Louisville is home to many interesting people, places and events, including the Kentucky Derby, bourbon production and our homegrown Academy Award-winning darling, Jennifer Lawrence. But, we’d bet a shiny penny there are some tidbits about the Derby City that haven’t crossed your radar yet. Here are 10 unusual, unique and perhaps quirky Louisville facts that might make you say, “I didn’t know that!”
10 Quirky Things We Love About Louisville
We Love Big Bats
Louisville is the home of two colossal creations, and they’re both big bats. The most recognizable is the “Big Bat” in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. As the largest bat of its kind in the world, the Slugger’s Big Bat weighs 68,000 pounds and stands 120 feet high. Made entirely of steel, the bat’s interior is hollow and has a 30,000-gallon capacity.
Then there’s Caufield’s bat, a huge vampire bat haunting the outside wall of Caufield’s Novelty. According to owner and family member Tracy Caufield Johnson, once the Slugger Museum & Factory erected their giant baseball bat, her brother Kerry Caufield had the idea to put up a giant bat at the family’s store. Kerry created the steel skeleton, then applied a fiberglass skin on top. Once complete, the bat was rolled on dollies to a crane, lifted into place and welded to mounts on the building. This bat weighs approximately 1,500 pounds and is 30 feet tall and 16 feet wide. It’s a bit spooky, but there’s no way this winged mammal at Caufield’s Novelty will fly off into the night (at least we hope so).
Let’s have some fun!
Modern-day amusement venues like Kentucky Kingdom and Churchill Downs are great entertainment for locals and visitors, but back in the day, Kentuckiana had a handful of amusement parks on either side of the Ohio River. Some had early roller coasters and thrill rides, while others offered bathhouses and swimming pools, as well as lovely picnic grounds. In southern Indiana, you could visit two parks: Fern Grove, which eventually became Rose Island, and Glenwood Park. Across the river in Louisville, locals visited White City, Fontaine Ferry Park and Kiddieland. Not much, if anything, remains of these parks today, yet you can find signs and markers where Rose Island once stood in what is now Charlestown State Park. More information can be found about these parks and their history in a book written by Kentucky native Carrie Cooke Ketterman called Lost Amusement Parks of Kentuckiana, published by Arcadia Publishing in its Images of America series.
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The Bee’s Knees
Cave Hill Cemetery is well known for being the final resting place of notables such as Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders and boxing great Muhammad Ali, but this Victorian-era national cemetery and arboretum has a sweet little secret: it makes and sells its own line of honey.
The Cave Hill Heritage Foundation (CHHF) currently maintains six hives on the cemetery grounds, which are managed by a seven-member beekeeping team composed of Cave Hill employees. There are also 18 additional hives maintained by a partner beekeeper, Rodolpho Bernal. In 2019, a honey extraction house and pollinator garden were added to the grounds, and in that year, 15 gallons of honey were collected. The honey is sold at the cemetery as well at the St. Matthews Farmers Market in September during the annual Clarkson Honeyfest.
An American Icon is Celebrated in Louisville
The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is the world’s largest non-profit company that creates products and services for blind or visually impaired individuals, and it offers free tours through the factory and museum. New to the museum is the permanent display of items that are part of the Helen Keller Archives. Helen Keller is one of the most influential and recognizable people of the 20th century, and the public display of her memorabilia inspires all who visit. Currently, guests can see letters from Mark Twain and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Helen Keller’s Academy Award for her appearance in the 1955 documentary about her life, Helen Keller in Her Story, and a ceremonial shield presented to her from the Zulu nation. Every few months, the exhibit will change and display new material from her life.
Locals are tuned into one of the most entertaining restaurants/bars/arcades in the area, Recbar. The bar houses more than 100 retro and modern arcade and pinball machines. According to Molly Myers, Recbar’s sales and marketing manager, Final Furlong is the bar’s quirkiest game: “Two players race head-to-head on mechanical horses and have to literally ‘giddy-up,’ pushing the pedals back and forth to get the horse to run around the track on the screen. It is very physically engaging for its players, and it’s quite the spectacle for anyone watching the two riders take it quite seriously.”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t give a nod to a fashion accessory Louisvillians absolutely love: big Derby hats. Locals know that one of the top spots to create or buy a ready-made hat is at Dee’s Louisville. The store has been in business for 50 years, and its designers have been creating hats for 30 years. Dee’s has come up with some pretty wild designs, and the pagoda-themed piece is truly a show stopper. This hat was designed for an out-of-town customer who wanted it for Colorado’s Denver Derby. This is one of the most expensive designs ever created, coming in at $650. It features hand-painted coy fish, a bridge over a pebbled waterway and a handmade Sinamay pagoda.
Bridging the Gap
The Louisville waterfront is known for its network of bridges that carry commuters back and forth over the Ohio River. Still, one bridge is reserved solely for pedestrians: the Big Four® Bridge. The structure started as a six-span railroad truss bridge at the latter part of the 19th century and was named for the now-defunct Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway. In 1969, the original approaches that carried rail traffic onto the main spans were removed, and the bridge earned the nickname of the “Bridge that Goes Nowhere.” It remained that way until February 7, 2013, when the Louisville ramp was opened, and then the Jeffersonville, Indiana, ramp opened May 20, 2014. Finally, the two states were connected after waiting for so many years.
Over time, the bridge has had a number of news-worthy mishaps. A 1904 New York Times article titled “Asleep at the Throttle: Train Takes Wrong Turn While Engineer Naps for an Hour,” tells the story of the train taking a wrong turn and crossing the Big Four® before anyone noticed the mistake. Twelve years ago, the Big Four® caught on fire while work crews were on the bridge. It was thought that a junction box associated with the old navigation system might have been the culprit. Things on the bridge are pretty uneventful these days, offering a beautiful way to cross the river.
The Kentucky Derby Museum, situated on the ground of Churchill Downs race track, houses a vast array of Derby-related memorabilia with more than 10,000 items in its collection. Pieces include dried and preserved roses from Derby winners’ blankets of roses and a pair of sunglasses owned by Bob Baffert, trainer for the 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. According to the museum’s Director of Communications Rachel Collier, one of the quirkiest items is a Conestoga wagon. “This came from a long-time Derby fan who, before Churchill Downs enforced stricter security for the Infield crowd, used to roll this wagon to Derby Day festivities with his friends,” she explains. “It’s a great example of the wacky and wild subset of Derby attendees who party like there’s no tomorrow in the Infield.” The wagon is decorated with a variety of stickers from its days at the Derby, from a sign that says, “God Bless John Wayne” to mismatched lettering and numbers on the side showing the years it spent rolling around at Churchill Downs.
A Party for the Ages
Although the rest of the world might view the Kentucky Derby as just two minutes of horses running around the mile-and-a-quarter track, locals are tuned into the fact that the celebration actually begins weeks before Derby Day. The Derby Festival has been in existence for 65 years, and more than 70 events are on the schedule this year. Some of the doings include the BB&T Great BalloonFest, Ashley Homestore Great Bed Races, the Great Steamboat Race on the Ohio River and the popular Pegasus® Parade. The Derby Festival attracts 1.5 million people to Louisville every spring, bringing in about $128 million to the local community.
Take a drive through the outskirts of Louisville, and you will see pastures filled with beautiful horses, possibly some that will make it the Kentucky Derby one day. But dotted throughout town, you’ll see a plethora of horse statues painted in an array of colors and patterns. These painted ponies are part of the Gallopalooza project that began in 2003 through the Brightside Foundation as a way to raise money and also add beauty to the city. It was such a popular idea that Gallopalooza II came to the forefront in 2009, and in 2015, the third incarnation, Bridles & Bourbon, happened with full-sized horses, six-foot-tall mint julep cups and miniature horses on half bourbon barrels. Visit gallopalooza.com to find the locations of these beautiful statues.
There’s so much to love about Louisville!
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