by John Kleber, Editor-In-Chief, The Louisville Encyclopedia
The chances that lightning will strike twice in the same place are right up there with winning a second, or more likely a first lottery. Shuffled in amongst those remote possibilities must be the opportunity to edit two encyclopedias. While one would decry the lightning and applaud the lottery, I remain ambivalent as to whether my luck has been good or bad.
In the fall of 1987, while teaching history at Morehead State University, I received a call from Dr. Thomas D. Clark, Kentucky's historian laureate. He asked if I was interested in becoming the editor-in-chief of a proposed encyclopedia of Kentucky. At that time, Dr. Clark was working with the other members of the Kentucky Bicentennial Commission to adopt ways to celebrate two hundred years of statehood. In undertaking an encyclopedia they decided something permanent would remain long after the parades had ended and the fireworks extinguished. By the spring of 1988 I had accepted the offer. I took a long leave of absence and moved to Lexington, where work commenced on July 1, 1988.
Arrangements had been made with William Marshall to house the project in the Special Collections & Archives department of the Margaret I. King Library at the University of Kentucky. It is difficult to believe that a decade has passed since I sat alone at my desk deep in the recesses of the library and asked myself where does one start. I had absolutely no experience in putting together such a massive work, and my earlier project editing the public papers of former Governor Lawrence Wetherby was small by comparison. When people ask me about beginning to put together an encyclopedia, I answer it starts with "A" and ends with "Z." What lies in between is the challenge. I attempted to make it as inclusive as possible by ranging far beyond history to include the people, places, things, and events that reflected Kentucky, past and present.
It took four years to compile The Kentucky Encyclopedia. During that time I put together a small research staff, mainly graduate students at the University of Kentucky. I took three trips out to the far regions of the state to be certain that I "showed the flag" and knew what to include. My credentials as a native Kentuckian proved helpful. With assistance from twenty-eight consulting editors, I identified nearly 450 writers from across the commonwealth. The 2,200 entries they prepared reflected the voice of Kentucky, its strengths and weaknesses at the end of two hundred years of statehood. The encyclopedia was a birthday gift Kentuckians prepared and gave to themselves. I merely coordinated their efforts. The University Press of Kentucky wrapped the package in an attractive format at a reasonable price.
While putting together the book, most of my days were pleasant. The most serious problem was not getting materials returned, but instead the accuracy of that material. Kentucky's paucity of documents, the reliance upon oral tradition, and carelessness when handling facts were serious problems for our writers and myself. Mistakes crept, sometimes galloped, into the book. They will destroy the integrity of an encyclopedia quicker than anything, and each one remains an embarrassment for which I take full responsibility. It was such knowledge that gave me second thoughts when, three years after the encyclopedia was published, I was asked by Mr. Robert Bell about doing one of the city of Louisville. Mr. Bell was president of The Thomas D. Clark Foundation associated with The University Press of Kentucky as a fund-raising appendage. The city was worthy of such a book since it was a center of early trade and commerce that developed into a place of banking and manufacturing, and more recently into a medical and cultural center. Yet, despite its population and wealth, it is not well understood by many who live in the state's rural areas, and there was only one good history of the city. My concerns were partly ameliorated by the success of the Kentucky venture. All 5,000 copies of the initial printing had sold out in two days, and to date more than 37,000 have been sold. That and the fact that I was a native of Louisville and getting ready to retire and return there, were factors that resulted in my accepting the offer.
Our earlier location had worked so well that I approached my friend Dr. William Morison, the University Archivist. He found working space in University Archives and Records Center in the University of Louisville's William F. Ekstrom Library building. Bill and the staff cleared out a place for us adjacent to four large windows that provided a magnificent view of the downtown skyline. That view kept us focused on what we were about. We began working on August 1, 1996, the day I again stared at the letter "A." For more than three years it has proved to be an ideal working location. From several academic departments, I drew the assistance of researchers, both graduate and undergraduate students. They provided a myriad of services, but mainly they researched and wrote hundreds of entries, in almost an assembly line manner. The resources of the library and archives, especially the people who work there, made our job much easier. Everyday we consulted its newspapers, books, manuscripts, and pamphlets in our endless quest for "just the facts." We found the books relating to Louisville and Kentucky history kept in the archives to be of particular importance to us. Their accessibility meant that we did not have to go far to check those facts. On the few occasions when we could not find something there, we reached out to the other repositories across the community for information. I simply could not conceive of a more appropriate and hospitable place from which to compile a major reference source.
A brief word on how entries were selected. The criteria were to select people, places, things, and events that reflected the history of our community. I compiled the initial list and then submitted it to editors for additions or deletions. By word of mouth, the list grew. In the beginning, almost daily someone would suggest something that had to be added. While I think we compiled a comprehensive list, I am certain something of importance has been omitted, and I assume full responsibility for the oversight. The inclusion of biographical sketches of living people was so serious a matter because it was impossible to get a consensus, and there is the danger of offending someone who was left out. Therefore, I followed the example of most other city encyclopedias and did not include them, except for a sketch of Muhammad Ali. Sketches of living people are included within larger entries, such as Hunter Thompson in literature. This was a decision that will not please everyone, but I consider it to be the lesser of evils.
Now that more than three years have passed, I am able to draw some comparisons between the Kentucky and Louisville projects. One concern that this book would be repetitive proved unfounded. This is because in the earlier project I favored the lesser recorded rural parts of Kentucky, knowing that if I were not careful, the encyclopedia could easily be dominated by the better documented "Golden Triangle." If I had to choose between a Louisville or Mayfield entry, I usually chose the latter. Thus there were many Louisville people, places, things, and events I had to omit. That fact is reflected in the 1,797 entries and 499 writers we identified for the Louisville encyclopedia. Fewer than ten percent of those entries were included in The Kentucky Encyclopedia. By expanding our focus to include the Louisville metropolitan area, we avoid a provincial view of Louisville and Jefferson County. We even added Shelby and Spencer Counties in anticipation of their imminent incorporation within the area. Even including the metropolitan area, the Louisville project was smaller and easier to handle. The documentation for the city was much better thanks to the records found at The Filson Club Historical Society, the Louisville Free Public Library, and the city and county archives. Unchanged is the concern for accuracy. Many entries arrived containing erroneous facts. Finding the truth proved to be as difficult and elusive as it did in the Kentucky project. For that reason our entries passed through several readings. In both projects I utilized the services of assistant and consulting editors. Their job was to help me identify entry titles, read and critique the entries, and occasionally to write them. In the Louisville project my associate editors are Thomas D. Clark, Clyde F. Crews, and George H. Yater. The twenty consulting editors were identified for their expertise in a specific area such as art. When an entry was received, it was read by me. If I questioned something, I had a student researcher check the fact. Entries were then sent to the associate editors who also questioned the material. Once again, it was fact checked. Entries were sent to their respective consulting editors, and the fact checking occurred again. Finally, all the entries were read by the managing editor. In the Kentucky project, everything had to be typed into the computer. New technology allowed us to scan the material, avoiding the cause of many errors. The fact that a smaller project is being prepared on the same four year time schedule, will help mitigate some of the haste that resulted in mistakes in The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Mistakes there will be, but it is to be hoped none will be as glaring as the encyclopedia that listed "Jacksonville" as the capital of Florida. The very thought has given me more than one sleepless night.
One significant change is the inclusion of maps and photographs. We did not have the luxury of time to do that in the Kentucky project. Mary Jean Kinsman was hired as a managing editor, and her first responsibility was to identify photographs. Working with Andy Anderson, who was a photographic editor, 350 were selected for inclusion. Most of them came from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives and from The Filson Club. Both were very generous with their help and costs. Andy Anderson wrote an overview history of photography in Louisville. Joe Roberts, assistant editor, worked with geographers and historians to prepare 65 maps. Together with a three-column format, they will make the Louisville book much more attractive and user friendly.
When it is published in October 2000, The Encyclopedia of Louisville will constitute one of a handful of city encyclopedias, although their numbers are increasing. I recently received a call from Memphis as they undertake one. The approach of the millennium is an auspicious time to celebrate Greater Louisville's past, present, and future by the publication of a comprehensive reference book. Like the earlier work, it will provide ready material needed by a wide array of area people: business and industrial leaders, governmental officials, city planners, teachers and scholars, librarians, and students. However, what we do is only the beginning. We hope that The Encyclopedia of Louisville will generate interest in more research and knowledge on what is presented there.