HISTORIC PATHWAYS: A bridge, a burning cross and an innocent man

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By Tom Watson

Some of the contents of my files are a mystery to me. I have notes on little pieces of paper that contain names, addresses and phone numbers, or clippings from newspaper that have been in folders for years I can’t scratch my head too much trying to remember who some of the people were or why I saved their addresses or phone numbers because my hair is too thin and it would be dangerous. Some of them aren’t too difficult to decipher, however.
One concerns the dedication of the blue bridge on KY 55 over Salt River and how proud the people of Taylorsville and Spencer County were that day. I wasn’t even born yet when the event was held July 15, 1933, but an old Courier Journal clipping from the following day shows hundreds of people gathered to hear Congressman Ben Johnson deliver the dedication speech. Remember old Bardstown Ben?
It was the same Ben Johnson who made big bucks buying the Bloomfield Branch Railroad, then selling it to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He showed up with the cash on sale day when the L&N wasn’t ready to wheel and deal, forcing the L&N to soon buy the railroad from him.
Anyway, Johnston Miller was toastmaster the day the bridge was dedicated and there’s a picture of him assisting his little daughter, Betty, in cutting the ribbon to open the bridge. The picture was part of the clipping detailing the dedication.
That shiny new bridge is now faded and worn with more than a few dents from being struck by various vehicles over the years, but you know what? It’s a treasure.
The old covered bridges are just about gone and so are the metal ones. All the bridges constructed these days are the sterile, concrete type. We should write letters to the highway big wigs and tell them we want to keep our blue bridge. We insist that it be kept up and painted and by golly, we want to keep our bridge!
I found a little note in a file marked “Spencer County Various” that made me ill. It was a notation of something I read in a Jan. 3,1924 Spencer Magnet.
It was Christmas eve, and while all the little children in Taylorsville were all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing through their heads, there were Grinches at work on a hill overlooking town. These Grinches were getting ready to steal the joy of Christmas from all the little whos in Taylorsville.
On the eve of the day set aside to celebrate the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, demons were at work, preparing to spread their venom of hate and fear. As the Magnet reported:
“Two large fiery crosses shed a bright light over the white-hooded forms standing near the foot of the crosses. About 30 Ku Klux were there until the light grew dim.”
Some of the people who knew, told me years ago that the leader of the pointed heads was - and you may want to sit down for this one, if you’re not already seated - the minister of a local church.
Those of you who read my scribblings will recall the story of the man found hanged on Withrow Hill. He was a young man from Louisville named Joe Strack who told Charlie Warren he came to Taylorsville with some friends to see the “miracle” he’d heard about. If the miracle was meeting his maker, Joe found it all right. Some who read my story seemed to think I was pointing a finger of guilt at Charlie Warren, Stub Snider, or both. I hope it didn’t sound that way, although I fear it did.
Neither Charlie nor Stub killed Joe Strack. His murderer had killed before, and the motive was robbery, the same motive that had prompted the assailant to kill the first time.
This information was provided by a source I have no reason to doubt. Research through the state Department of Corrections and other sources helped point out the identity of the killer.
If I say anything else about it, or name the guilty party, it will cause embarrassment to the descendants, just as naming the number one cone head would do.
There’s no way to punish the guilty parties anymore. Let’s let Taylorsville’s racists, haters and killers rest in peace, although it may be a bit warm where they are, to rest comfortably.
I’m very happy Charlie didn’t kill Joe Strack.