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Tom Chaney R747: From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek

Of Writers and Their Books No. R747, a review of " "From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek" autobiographyby retired Kentucky Chief Justice John Palmore, a Monroe Co., KY native
The next earlier Tom Chaney column which first appeared in the Hart County News-Herald on 26 January 2007: Tom Chaney: R746, Re-Review of Eating Your Way . . .

By Tom Chaney

"From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek"(By Way of Horse Cave)

I had a fine opportunity to spend a few moments with Judge John Palmore, retired justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, whilst in Frankfort at the book fair a couple of months ago. He was kind enough to inscribe a copy of his new autobiography for me and to reminisce a bit about our common home town, Horse Cave.

Judge Palmore, having served on various benches of the Kentucky courts, has laid aside his gavel for a pen to chronicle nigh ten decades of a most productive life. His first book A Judicial Life (2003) deals with the judge's career on the bench. This volume, From the Panama Canal to Elkhorn Creek: A Chronicle of Life in the 20th Century by an Old Kentucky Lawyer (Butler Press, 2006), is true to its subtitle.

Palmore is a scion of the Monroe County Palmores who were in the process of relocating to the Barrens and Horse Cave where they made significant contributions to the life of this area.

John Palmore's father, Stanley, entered the civil service as a policeman in the Panama Canal Zone where he met a telephone operator from New York -- Antoinette Louise (Nettie) Gonzalez, the daughter of an immigrant Spanish cigar maker and his wife of "pure English descent." Stanley and Nettie were married in Balboa in 1916. John Stanley, Jr. was born in Ancon, Canal Zone the next year.

"My new little brother did not prosper in the tropical climate of Panama, so upon the advice of their doctors Mom and Dad pulled up stakes and left for the mother country in August of 1926, three days after my ninth birthday."

The Palmore migration from Persimon in Monroe County to Hart had taken place by now and the family arrived in time for school at summer's end 1926. Stanley, his brother Hovey and Dr. Ellsworth (E. E.) Palmore joined in the purchase of the Comstock-Moore drug store after the death of Dr. Comstock. That store was located at 113 Water Street next to the movie theatre and livery stable.

The Panamanian immigrant family moved into the Dr. Comstock house on Guthrie Street where they lived for the three years in Horse Cave.

Palmore recalls the livery stable fire in 1929. The whole town, including Nettie who liked fires, turned out to watch the livery stable and the movie theatre burn to the ground. The fire did considerable damage to the drug store as well. He speculates that this event caused his parents to decide that the drug store could not support so many Palmores. In 1929 Stanley got a position as prohibition agent (revenuer) and the family moved to Bowling Green.

A murder stands out in the memory of the young boy. A "butcher who worked in Stuart's Grocery was convicted and sentenced to life in the penitentiary. It seems he was in cahoots with a fellow who had lured an unfortunate lady from someplace like Louisville, Cincinnati, or Indianapolis to come down and marry him, bringing her life savings along with her. He met her at the train somewhere up the line (not Horse Cave) and took her out to an old house in the country between Rowletts and Horse Cave, where she was bludgeoned to death and buried in a shallow grave."

Governor Ruby Laffoon pardoned a great many prisoners. "He seemed resolved to clean out all of the penitentiaries, and one of the beneficiaries of this largess was our friend the Horse Cave butcher. Later on, after we had moved to Bowling Green and had come back to Horse Cave for a visit one day, I was shocked to see him out on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store laughing and talking."

Palmore recalls the coming of the Ford Model "A" and a family excursion in two cars -- one chauffeured by the daughter of the taxi operator and of his randy New York uncle who was enamored of the young lady -- to no avail.

He tells of the ice cream rivalry between the two drug stores and Moran's ice cream parlor. The drug stores sold ice cream for 40 cents the quart while Moran got 35 cents.

In 1929 the family removed to Bowling Green. Palmore completed his high school years there and graduated from Western Kentucky State Teachers College.

Law school at the University of Louisville College of Law followed as did an association with a law firm in Henderson. Following service as an attorney in the navy, Palmore returned to Henderson where he practiced until elected in 1959 to the old Kentucky Court of Appeals.

After judicial reform in 1975 Judge Palmore served on the new Kentucky Supreme Court and as chief justice from 1977 until 1982 just before retirement.

I have looked at this biography as though it were a "Horse Cave book," which it, of course, is not. But for our purposes, Judge John Palmore provides a glimpse into the life of the town through the eyes of a school boy in the 1920's.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-01-29 11:10:33
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