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Program 1212

1. the Belle of Louisville
2. Kizito Cookies
4. painter Elsie Kay Harris
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Jefferson County

For more information:
Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson Cruises, 401 W. River Rd., Louisville, KY 40202, (502) 574-2992

Producer, videographer: Treg Ward
Editors: Treg Ward, Dan Taulbee

Steaming Along

Belle of Louisville

In 1962, Jefferson County judge Marlow Cook spent $34,000 of public money on a beat-up old riverboat named the Avalon that was probably otherwise destined for the scrap heap. It wasn’t a universally popular expenditure; at the time, some regarded it as a waste of taxpayers’ money. But after some long months of repair work, a gleaming white paint job, and a name change, the old boat reappeared as the Belle of Louisville to race Cincinnati’s Delta Queen down the Ohio River a few days before the 1963 Kentucky Derby. Today, of course, the Belle is one of the most visible and beloved symbols of Louisville’s river heritage, and the Great Steamboat Race is a highlight of each year’s Derby Festival.

Kentucky Life host Dave Shuffett starts this edition with a ride on the Belle, then gets a tour from Captain Kevin Mullen. He gets a look at the oil-fueled engines that turn the great paddlewheel and the control room while learning more about the history of riverboat travel and of the Belle itself.

The boat started life as the Idlewild. Launched in 1914, she ferried passengers and cargo across the Mississippi between Memphis, TN and West Memphis, AR for several years. In the 1920s, she became an itinerant “tramp” steamboat, putting in at various cities to operate excursions for a while before moving on to another port. She first visited Louisville in 1931, shuttling passengers between the Fontaine Ferry amusement park and the Rose Island resort.

During World War II, the Idlewild did her bit for the war effort. Special equipment was added so that she could push oil barges, and she served as a floating USO recreation center on the Mississippi.

The Idlewild was sold in 1947 and renamed the Avalon, then sold again in 1949 to a group of Cincinnati businessmen. They sent the Avalon traveling even more widely—north to Minnesota and as far west as Omaha—until the wear and tear finally got to be too much for the old girl, and she was taken out of service and put up for auction ... which brings us back to Marlow Cook and her rebirth as the Belle of Louisville.

The Belle’s time in the Derby City hasn’t quite been all roses. A saboteur nearly managed to sink her in 1997 by leaving a water valve open. But she was once again repaired and refloated. Now recognized as the oldest operating river steamboat in the country, the Belle is a National Historic Landmark. Public sightseeing cruises are offered weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day, departing from the Belle’s dock at the foot of Fourth Street, and the boat is available for charter year-round.

Louisville Metro Government also operates a second riverboat, the Spirit of Jefferson. This younger sister was launched as the Mark Twain in 1963—the same year the then 49-year-old Avalon was being reborn as the Belle of Louisville. She spent seven years operating out of New Orleans, then 25 years in St. Louis as the Huck Finn. Jefferson County bought her (for $395,000) in 1995.

From the archives: Journalist Bob Edwards, a Louisville native, went over to the “other side” and rode the Delta Queen in the 1998 Kentucky Derby Festival Great Steamboat Race. A report on his ride is included in Kentucky Life Program 503. (Note: The annual steamboat race now features other opponents for the Belle; the Delta Queen was retired from cruise duty because of fire safety concerns and is now at permanent anchor as a floating hotel in Chattanooga.)

Jefferson County

For more information:
Kizito Inc., 1398 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY 40204, (502) 456-2891

Producer: Carolyn Gwinn
Videographers: Amelia Cutadean, Joy Flynn
Audio: Noel Bramblett
Editors: Carolyn Gwinn, Joy Flynn

The Cookie Lady

Kizito Cookies

Our next segment features another favorite Louisville lady: the “Cookie Lady.”

Elizabeth Namusoke Kizito was born in rural Uganda. Her family sent her to the United States to attend school when she was 17. After her father died and civil war devastated her family home, she decided to stay on in America, living in Colorado and New Mexico before moving to Louisville in 1978.

Her father, a baker, had taught her the tricks of the trade as a little girl. So eventually Elizabeth decided to try to support herself by baking. She operated a cookie cart on a downtown Louisville street corner for several years, then opened a small bakery on Bardstown Road in 1989. To boost sales, she also began loading cookies into a large basket she carries on her head—another skill imported from her homeland—and selling them at festivals, baseball games, and other outdoor events. Her cookies are now distributed through coffee shops and restaurants around the city as well as her own store, but Elizabeth and her basket are still fixtures at home games at Slugger Field.

The product line now includes muffins, brownies, and biscotti as well as the “Lucky in Kentucky Chocolate Chip” cookie, a mixture of white and semi-sweet chocolate and pecans that was named, Elizabeth says, to thank the loyal customers who have made her a success in her adopted hometown.

Fayette County

For more information:
• Elsie Kay Harris, 3070 Lakecrest Circle, Suite 400, Lexington, KY 40513, (859) 254-6050

Producer, videographer, editor: Brandon Wickey

Hills of Home

Painter Elsie Kay Harris

The work of Lexington landscape painter Elsie Kay Harris focuses on hills: the play of light and color across rolling topography. When she discovers an interesting vista, she captures it first in line drawings made on-site. Then she returns to her studio to paint, rendering the scene in expressive, vivid colors that evoke her emotional response to the original scene. She shows us some of that process in this visit.

The multi-talented Elsie also has designed and produced large-scale murals and ballet and stage productions, once worked as a graphic artist for KET, and has served on the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council. She is a past president of the Lexington Art League and chair of its Endowment Fund, and for years she represented her fellow visual artists with the craft marketing program of the Kentucky Arts Council.

Fayette County

For more information:
Headley-Whitney Museum, 4435 Old Frankfort Pike, Lexington, KY 40510, (859) 255-6653

On Location

Headley-Whitney Museum

Dave hosts this edition from Lexington’s Headley-Whitney Museum, a showplace that proves the adage about good things coming in small packages.

George W. Headley III (1908-1985) made quite a name for himself in Hollywood in the 1940s—not on film, but as a jeweler to the stars. His breathtaking necklaces, bracelets, and other pieces were sought out by such stars as Fanny Brice and Joan Crawford (and are still sought out by private collectors). But after a decade of running a boutique in Los Angeles, the designer returned to his family’s farm outside Lexington. There he continued to design jewelry as well as fanciful “bibelots”—small decorative objects—incorporating gold and precious gems along with natural materials and unusual objects he collected on his travels.

In 1968, Headley established a small museum to house his pieces and acquisitions. Later, good friend Marylou Whitney contributed a collection of dollhouses she had commissioned for her daughter, replicating her own home in exquisite miniature. The two collections make up the heart of the Headley-Whitney, located on scenic Old Frankfort Pike between Lexington and Frankfort.

In the Jewel Room, Dave discovers examples of Headley’s own work. The collection of jeweled objects is ranked as one of the finest in the country. While sheer beauty is much in evidence, the collection also reveals Headley’s penchant for unusual combinations. A terracotta pigeon made by a French craftsman in the 14th century wears a necklace of rubies added by Headley. A fish made of serpentine, gold, and diamonds, carved by George Wild, now swims through a cave of volcanic rock surrounded by gold starfish. And all of the objects sparkle against a lush, dark background meant to make you feel like you’ve stepped inside a jewelry box.

In an outbuilding, you’ll find one more spectacular example of Headley’s sense of whimsy. Beginning in 1973, the designer and a hired crew began transforming a former three-car garage into the Shell Grotto: a large room where the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and every other surface are completely covered with mosaics made of coral and seashells.

SEASON 12 PROGRAMS: 120112021203120412051206120712081209121012111212
1213121412151216121712181219122012211222: Dr. Clark’s Kentucky Treasures

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