New beginnings for the Kentucky Folklife Program Archive

As many of you know the Kentucky Folklife Program (KFP) has been a part of and located in the Kentucky Historical Society—for over two decades. The KFP’s main mission has been to identify, document, conserve, and present the Commonwealth’s diverse living traditions, generally referred to as folklife. Over a year ago I was hired as the Project Archivist to process and catalog the 20 years of KFP collections so they would be more accessible to researchers. For the last 12 months I have gone through over 90+ boxes of documentation including: surveys, reports, field notes, interview logs, photographs, audio, and video materials all pertaining to the diverse cultural traditions of our great Commonwealth of Kentucky. I have discovered some amazing research materials including collections relating to many aspects of Kentucky life: Ethnic diversity, food ways, musical traditions, craftsmanship, occupational folklore and much more. I’ve had a blast!
KFP archive boxed at KHS
KFP collection boxed and ready to move.

In 2011, it was decided to transition the Kentucky Folklife Program from the Kentucky Historical Society to Western Kentucky University (WKU), leading to plans for the KFP archives to follow through a transfer to the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives in the Kentucky Museum at WKU. WKU is a leading research institution in the study and practice of Folklore. This move is a healthy transition for not only the KFP but also the archival collections. Integrating the KFP archives into the already existing folklife collections held in the Manuscripts and Folklife Archive at WKU will make the Kentucky Museum home to the most extensive and dynamic archival collections of culture and folklife in the state of Kentucky. I am pleased to announce that at end of October the collection has been successfully transferred to the campus of WKU. The archives are in good hands.
KFP archive at WKU
Collection at WKU!!

The partnership between the Kentucky Historical Society and the staff at Western Kentucky University has been a crucial part in the success of this major move. Some key staff members that assisted us with the move were the new KFP Director, Brent Björkman, and his graduate assistant, Lilli Tichinin; Manuscripts and Folklife Archives Coordinator, Jonathan Jeffery along with co-workers, staff and students; and Department Head of Folk Studies and Anthropology, Dr. Michael Ann Williams. Not only were all of these folks willing to help the KHS staff during the move, but they were enthusiastic about the new transition. By consolidating the KFP program and archives at WKU, WKU folk studies students have immediate access to real world applications to the field through direct access to the KFP, and very accessible entry to a new wealth of materials for researchers.

This project has not only given me the opportunity to manage a collection and help hone my professional skills, but it has opened my eyes to the great culture and traditions that are being created and preserved in the state of Kentucky. This has been an amazing project and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work on it. I owe a lot of thanks to one of the main creators of the collections, former director of the KFP, and recent recipient of the American Folklore Society’s Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for his achievements in public folklore, Folklorist Bob Gates. Thank you Bob for all of your hard work, and for promoting Kentucky’s rich culture and traditions for the last two decades.

-Project Archivist, Heather Stone

Memories of the Rosenwald School

KHS collections: 1995ph2.25AAFRA4. Class at Rosenwald School, Frankfort, KY. ca. 1957.

As a young girl, Pam Reaves, a librarian at the Kentucky Historical Society, attended the Rosenwald Laboratory School located in Frankfort, KY. She shares her memories of Rosenwald School in today’s blog:

“The Rosenwald Laboratory School has been part of the Kentucky State Campus since the early 1950’s. The building still stands, although it is no longer used as a school and has been shadowed by one of KSU’s new dormitories.

It was called the Rosenwald Laboratory School or the Rosenwald Training School because we were a practice institution of the elementary education majors of KSU. The school was small. There were under seventy students most years. The classrooms contained several grades. K-3 was the primary department. The intermediate grades were grades 4, 5, & 6 and the junior high department was grades 7 & 8. We were really like one big family. Everyone knew everyone.


We were able to enjoy a lot of extra surprises because we were part of the KSU campus such as the time we got to enjoy the singing of Marian Anderson and the time we got to see the Louisville Orchestra.

We always had a school bazaar in March and the teachers and part of the Frankfort community would come up with all kinds if witty things to make our yearly event a success.

There was always that personal connection. I think the teachers knew everything about us. Most of them lived next door to us.

I remember one cold wet winter day almost half of the school went out for recess time and we got our leather shoes wet, too wet to wear. One of our teachers took it upon herself to dry them so we would not get from wearing wet shoes.  She put our shoes in the oven to dry and they all shrunk. Imagine having to tell all of those parents their children needed new shoes! I think we all had two pair of shoes: our Sunday shoes and our school shoes. It was not like today’s gallery of shoe choices. We only had the brownies or the saddle oxfords. This only showed how much the teachers always went beyond their duties to look out for us.

Another wonderful memory of Rosenwald is when we had every seamstress in Frankfort sewing our white organdy dresses for the Operetta we performed every year at the close of school.

Kentucky Historical Society’s digital collection contains Rosenwald photos and some of the KSU history of the early fun years at the Rosenwald School of Frankfort. Please come visit us and enjoy these wonderful collections!”

–Pam Reaves

Above image right: 1995ph2.19AAFRA1. Last school picture of Rosenwald Laboratory School, Kentucky State, 1977. 

Above image left: 1995ph2.31AAFRA1. The old three-room Rosenwald School, ca. 1952, locally known as the “Model School.” ca. 1952

KHS goes to Hollywood in “Lincoln”

In May I got a voicemail asking if the Kentucky Historical Society would be willing to allow recording of the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch for a film. We get a lot of research requests here but this was special – the caller was Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt and the film was “Lincoln” directed by Steven Spielberg starring Daniel Day-Lewis!

I returned the call and got to talk to Burtt, which was pretty much heaven for a “Star Wars” nerd like me. Ben created the sound of lightsabers in “Star Wars” (and pretty much all the sounds in all the “Star Wars” movies)! Ben is a legend in the movie industry and helped create the modern sound design we now take for granted in films.

Ben told me he was trying to make the sounds in “Lincoln” as authentic as possible. He traveled the country recording “sounds Lincoln may have heard.” He recorded the sound of bells from a church near Washington, D.C., the sound of Lincoln’s church pew and more. The last sound he needed for the film was the sound of one of Lincoln’s watches ticking. He knew KHS had a watch that Lincoln had once used, and wanted to know if we’d allow his team to record it and use it in the film.

Although I very much wanted to help, I was initially skeptical. Lincoln’s watch is an iconic artifact at KHS and is irreplaceable. (See it in the KHS Objects Catalog at I was concerned that winding it could cause damage and I wasn’t going to risk a signature artifact if it looked at all risky. I told Ben I’d call him back, and talked to Bill Bright, a curator at KHS and our resident watch expert. Bill pulled the watch off display, examined it carefully and consulted with other experts. He reported that the watch was mechanically in perfect working order and that he recommended a test. He wound the watch, and a perfectly regular ticking came forth.


Here Greg (wearing headphones), Bill (blue shirt) and I are discussing the best position for the microphone on the watch inside KHS’s vault.

We were in business! I had several conversations with Ben to discuss flying the watch out to Skywalker Ranch to record the sound in one of their sound rooms, but the expense and risk of flying such a valuable artifact to California was too high. Instead, Greg Smith, one of Ben Burtt’s sound team, came to Frankfort to record the watch.

We set up in the “vault” – the quietest and most secure room in the building – and began recording. Greg has worked on numerous films and had chosen his equipment carefully. I attached a small microphone to the watch while Bill positioned everything just right in a box to muffle ambient noise while Greg recorded. We recorded the watch open and closed in various ways until Greg pronounced that he had everything he needed.

We were then sworn to secrecy, and told not to promote KHS’s small role in the project until we were given the go-ahead. This became increasingly difficult as Steven Spielberg traveled the country doing advance screenings and interviews – he has frequently mentioned the fact that the film used the sound of Lincoln’s actual watch! (see Spielberg’s 60 Minutes interview and his comments at a screening).

In fact, if you listen carefully while watching the film’s trailer you’ll hear the sound of the watch ticking repeatedly throughout.

If you want to see (and hear) Lincoln’s watch in person you can visit us here in Frankfort at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History!

–Trevor Jones, KHS director of museum collections and exhibitions