I am very sad. I awoke one morning and read in the newspaper that the statues that have stood on the grounds of the old courthouse for years were taken down the night before.
I had prayed that those who were opposed would come to realize the statues’ importance to Kentucky history. We cannot change the past, no matter how hard we try. Evidently the statues offended more than a few people, both black and white, although it is hard for me to comprehend why. Would not the money spent in removing two bronze statues of a bygone era be put to better use? I think so.
I remember an incident where a lovely lady of this city threw herself in front of an important building in a futile attempt to save it from destruction. She failed. I wish I had done the same with the statues, but I, too, would have failed.
I have walked, cycled, ridden in a street car, bus and taxi, and driven up and down Main Street for most of my 92 years, never dreaming that I would see the courthouse lawn bereft of the statues of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan.
I am not unfamiliar with the destruction of monuments. One Halloween a dozen or so years ago, many crosses in the Lexington Cemetery were knocked over and broken, assumingly by pranksters. Guess what? Three monuments, two of which were in memory of John Esten Keller and Dr. David Keller, were broken and, although repaired, will never be the same.
I was eight years old when my grandfather, John Esten Cooke Keller, known as Captain Keller, died. He rode with Gen. John Hunt Morgan, as did his father, Dr. David Keller. I remember my grandfather well. I sat on his knee and was enthralled by his tales about the War Between the States.
Few men were as well-versed on its causes and history, and he kept this little girl spellbound. Perhaps this is whence my love of history, especially Kentucky history, came. I have written three books, several pamphlets and newspaper and magazine articles on the history of Kentucky.
Although my grandfather was born in Tuscumbia, Ala., in 1842, he spent most of his life in Lexington and died in 1933. Although he believed that the war was a matter of states’ rights, he recognized that slavery was its immediate cause, calling it “the most diabolical and nefarious sin ever entered into.”
He would have found inconceivable the removal of the statue of Breckinridge, a vice president of the United States, whose family members served their country well in several wars, and of course, of the statue of his friend and commanding officer Morgan.
In a 1925 address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, my grandfather, then commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Association of Kentucky, remarked that the ex-Confederate soldier was the most patriotic and law-abiding citizen in these United States.
On March 5, 1917, Grandfather sent a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson:
“I am an ex-Confederate. I was a first lieutenant in the command of Gen. John H. Morgan, C.S.A. Tho I am 75 years old, yet I am as active as a boy. I can ride a horse as of old. My eyesight is perfect and my health is all that I could ask for. I respectfully make application to you for a commission to raise a company of one hundred sons and grandsons of ex-Confederates, thoroughbred Kentuckians, to go into the service of the United States mounted on thoroughbred horses. I am in earnest provided there is to be a war.”
Adjutant Gen. H.P. McCain replied, thanking him for his offer of service should need arise.
Yes, the trumpets sounded when my grandfather passed over to the other side.
Frances Keller Swinford Barr lives in Lexington.