By ASHLEY ANDERSON
It all began with a red crew-neck.
Displayed prominently in the middle of WHY Louisvilleâ€™s T-shirt wall, a screen-printed tee featuring 50 unique reasons to love Louisville spurred a scavenger hunt to learn more about the cityâ€™s rich history.
A mix of the obvious Louisvillisms â€“ the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon and Colonel Sanders â€“ with the lesser-known â€“ American rock band Slint, the Goatman of Pope Lick and resident Will Oldham â€“ the T-shirt is a refreshing reflection of the cityâ€™s both quaint and commercial character. Launching into full investigation mode, The Voice-Tribune decided to further examine the intriguing list of 50 reasons, starting at the source of inspiration: WHY Louisville. Inside the local â€œnon-serious retailâ€ shopâ€™s newly opened NuLu location, WHY Lou Two, we spoke with owner Will Russell, founder of Lebowski Fest (No. 31 on the T-shirt) about his popular store and the article of clothing in question.
â€œ(Creative studio, State Champs) came to me with the idea, and they had a list,â€ Russell said of the WHY Louisville T-shirt. â€œSome of their choices remained and I added quite a few, some more obscure stuff.â€
Russell humbly chose to leave his store off the list, though we think itâ€™s more than deserving, especially with the addition of WHY Lou Two. The NuLu store carries much of the same eccentric, locally-made merchandise as the original Bardstown Road site, offering everything from Bourbon cookbooks to inflatable beards, terrariums and â€œsouvenirs that donâ€™t suckâ€ within a refreshing, circus-like atmosphere. The shopping experience is further enhanced with free popcorn, pony rides for 25 cents and the chance to spin the wonder wheel, with a winner every time.
Concluding our WHY Louisville visit, it was off to meet quirky Councilman Tom Owen, No. 40 on the T-shirt. Owen may be best known for his method of transportation, a bus/bike combination, along with his expansive knowledge of Louisville history. â€œI get up every morning assuming that I donâ€™t have an automobile accessible to me,â€ Owen said of his unconventional lifestyle, which heâ€™s maintained for the last decade or so. Owen shares a car with his wife, Phyllis, but only uses it on the rare occasion his destination is much too far to bike.
Owen jokes heâ€™ll save $100,000 in 10 years due to his mode of transport, which he chose coincidentally, not â€œbecause of any grand plan or eureka decision.â€ â€œI like speaking to people (on my bike) and it makes me feel like Iâ€™m part of a bigger picture,â€ he said.
Since 2002, the former Methodist minister has served as Democratic councilman for District 8. Owen earned his Ph.D. in American history and, oddly enough, resembles another famous Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln.
When he â€œgrows up,â€ the septuagenarian would like to possess two costumes â€“ an Abraham Lincoln getup and riverboat captain ensemble â€“ and walk convention halls, handing out brochures or discount coupons to passersby. He also aspires to host a syndicated TV program, called â€œWhat In The Hell Is This?â€ during which Owen would discuss peculiar gizmos and demonstrate their function.
While heâ€™s not sure exactly why heâ€™s been recognized on the WHY Louisville T-shirt, Owen has a few guesses. â€œThe bicycle thing, the funny looking face, which I didnâ€™t control, (my) way of doing history,â€ he surmised. â€œI didnâ€™t plan on it being this way, but I just somehow ended up finding a different groove.â€
Next up, The Voice inquired about No. 17 on the T-shirt, Happy Birthday Park, an upcoming attraction on the southeast corner of Fourth and Chestnut Streets commemorating the legacy of Patty Smith Hill and her sister Mildred Jane Hill. The Hills, who co-wrote â€œHappy Birthday To Youâ€ â€“ sung in virtually every nation around the globe â€“ pioneered the development of the kindergarten movement in Louisville. They believed that children learn best through play, a concept embodied in the Patty and Mildred Hill Happy Birthday Park. Boasting an interactive shadow wall, karaoke room and tree house to prompt people of all ages, abilities, races and nationalities to sing, dance, laugh and make music, the focus of the park will be to bring out the potential that lies within in every child.
â€œWeâ€™re going to start building the park as soon as we get the funding,â€ said Marsha Weinstein, president of the board of directors for Happy Birthday Park. â€œIf you notice around town, thereâ€™s not too many statues or parks that publicly recognize the accomplishments of women.â€
It could be awhile before the projectâ€™s complete, but with park renderings reminiscent of scenes from â€œAlice in Wonderland,â€ the venueâ€™s sure to be a hit once it arrives. Itâ€™s not just children whoâ€™ll anticipate the opening, either. Happy Birthday Park is for any and everyone â€“ after all, â€œeverybody has a birthday,â€ Weinstein said.
Speaking of whimsical, the Wonderland-esque park may have met its match with a peculiar rabbit, located off Barrett and Royal Avenues. No. 12 on the list, the â€œGiant Bunny,â€ is a nearly 7-foot-tall tree carving of a furry cottontail.
Retired school teacher Jane Leis, who lives in the home bearing the rabbit, had the bunny carved nearly 10 years ago. â€œI always had a rabbit in my classroom (at Urban Montessori),â€ said Leis. â€œBefore I retired, when I went to public schools, I thought, Iâ€™m not getting any more rabbits, and the tree was dead so I thought, thatâ€™s it.â€
Given the same name as each of her class rabbits, the tree carving by artist Mike McCarthy became known as â€œRudy Lou.â€ Over time, word of mouth turned the bizarre lawn decoration into a small-scale attraction. People began showing up in Leisâ€™ front yard to take wedding, prom and graduation pictures, with Easter being prime time for photo-taking.
Sadly, the Giant Bunny has begun to rot, and is expected to crumble as soon as May of this year. â€œIn two months it could be gone. Itâ€™s sad, but as I said, my rabbits died when I had live ones, so my tree died, too.â€ Leis said. â€œI donâ€™t have another tree and itâ€™s a small tree. And I just donâ€™t think (Iâ€™ll replace it).â€
Though there can only be one Giant Bunny, not every local legend must die. The home of the cheeseburger (No. 16 on the tee), Kaelinâ€™s Restaurant staked its claim on the invention of the classic sandwich in 1934. Closing to the public in 2009, the life of the diner has been revived by Mulliganâ€™s, â€œKaelinâ€™s Second Chance,â€ which prepares the cheeseburger the same way Kaelinâ€™s did, albeit with a slight modification.
â€œWe have people that come up all the time and theyâ€™ll take pictures with the (original Kaelinâ€™s) sign out front,â€ said restaurant manager J.R. Harrison. The Kaelinâ€™s name recently received top billing on the building next door. In late February, a soft opening welcomed Kaelinâ€™s Coffeehouse, which provides coffee with â€œperks,â€Â signature pastries, such as the $2 Black Velvet â€“ chocolate ganache over a melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter crumb layer â€“ and lunch and dinner, with a full breakfast menu debuting at the soon-to-be-announced grand opening.
â€œWe went with the coffee concept because … the (original Kaelinâ€™s) opened at 6:30 in the morning for breakfast, lunch and dinner,â€ said Tim Clark, co-owner of Mulliganâ€™s and Kaelinâ€™s Coffeehouse with wife Andrea.
Kaelinâ€™s Coffeehouse, 1801 Newburg Road, will host live music and an open mic night on Wednesdays within the venue, decorated with Kaelinâ€™s antiques and a counter made from Colonel Sandersâ€™ breading table. Most impressive about the new restaurant â€“ You can order the renowned Kaelinâ€™s cheeseburger even for breakfast.
Itâ€™s no wonder Kaelinâ€™s, along with the other previously mentioned notable figures and attractions, are among the 50 reasons to love Louisville. We think youâ€™ll adore the city that much more once you discover the stories behind the other 46 on the list.