The Moving Memorial

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Wednesday, June, 08 2011 11:11:00 pm   , 1156 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 68708 views


One of the most famous politicians in the history of Kentucky was John Rowan.  His distinguished career in law and public service, through which he gained his prominence, was long and varied.  His life was an interesting mixture of lofty successes and heart-rending misfortunes.  As fascinating as many of the events and accomplishments of his life and career were, likewise intriguing is the strange, repeated occurrence that has been associated with him in death.

Born near York, York County, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 1773, John was the son of Revolutionary War veteran William Rowan and Eliza (Cooper) Rowan.  In 1783, the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where John received most of his early education, and in 1790, he settled in Bardstown, Nelson County, to begin his classical education at Salem Academy, then headed by Doctor James Priestly (later president of Cumberland College). He completed his studies in 1793.  (Later, during the first and second decades of the new century, Rowan served as a trustee of Salem Academy and the subsequent Bardstown Academy.)

Rowan moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and studied law under Kentucky's first attorney general, George Nicholas. In 1795, he was admitted to the bar and commenced private practice in Elizabethtown.  He became one of Kentucky's most eminent attorneys and was especially esteemed for his work as a defense counsel.

Politically he espoused the principles of the Democratic-Republicans, dedicated to individual liberty and limited government.  He represented Nelson County in Kentucky's second constitutional convention, which convened in Frankfort on July 22, 1799. Adopted by the convention on August 17, the state constitution reflected Rowan's values of legislative superiority to the judicial and executive branches and for greater involvement of the populace in government.  (It called for the direct election of the governor and state senators.) In 1800, Rowan removed to Frankfort to practice law in the Court of Appeals.

On February 3, 1801, Rowan fought a duel with Dr. James Chambers.  On the night of January 29, a group of gentlemen, including Rowan and Chambers, were engaged in a game of cards at McLean's tavern in Bardstown. A conversation arose between the two over which was the better in speaking some of the ancient languages. Discussion became argument, which led to shoving and attempts at blows, prevented by the others present. Chambers's challenge ensued and the duel was fought about a mile and three-quarters south of Bardstown in the woods near Jacob Yoder's plantation on the Beech-fork.  Chambers was killed, the pistol ball entering four inches beneath the left arm (which he had raised to support the pistol upon the left elbow).  Rowan was arrested and brought to trial but acquitted due to insufficiency of evidence.

Though a tragic end to a socially and professionally prominent figure, the affair of honor had no effect upon John Rowan's political career. In 1804, he was appointed by Governor Christopher Greenup secretary of state. Elected in 1806, he represented Nelson County in Congress from March 7, 1807 to March 3, 1809. He was elected to represent Nelson County in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817. Jefferson County, in 1822 and again in 1824, likewise elected him to the state house. From 1819 to 1821, Rowan was a judge in the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In 1824, he was elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1831, during which period he was chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary. Returning to Kentucky in 1831, he divided his time between Bardstown and Louisville. In 1838 he became the president of the Kentucky Historical Society, which position he held until his death. He was appointed a commissioner for carrying out the terms of the 1839 treaty with the Republic of Mexico.

Married to Agnes Anne Lytle on October 29, 1794, Rowan built the Federal-style mansion known as "Federal Hill" on property deeded by the bride's father, William Lytle, as a wedding gift. Composed of thirteen rooms from original construction in 1795, but completed through additions in 1818, this magnificent plantation home is today a cherished historical site which with 235-acres constitutes "My Old Kentucky Home State Park."  A cousin of Judge Rowan was the composer Stephen Collins Foster who composed the song "My Old Kentucky Home" (first published in 1853).  Folklore maintains that the mansion inspired the song but there is no conclusive proof that Foster ever visited Federal Hill, and the lyrics of the song concern an old and little cabin, not a mansion.  Rowan was also the uncle (by marriage) of Ohio politician and Congressman Robert Todd Lytle.

Tragedy struck the Rowan home in July of 1833 when three children of John and Agnes Rowan and two of their spouses died from the second year of Asiatic cholera to hit Kentucky: daughter Mary Jane (Rowan) Steele; her husband, William Steele; son William Lytle Rowan; his wife, Eliza (Boyce) Rowan; and son Atkinson Hill Rowan.  Rowan also lost 26 of his slaves to the dread disease. (Atkinson, named for his father's business partner, Judge Atkinson Hill, had served as diplomatic envoy to Spain representing the administration of President Andrew Jackson).

John Rowan died on July 13, 1843, in Louisville, Kentucky.  Reportedly he instructed his family not to place a marker on his grave. It is said that he felt his mansion was memorial enough of his life and achievements. He further stated, so the story goes, that his father and mother had been buried in modest unmarked graves and for him to be buried otherwise would be disrespectful. He was first buried in Bardstown Cemetery, but later (apparently the late 1850's) his body was re-interred in the Rowan family cemetery at Federal Hill.

Feeling the need to mark his grave site with a memorial befitting his prominence, the family had a tall obelisk-style marker erected, listing his many achievements and offices. Within a short time of its placement, the stone due to no apparent cause toppled from its base. Stonemasons called in to reset it suggested that tree roots or ground settling may have been the cause. Just a matter of weeks later their services were again needed, the stone had fallen over a second time. Rumors began to spread that the dissatisfied spirit of John Rowan was manifesting his displeasure, and some of the workers refused to return to the site.  Restored to its position, it soon fell yet again, this time directly onto the grave.  Rumors grew yet stronger and stonemasons, by now certain that a restless spirit was to blame, refused to do any more work on the monument. Thence forth, cemetery caretakers have handled the task which has been necessitated from time to time throughout the years.

A memorial of a different sort was made by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1856 when the 104th county of the state was created from parts of Fleming and Morgan counties and named Rowan County. Perhaps that act was a commemoration more to the liking of John Rowan.





Photos: (Top) John Rowan. (Center) Grave and marker of John Rowan in Federal Hill Cemetery (Credit: RosalieAnn on  (Bottom) Kentucky statehood quarter featuring Federal Hill in its reverse-side design (Credit: United States Mint).

Toulouse Goose, a la Seuss

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Wednesday, June, 08 2011 09:11:00 pm   , 271 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 7656 views


by Uncle Ronny


I stepped out the door to greet the fine day,
But two horny-honkers were blocking my way.
My "babies," my sweeties, my lil' birdheads!
They honked recognition! "Good morning!," they said.


I stepped off the stoop, while avoiding some poop.
"Hey, I've warned about that! You birds wanna be soup?"
I strolled to the glider and sat my bones down.
And those two feathered critters came waddling around.


They stood quiet and still, and at me they stared.
All morning on grass and sundry green stuff they'd fared.
Oh, I knew what they wanted; 'twas really no news.
Honk Hogan walked over and nibbled my shoes.


I smiled and I giggled as I watched silly birds.
I said, "What's goin' on here!" Or some similar words.
Honk pecked and he picked, then as sure as you're born,
He threw up his head and, I swear, squawked, "Corn, corn!"


"Well, good golly Miss Molly, Land O' Goshen, indeed,
Like clockwork on grain each morning they feed."
I stood, smiled, and dawdled, and acted quite lost.
"Come on, dude, get going!" those peering eyes bossed.


"'M'on" I motioned, and they were right on my heels.
In sublime anticipation of the bestest of meals!
Inside the garage, scooping, corn I took hold,
And anxious webbed feet tapped the metal threshold.


Lucy Goosey and Honk gobbled golden grain down,
Then sought water and grass to help push it on down.
They watered and grazed and then awaited my weed pull.
'Cause the best grass to eat ... is grass fed by a people.



(This was a lil' poem I wrote for my blog November 24, 2009, just messin' around.)

Photos: (Top)

(Bottom) These be the guilty parties, subjects of the poem. © R. H. Livingston

Life Goes On

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Sunday, June, 05 2011 06:15:00 pm   , 604 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 29193 views


(This is a small essay I originally posted on my Yahoo! 360 blog on 26 July 2007.  I wrote it in about an hour in response to a blog entry which stated that we should accept whatever hand life deals us.)


The mistakes we make in life can teach us in ways that observation and advice cannot. Experience often makes the most lasting impression. What a pity, then, that at times, in trying to do the right thing, we may even unwittingly risk all we truly love, just to be crushed by the cruel teacher "fate" (just to learn a lesson). We learn from our mistakes, but our mistakes and their results do not, in my opinion, lead to some divine or universal perfection that was meant to be, anymore than our successes do. Choices made are just choices, some better than others. The road not taken is just a road not taken.

I reject the notion that whatever is, whatever happens, was meant to be. People say "Put matters into God's hands; if they were meant to be, they will be." So, when our lives thus become crap because of the "ordained" choice we opt for, do we really believe THAT is what God really really wanted for us? Que será será: I think not! No, way, José. "Stuff" happens, but we don't have to like it, and we don't have to accept it. It doesn't all "work out in the end"! One bad thing can just lead to an endless series of more bad things. Losing the love of your life, for example, just leads to a crappy life, not a new day of glorious other opportunities. People make good decisions and bad ones; the good ones don't necessarily indicate good intentions, and the bad ones don't always result from bad intentions. "The road to Hell," it is said, "is paved with good intentions." Maybe such builders just need better maps, not worse intentions! Sometimes we can't help others, love others, if we don't know what they really need or what they really want from this life!

We have free will. We have faith. Faith doesn't mean we should just camp out and let "stuff" happen. Some people prefer those who take such a course. After all, such fatalistic individuals are so tractable in allowing others to make that perfect pie-in-the-sky, that "ordained," "divine perfection" of everything always working out in the end. We have free will to do good or bad, to accept or reject that which happens in our and others' lives. We have the will to change things, as well as the will to accept things. Sometimes mistakes can be made in the doing, but they can also be made in the not doing---not doing things such as forgiving, especially when another makes mistakes for the right reasons. Fighting the good fight, doesn't always lead to a better tomorrow, but it's still the right thing to do. Not everyone accepts the good intentions of those who wish them well. Perhaps the well-wisher was mistaken to trouble the other, but the other is mistaken to not appreciate or forgive. People make mistakes in trying to do the right thing and in how they go about it. But is it right, to see them as paving a road to Hell? (After all, such a person COULD have decided to stay home and watch "reality" t.v., instead of toiling for others.)

Mistakes don't have to be permanent. They can be tools for learning. They can be just a twist in the road of life. They can even be opportunities for building things better and stronger.

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