My dear friends:
If I don't hurry, snow will be falling on the tail (tale) of our summer vacation. Since I last wrote, letters have come that have warmed my heart to the very core. I was quite thrilled the other day to hear from one of my former pupils at Saltsburg. How I'd love to hear from many more - and learn about all of them. Now for the final chapter. It opens with that eventful day, August 23, when we set our faces to the north, parting from the loved ones who were to start southward next day. We carried away memories - long rides together, walks, talks, delights of the river, with terrific water "hazings", gala meals, squabbles over the correct division of labor, Sunday School in our own cottage; games at evening; the reluctant going-to-bed of seven little rascals - ah, it was great. We didn't get away until nearly 11:00 a.m., stopped in Knoxville at noon, and then drove north to Harrogate, near Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Mountains come upon you suddenly. Unlike the scattered and irregular upheaval of the Smokies, the Cumberland Range is like a mighty mole-hill running northeast and southwest. On the southern shoulder of the Cumberland Mountains, at Harrogate, is located Lincoln Memorial University, that grand institution inspired by the Great Emancipator, who saw the need for a center of culture in this shut-out-of-the-world place, and told General Howard, of Civil War fame, to "do something for those people", so sorely handicapped in poverty and isolation. The benign spirit of Lincoln seems to hover over the people who work here - giving them a marked kindliness in serving others. Estelle and I were keenly disappointed in not seeing the Lincoln Museum, housed in the main building, with its priceless treasures associated with that great man; but the president of the university had walked off with the key in his pocket! The duplicate had disappeared, too. We drove through the beautiful campus, and on to Cumberland Gap, where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet.
During the Civil War, the "Gap" in the Cumberland Mountains was the gateway between the North and the South. Through here, too, runs the old Daniel Boone trail. The "Pinnacle", the highest point of the Cumberlands, rises on the eastern side of the Gap. We drove up this mountain - on the new highway, completed only four years ago - and there, with a guide to lead the way, and hold the little boys' hands, we had before us the most extensive view east of the Rockies. From Pinnacle rock you can see a distance of seventy-five miles on a clear day. The panorama is magnificent; great stretches of green, with tiny patches that are corn and tobacco fields, foothills, distant mountains, beautiful Fern Lake, seven towns and villages. The drop from Pinnacle Rock, where we first stood, is about 1500 feet. We saw Elephant Head, an amazing likeness in stone, and Chimney Rock, smaller than the famous one in North Carolina, but quite as weird in formation. At a higher point we saw the embankments of Civil War battles, where "Long Tom," the noted long range brass cannon was spiked, and thrown over the cliffs, along with seven other cannons. We were there about 4:00 p.m. and it was light enough that the guide took a picture of us, and then suddenly - almost without warning - a cloud came along, and set us flying to shelter from a drenching rain that lasted not five minutes. As suddenly the skies cleared, and the guide, a young University of Tennessee dental student - "tooth dentist," as the mountaineers call him - drove our car down the winding mountain road, and on to Middlesboro, near by. What a luxury! For three miles out of the 2000-mile trip we had a chauffeur! He pointed out the Boone path through the woods, and a funny little shack - one side of the mountain cliff, and the other three sides in - where "a queer" old man had been digging three years for a "buried treasure" (sixty thousand dollars). There he was in old khaki shirt, with his pick in hand, contemplating the next move. Just a little farther was a quiet, harmless-looking roadhouse, where a double murder had been committed a few nights before - an old mountain feud. On to Middlesboro, built along a creek, which overflows its banks like a river, and last time the waters found their way into the lobby of one of the hotels. The Chamber of Commerce is a tiny house, built entirely of coal. Our guide gave us, from his mother's garden, as a souvenir of Kentucky, a bouquet of crepe myrtle, the loveliest flower of that region. As we left Barbourville, headed toward Corbin, we faced the setting sun - the most gorgeous sunset I believe I ever saw. Perhaps it was because, for the first time, we watched a sunset from beginning to end; first the bright yellow or gold, then brilliant orange, tanager rays, then pink or rose streaked with blue. Gradually the rose color was swallowed up in the dark blue; and then came the grey of night. It was dark when we reached Corbin and we "pitched our tent" in a tourist camp. The night was chilly, and the place was dreadfully noisy, with coal-trains shifting and whistling all night. The only redeeming feature was the fun of watching, from my camp cot, the stars blink out as dawn came. Regretfully, I gave up the trip to Danville, the home of Center College, and Harrodsburg, where the best relics of Kentucky history are located. But the children were getting so homesick for Daddy that I yielded to their wishes, and took the direct route to Lexington, stopping at Berea to visit the Churchill Weavers. Mr. Churchill, the founder, brought the ancient art from India and applied it to looms of his own making. Exquisite fabrics, from fine scarves to heavy hook rugs were on display.
In Lexington we saw "Ashland," the palatial home of Henry Clay, almost hidden among beautiful old trees. We drove for miles around the "Blue Grass" region - among fine stock farms and racing stables, our tour ending with a visit to Man O' War, the greatest racing horse of all time. A flawless creature, golden chestnut, sixteen years old, hasn't raced since 1921, but in his three years of racing won nearly a half million in purses, and, since his racing days has earned a cool million for his owner, siring colts. He is insured for five hundred thousand dollars. His stable is a horse's "palace", guarded night and day. His proud but affable, dusky keeper permitted us to stroke Man O' War's beautiful neck, firm and arched, covered with "copper plush"; his sons, Mars, a red chestnut, and Crusader, a bronze chestnut were in the same stable. The latter is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen; ten years old, but spirited as a colt. We bought weiners, rolls, and butter in Lexington, and when it came supper time we stopped at the home of a well-to-do "gentleman farmer" to buy some corn for roasting. The white-haired "Colonel" as I called him, who came from the house was, except for his southern drawl, so much like my dear friend of other days - Mr. A.J.W. Robinson - that I could have embraced him. He sent his hired man for a "dozen or so" ears of corn and - like Mr. Robinson - he gallantly gave them to me, refusing any pay. A little farther along, in an abandoned stone quarry, we had our corn and weiner roast. And was it good! We spent the night in Blue Lick. Here is a most interesting museum, built by the state, containing the W. J. Curtis collection of Indian relics - the finest collection east of California, and the unearthed bones of ancient mammals. You can imagine the size of the creature whose tooth weighs seven pounds. Mr. Curtis, himself, has charge of the museum, and it's a liberal education to talk with him for an hour. He supervised the excavation of most of the things contained in the museum, and only last spring dug up a trilobite, that swam around on its back about a million years ago. At this place Daniel Boone had his last big skirmish with the Indians.
We drove on to Maysville, that romantic old Kentucky town on the Ohio river, crossed the river at this place, and drove westward, beyond Ripley, to visit friends [The Groppenbacher's (sp), brother of Betty Smith, my so-called Godmother - MEY]. By the way, Ripley is the place where "Eliza" of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" really did cross the river on the floating cakes of ice. We spent a delightful afternoon and evening with these friends of ours, whose four-year-old son is the proud possessor of a letter from President Roosevelt. Saturday morning we set out for home, and we did no "zigzagging", for we were all too eager to get home. We came through Columbus, and saw the dinkiest capitol in the union; we flew along the level stretches of northern Ohio, and, somehow, the homecoming seemed the best part of the trip.
Good-by, my friends,
Sincerely, Florence B. Taylor
Next - 12/17/33 - Helen Keller's Christmas Greeting