How have you been spending your time recently? For me, I’ve been working from home and learning how to put a podcast together, but living in self-isolation has added a lot more time to my day. As we fill our days with Zoom meetings and Netflix shows, a lot of us might be wondering, how would we survive without our modern technology? I, for one, have been thinking about what our historic Boone County counterparts did for fun, and how they passed the time without the internet or social media.
You’re listening to Historically Speaking, the Local History podcast from the Boone County Public Library. In this podcast, we share stories from the county’s history, particularly the history you won’t read about in textbooks. You’ll realize that truth is often stranger than fiction.
On today’s episode, I’m looking at leisure activities in Boone County. How did they have fun, back in the day? There are some fantastic landmarks and parks to visit in Boone County–Big Bone being just one example–but since this has accidentally become a “pandemic podcast,” I’ve decided to look at the activities a lot of us are doing indoors: reading, watching movies, and listening to music.
Segment 1: Reading
People in the past–meaning the past 100 years–largely had a lot of the same activities we do now; they just look a little different. For example, I read a lot of books from the library on my phone with the Libby app, and when I listen to music, I just stream it online. If I couldn’t access a whole world of entertainment and information online, then what could I find?
Luckily, there’s a lot to find within the county, starting with one of its most famous inhabitants: John Uri Lloyd. John Uri Lloyd was a jack-of-all-trades, and frankly, he could have a podcast episode all his own. He was born in upstate New York in 1849, but his family moved to Florence when he was very young, in 1851. At fourteen, Lloyd worked as an apprentice in a pharmacy in Cincinnati, and despite not having had a traditional education, he eventually became a pharmacist by trade. Now, I could probably talk for the rest of this episode about his contributions to science and medicine, but we’re just talking about passing the time. So, for now, I’m just focused on his side gig as a writer.
As a pharmacist, John Uri Lloyd found time to write while his kettles for making medicine boiled down. His mother, Sophia Webster, had published a collection of poetry, so writing ran in the family. Though Lloyd was successful enough as a pharmacist, he also became a prominent novelist, perhaps the most famous in Boone County, during the turn of the twentieth century.
His books were inspired by his hometown of Florence and his experiences in Boone County. Some characters were based on real people from the county, including Lloyd himself and his family. One example is Felix Moses, a Jewish peddler who also lived in Florence. Lloyd wrote an entire novel about him.
Lloyd also wrote about the Civil War, no doubt because of the Civil War skirmish in Florence in 1862. Lloyd would have been about thirteen at the time, so this event had a tremendous influence on him. He also wrote in a dialect, trying to capture the language and customs of his home.
His hometown became the inspiration for the Stringtown on the Pike series. Stringtown on the Pike, another name for Florence, was also the title of the first book of the series, published in 1900. Lloyd also wrote science fiction, in his novel Etidorhpa, Aphrodite spelled backwards, in 1895. Some wonder if Lloyd’s experiences with different drugs and medicines inspired the “visions” in this novel.
His popularity was mostly in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area, and he also wrote about medicine, pharmacy, and history–including the history of Big Bone. John Uri Lloyd’s two other brothers were also highly successful, and together, they established the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati.
A few of Lloyd’s novels are available on Google Books, so if you’re looking for some reading material, you can try:
Links to those books can be found on Local History’s website, Chronicles of Boone County County.
Segment 2: Listening to Music
Another popular way to pass the time at home, then and now, is music: either playing our favorite tunes or performing, like the balcony musicians we’ve seen on social media. Music has also been a part of Boone County’s past, from local well-known bands to a few musicians who received national attention, especially for country music.
In the 1950s, country music fans could gather at Verona Lake Ranch, west of Walton and Route 16. Offering family fun and entertainment, Verona Lake Ranch patrons could enjoy fishing, picnic areas, and of course, live music. An impressive lineup of country musicians performed at the Ranch, such as the Stanley Brothers, Jimmie Skinner, and even a young Johnny Cash. During its heyday, thousands of patrons showed up during the summer. In 1959, the owners at the time, Thurston and Georgianna Moore, sold Verona Lake Ranch so that they could pursue other music-related projects, and the Ranch is no longer a popular music venue.
Boone County also had some local talent. One is the country music singer and radio DJ, Jack Reno. Reno was born in Bloomfield, Iowa, in 1935 and started his career in radio broadcasting. Even during his time in the army, he continued working in radio and country music. His career eventually led him to a station in Cincinnati, and Reno moved to Florence. In the 1960s and 1970s, Reno released some of his most famous hits, like “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Repeat After Me,” and “I Want One.” Reno also appeared on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, associating with well-known country music stars, including the one and only Dolly Parton.
Though not born in Boone County, he quickly embraced Florence as his hometown. In fact, the album cover for Hitchin a Ride was taken at the U.S. 42 exit off of I-75. Now, that stretch of road is named the Jack Reno Memorial Highway. Reno was also honored as a Kentucky Colonel in 1975. He died when he was 72 years old, in 2008.
Kenny Price is another country music artist from around the same time. Price was a Boone County Native, specifically from Florence, and he began playing music at a young age. Because of his height and weight, he was nicknamed the “Round Mound of Sound.” Price was also a regular on the country music variety show, “Hee Haw.” His recurring role was Elrod, the singing Sheriff.
So it’s no surprise, then, that Kenny Price went on to write the song, “Sheriff of Boone County,” which has lyrics like, I wear a hat just like a mountie; I’m the Sheriff of Boone County. His other songs include “Happy Tracks” and “Walking on New Grass.” Price died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1987.
So, if you’re making a pandemic playlist, those are a few local musicians you can add to your repertoire.
Segment 3: Movies
Another staple of quarantine living is watching television and streaming movies and shows. When so-called “moving pictures” were first introduced to the entertainment industry, they quickly made their way across the country. In the early days of film, Boone Countians could watch screenings of motion pictures at the Florence Fair and the Florence School. In 1911, Bullittsville had a hall that they used to show films. Walton also hosted showings and vaudeville shows regularly in 1913. The Walton Opera House had two shows per week, and they charged ten cents per person.
Silent movies took off in earnest in the 1920s. You could catch a movie at the Universalist Church in Burlington, or in Petersburg at the Petersburg Opera House, also called Gordon’s Hall. The Petersburg Opera House was also a dance and concert hall, so it offered other forms of entertainment as well.
Another major place for watching movies was the Florence Drive-In. The Florence Drive-In opened May 22, 1947, on U.S. 25 and 42. When it first opened, it had the capacity to accommodate 800 cars. The Boone County Recorder article about its opening says that one of the many perks of the drive-in theater is that people could go to the theater (quote) “without feeling that they have to ‘dress up,’ because in the privacy of their own auto, everyone may dress as he or she pleases.” Now, that certainly sounds familiar to us in quarantine!
The Florence Drive-In had shows at 7:30 and 9:30, as well as midnight shows on Saturday nights. Tickets were free for young children, 15 cents for kids between 6 and 12 years old, and 49 cents for adults. The first movie they showed was “A Night in Casablanca,” which is a Marx brothers movie.
Of all the places I’ve mentioned, the drive-in could have actually been a feasible option for us today, even in the midst of a pandemic, since everyone would be staying in their own cars.
Conclusion: Our historic counterparts had a variety of other hobbies and ways to spend their time, which I didn’t go into here. In the historic photos we have in the library catalog, you can see these other ways people spent their free time. Since photos are a visual medium, I couldn’t incorporate them into this podcast, but the Petersburg Album Collection and Boone County Historic Preservation Collection have some great ones, along with other collections. You can look through them on the library website, bcpl.org. In the dropdown menu to the right of the search bar, select “Local History Digital Collection” in order to limit your search to local history materials. Some of my favorite activities in the collection are of croquet, china painting, sewing, and fishing.
That’s all for this episode. The information for this episode came from Local History’s website, Chronicles of Boone County, specifically:
Information about the Florence Drive-In also came from the Boone County Recorder from May 1947, which is available in the library catalog, but I also found the article on the website Northern Kentucky Views, or nkyviews.com.
Information about Jack Reno and Kenny Price came from the Jack Reno collection at the Boone County Public Library–which is available digitally–and several news articles. The Cincinnati Enquirer published an article on May 18, 2018, appropriately called, “Who was Jack Reno?” The Los Angeles Times wrote an article on August 7, 1987, about Kenny Price’s death, called, “Country Singer Kenny Price, 56, Regular on ‘Hee Haw’ Show, Dies.” I’ll have the links to those stories on the Chronicles of Boone County website.
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