Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert E. Courtney, September 24, 2008

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:07 - Background

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Partial Transcript: Okay, standard question number one: When and where were you born?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about his family background. He describes where his grandparents came from, noting their immigrant roots. He talks about his father and grandfather's professions. Courtney talks about his father working in banking.

Keywords: Brewster & Co.; Centre College (Danville, Ky. : 1918- ); Fayette National Bank Building; Great Depression; Lexington (Ky.); Wilhelm Heinrich Courtney; William Henry Courtney

Subjects: Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Emigration and immigration.; Employment--Kentucky; Families.; Immigrants

GPS: Good Samaritan Hospital (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.042242, -84.500686
00:10:51 - Childhood interests

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, as a kid, what was--what were the things that you were interested in?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about the Estill family who owned a large amount of land in the area. He talks about working on that farm during his childhood, as well as working in the bank his father worked in.

Keywords: Estill brothers; Estill family; Hobbies; Jobs; Summers

Subjects: Childhood; Employment--Kentucky; Recreation

00:12:57 - Memories of the Great Depression and Prohibition

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Partial Transcript: Well, you'd have been maybe old enough to--do you have memories of the De--uh, the start of the Depression and Prohibition, and did that--was that--

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes his memories of the Great Depression. In particular, he talks about his father's reaction to the Depression. He also notes the role that Mr. Estill played in Prohibition by using his land to store illicit alcohol.

Keywords: Bootleggers; Bootlegging; Economics; Estill family; Finances; Great Depression; Illegal; Prohibition

Subjects: Alcohol--Law and legislation--Kentucky; Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Distilling, illicit; Prohibition

00:15:42 - Religion

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Partial Transcript: How about your mother? Was she, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes the role of religion in his life. He starts by talking about his mother's faith in Christian Science, and his views on that faith. He also talks about switching to Central Christian Church and becoming a Baptist to follow his wife. Courtney also describes his father's relationship with religion.

Keywords: Baptist churches; Christian Science; Church of Christ, Scientist; Claiborne Farm; Family

Subjects: Central Christian Church (Lexington, Ky.); Christian Scientists; Christian Scientists--United States--Biography.; Families.; Religion

GPS: Central Christian Church (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.045097, -84.493642
00:20:23 - Role of hotels in American life

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Partial Transcript: So, but anyway, Dad brought us back to have lunch at the Lafayette Hotel, which we only did one Sunday a month.

Segment Synopsis: Courtney reflects on the role of hotels in the 1930s. He talks in particular about the Lafayette Hotel. He talks about visiting it with his family, the people who owned it, and how it was run. He notes his father as a business associate of the owner of the hotel.

Keywords: Estill family; Hotels; Lafayette Hotel (Lexington, Ky.)

Subjects: Families.

GPS: Old Lafayette Hotel (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.044637, -84.495231
00:22:21 - Role of horses in father's business

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Partial Transcript: How, uh--wa, was the horse aspect in your father's career sort of a result of business as opposed to his seeking to be connected with the horses?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about his father's relationship to horses in his business dealings. He also describes the state of horse trading at the time, where there was little in the way of big sales. Courtney also considers the prevalence of horse-drawn traffic, reflecting on the increased transition to automobiles in Lexington.

Keywords: Agriculture; Fasig-Tipton Co.; Henry Knight; Horse business; Horse buyers; Horse sales; Horse-drawn traffic; Saratoga

Subjects: Fasig-Tipton Co.; Horse boarding facilities.; Horse buyers; Horse industry; Horse owners; Race horses.; Thoroughbred horse

GPS: Phoenix Park, former location of Phoenix Hotel (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.045928, -84.49716
00:28:25 - Education / Early influences in the horse business

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Partial Transcript: Where did you go to school?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney lists the schools that he attended through his life. He also talks about his mindset when it came to school, and whether he enjoyed school. He talks about the coming of World War II during his senior year at the University of Kentucky. Courtney notes the influence of Mr. Estill in inspiring him to turn towards horses as a career.

Keywords: Desperate Diss; Ed Madden; Estill family; Lee Rosenberg; Maxwell School; University High School; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Education; Employment--Kentucky; World War, 1939-1945

GPS: University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.038860, -84.504846
00:31:05 - Relationship with African American workers

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Partial Transcript: In those days, we, we associated a lot with the colored people and they were good to be around.

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about his relationships with African Americans. He notes the role that black workers played in his childhood. He also describes the prevalence of black farm workers, in particular describing a horseman named Les Sharp that he worked with.

Keywords: African American farm workers; African Americans; African Americans in the horse business; Black farm workers; Horse industry; Les Sharp

Subjects: African American horsemen and horsewomen; Horse grooms; Horse industry

00:37:22 - Work for Mr. Estill

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Partial Transcript: Well, were you, uh, uh--did you actually--did you ever really work for Mr. Estill as part of, okay, that's your, your full-time job?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about the work he did for Mr. Estill on his farm during the summer. He describes stripping bluegrass one summer to be able to sell the seeds. He also talks about the difference in farming quality since then.

Keywords: Estill family; Farm work; John Madden; Stripping bluegrass; Summer jobs; Thunderclap (Race horse)

Subjects: Employment--Kentucky; Kentucky bluegrass.; Traditional farming

00:40:45 - Various jobs after World War II

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Partial Transcript: Well, I know we're back and--going back and forth but, uh, how, how did you meet Evelyn?

Segment Synopsis: Despite being asked about how he met his wife, Courtney focuses on the jobs that he worked after he returned to Lexington after World War II. He talks about working for L.R. Cook and Co. as well as for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. He notes his various travels working with the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau.

Keywords: Brumfield Hay & Grain Co. Inc.; L.R. Cook Implement Company; L.R. Cook and Co.; Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB); World War II

Subjects: Calumet Farm; Employment--Kentucky; Hay.; Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau; World War, 1939-1945

00:49:22 - Father's involvement in founding Keeneland

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Partial Transcript: Backtracking, uh, I know your father was really involved in, uh, Keeneland and you would have been early teenager.

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes his father's role in founding Keeneland. He describes the creation of the racetrack by selling old property to the government and investing in new property. Courtney also talks about his first experience at Keeneland on its opening day with his father. He reflects on the Depression's role in people's willingness to invest in the Keeneland project.

Keywords: Fathers; Founders; Great Depression; Racetracks

Subjects: Barkley, Alben William, 1877-1956.; Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Horse racing; Keeneland (Lexington, Ky.); Race horses.; Racetracks (Horse racing)

GPS: Keeneland Racetrack (Lexington, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.046384, -84.607997
00:57:56 - World War II--Military service

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Partial Transcript: Well, I want to get back to the--you had said that, uh, you were in school when the war came along and you--did you get drafted or did you enlist?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes his experience in World War II. He talks about enlisting in the army and joining the Officer Candidate School. He talks about the various military bases he was stationed at, such as Fort Thomas and Fort Benning, as well as working under Charles Bolte. He then focuses on his time in Japan immediately following the war as he was sent to Nagasaki after the detonation of the atomic bomb.

Keywords: Military service; Officer Candidate School (OCS); WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: Atomic bomb--Blast effect.; Atomic bomb--Japan--Blast effect.; Atomic bomb--Japan--Nagasaki-shi--Blast effect.; BolteĢ, Charles L. (Charles Lawrence), 1895-1989; Camp Shelby (Miss.); Fort Benning (Ga.); Military service, Voluntary--United States.; Nagasaki (Japan); United States. Army--Military life.; United States. Army.; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Veterans.

01:12:23 - World War II--African American soldiers

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Partial Transcript: Did you say that you were, uh, responsible for the colored troops?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney talks about his experience with African American soldiers during World War II. He notes working with black soldiers in getting disinterred bodies shipped home. He also notes the end of his military service and return home.

Keywords: African American soldiers; Integration; WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War II; World War Two

Subjects: African American soldiers--Japan--History--20th century.; African Americans--Segregation.; African Americans--Social conditions; Military service, Voluntary--United States.; United States. Army--African American troops--History--20th century.; United States. Army--African American troops.; United States. Army--Military life.; United States. Army.; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Veterans.

01:17:47 - Post-World War II Lexington

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Partial Transcript: Well, what was Lexington like then? Did you think of it as changed when you came back?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney considers the changes to Lexington following his return to the city after the end of his military career. He talks about the agricultural and rural nature of the city, which was beginning to change. He also describes the increase in unemployment and the homeless population. He describes it getting worse with the rise of industry and wage labor.

Keywords: Homeless populations; IBM; International Business Machines Corporation.; Lexington (Ky.); Urbanization; Wage labor

Subjects: Economics; Employment--Kentucky; World War, 1939-1945

01:20:58 - Meeting his wife Evelyn

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Partial Transcript: Well, we've got you through the war and some of your career, and, uh, how did you, how did you and Evelyn hook up?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney continues his story about working with L.R. Cook and Co. and how he met his future wife, Evelyn. He describes her as working for Kentucky Utilities when they met at a demonstration of new cooking appliances at the University of Kentucky. He talks about dating in the 1940s, and what they would do on their dates. He also describes the possibility of betting as indicative of the importance of horses to the Lexington community.

Keywords: Betting; Democratic Party; Drake Hotel; Ernest Thompson; Gambling; L.R. Cook Implement Company; L.R. Cook and Co.; The Green Dome; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Couples.; Dates (Social engagements); Dating (Social customs); Employment--Kentucky; Families.; International Harvester Company of America; Interpersonal relations; Kentucky Utilities Company

01:25:52 - Thoughts on absentee farm owners

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Partial Transcript: Was there, uh--what was the, uh, the feeling of the connection to the absentee owners?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes the state of major farms during the Great Depression. He talks about how they were able to survive the Depression until the rise of industry. He talks about his disagreement with his father about growing the city through industry. Courtney also notes his work and personal life after getting married.

Keywords: Absentee farms; Absentee owners; Communities; Community growth; Great Depression

Subjects: Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Farm management; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse farms.

01:31:28 - Working with Mr. Look

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Partial Transcript: So, you, uh, were with Mr. Look briefly, then the--

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes working for Sam Look while working at Castleton. While he could not place a single focus for the farm, he names several of the prominent horses he was able to sell while working with Look.

Keywords: Castleton Farm; Mighty Moment (Race horse); Mighty Story (Race horse); Sam Look; Swing and Sway (Race horse)

Subjects: Goose, Roscoe; Horse breeders; Horse buyers; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse farms.; Horse industry; Horse owners; Horse syndication; Race horses.; Stallions

01:36:22 - Hopes to someday own a farm

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Partial Transcript: At the time you went to, uh, Brumfield Hay and Grain, did you ha, did you have a sense of, 'Hey this isn't, this isn't going the way I want it to go.' I--your dream was to have your own farm, I take it, or--?

Segment Synopsis: Courtney describes his expectations for his future life while working for Brumfield Hay and Grain. He talks about his work for Brumfield, sending hay to the Elmhurst Farm. Through this work he ended up going to Keeneland. The segment and the interview ends when his wife comes in.

Keywords: Brumfield Hay & Grain Co. Inc.; Elmhurst Farm; Gus Brumfield; Hay

Subjects: Hay.; Horse farms--Kentucky; Horse farms.; Keeneland (Lexington, Ky.)