The Falls Fountain and Derby Clock never became a world attraction

8 12 2008

The Falls Fountain, The Louisville Clock and other fails.

I was watching the KET Ky channel today which aired an old documentary by Morgan Atkinson about the Falls Fountain.  Not long after I started watching I had a flashback to the hype the fountain generated back in the 80’s.  I was probably 9 or 10 when it was unveiled to the public who lined the bridges and waterfront to watch it start spraying.  The ceremony was also broadcast live on WHAS TV to viewers that didn’t make the trek to Louisville.    The Falls Fountain was supposed to be our attempt to attract tourists to Louisville as a world class city.  Supporters of the fountain said it would rival the Eiffel Tower, and the St. Louis arch.  It was located out in the middle of the brown water of the Ohio River, and shot a stream of river water higher than the Humana building (the one to the right).

The fountain was a huge metal box rising several feet out of the water and painted a greenish/primer color, similar to the Statue of Liberty.  It had a 530 sq. ft. pump house inside the floating metal hulk that was the size of a small apartment.  The pumps and equipment were plagued from the start by the amount of debris floating in the river.  Breakdowns were frequent and it seemed it was  down for repair, more often than it was working.  The fountain got a new camo paint job in 1992 and was finally taken out of commission once it became too expensive to maintain.  It was sold for scrap to a private owner in 1998  for $15,000.  The LeoWeekly had an excellent article about the great fountain.

The PR blitz ahead of the fountain’s launch was so overwrought, the fountain couldn’t have lived up to expectations even if it sprayed free Makers into to-go cups on the Belvedere.

I remember my 6th grade class going to the Belvedere  and the natural science museum, the fountain was in the background.  I have been to Louisville several times in recent years and didn’t realize the fountain was gone until I caught the documentary.  It never became a St. Louis arch, but it made Louisville logos and news intros for years.  The moral of the story is that spending money on a mechanical gimmick to attract tourism = fail.  Searching the system of tubes reveals limited information on the fountain project, and even fewer pictures.  Some blogs and websites compare the fountain failure to that of the Louisville Clock, aka: Kentucky Derby Clock, which was a complicated mechanical clock complete with a horse race at certain times of the day.  It was built in the early 70’s and modeled after a toy music box, with a horse racing theme.

racetrack around the Derby Clock

racetrack around the Derby Clock

I had forgotten seeing this clock as a kid, it was easily more forgettable than the Falls Fountain.  This was on a different trip to Louisville.  I think my parents walked by it and mumbled something under their breath about a total waste of money and ushered us kids on to the next attraction.  Its was impressive, but not as impressive as the Eiffel Tower.  The track featured caricatures of Daniel Boone, Thomas Jefferson, Zachary Taylor, and others racing around the track and musicians in the bandstand.  This Rube Goldberg type machine was built in the 70’s to be displayed inside the River Falls Mall which became the Galleria Mall, which became 4th Street Live.   It never really worked, in part due to the 100 foot long belts inside the racetrack that sends the metal horses around the track.

The Adam Matthews Foundation is working to restore the Derby Clock and get it repaired for all the public to enjoy.  They are taking donations and volunteers to help with wiring and other restoration tasks, and more information is available on their website.  The clock is at Bowman field undergoing repairs and the site claims it will not have a permanent home until it can run on its own without mechanical breakdowns.  Remember the ruckus the Floral Clock in Frankfort caused?  Governor Burt Combs’ pet project that drew fire as a waste of money in the 60’s, is actually a state attraction that worked.  The floral clock is still sitting on its 100 ton pedestal and maintained by the Garden Club of Kentucky.  If this clock was part of the motivation for the Derby Clock, its no wonder the designers thought it would draw a crowd.

The next gimmick we have in the works to draw a world-class crowd is the World Equestrian Games.  Lexington has bent over for this one, throwing money and resources into the Centrepoint building development.  In doing so, it leveled one of the historic city blocks and took away 5 or 6 authentic bars to build a hotel to house all the VIP’s that are supposidly coming to Lexington for the games.  I love highrise buildings, but if Kentucky history tells us anything about the hollow promises of building things in hopes of drawing a crowd, maybe we should look at the Falls Fountain and the Derby Clock for insparation before we get too involved financially.  Sometimes even if you build it, they don’t come.


A Smoker Looks at 30

17 11 2008

Today’s Courrier Journal has an interesting article on the disappearance of tobacco crops across the state.  The writer interviews a former tobacco farmer and they discuss some of the reasons Kentucky’s tobacco farms are an endangered species.  Our state leads the nation in adult tooth loss and smoking, yet witnesses public outcry at the mention of per pack tax increase.  In the past month, I’ve paid $8.50 in Chicago and $6.80 in DC; Lexington is currently $3.63.  These are the same cigarettes; the difference is the per pack tax.  If the extra revenue went to paying for aging Kentuckian’s oxygen tanks, there would be less backlash.  I wrote an article for a UK class last year that addresses many of the same issues in the CJ story. You can find it below.

Growing up in the tobacco belt, we learned to work in tobacco at a young age.  Tobacco was a common site beside the roads and highways across the state.  It might be pretty to look at growing in the fields, but always looked best in the form of a check once it sold at market.  In the early 80’s my parents bought a small farm in Taylor/Adair county line. It’s also the dividing line to what people refer to as slow time/fast time time zone. It separates 2 school districts, and 2 different utilities companies. Infrastructure is far from ideal to residents of the area, this is the boondocks. Its normal not to have a neighbor within “hollerin distance”. The rural county lifestyle is one all its own. The one thing most everyone has is a little bit of land.

My parents, both being children that grew up on farms; kept with tradition and applied for a tobacco base. We were awarded X amount of pounds of burley tobacco to grow in a calender year. Our tobacco quota was small compared to what full time professional farmers grew. Even though we were weekend warrior tobacco farmers that made it no less a priority when Dad got home from work. My brother and I were expected to help with anything we were told to do. If you want to live in a nice house you better chop weeds and follow the tobacco setter.

When I was in Eighth grade I wanted a four-wheeler like everyone else already had. When I asked my dad he replied “yea get a job and buy one”. So My new job was an acre of the family tobacco base of which I was expected to take care of from start to finish, my own acre. Since this was my crop I got paid for it when it sold in January, expenses would then be deducted by my father. I used his tractor, implements, and fertilize and he would front the bills as we would be doing the rest of the crop alongside mine. Tobacco work became my main source of income. In addition to my acre there was always plenty of work found on local farms, and once people knew you were a good worker there was never a day off. This was good honest work that most anyone with a strong back could earn a living wage. (think Harvey Keitel’s tip speech in Reservoir Dogs) Later as a high school student, cars and car stereo’s became my priority and tobacco paid for it all.

Forward ten years and that lifestyle has been long dead. Small tobacco bases were bought out by the government and most all state tobacco production is done on the large scale. Most of the farmers I used to work for still have portions of their original monster tobacco base, but paltry compared to the old days. They have started becoming income dependent on other types of farming. That attainable income and way of life has died.

Dead like the thousands of Kentuckians killed each year from smoking. Dead like my lungs feel every morning while I cough myself awake. I have been a pack a day smoker since 1997. I’ve also used smokeless tobacco daily for years. I’ve had nicotine poisoning a few times going out to cut tobacco too early in the morning while the dew was still on. The dew on the tobacco leaves is like liquid nicotine, get too much of it on your skin you get REAL sick.

Nicotine poisoning was the worst effect of tobacco I had experienced until I recently realized what a slave I am to the tobacco industry. When I bought cigarettes over food I knew that was the new all-time low in my life. I am a slave to the industry that I thought brought me wealth and opportunity a long time ago. Thank you for Smoking! I never did cash in all that Camel Cash to get that cool pool table. I also never saw myself as a 30 year old smoker.

Kentucky has the highest percentage of adult smokers in the Nation. Our healthcare system is a shambles statewide as a direct result. Cigarettes are way too cheap in any gas station anywhere inside the commonwealth, we need to double tax cigarettes and pay for some much needed healthcare. I know damn well I will smoke less if I have to pay twice as much. Why do we insist on giving our lives so that North Carolina can prosper? They got our tobacco base and we sign our own death warrants. By increasing cigarette tax we could fund expanded health care for children statewide, and stop being first in a category where we’re not proud to be ranked, Smoking.