Kentucky Songwriter, Comic Con, and Bloodhounds!

By Joyce West | 4/14/17 8:54 AM

Covington native Haven Gillespie composed enduring classics including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Kentucky Life host Doug Flynn visits the Pasta Garage in Lexington. Meet fan favorites and go behind the scenes at Lexington’s Comic Con. Two bloodhounds, Magic and Chloe, assist Smokey Bear by tracking arsonists in southeastern Kentucky.

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Haven Gillespie
The son of a laborer and a domestic worker, songwriter Haven Gillespie (1888-1975) grew up in Covington but left school in fourth grade. He followed his sister to Chicago when he was 14, and started in the printing business, which exposed him to the popular sheet music of the day.

Gillespie discovered he had a talent for writing lyrics, and his sheet music became popular. He moved back to his hometown before heading out again, this time for Tin Pan Alley, the nickname of the Manhattan street that was home to the popular music publishers. James Claypool, professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University, told the story of how the district got its name.

“Everyone was afraid people would steal their songs. So they would muffle the pianos. And you would hear what was going on in a tin-sounding format. And so people couldn’t really pick up the melody and steal those melodies,” Claypool said.

Gillespie collaborated with composer J. Fred Coots, creating many well-known songs of the day. In 1934, Gillespie’s publisher asked him to write a children’s Christmas song.

Claypool said Gillespie wrote most of his songs while riding New York subways. It was while he was riding the train that he came up with one of the well-known lines of the song. “There was a young boy up in front of him. And he just happened to say, well, is Santa Claus going to come see you this year? And the kid turned around, and all of a sudden, he said, well, you better be good. And he got that line that he used later in ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ ”

The song was a boon for parents trying to get their kids to behave, said Johnston: “Adults could straighten out their children. You better not do this, you better not do that. Basically, it’s saying you won’t get anything from Santa Claus if you don’t behave. And so from that standpoint, it’s really as much of an adult song as it is a children’s song.”

Claypool said it became one of the Top 10 Christmas songs of all time. “There are 800 recordings in every language known to mankind and also every genre of music. There’s rap, all kinds, rock and roll, whatever,” he said.

Beyond “Santa Claus…” Gillespie wrote songs recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holliday, who sang “You Go to My Head.”

Among the many songs Gillespie wrote lyrics for are “By the Sycamore Tree,” recorded by Rudy Vallee; “You’re In Kentucky as Sure as you’re Born,” recorded by Rosemary Clooney; “Right or Wrong,” recorded by George Strait; and “That Lucky Old Sun,” recorded by numerous artists, including Frankie Laine, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny Cash.

Pasta Garage
Lexington Pasta was founded in 2009 by Lesme Romero and Reinaldo Gonzalez. The restaurant uses pasta made in-house by Lexington Pasta.

“Two and a half, three years ago, they came up with the concept of not just of production but a restaurant as well,” said executive chef Jake Gaunce.

What makes Pasta Garage unique? The pasta, of course, said Gaunce, but also, everything else is made from scratch.

The dough is made with fresh eggs, semolina and durum flours, then it’s rolled out onto big spools, and cut into different sizes. Patrons can choose their own sauce and toppings, or choose one of the chef’s picks.

“We’re actually very well known for our gnocchi, and that’s what I was using when I first started buying Lexington Pasta,” said Gaunce.

The restaurant has thrived at its Delaware Avenue location. The area used to be more an industrial area but now boasts an eclectic mix of businesses, Gaunce said. “… we’ve definitely been very successful for being off the beaten path, as some say.”

They plan to expand to private dining and catering, and eventually open other locations.

Lexington Comic Con
In downtown Lexington, fans turn out in force, and often in costume, for the annual Lexington Comic and Toy Convention, known, of course, as Comic Con.

Jarrod Greer, event promoter, said he and his wife decided to put on the first Lexington Comic Con in 2011. “My youngest son and I had kind of been messing around with Power Ranger toys, and he was an avid Power Ranger and Transformer collector at the time, so comics and toys are something I’ve been into for a while,” he said.

Artist Billy Tackett said the Lexington Comic Con is one of the best he’s done nationwide. “It’s really, really good. It stacks up really well to the rest of them. Plus, it’s kind of cool to hang out here, so I would come here if I wasn’t selling art.”

The first year, over 4,000 people came through the door, Greer said, double what they hoped for. By 2015, they had over 21,000 paid guests.

Sylvester McCoy, the 7th Doctor Who, said it was a joy to be there. “How can it not be great if people come out and they actually like you? That’s a nice thing, isn’t it? They come out and they like you.”

Colin Baker, the 6th Doctor Who, agreed. “Whatever job you do, if you have people 30 years later who want to say to you, ‘I like that stuff you did 30 years ago,’ enough to leave my home and to come down and tell you about it, all you can do is say, gee, I am not worthy.”

Greer said every year has a theme, such as Doctor Who in 2016, Star Wars in 2017, He gets emails from people requesting certain actors and certain themes. “We try to accommodate a little bit of everybody,” he said.

John “Batman” Buckland, who portrays Batman for Heroes & Higher, said he goes to schools and hospitals, bringing the Caped Crusader to life for children, and tackling serious issues like bullying, grief counseling, and drug abuse prevention, even drug rehabilitation for adults too. “Pretty much anything and everything that kids or adults deal with, that’s what we do,” he said.

Comic Con draws from a diverse demographic. “Comics, I always say, are the great equalizer. It’s the one place a plumber and a brain surgeon can get together and talk about Spider-Man,” Greer said.
Fans can wear costumes, play games at the tabletop game room, meet comic book artists, buy collectibles, get autographs– even speed date, sci-fi style.

Ryan Glitch founded Sci-Fi Speed Dating. “This is my company, this is what I do,” said Ryan Glitch. “We want our participants to be fans of something to have that spot to build from. So we only do it at conventions.”

Glitch said he tried speed dating at a convention in Atlanta. “And it was kind of atrocious. It just wasn’t well done,” he said. Glitch had his own ideas on how to make it successful, and convention organizers were so impressed they asked him to run one for them. From there, he launched his own business.

Promoter Greer said he starts planning for the next convention as soon as one ends. “Planning’s a year-round thing. It’s a part-time job up until say, October or so,” when tickets go on sale for the March event.

Greer said there are lots of good conventions out there. “We like to think we’re one of them,” he added. “We’ll be back to Lexington Center there. We just hope to be back bigger and better than ever.”

Arson Dogs
Arson is the leading cause of wildland fires in the state, according to forestry officials, and the state averages 1,447 such fires each year. To track down arsonists in southeastern Kentucky, officials have enlisted the help of bloodhounds.

Michael Harp, assistant fire chief of the Kentucky Division of Forestry, said Kentucky ranks high nationally for the number of fires intentionally set. “If we’re not number one, we’re really close to the top,” he said.

Forestry focuses on education and prevention, Harp said, and the bloodhounds are a valued addition to the toolbox. “They’re very good at their job,” he said.

Home base for these special dogs is the Bell County Forestry Camp, a 300-bed minimum security state prison, about 14 miles southeast of Pineville. “That is a program started many years ago to lessen the number of escapees from that prison,” Harp said. “We did a partnership with them, and so we get to use several of their dogs in our firefighting efforts.”

The dogs are on standby, and from their central location can reach the scene of the crime before it is disturbed by others. Warden David Green said the prison is the sole provider of arson dogs for the Department of Corrections. “We train the dogs here on site with our officers and the Division of Forestry,” he said.

Lt. Keith Fuson, commander of the canine unit, said bloodhounds are the dog he prefers. “Bloodhounds have better noses,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll get some arguments on that. The folds that the bloodhounds have on their face, especially when they drop their head, you’ll see all the wrinkles come up and the big long ears, my understanding is that it helps fold the scent up to their nose,” he explained.

The dogs can track the scent of humans at the fire’s origin, whether it’s a footprint or an object. “I know one of my officers tracked off a set of pliers that the guy had dropped,” Fuson said.

When officers see scuff marks on the ground, they lay a small square gauze pad on that spot, pick up the gauze with plastic bag, seal it, and then let the dog smell it. “These dogs will amaze you what they can do,” he said. “And they have days that I don’t know what you can do to get away from them.”

Michael Froelich, forest program specialist, said 90 percent of the fires in that area are deliberately set. When fire breaks out, Froelich calls on help from the canine unit. “Once we do find point of origin, the dogs have done their job in getting us where we need to go to be able to question suspects,” he said.

Bill Steele, director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry, said use of arson dogs is not unique to Kentucky. “Just the fact that people know these dogs can be brought out on a fire and are very good at sniffing out evidence, following the trail. I think that’s a deterrent in itself.”

Officer Adam Sloan of the Bell County Forestry Camp canine unit agreed. “Bloodhounds, they love attention and they love to please. And when you give them that scent, when they start tracking, they know if they do a good job they’re going to get the praise and the attention,” he said.

Sloan said the officers always work in pairs, with one handling the dog and the other officer watching the back of the first officer. “We are armed. So that way, the person handling the dog concentrates on the dog. The person behind them scans ahead and watches them to see if anyone’s hiding behind a tree.”

The bloodhound’s natural instinct is to hunt, Sloan said. “Does she like it and enjoy it? Yeah, I think she does,” he said.

Officer Joshua Brock, who works with Chloe, said the dog is calm and methodical. “She doesn’t get in a hurry for anything. We work at a steady pace, get the job done.”

Brock knows by the tension in the leash if Chloe is on track. “You can tell by the lead, it’s a constant pull. When she’s not really on track, there’ll be a lot of slack in the lead,” Brock said.

He said sometimes he’ll see Chloe tracking in one direction and he’ll think the suspect didn’t go that way. “But then, she’s the one that knows. They’re in control. So as long as you let them do the tracking and the working, she’ll always end up in success.”