This week has been chalked full of events going on preluding to this weekends Kentucky Derby. Though finishing my fourth complete year here on the East Coast, this was my first time attending any of these events.
I took some time to study up on the history of the Derby. Kentucky has been a major state of horse breeding and racing since the early 1800's. Meriweather Clark [grandson to the famous William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition] opened Churchill Downs in 1875.
May 17, 1875,was the first official Kentucky Derby. The Derby is also referred to as "The Run for the Roses," due to the beautiful blanket of 554 red roses awarded to the Derby winner each year. The Governor of Kentucky awards the garland and the trophy.
The Mint Julep, an iced drink which consisting of bourbon, mint and a sugar syrup is the traditional beverage of the race. A thick stew of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables called burgoo, is also a Derby tradition.
John had showed me some photos he took a few years before during Derby week. They were stunning! During Derby week they have a Hot Air Balloon Race every year. It's a three day event. First day the balloon participants meet up at Waterfront Park, the second night they do the Balloon Glow, and the following morning the race commences. He took me to the Balloon Glow event. That event dozens of hot air balloons that compete in the race come together for fans to see. The announcers countdown to a time where all the balloons light up their flames at the same time. It's a truly gorgeous sight to see! Unfortunately due to the weather [high winds] we weren't able to see more than 3 balloons up at a time and were never allowed on the grass to get up close and personal to meet their crews.
The highlight for me was the Steamboat Race Wednesday afternoon. It was a memorable and somewhat sad occassion. The Delta Queen was to run in her last race.
The Delta Queen was built in 1927 and operated since 1966 under a special Congressional exemption to Coast Guard fire-safety standard, she loses her exemption this year. Her hull was built in Scotland in the late 1920's, then brought to California where American craftsmen built her artistic/ornate wooden superstructure and equally gorgeous cabins/interiors. She boasted 87 cabins for overnight guests ranging from small and quaint to large luxurious cabins that resembled bedrooms of upscale southern homes. She was first launched in 1927. A steam calliope dating back to 1897 can be heard all across the river...as well the 1883 bell, which is the same one that sounded landings for the steamboat Mark Twain rode down river. November 2008, she will be retired, a long standing icon of our past.
The Delta ran against the Belle of Louisville, also a historic ship. She originally was named "Idlewind" was built in 1914, in Pittsburgh by James Rees & Sons Company. Her history carries on many different duties...passenger ferry, charter ship, war duties/pushing oil barges down river, and USO nightclub. In 1947 her name was changed to Avalon, and so started a 13 yr career as the most used river steamer in the country. In 1962 she was rescued from going to the ship junkyard by Jefferson County Judge/Executive Marlow Cook at which time she took the now known name of "The Belle of Louisville". In 1989 she became a Historical Landmark, celebrated her 90th birthday in 2004, and is now known as the oldest river steamboat in operation....as well as the 2008 winner of the Steamboat Races. [22 -19 vs. Delta Queen]