspirational quotations were placed on signposts along the sidewalks around town. For example:
“Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking – walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and walking, to enjoy each step.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Restored cabins are displayed showcasing how the 19th century Harmonites lived, including a “double cabin” (the original duplex?).
The Atheneum serves as New Harmony’s visitor center and its irrelevant, misplaced contemporary architecture is completely out of its element. The stark white building is truly a white elephant in this spiritual, homespun community. However, if you are researching information about the area, this is the place to pursue it. Tours of the town are offered here as well.
Within the Roofless Church’s walls is an open cedar shake dome/pagoda structure which provides a protective canopy over Jacob Lipchitz’s sculpture titled “Descent of the Holy Spirit.” There is also a Polish memorial sculpted in clay, and Pieta (a bronze sculpture).
Northeast of the Roofless Church is one of the oldest pieces of art on display in New Harmony – a stone sculpture of Madonna and Child, which is dedicated to the monk and poet, Thomas Merton.
At the end of a relaxing day, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Red Geranium, during which we ordered a couple of house specialty drinks: the Harmonypolitan and Pink Geranium. Quite tasty.
In the morning, we walked over to the rose granite Cathedral Labyrinth, which is a reproduction of the one located at the Chartres Cathedral in France. In Historic New Harmony, there is a second labyrinth which replicates the type the Harmonites worked with. Labyrinths are popular meditative tools. It is believed that walking their paths, from the edge of the circle to the center, one may attain inner peace, focus and creativity. While our labyrinth walk was interesting, neither of us experienced any conscious shifting. However, it was a beautiful morning and we were content to be surrounded by the beautifully serene setting.
Back on the road, retracing our travels across I-64, we made a brief stop in Corydon, Indiana’s first state capitol. There was a cozy, old town feel to it, including a grassy square surrounded by shops. We arrived before the stores opened (still determined to locate that elusive postcard), so we walked around a little bit. We visited the small overgrown brick and stone courtyard of the old capitol building, which included an old sundial.
Once the stores opened, postcards purchased (finally!) and mailed, we returned to the open highway.
As I had never visited Ohio, I wanted to make a brief stop in Cincinnati, as it was just across the river from our next destination, Covington, where we planned to stay the night.
During my pre-trip research, I read that Cincinnati is known as the “Queen of the West” and I wanted to buy a souvenir t-shirt for myself with that illustrious title emblazoned on it. I am sure, dear reader, you are not surprised to learn by now that they were nowhere to be found. Anywhere. In fact, no one we spoke to had even heard of the moniker. Frustrated, I doggedly interrogated a sales clerk who eventually retrieved a booklet from a back room.
TO SHARE WITH THE CLASS …
The city was often referred to as the “Queen of the West,” and on May 4, 1819, B. Cooke wrote in the “Cincinnati Inquisitor and Advertiser”:
“The City is, indeed, justly styled the fair Queen of the West: distinguished for order, enterprise, public spirit, and liberality, she stands the wonder of an admiring world.”
In 1854, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem, “Catawba Vine,” with regard to the city’s vineyards. The last stanza reads:
“And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver,
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.”
The store clerk was now enlightened, and could share the information with others. I do what I can.
We left Her Highness and crossed the Ohio River back into Kentucky, into Covington, which has been designated as a National Historic District.
The quaint town is home to Main Strasse Village, which includes a small square with a few restaurants and shops, a statue water fountain of the “goose girl” in the center of the square, and a 100-foot Carroll Chimes Bell Tower.
We enjoyed a beer and dined outside at the Cock & Bull, where we learned the origin of the phrase, “cock and bull story” from a mural on the wall. So you can share with the rest of the class:
Two of the oldest pubs in England are The Cock and Bull in Stony Stratford of London. During the 1800s, all the news was carried by travelers on stagecoaches. Both pubs claimed to have the latest news and embellished stories to make them more interesting. Hence, the term ‘cock and bull story’.
We rose early the following morning and, as retail stores wouldn’t open until 10:00 a.m., we wondered how we could lighten our wallets. Conveniently open 24 hours, the Argosy Casino, a riverboat casino docked at Lawrenceburg, Indiana on the Ohio River, lay waiting to assist us.
For all you landlubbers, the riverboat is now permanently docked. However, the Argosy provides a fun atmosphere of bright Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold, with oldies playing in the background. The ceiling in the lobby is a beautiful stained glass map of the world. Each bar has a different theme, such as “jungle.”
Delving deeper into the bowels of the boat, the actual gaming rooms take on a serious quality. However, not being serious gamblers ourselves, we chose to donate just a few dollars to the slot machines.
A little invigorated by the bells, ka-chings and other stimulating sights and sounds of the casino, we were ready to hit the road. Unfortunately, the casino wasn’t quite ready to release its clutches.
Labyrinths release mental, emotional, physical and spiritual blocks. The casino’s parking lot released our inner demons as we walked around and around, trying to locate our car. The walls and entry way of each level is painted in a different color (continuing with the Mardis Gras theme), except the level we were parked. On that level, the walls were purple, but the entry way was painted red. We had gambled on a consistent parking lot design of matching walls and entryways for each level, to continue on our parking level, and lost. Again.
Grateful to finally escape, we returned to Louisville and our list of “to-dos,” and stopped for gas at a Thornton’s. As Jenny began filling the tank, we heard a loud, chastising voice over a loudspeaker announce, “Pump No. 11, you’re at a pre-pay pump. Come inside to pay.” In horror, we immediately looked at the number of our pump and breathed a collective sigh of relief. It wasn’t us. A sign not displayed: “WARNING: Illiteracy and/or refusal to read is punishable by public humiliation.”
We planned to attend the Bed Races that evening and learned that part of the admission fee was a Pegasus pin, which is sold each year during the Derby Festival. Purchase of a pin is also an opportunity to play the lottery. We lost. Again.
Although visiting a cemetery usually isn’t on one’s itinerary, for those who appreciate beautiful landscaping and extraordinary sculpture, a visit to the Cave Hill Cemetery is worth the time. It is considered the “premier” cemetery, as most of Louisville’s most prominent citizens are buried there. Tours are available, which include information on its landscaping, geology, monuments and history. The statues and monuments are spectacular, such as those one would expect to see in an art gallery.
We were interested in the cemetery’s most visited resting place, that of Harlan “Colonel” Sanders. A friendly, well-rehearsed security guard greeted us at the gate, with directions accompanied by colorful commentary. Due to the high volume of visitors to the Colonel’s grave site, a yellow line had been painted on the road, which converged to a white line, to act as guides. The monument was designed after the Kentucky Fried Chicken headquarters building and the bust, which sits on top of a pedestal, was designed by his daughter. His wife, “The Colonel’s Lady,” is buried there as well.
Back on the streets of Louisville, we once again lost our bearings and found ourselves in an area known as Cherokee Park, another affluent neighborhood, which includes a golf course, jogging trails, an archery range, ponds and deep gullies. In one of the park’s three and four-point intersections was a statue of Daniel Boone, upon whom someone had placed a pink bunny mask, flower bracelets and necklace. A statue in another intersection had received the same make-over. Derby Festival or homecoming tradition?
We eventually located the correct route back to our hotel, and realized we still hadn’t tasted a mint julep. Mon dieu! Following the hotel clerk’s suggestion, we dined at The Fifth Quarter, where we enjoyed not only a mint julep (served in a souvenir commemorative Kentucky Derby glass), but some delicious top sirloin with Maker’s Mark marinade. Then, off to the Bed Races!
Held inside one of the fairground arenas, a live broadcast of the event was televised. Watching the anchors and reporters was entertaining. One of the roving reporters knew a family seated near us and the camera panned our immediate seating vicinity. If we had known someone in the broadcasting area, we would have taken the opportunity to obnoxiously wave and/or make faces to embarrass those we love.
The Parade of Beds began the festivities. Some of the highly creative entries included The Red Baron, Atlantis, Adventures of Super Heroes and Gilligan’s Island (of which there were duplicate entries). The decor on the beds were taken down before the races (due to impediment of speed and vision).
For those of you who have never attended a bed race, the racing vehicle is simply a mattress on wheels with a steering wheel attached. Two beds race against each other around a track, each with a team consisting of three or four people pushing the bed, and one on the mattress “steering.” The mattresses are obviously not constructed to accommodate wheels, let alone the centrifugal forces involved. It is a challenge of physics. Wheels usually become bent or fly off completely, much to the sadistic enjoyment of the masses. In order to provide the teams a little extra challenge, the teams were required to switch lanes during the race, on the curve of the track.
One team, whose wheel had become bent and wobbly, spiritedly persevered. A “crew” member literally held that corner of the bed up as they ran until, after about 50 yards, the wheel finally broke off, just before reaching the finish line. They lost the race. However, the team member who had carried the corner of the bed, jumped up and down with arms raised, endorphins surely at a high level, with the thrill of the moment. The crowd stood and riotously cheered with mutual delight and appreciation.
On that fun note, we bid a fond farewell to the town of Louisville.
Julie Parker is an avid enthusiast of humanity’s uniqueness and creativity, and the planet’s natural healing resources.