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The Bowling Green Daily News: Ordinary Items, Extraordinary Accomplishments

  • Author: Chuck Mason, Bowling Green Daily News
  • Author: Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Elvis’ Sun Records microphone, Tony Hawk’s skateboard, Jack Nicklaus’ golf club, Helen Keller’s Braille Bible chapter of Genesis, Jimmy Carter’s hammer and the underwater camera housing and instrumentation developed for the Titanic expedition – they are all here.

There’s more. Dale Earnhardt’s racing shoes, along with Liza’s dancing shoes.

Western Kentucky University has put together everybody’s attic and invites you to climb the stairs of the Kentucky Museum and take a look.

“Everyone will find an awesome thing in here,” said Tim Mullin, director of the Kentucky Museum, about the new exhibit “Instruments of American Excellence,” which opens Friday.

“The collection spotlights the ordinary means by which renowned Americans from all fields of study have achieved extraordinary things,” said Bob Skipper, media relations director at WKU.

The collection of more than 140 items spans politics, entertainment, sports, science, education and many other walks of life.

The underwater camera for the Titanic expedition was developed by Robert Ballard, and the device helped connect the surface ship to the deep sea robots, also called remotely operated vehicles, according to information provided by WKU. Ballard discovered the Titanic wreck in 1985.

“This collection at WKU is history come alive,” said David M. Kennedy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and editor of the Oxford History of the United States series, in a release. “It is a record of ideas made real and dreams come true.”

The size of the exhibits ranges from the 16-foot long, 1,000-pound former desk in the U.S. Senate that took 12 men to haul upstairs to lightweight ballet slippers belonging to Julie Kent and Sara Mearns.

A wood lathe from Louisville Slugger in Louisville, which has original parts dating back to before 1893, according to Mullin, only took five men to carry up the stairs.

The idea for the exhibit first originated in October 2010 with Dan Murph, who broached it with university President Gary Ransdell. As the items came in, Ransdell began storing them in a small closet in his office.

“At WKU, we are constantly looking for new ways to educate and inspire our students,” Ransdell said in a news release. “We know this collection will motivate students and visitors to become the next generation of American titans in the arts, academia, sports, science, research and media fields.”

Three of the items, the Helen Keller Bible chapter, the Sun Records microphone used by Sam Phillips to record Elvis and the Earnhardt shoes were recently kept in a vault deep within the rooms of the Kentucky Museum. Sandy Staebell, collections curator of the Kentucky Museum, let the Daily News have a peek inside the vault prior to the exhibit’s opening.
The mic that Elvis and perhaps Jerry Lee Lewis used at Sun Records says RCA in a little red logo on the front of it.

The exhibit also includes a microphone used by Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” that was used during interviews with then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain. The Neumann microphone also broadcast conversations between Leno and many guests between 2004 and 2008, including comedian Robin Williams, Robert Downing Jr., Toby Keith and Rod Stewart.
Keller’s Genesis chapter was made in Louisville by the American Printing House for the Blind, Staebell said.

Earnhardt’s shoes, black and red with the Nike swoosh, have some wear on the bottom, showing that they were used, she said.

Liza Minnelli wore the jeweled, high-heeled sandals during her Tony-winning performances of “The Act,” from 1977 to 1978. Martin Scorsese directed the performances.

One of the most recent acquisitions is the old copper bucket from Maker’s Mark that was placed on a kitchen stove to make the first batch of the trademark Kentucky bourbon, Mullin said.

Carter’s hammer, which he used during his Habitat for Humanity projects, has the name “Jimmy C.” carved into the wood just below the metal part of the hammer. Hawk’s skateboard has two stickers on its underside, one for “ShredorDie.com,” and the other “Theeve Titanium Truck Co.” The Birdhouse brand skateboard – a company Hawk began in the early 1990s – shows several ridges in the material, no doubt the times it slammed into the ramp as the pioneer of extreme sport modern vertical skateboarding performed his routines.

Stacey Biggs, chief marketing officer for WKU, said University President’s Circle members and football season-ticket holders have been invited to Friday night’s opening.

The Kentucky Museum event is prior to WKU Parent & Family Weekend on Saturday, which includes “Focus on WKU” at E.A. Diddle Arena and the President’s Festival on the South Lawn, according to a release from the university.

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