Congratulations to Former Student Employee

photo of artists and sponsors of Best in Show winning decorated barrel

Best in Show Northern Kentucky Bourbon Barrel prize winning team and sponsors.


Congratulations to Emily Ulrich Bertsch! Emily and her team, which included Kaitlin Peed and Megan Doebrich also of NKU, participated in the recent northern Kentucky Bourbon Barrel project. Their barrel won Best in Show out of 107 barrels!

Emily, pictured fourth from left, worked as a student employee in our department for four years until she graduated in May 2018.

For those who would like to see their artwork in person, it will be on display at 642 Main St, Covington, KY for the next year.

Congratulations on your success Emily!

Back of prize winning bourbon barrel.

Back of Best in Show prize winning bourbon barrel.


Front of decorated Best in Show bourbon barrel

Front of Best in Show prize winning bourbon barrel.

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The Beginning of Something New

The University of Kentucky, a public university, was founded in 1865 in Lexington, KY. On July 1, 1948 the University of Kentucky (UK) established the Northern Extension Center to offer a limited two year college program in northern Kentucky. Administrative offices and classrooms were rented in the Covington First District School, an elementary school at Sixth and Scott Streets. Extension Center students used the chemistry labs at Ft. Thomas and the physics labs at Holmes high schools while the Covington YMCA was used for student recreational and athletic activities. The program was developed to meet the educational needs of returning military veterans and to provide professional and general education for part time undergraduates and graduates.

Dr. W.C. Wesley began the 1948-49 year as Director of the Northern Extension Center, but Thomas L. Hankins replaced him before the year ended. Hankins stayed on to become the first and longtime director of the successor institution Northern Community College. Being scattered across three different facilities wasn’t easy for administrators or students. UK began planning for its own permanent facility as early as 1958. A 40 acre site in Devou Park, Covington was selected. Mt. Allen Road was constructed to connect Dixie Highway to the new UK Northern Center campus. On November 19, 1961, the new building and Covington campus were dedicated. US President John F. Kennedy sent Hankins a telegram which was read at the dedication ceremony. Student enrollment in 1960-61 was 500-550 per semester. Instate tuition was $125, while non-residents paid $310. The Northern Center had 8 staff and 26 full or part time faculty. The library owned just over 3,300 books.






Covington campus ca 1976

Between 1957 and 1960, UK created four additional extension centers. In November 1961, a state study on education recommended development of a statewide community college system. In 1962 the state legislature approved creation of the community college system, the addition of new colleges and the conversion of existing university facilities at the five extension centers to the use of the community college system. UK was delegated the task of managing the entire system. By 1964 UK began converting the extension centers to community colleges. The Northern Center became the UK Northern Community College (UKNCC) using its new name for the first time in 1964-65. UKNCC’s first graduation ceremony was held in 1966; twenty-eight students received associate’s degrees or certificates.





Gov. Nunn signs Legislation establishing NKSC

In 1966 a Kentucky Council on Public Higher Education study recommended that one more state college be established in northern Kentucky because it lacked one despite being the state’s second largest metropolitan region. In 1967 Louie B. Nunn was elected Governor. In return for support in his election he supported the establishment of Northern Kentucky State College (NKSC), signing the establishing legislation on March 14, 1968. In order for the UKNCC assets to be transferred to the new NKSC, the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Council on Public Higher Education (now the Council on Postsecondary Education) and the state legislature all had to approve. This was completed by July 31, 1969.

Although the Covington campus was deeded to NKSC on June 20, 1969, UK continued to be responsible for conducting classes until NKSC took that over in July 1970. President Steely wasn’t hired as President until December 1969. While the new college may have had a campus and facilities, it had no employees to run it. The first NKSC classes were offered at the Covington campus during the summer session which actually began in June 1970. Classes continued in Covington while a larger, more permanent site for the fledgling state college was created elsewhere. Classes began at the new Highland Heights campus for the fall 1972 semester.

Meanwhile, the Chase College of Law, formerly a Cincinnati evening law college housed at the YMCA, merged with NKSC effective June 1972. Chase moved into the Covington campus in the fall of 1972 after NKSC moved into the new Highland Heights campus. In 1974 the main Covington building was named Hankins Hall in honor of Hankins’ long service as director there. Chase moved to the Highland Heights campus in the spring of 1982 once the present campus had sufficiently expanded for the occupants of Nunn Hall to be able to move into other buildings.




Hankins Hall, 1990

After the departure of Chase, NKU continued to use the Covington campus for classes and offices until it closed in December 2008. Hankins Hall was demolished in February 2011. The library and other non-permanent structures had already been removed. The 38+ acre site has been prepared and is now available for purchase.

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Reading, Writing and Paper Making

I would like to give a shout out to James Harrigan, Grace Beck and their English 151 Honors professor Dr. Tamara O’Callaghan. James and Grace gave a presentation to the Board of Regents last Wednesday about research they did in the fall of 2016 which they developed into poster presentations for the just concluded Student Celebration of Creativity. It was my honor as University Archivist to introduce James and Grace because they had used some of our digital archival collections to start their research.

James gave a fascinating presentation about the Spencerian method of penmanship for cursive writing which requires a specific posture, method of holding the pen and shaping letters. The lack of present day instruction in cursive handwriting caused concern for the potential future inability to read cursive handwriting and prospective loss of history without that skill. The process of handwriting words versus texting them with our thumbs helps reinforce information in our long term memory. Writing information out by hand used to be a beneficial study technique at exam time.


Sarah E. Reasoner, daughter, to Cyrus Reasoner – April 28, 1865

Grace’s curiosity about a paper watermark led to research on how paper was made in the 19th century. Initially discarded cloth rags were recycled as an ingredient in paper. The Industrial Revolution led to steam powered machines which sped up the paper production process, increasing the demand for rags. As their supply dwindled, technology searched for alternative sources, eventually settling on wood pulp from trees. The process used to remove lignin from the wood pulp causes the resulting paper to be very acidic. Acidic paper is still a problem today. If you have ever seen a news clipping left in a book long enough to make a stain on the adjacent pages that is the acid leaching from the newsprint into whatever paper is nearby. Archives purchase boxes that are lignin free and acid free to better preserve the materials stored within.

By the way, James and Grace were in their first semester of college when they conducted their research using archival documents. This is rather unusual and due to Dr. O’Callaghan who regularly uses archival materials in her classes. We, the archivists who work here, think the Special Collections and University Archives has cool stuff. We welcome undergraduate students, and all researchers who would like to use our materials to come talk with us about your research ideas.  We also think more faculty should bring their classes to visit because we think you don’t know what we have that would relate to your classes. We’re not just your ordinary history archives.

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Democracy Square LIVE! in the Archives

Join Special Collections and University Archives on Thursday, March 31 from 12:30-1:30pm in Steely Library Room 102 for Democracy Square LIVE!, co-hosted with The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement. The discussion will examine difficult historical knowledge brought to light in “When Covington, Kentucky Executed an Innocent Man: the Legal Lynching of John Montjoy,” a new exhibit in the Archives Research Room. Katie Bramell,  Public History graduate student and exhibit curator, will talk about her exhibit research and lead a discussion on the complex topics she unearthed during the process.

The exhibit focuses on the case of John Montjoy, an African American accused of the rape of a white woman in Covington, Kentucky in 1935. In this real life version of To Kill A Mockingbird, John Montjoy was convicted by an all-white jury, forced to confess under physical harm, subjected to racial prejudices during his criminal trial and was executed two years later by way of hanging in the courtyard of Covington’s City Hall. The exhibit, using primary sources from Steely Library’s Eva G. Farris Special Collections along with other archival resources, highlights the racial inequalities and injustices Montjoy was subjected to as well as the impact this unfair execution had on the African American community of Covington. The exhibit seeks to engage visitors in dialogue about the larger social effects this case and others like it have on the way we think about history and how we understand inequalities in the justice system in communities across America.

The exhibit will be on display in the Archives Research Room in Steely Library Room 106, beginning March 30. Open public visiting hours are 1-4pm, Monday-Friday.

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New Twists, Old Artifacts

One of the most rewarding aspects of working in Special Collections and University Archives is seeing how users, near and far, connect with the materials that we carefully preserve. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity and scholarship!

Last spring a production company contacted us after discovering an artifact mentioned in one of our online finding aids. The object, a needle threader from the Committee of 500 Records, ties into George Ratterman’s campaign for sheriff of Campbell County, Kentucky in 1961. The production company wanted to feature it in an episode for Mysteries at the Museum, a show on the Travel Channel.

The Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records contain organizational records and campaign ephemera from the Committee of 500, a citizen-led group that operated in Campbell County, Kentucky during the 1960s. The group’s goal was to rid the county of organized crime, illegal gambling, and prostitution. The Committee of 500 believed that electing new officials was one of the most effective ways to beat corruption and crime. They supported and helped finance the campaign of George Ratterman, a former NFL quarterback and Fort Thomas, Kentucky resident, for Campbell County Sheriff in 1961. On May 9, 1961, after dinner and drinks with Tito Carinci, a Newport club manager rumored to have mob connections, Ratterman was found in Newport’s Glenn Hotel with a stripper who went by the stage name of April Flowers and arrested by police. After his arrest, Ratterman claimed he was drugged and framed by Carinci. A court found Ratterman not guilty and then conspiracy charges were brought against Carinci and his associates. While those charges were eventually dismissed, the incident had already galvanized support behind Ratterman. He went on to win the sheriff’s office in the November election.

E-Z threader_watermark_72

Ephemera from the Claude W. Johnson, Jr. Committee of 500 Records, Eva G. Farris Special Collections, W. Frank Steely Library

The Ratterman campaign distributed the needle threader as a campaign give-away. It’s attached to a card with the slogan “Let’s Give Vice the Needle/ Vote for George W. Ratterman for Sheriff.” The production company tied the needle threader into their narrative about Ratterman being drugged by contrasting the delicacy of the threader with the evil of vice. In June 2015, the archives hosted the production company for a day to film the object and interviews with staff. The segment, “Dolley Madison, Christmas Truce, Exploding Whale” aired in December. It was a great experience for us to learn how a production company operates and to see how they use artifacts to support, or challenge, a narrative.

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Portrait of Colonel James Smith

The Fort Pitt Museum, located in Pittsburgh, PA, is currently borrowing the portrait of Colonel James Smith from the Warren J. Shonert Americana Collection in Special Collections for their outstanding exhibit, Captured by Indians: Warfare & Assimilation on the 18th Century Frontier. In a recent blog post, exhibit specialist Mike Burke analyzed the clothing worn by Smith in the portrait and connected elements like the fringe on the hunting shirt to clothing trends among backwoodsmen in the 1760s and 1770s. Read Burke’s blog post at We’re thrilled that Fort Pitt Museum shared their research with us on this unique piece in Special Collections.

The portrait is on loan to the museum through May 2016 for the exhibit.


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