Day Tripper: Hunt down Kentucky history and have fun along the way

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green is a quarter-mile away from the plant where the cars and American dreams have been made since 1953.
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green is a quarter-mile away from the plant where the cars and American dreams have been made since 1953. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Remember, as kids, when our parents used to send us out on a scavenger hunt to get us out of their hair for a while? Well, how about a scavenger hunt Kentucky-style?

I'm sending your entire family on a scavenger hunt around the commonwealth in search of history, hidden treasures and a good time.

Anyone who thinks a museum has to be stuffy should pay a visit to Frankfort's Capital City Museum. Quirky, yes; stuffy, no. Just a few of the tidbits you'll glean from a visit:

■ The 1825 murder of Kentucky Solicitor General Solomon P. Sharp, resulting from a love triangle, inspired Edgar Allan Poe's only play, the unfinished Politian.

■ Bibb lettuce was developed by amateur horticulturist John Bibb nearby in his Wapping Street back yard in 1865.

■ Wapping Street also was the home of U.S. Sen. George Vest, who coined the phrase "a dog is man's best friend."

■ In a reversal of London's fictional Fleet Street barber Sweeney Todd, whose victims were his customers, Frankfort had a serial killer in the 1870s who preyed on butchers.

If you think that's a cool museum, take the three-hour drive to Bowling Green for a tour of the National Corvette Museum. The vivid red-and-yellow structure visible from Interstate 65 looks like a large yellow mushroom impaled on a giant red toothpick, but the flamboyant architecture is matched by the flamboyant product on display inside.

The first Corvette rolled off the General Motors assembly line (just a quarter-mile away) in 1953, and America fell in love. This museum is a shrine to that passion, offering a vast collection of Corvette-related photos, movies and videos, advertisements and memorabilia.

Full-scale dioramas show classic Corvette models in period settings, including one from the popular '60s TV series Route 66. You'll also love seeing the two-toned autumn-colored 1983 'Vette — the only one left in existence — and you can trace the car's entire history, from a film on its beginning shown in the 200-seat theater to futuristic concepts and designs still in the embryonic stages.

No treasure hunt can be complete without the actual treasure, and one of the best places in the commonwealth to find some is at the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries in Shelbyville. Science Hill Academy, as it was known when it was a finishing school for young ladies in the 19th century, is now a complex of boutiques surrounding an interior courtyard.

The shops sell everything from men's and women's fashions to fine linens, but antiques are the drawing card. At Wakefield-Scearce, elegant rooms spread over several floors offer one of America's largest collections of English furniture and antique silver. This is the place to go for that julep cup, but don't expect it to come cheaply.

If the julep cup isn't in your budget, choose instead a leisurely lunch in the gallery's Georgian Room, specializing in American food with a Kentucky twist served in 19th-century surroundings.

You might think you're in Bavaria, but you won't need a passport to visit Covington's Mainstrasse area. With its bakeries, breweries and Bell Tower, the area is a throwback to the 1840s, when German immigrants made up much of the Ohio River town's population.

The village's shops, restaurants and pubs are in 19th-century townhouses; there are beer tubes and schnitzel purveyors galore, and two premier attractions lure visitors. One is the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower, a German Gothic-style glockenspiel with a 43-bell carillon, which performs a mini-concert, complete with characters from The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The other is the Goose Girl Statue and Fountain, depicting a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

Mainstrasse merchants set aside the first weekend after Labor Day for a rollicking celebration of Oktoberfest, begun in 1810 to celebrate the nuptials of King Ludwig I. Today's revelers might not be familiar with Ludwig, but they do know that Mainstrasse is the best place in Kentucky to celebrate the Bavarian zest for living.

Finally, what's a scavenger hunt without a little scavenging for food? A great place to do just that is Bardstown's Old Talbott Tavern. Here you can get Kentucky fare (and even spend the night) with a serving of history on the side.

In operation since the late 1700s, it is the oldest coaching inn west of the Alleghenies, and it has hosted such personages as the exiled French king Louis Phillipe (who painted murals on the upstairs walls) and outlaw Jesse James, who was less artistic in putting bullet holes in the paintings.

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