Sunday, July 2, 2017

Alfred Crooks: A Sailor Lost at Sea

Through my journeys into local history, sometimes I find stories hidden within plain sight.  This was the case when I took one of my usual walks in Owingsville Cemetery not long ago.  While casually looking at the names of veterans who are buried there, I noticed  a large tombstone with a flag posted next to it that just kind of stood out from the others around it.  I read the inscription on the stone and noticed it read "Alfred Newton Crooks III, BM2C, USS Saratoga.  Born Nov. 21, 1923, died in the service of his country Feb. 21, 1945.  Buried at sea". 
I snapped a picture of Crooks' grave and set out to research him and the circumstances in which he was taken at such an early age.

Alfred Crooks was born in Bath County, the son of Robert B. Crooks, who was a deputy sheriff.  He entered military service with the United States Navy, being placed aboard the aircraft carrier Saratoga.  The Saratoga was a battled-hardened ship that had already seen action across the Pacific Theater of Operations by the time Alfred Crooks boarded her.  The ship was nearly sunk by a Japanese torpedo attack in 1942, but was repaired and returned to service shortly afterward.  The planes from the aircraft carrier were successful in vital missions in Guadalcanal, The Solomons and the Indian Ocean. 
In February, 1945, U.S. Forces began the Iwo Jima operation.  The U.S.S. Saratoga was dispatched to the area to provide air cover for the landings on the tiny island that would prove to be a bloody and hallowed ground for the U.S. Marines.  Alfred Crooks was a Boatswain's Mate, 2nd Class, performing general duties aboard the aircraft carrier and served as chief of a damage control party. 
The USS Saratoga during the Japanese Kamikaze attack
On February 21, 1945, the Saratoga and three escort ships broke away from the fleet anchored off Iwo Jima to set up night patrols for the landing parties.  Suddenly, around 5 p.m. local time, a squadron of Japanese planes began attacking the Saratoga, scoring five bomb hits within three minutes.  Damage control parties, including Crooks' crew, were alerted to try and put the fires out and save the stricken ship.  During the fighting, three Japanese kamikaze pilots intentionally dove their planes into the Saratoga, blasting through the starboard side, the flight deck and starting a huge fire in the hangar deck.  During this phase of the attack, thirty-six aircraft were destroyed, the flight deck was heavily damaged and 123 sailors, including Bath County's Alfred Crooks, were killed or listed as missing.  Another 197 were injured during the attack.  Two hours later, as the crew tried to mitigate the damage aboard the Saratoga, another Japanese kamikaze attack rained Hell upon the ship, further damaging the flight deck and rendering the carrier inoperable for the remainder of the Iwo Jima operation. There is a survivor's account of the attack that can be read at, and provides a great amount of information about the attack and aftermath.
The bodies of the sailors killed aboard the USS Saratoga being prepared for a burial at sea.
While in transit for repairs the next day, the remains of the dead sailors were ceremoniously buried at sea.  This was customary during times of war, and a long held Navy tradition.  The Crooks family was notified of their son's loss by the War Department and decided to place a marker in the family plot at Owingsville Cemetery.  Even though Alfred Newton Crooks III lies beneath the waters of the Pacific Ocean, his memory is etched in his hometown and also at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.    
Fleming County's Franklin Sousley is no doubt the most famous Kentuckian who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima; he was one of the men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi and is part of one of history's most iconic images.  Nearby in Owingsville, the marker of another Battle of Iwo Jima hero stands nearly inconspicuous as  a testament to the courage, valor and sacrifice he and other fellow servicemen made to secure the Pacific during World War II.  

The Mystery of Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings Pradelles

 The Owings family is etched into Bath County history with the Bourbon Furnace and namesake of Owingsville, but another member of the Owings bloodline has an intriguing tale of mystery and romanticism.  Tales of swashbuckling adventure and prestige have always held a certain fascination, and the story of Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings Pradelles has all the markings of such adventure.
Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings was born Christmas Eve, 1772 in Baltimore County, Maryland to John Cockey and Colgate Deye Owings; the first of eight children.  Her younger brother was Thomas Deye Owings, who came to Kentucky and gave Owingsville it's name.  John Cockey Owings served in the American Revolutionary War and became acquainted with Benedict Francois Van Pradelles, a French lieutenant.  Van Pradelles became enamoured with Cassandra and the couple married August 29, 1790 in Philadelphia.  
The couple moved to France soon afterward and started a family which would eventually consist of ten children.  During the French Revolution, the family fled France and came back to the United States, first in Baltimore, then in Philadelphia around 1795.  
Around 1804, Cassandra petitioned Kentucky Legislature to free her of her husband's debts and liabilities, and shows her living in Lexington at the time.  By July, 1805, the Van Pradelles family was again on the move; this time to New Orleans.  The journey took three months of floating down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on either flatboats or makeshift sail boats.  Once in New Orleans, Benedict Van Pradelles became a prominent figure within the city, becoming Register of the Board of Land Commissioners upon his arrival.  He also was named Notary Public for the City of New Orleans and Justice of the Peace in 1808.  Cassandra and Benedict enjoyed a successful and wealthy life during their time in New Orleans, so much that when her father, John Owings passed away, he willed her nothing, citing that she had "received other considerable fortunes from other inheritances". 
Benedict Francois Van Pradelles contracted yellow fever and died December 12, 1808, only a few weeks before the birth of his youngest daughter.  Cassandra, now a widow with six young children still living at home, stayed in New Orleans and opened a boarding house.  It is known that around 1811, Cassandra traveled to Maryland and left her children in the care of her sister Frances.  It is unknown why she chose to do this, but court documents show several legal actions involving Cassandra and others staking claim to her late husband's estate and land settlements which may have had some impact on her decisions.  Cassandra's health began to fail during this time, and a will was drafted in July, 1813; her mystery and legacy begins here.
At the advice of her doctor, Cassandra decided to return to Baltimore sometime between July, 1813 and March, 1814.  Her journey would be by sea, up the East Coast aboard a ship named the Corinthian.  A nightmare haunted Madame Van Pradelles just before she boarded the ship; a dream that her ship was captured by pirates and she was bound, blindfolded and made to walk the plank into the ocean along with other passengers.  She relayed this nightmare to friends, but continued her journey regardless.  Famed pirates Jean Lafitte and Dominique You were known to travel the waters along the North Carolina coast during this era, but by the time of Cassandra's journey, activity had dwindled to a minimum according to reports.  The Corinthian docked at the port of Beaufort, North Carolina, according to some official records that survive.  Sometime after this stop, the ship, and passengers, vanished into history.
Dr. John Moore, who married Cassandra's daughter Mary Marie Penelope, allegedly came into contact with a old pirate who made a stunning confession just prior to his death.  The pirate, who some believe was Dominique You, told the doctor that he was present when Lafitte's crew took the Corinthian near it's last known port call.  He  said he had taken jewels from a "pretty young thing from Baltimore" before she and the others were made to walk the plank to their deaths in the churning waters.  
Members of the Owings family were returned a trunk, silver and jewelry that were identified as Cassandra's that was located at a stronghold owned by Jean Lafitte sometime after her disappearance, bolstering the claim of the confession.  Her remains, nor the others, have ever been found.
A book was written about Jean Lafitte in 1930 by Lyle Saxon.  It offers a romantic view of the pirate and tells a version of Madame Pradelles' fate, but notes the date as being 1815.  The first record of Cassandra's will being probated was on March 9, 1814, and was presented to a Maryland court by her daughter.  Lawsuits would follow the disappearance, with Benedict Francois Van Pradelles, Jr. claiming he was the rightful and sole heir to his mother's estate.  Another legal action was taken over the disposition of land and slaves which Cassandra still laid claim to at the time she disappeared.  Another book, Cassandra Lost, written by Joanna Catherine Scott also gives a romantic view of the legend, but is more of a novel love story than an accurate historical account.  A movie was made starring Yul Brenner, aptly called Lafitte the Pirate and alludes to the fact that others took Cassandra's ship and killed the passengers, unjustly placing the blame on Lafitte. 
There is a memorial marker at an empty grave in the Sherwood Episcopal Cemetery, Cockeysville, Maryland, that simply reads, "Cassandra D. Pradelles, Lost at Sea in 1815, Age 40 Years".  This monument was erected by Cassandra's sister, Francis.  There is, however, an age discrepancy; in 1815, Cassandra would have been 43 years old, not 40.
 We may never know what really happened off the coast of North Carolina, but it is most definitely a tale of intrigue during a romantic age, and one with a touch of local notoriety.

The Owingsville Inquirer's Perilous Beginnings

Ahh, the modern age of communication.  At the stroke of a keyboard or scroll of a mouse or screen on a portable electronic device, we can have the latest news and weather.  Traditional ways of publishing news has nearly fell by the wayside; the large block printer presses and typesetting machines are almost archaic by today's standards.  Simply setting up a newspaper business was a task in those early days.  For Bath County's first news publication, the Owingsville Inquirer, just getting the equipment to begin publishing was a perilous task.
According to John Richards' An Illustrated History of Bath County, The Owingsville Inquirer's debut edition hit the stands on February 2, 1869.  Louisville publishers S.K. Bangs and W.H. Boblits purchased a Franklin Press and other materials necessary for printing the weekly paper, opening the business on the second floor of the old Honaker building, which was located on present day North Court Street.  The first edition consisted of four pages with seven columns.  In that first edition was a colorful account of how the Owingsville Inquirer came to be, with a harrowing journey from Lexington to Owingsville via horse and buggy.  The following is quoted from the February 2, 1869 edition, which was reprinted in the Richards book.

"Arriving at Lexington we found our type boxes broken and
the type scattered in every direction. After much trouble and annoyance,
occasioned not only by the condition of the material, but
by the loss of an indispensable article in our business, we succeeded
in packing the whole G.d. lot into a wagon that would convey it
to Owingsville. We found it necessary to follow after the wagon
on foot to see that none of the loose type played truant by the
roadside. Leaving Lexington at an early hour on the morning of
January the 15th, a damp, drizzling, disagreeable day, we jogged
along at a funeral march, our 'composing stone' keeping time,
'In a sort of Runic rhyme' against the side of the overloaded wagon.
Unexpected demands on our pocketbook had divested it of our
last nickel, and, on reaching the first toll-gate, we resorted to an
innocent little stratagem on the credulous Irish lady who came
to the door — 'Pay you on return this evening'.
"Hardly had we reached the first milestone when a crash occurred,
and down came the wagon on a broken wheel. Nothing
daunted, we scoured the neighborhod in the quest of a wheel that
was a wheel. Failing in this, we returned to the scene of the disaster,
carried the hub and broken spokes to a blacksmith shop
some distance away, and had the thing repaired. Blacksmiths are
proverbially good-hearted men; but it was no Joe Gargery we had
to deal with in this case. However, earnestly protesting that we
would not fail to settle the matter on reaching our destination, Vulcan
grumblingly consented to let the 'veel go'. In the intermediate
time, between riding to and from the wagon, through sleet and
rain, we had become drenched to the skin, and resumed our journey,
in the expressive language of Mr. Santalina, a 'demned, damp,
moist body'.
"At a late hour we reached Winchester. Through the kind
and generous aid of our whole-souled friend, Commodore Parris of
the Clark Democrat, our wants were provided for. With light
hearts we took up our line of march on the following day for Mt.
Sterling, which we reached about 2 o'clock, still pushing on with
the intention of reaching Owingsville by nightfall. Man proposes
but outrageous fate disposes. Wearily we climbed hill after hill,
and anon the shades of evening gathered around us. Just before
reaching the second toll gate, and when within six miles of our objective
point, another wheel was smashed and a portion of our
material dumped into the road.
"Fortunately the accident occurred near the farm of our worthy
representative, Hon. George Hamilton, whose amiable, accomplished
and excellent wife extended to us every courtesy and the
hospitalities of her home. We shall ever remember with deep and
sincere gratitude the kind welcome and assistance so cheerfully
given us by Mrs. H.
"With a new wagon and a pair of mules and horses we were
confident of completing our journey without further mishaps. Our
route lay over a dirt road, in many places axle deep in mud, rendered
so from recent rains and melting snow. It is a good enough
road in summer they tell us, and that's a sound argument against
pikes. This apathy of our good people in this regard to a matter
of such vital importance as good turnpikes, is very like the fellow
in the dialogue of the 'Arkansas Traveler'. In bad weather it was
impossible to cover his house; in dry he had no use for it.
"But we digress. Of course our wagon stuck fast ere we had
proceeded two miles. Coaxing the horses and breaking numberless
rails over the backs of the mules proved to no avail. Unloading a
portion of the materials we again essayed to pull out, but the horses
understood the situation and the mules coincided. It was 'No go'.
"On applying to Mrs. J. A. Marks for an ox team to extricate
us from the difficulty, she kindly consented to loan them. Her
servants were away from home and it devolved upon us, agreeable
to instructions, to hitch the whitest ox on this side and the other
on the t'other. As we could distinguish little or no difference
between the browsing, bullheaded twain we gave it up. In the
meantime our wagon with half of its load had pulled out of the
mud and mire. As luck would have it further down the road we
met our clever countryman, Robt. Clarke, who loaned us his oxen
and wagon to bring up the debris in the rear. Oxen seldom give
vent to their feelings even under the most trying circumstances,
but on this occasion it was too much for brute nature. The 'off ox'
under the terrible strain and distention of muscle and hide, bellowed
lustily. It was only by the wildest and most threatening demon-
strations of a young country gentleman who attacked the oxen
with the apparent intention of 'busting' something, that the wagon
moved off, amid the yelling of the boy and the bellowing of the
brutes. At last we reached the pike and our troubles in a measure
ended. On our arrival at Owingsville we found our type in a mess
of 'pi' and ourselves in a sad plight, which has occasioned a delay
in the appearance of the paper." 

The subscription price for the Owingsville Inquirer was $2.50, and according to some, was a fine newspaper.  Most of the early businesses advertised with the weekly publication, but only a year later, the Inquirer closed down. S.K. Bangs went onto become a successful publisher and head of the Frankfort Democrat paper, and employee David Williamson went onto to work for several newspaper publishers in Bath County over the years.  
There have been many newspapers published in Bath County since 1869, but it's unlikely any of those had such a story of origin.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The 1865 Bath County Election: An Election Overturned

The political arena is always a hot and debated topic, especially during election years.  Our country has just underwent a Presidential Election that has certainly caused a plethora of debate and turmoil, but it wasn't that long ago, voters in Kentucky could be turned away for their beliefs.  

Kentucky was considered neutral in the American Civil War, but across the state, there was a strong Southern sentiment among Kentuckians, including many in Bath County. During, and at the conclusion of the war, there was a sense of uneasiness within the states and who would become the newly elected officials.  

 Governor Thomas Bramlette had won the 1863 gubernatorial vote with controversy, as it was alleged that Union forces used intimidation tactics against opponent Charles Wickliffe's supporters. During Governor Bramlette's term, in early 1864, President Lincoln declared martial law in Kentucky and appointed General Stephen Burbridge Commander of the Military District of Kentucky.  Burbridge was considered a harsh commander, and in August 1864, issued Order 59, which empowered him to apprehend and arrest those suspected in guerilla tactics against the Union, and those who assisted them. Burbridge ordered the capture and deportation of nearly 30,000 suspected Southern sympathizers.  In addition, many more were killed, along with Union loyalists who wouldn't conform to Burbridge's demands. 
These actions soured Governor Bramlette's opinion of President Lincoln, but in early 1865, the final straw was drawn.  General Burbridge attempted to overtake the seat of Kentucky's government, but was thwarted.  In a letter to Secretary of War Edward Stanton,  the governor said, " This unwarranted assumption of power by an imbecile commander is doubtless instigated by those who have long sought to provoke an issue with the state, and which I have prevented".

Lincoln relieved Burbridge of his command, and in 1865, martial law in Kentucky was ended by President Andrew Johnson.  Governor Bramlette sought to end the intimidation tactics at the upcoming election; his proclamation stated "the law requires that a person offering to vote should state on an oath that he had not entered into the service of the so-called Confederate States, nor in the service of the so-called Provisional Government of Kentucky in either a civil or military capacity since the 10th day of April, 1862, nor has he continued in such service since said date; nor has given since that date voluntary aid or assistance to those in arms against the United States and the State of Kentucky".

Bath County held an election on August 7, 1865 to seat a representative in the Kentucky General Assembly.  Lander Barber, a former Union lieutenant from Mud Lick, and B. D. Lacy, a prominent lawyer from Owingsville were the two candidates on the ballot.  Voters were met with armed Federal troops at the  polling stations that morning.  Ambrose Wright arrived before the polls opened at Olympian Springs and testified during a later inquiry that Lacy and precinct judge J.A. Rice were overheard talking about how the election would be held.  Rice was known as a deputy revenue agent, and was heard telling Lacy that he had military orders from General Palmer, and asserted that Kentucky was still under martial law.  Lacy argued with Rice that the election should be held per the Governor's proclamation, but to no avail.  According to Wright, there were "ten to fifteen troops present, some armed with rifles others with pistols. They were part of Barber's company of the State Guard and one of the soldiers, Rogers seemed to be in charge".  He also testified that about forty or sixty legal voters were either at the polling station or on the way who were not allowed to vote. The precinct officials had in their possession a list of names of those who were deemed ineligible to vote due to their alleged association with the Confederacy.  
Mr. Wright went on to testify that Rogers shouted into the crowd "the next illegal voter would be promptly arrested and taken to headquarters".  It was also testified that it appeared Rogers was intoxicated and that the other precinct officials or friends of Barber did not attempt to challenge Rogers' authority.  One man, W.B. Harvey, attempted to vote but was told by Rice "you cannot vote.  I've heard you speak of treason myself".  Harvey protested the claim, and was willing to take the Oath of Voter, but was still denied his right.  This played out several times throughout the day, as testified by several others later.

At the close of the polls, the official count was tallied at 490 votes for Lander Barber, and 460 for B.D. Lacy.  This was recorded by Circuit Judge T.B. Hamilton, Sheriff Daniel Harper and County Clerk R. Coulthard August 9, 1865.  The results did not set well with Lacy, who immediately contested the election based on the intimidation tactics used by Federal troops.  In the days following the election, depositions were issued for testimony in the election contest.  William Satterfield testified that when he delivered a notice of deposition to Lander Barber, Barber stated he was "annoyed by Lacy and would take it in hand by himself and stop it".  Three of the soldiers present with Barber commented they would shoot anyone intending to make a deposition against Barber, but the newly elected Representative eased the situation by telling them to "cool it".  

At least one instance of violence erupted because of the election.  Two men, known as Lee and Mullins, got into a heated argument near White Sulphur about the results and B.D. Lacy's efforts to have a new election.  Shots were fired, with Mullins being struck by a bullet in the thigh.  Lee and some other soldiers present then decided to go to the home of Van Young with the intent on shooting him as well.  They were met by Young's wife, who brandished a pistol; Van made his escape out the back of the residence.  

In December, 1865,  Lacy petitioned the House of Representatives and Kentucky General Assembly to contest the seat of Lander Barber.  In the petition, Lacy argued that the election was not free and equal as defined by the Constitution and that Barber should immediately vacate his seat in the General Assembly.  He also argued that the troops at the election polls were under direct command by Barber, who threatened with arrest and bodily harm those who were refused their right to vote legally.  Many witness depositions were presented as evidence, and can be found among the Journal of the House of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Kentucky Public Records, Volume 2, December 20, 1865.

The House of Representatives appointed a committee to hear the testimonies and conduct an official hearing and review of the Bath County election. The findings concluded that Barber should vacate his seat in the General Assembly and a new election be held.  B.D. Lacy won the seat under "free and equal means" and on February 6, 1866, took his place in the House of Representatives, serving one term.  Lacy died in Owingsville, October 27, 1893 and was remembered as being an honorable man. 

The contested Bath County election of 1865 was not unique.  Other counties within the Commonwealth experienced similar problems during the first post-Civil War elections.  Worse problems were recorded in other states, with lynchings and deadly shootings among the Southern states.  

It is difficult to imagine such actions at a polling place in the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky these days, but in other countries, the threat against openly expressing a right to elect officials is very real.  Regardless of the outcome of an election, we should count our blessings we live without fear or repercussions for exercising our rights. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Mystery Hands and Tunnel at the Bourbon Furnace

The Bourbon Iron Furnace was the one of the earliest industrial facilities in what we know as Kentucky.  In fact, when it went into operation around 1791, the iron making facility was the first west of the Allegheny Mountains.  The facility looked much different than it does today; only the furnace stack remains.  At the time of it's operation, the Bourbon Iron Furnace smelting site had various structures around it used to house workers, store supplies and protect the site from Native American raiders.  The furnace remained a strong and steady operation, even producing cannon balls and shot for the United States Navy that were used at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812.  Operations at the site ceased in 1838 and all the structures, spare the famous stack, were dismantled. 
The faint trace of the hands in the furnace
One of the most curious things that is noticed about the furnace site is the handprints that are on an iron support beam. The handprints are not imprinted or recessed into the beam, but are brought outward in a relief feature; as if the hands were melted into the metal.  To see these mystery hands, you have to go into the bigger entrance of the furnace stack that faces Slate Creek.  About midway on the iron beam are the small hands pushing outward.  I have heard two tales of how these hands ended up in the metal.  One tale is that a slave was caught stealing and as punishment, his hands were burned into the hot metal while the furnace was in operation.  Another tale is that someone fell into the furnace and in an attempt to catch themselves, they reached up and touched the hot beam, melting their hands off.  We may never truly know how those hands were forever etched into the iron, but the victim was most unfortunate.

Thomas Deye Owings became sole owner of the Bourbon Iron Furnace in 1810, a year before Owingsville's establishment.  By 1814, Owings had built his residence a couple of miles north of the furnace in the heart of today's downtown Owingsville.  Elaborate galas were held at the Owings House and famous dignitaries graced the mansion at various times.  It is rumored that the whiskey that Owings provided at these events was distilled on the Bourbon Ironworks site, and to keep bandits or Natives from hijacking the distilled spirits, a tunnel system was built to connect the Owings House to the furnace. 
The tunnel entrance was allegedly in the basement of the Owings house in a discreet location, possibly via a secret door behind a fireplace or a trap door in the floor.  In the early 1980's, the Owings House was purchased by the Byron family.  I've spoken to Tom Byron, Jr. about the tunnels and he asserted he had never found a tunnel, but did find a small passage behind a mantle that led nowhere.  The construction for the tunnel would have been a daunting task for anyone to undertake, even in this modern age.  Owingsville sits high atop a ridge that us underlined with thick rock layers.  The distance to the furnace is a couple of miles at a gradual, steep grade, crossing a few small streams and old springs along the way.  The natural barrier that would have had to have been over  come was Slate Creek, which borders the ridges and valleys below Owingsville.  So far, no trace of such tunnel has ever been found along the banks of the creek.

One Winter day in 1998, I did some inspections on buildings in Owingsville as part of a firefighting pre-planning project.  Under the sidewalks and streets, there is a tunnel system that goes under North Court Street to Main Street.  I gained access to this tunnel system (with permission, of course) and was quite astounded at the subterranean world below our city.  These tunnels were used as a drain system I was told and we could look up at man holes and storm drains along the curbs.  We did find a staircase that led up to street level in front of the row of shops across from the Owings House, but no other access past that. 
These days, most of the tunnel system is off limits and inaccessible.  It is possible that over time, these old tunnels may have been the basis for the tale of the Bourbon Furnace tunnel; no one knows for sure entirely. For now, the furnace site holds the mysteries of the hands and tunnel, and is unlikely to reveal anything beyond what is speculated.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Cryptic Message

Owingsville has a rich and storied past, but perhaps it's the words found scribbled in peculiar places that tell something more. 
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go inside the Bath County Courthouse's bell tower for the first time, accompanied by Emergency Management Director Jason York and his step-daughter Kenzie. On one of the boards, there were names scribbled with dates from as far back as 1917 on it; surprisingly well preserved over all this time.  As we made our way downstairs, one cryptic message was found written on a wall behind a door.  This message wouldn't normally be visible and is almost hidden behind the door, but is written in an old style of lettering.  But first, a little back story.
July 6, 1895 was probably a hot summer day in Owingsville.  One could imagine the sun beating down and the dust kicking up off the dirt roads in town.  A circus was in town on that day with many people taking in the day's activities.  Around 11 o'clock in the morning, two men met at Young's Saloon in town for the first of several times that day.  John D. Young, Jr. was the son of Congressman John Young and well known in Owingsville.  Pliny 'Clem' Fassett was a cousin to Young and the pair were soaking in some drinks when an argument erupted over an unpaid debt Fassett owed Young; another witness attested that the argument was due to Fassett asking Young to borrow money.  At either account, the pair squared off, then parted ways into the street. 
A while later, Young and Fassett were seen at the saloon once again, and another heated argument ensued.  A witness by the name of Coyle saw Young strike Fassett, knocking him to the ground.  Clem was put out of the saloon at this point, but was seen outside the doors with an open knife, taunting Young and threatening to "cut his heart out".  Fassett made such a ruckus in the street, that a crowd had gathered around him.  Witnesses stated they saw the drunken man with a knife and he was spouting off obscenities and threats toward Young. Town Marshal Marks approached Fassett and made him leave the street, escorting him to a bench in front of the Owings House, which was a hotel at the time.  After sitting with Fassett a few minutes, the town marshal left and went into Gaunce's Grocery Store across the street (in the row of businesses next to Smith's Hardware).  In the store, Marshal Marks saw John Young and asked him to go to the circus with him.  Sheriff James Lane was also in the grocery and witnessed this exchange.  Young told the marshal to go on, that he would catch up to him at the circus later.
After a few more minutes, Young walked out across the street and approached Fassett, who was still sitting on the bench.  Mr. Brother, who ran the dry goods store at the corner of North Court and Main Street, was leaning up against a lamp post talking to two other men when they noticed Fassett and Young begin to exchange words once again. 
"What did you follow me for," Pliny Fassett asked John Young.  Not saying a word, Young approached Fassett and knocked the hat off his head.  The Congressman's son then grabbed his cousin and dragged him outward into Main Street.  Fasset broke loose from Young's grip and asked, "what did you hit me for?  Why don't you tell these good gentlemen why you hit me".
Pliny shoved John away at that point and said again, "I want you to tell these people why you hit me for!". 
"I ain't afraid of you!  You better do something about it," Fassett taunted.  Young opened his coat and reached in it.  Witnesses scurried into the hotel, fearing Young was about to brandish a firearm.  E.V. Brother, George Young and C.C. Hazelrigg intervened and separated the two men, believing they had defused the conflict. At this point, the witness' recollections vary; it is agreed that Young backed Fassett against a rail, but their actions  are debated.  According to one testimony, Fassett lunged at Young, holding the knife he was seen with earlier.  Another witnessed stated he saw the men lock into a struggle and Young had a knife.  Whatever was the case, the result was Young struck Fassett in the neck with a knife, inflicting a fatal wound.  Fassett stumbled backward a few steps and collapsed against the railing outside the hotel, dying a short time later.
John D. Young, Jr., son of a congressman, was arrested for the killing of Pliny Fassett.  He was tried in Bath County Circuit Court, found guilty and sentenced to eighteen years in prison in May, 1897.  The case was appealed and a motion for a new case was granted the following year.  The first retrial resulted in a hung jury. At least four of the jurors were heard openly talking about the case and how they felt Young should 'pay dearly for his actions'.   The second trial resulted in a fifteen year sentence, and an immediate appeal was granted on the grounds that an impartial jury could not be seated due to the Young family's stature in Bath County.  Circuit Judge Cooper granted a change in venue to Menifee County and the case was heard for a third time.  The Southwestern Reporter, Volume 42, published in 1898, contains Young's appeals case with a wealth of information regarding the case's details.  The final hearing was heard in April, 1899, with a sentence of two years for Young to serve for the killing.  It was the defense's argument that Young feared for his life and acted in self defense, due to statements made by Pliny Fasset that were overheard by witnesses;  some statements were in the context of Fassett stating he would "cut Young's head off and kick it in the hollow".  Eventually, in December, 1899, John Young, Jr. was formally pardoned by Governor William S. Taylor. 
This incident surprisingly isn't chronicled in John Adair Richards' A History of Bath County book, and I personally hadn't heard anything regarding this story until the day I went into the bell tower.  The cryptic message written on the wall reads, "Clem Fasst killed by John Young Clem Fassets gost inhabits this court house attic".  Whoever wrote this message is a mystery, and if Pliny 'Clem' Fassett's ghost really does haunt the attic of the courthouse is an equal mystery.  So, the next time you are in the courthouse and think you hear someone walking around upstairs or feel a strange presence, it may be Clem Fassett seeking justice after all this time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Turning Back Time: Restoring the Bath County Courthouse Clock Tower

The Bath County Courthouse is undergoing a renovation project just in time for it's 150 year anniversary.  The courthouse you see today is actually the third one for Bath County.  The first one was planned in June 1815 and completed in early 1816.  It was described as a brick two story structure and sat almost in the middle of Main Street at the stop light in Owingsville.   A second, wood frame courthouse was built in 1831, where the current one stands today. 
During the Civil War, Federal troops occupied Owingsville and were briefly garrisoned in the Bath County Courthouse.  Early on the morning of May 22, 1864,  the troops were alerted that a Confederate column was approaching Owingsville.  In their haste to meet the rebel troops, a coal stove was knocked over, quickly igniting the courthouse.  The building and many vital records of Bath County's earliest days were consumed by the fire.  The county received an indemnity from the Federal Government, and a new, and present, courthouse was built on the same site in 1866.
From 1866-1903, the Bath County Courthouse was a rectangular, ordinary structure.  The interior rooms were built to be fire proof and sturdy to prevent the loss of other vital records.  Under the administration of Judge Executive John A. Daugherty, a major renovation project was contracted, starting in 1903 and finishing in 1904.  The front of the courthouse was extended over four feet toward Main Street and a balcony was added for town criers.  The most prominent addition was the construction of the 102 foot tall clock and bell tower.  The tower was built with four clock faces pointing at each direction of the compass.  Built entirely of wood and brick, the tower is supported by several long iron rods that bear the weight of the structure and the 1,500 pound bell inside. 
Galvanized iron ornaments adorn the upper corners of the tower near the clock, and the belfry is an open structure with slats to reduce the elements from creeping in.  The upper dome of the tower is covered with slate tiles and more iron ornamental accents; indeed a commanding structure once finished. 
Accessing the bell and clock is not for the claustrophobic or those uneasy with high places.  Over the years, able bodied men, including my father Tommy, would make the climb up the narrow wooden ladder to wind the Seth Thomas clock mechanism and to clean the mounds of potentially harmful bird droppings.
Access into the bell tower via ladder
Some of those people added their names on a board near the clock's southward face; the earliest I personally found was the name John W. Brother, dated July 6, 1917.  
The bell, located on the fourth story of the five, was cast by the MC Shane Bell Foundry from Baltimore, Maryland and is date stamped 1903.  The large wooden wheel still turns and rocks the bell on the pedestal, but the pendulum was replaced with a mechanical striker attached by steel cables to the clock mechanism on the fifth story at some point.  Over the years, the elements crept into the aging tower and the boards began to decay.  It became unsafe to climb into the clock and perform the maintenance needed to keep it going; the once hourly bell fell silent.  The clock faces, however, still light up at night as a sort of beacon of time. 
Current Judge Executive Bobby Rogers has committed to restore the aging Bath County Courthouse during his term.  Utilizing local contractors and labor from inmates under the supervision of Jailer Earl Willis, work is being done to bring the structure back to its glory.  Tommy Johnson, owner of TJ Construction, was contracted to restore the interior of the bell tower.  Emergency Management Director Jason York gave me an exclusive tour of the tower recently and gave a progress report of the work that has been completed and what's yet to come.
"When they started working on the tower, there was about four inches of pigeon droppings all over the place," York said. 
"We had to have the guys working up there wear hazardous materials suits and respirators in order to stay safe".
The tower itself had shifted about four inches to the west due to seeping water damaging boards and support beams, according to Mr. Johnson.  Some of the ladder's rungs had to be replaced, along with other surrounding support beams that had rotted.  A large hydraulic jack was used to shore the tower and correct the lean, which wasn't readily noticed from street level.
Soon, the clock and bell will be restored back into working order, according to Emergency Management Director York.  Another proposed project at the old courthouse, spearheaded by the newly reorganized Bath County Tourism Council, is the creation of a Bath County Museum in the second floor court room area. The museum is only in the initial planning phases at this time, pending final approval and other preparations that need to be made to accommodate  
Judge Executive Rogers says he "feels the old courthouse is a lasting monument that has meant so much to the people of Bath County. 
That's why the Fiscal Court and I placed such an emphasis on restoring this county treasure." 
 The restoration and future projects at the old Bath County Courthouse should make this historic county treasure an active part of many more generations to come.

Below are some pictures inside the clock and bell tower:

A Seth Thomas type clock mechanism

An ominous message scribbled on a wall
Names and graffiti from long ago