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JIM: Great inspirations from Ray Montgomery poem

Of Ray Montgomery, poetry, automobiles, speed limits, an Adair homecoming, an affecting scene, and sundry other items
(ref: Poetry: In Kentucky, by Ray Montgomery (1889-1955)


Mr. Ray Montgomery's "In Kentucky" appeared on page three of the February 21st, 1906 edition of the News. The poem was attributed to him, but no other text accompanied the rhyme. It was published as five four-line stanzas; the word "Kentucky" was spelled out; and the word "and" was used instead of the ampersand in the opening quatrain. (We've changed the poem to match. -EW)

Almost exactly 66 years later, the January 29, 1972 issue of the Green River Sprite carried a reminisce of turn-of-the century Columbia and Adair County, written by native son Joseph M. "Little Joe" Pierce, then a native of Florida. Said Mr. Pierce, in part:

"Sometime in the early 1900's there was a state-wide 'Homecoming week for Kentuckians.' Every former son or daughter of Kentucky was urged to visit again their old home town; and thousands did. In the county paper there appeared a bit of poetry that read something like the following:
'Be sure to visit Columbia
When to Kentucky you come,
For Columbia has an auto,
And the town is on a boom.'
"Yep, we had an auto--one only, at first--that made daily trips to Campbellsville, carrying passengers to meet the trains. Just a few years later these horseless buggies became more or less a public nuisance and the city put up signs at the city limits on ever road coming into town 'Speed limit 8 miles per hour.'"

The auto to which Mr. Pierce--and almost certainly, Mr. Montgomery as well--referred belonged to Paul Azbill, son of Professor/Elder W.K. Azbill. An article in the News about six weeks before the poem appeared inform readers of the News that

"Mr. Paul Azbill has purchased an automobile, which was shipped last Monday, and due to arrive here Thursday. The object of this purchase is to serve the traveling public between Columbia and Campbellsville, and to better the service in the quick delivery of express. The machine will enter into business just as soon as it arrives..."

A large ad in the same edition of the paper identified Mr. Azbill as the manager of the Columbia-Campbellsville Automobile Line and promised "We will carry your express cheaper and quicker than it has ever been carried. We will carry your more comfortably, cheaper and safer than you have ever been carried before." The auto was to leave Columbia each morning at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., and Campbellsville at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. Passenger fare sans baggage was $1.25; with baggage, $1.50.

The Home-Coming to which Mr. Pierce referred occurred a few months later, in June, 1906. It was a huge event in which all sons daughters and scions of the Auld Sod were invited to Louisville for a celebration. It was estimated at the time there were 600,000 former Kentuckians living elsewhere.

The following poem was written by Will J. Lampton in response to his receipt of an invitation to attend the Great Homecoming. It first appeared in the New York Sun and shortly thereafter (May 9, 1906) was reprinted in the Adair County News. Years later, his obituary noted that he was a native of Ohio but that his parents were Kentuckians born and bred. The obituary farther stated, "It was said that Colonel Lampton was a cousin of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) on his mothers side, it being understood that Clemen's mother and Colonel Lampton's grandmother were first or second cousins."

We Are Coming, Old Kentucky

News Note--There are 600,000 Kentuckians living all over that part of the world outside the State, and they are to have a Home-coming week at Louisville in June, to which all are invited. They are singing this song:
We are coming, Old Kentucky,
Six hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi's winding stream
And far New England's shore;
We leave our farms and offices
The outside things we like,
With hearts too full for utterance,
And homeward all we hike.
We don't leave much behind us
Compared to what's before--
We are coming, Old Kentucky,
Six hundred thousand more.

If you look across the hilltops
That meet the distant sky,
Long moving lines of rising dust
You'll pretty soon descry:
And now the wind, an instant,
Tears the cloudy veil aside,
And you see your children coming,
Them a-walking as can't ride.
We yearn to roll in bluegrass,
The golden corn juice pour--
We're coming, old Kentucky,
Six hundred thousand more.

You have asked us, and we're coming,
All the young ones and the old,
All the men and all the women,
Who are now outside the fold;
We are hungry for the welcome
That we know is waiting there;
We are thirsting for the "How d'you"
That we know will fill the air.
We have waited long, and waiting
Makes us hone to see you, "shore"--
We are coming, Old Kentucky,
Six hundred thousand more.
Many counties and communities, Adair and Columbia among them, appended local homecomings, held immediately after the main event in Louisville. In Adair County, the News edition of June 20th offered effusive welcome to the prodigal children -- some 5,000 by one reckoning -- who returned home, if ever so briefly. The following week, the paper said of the event "It was a day that will never be forgotten by the people of Adair county, who stand ready to again feed their wandering children when they see fit to come home. It was a great day for feasting and rejoicing--so says every body who attended the meeting."

One meeting in particular caught the attention of the News writer:

"In front of the Marcum Hotel we witnessed a scene that will never pass from our recollection. Seated in front of the building was a gentleman, a former citizen of this county, who removed West more than forty years ago, but who returned once or twice for a short visit. He has a niece, whom he had never seen, in Columbia, about sixteen years old, and who was notified that her uncle was in town. A friend brought her to the hotel, and the meeting of that old man and the little girl was the most affecting scene that ever came under our observation. The man, his head white with the frosts of eighty winters, and the tender little child became speechless and wept for joy."

(And, having thus wandered considerably far afield and finding no graceful way off the merry-go-round of words upon which your scribe has set himself, he will abandon the whirling carousel with this note: one of the speakers at this Homecoming held 106 years ago come June was one Gordon Montgomery, who spoke about the up and coming young men of Adair County. Oh, for a peek at that list!)

This story was posted on 2012-05-30 10:53:26
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