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111 Chapter Four The Other Side of the Tracks Although Jim Wallace originally conducted his oral history project to fulfill course requirements in graduate school, the timing of the project, the deposit of his materials into the archives at the Kentucky Historical Society, and the repeated public presentation of his research findings have, over several years, combined to play a significant role in organizing community symbols that counter dominant perceptions, representing a new version of the neighborhood in public memory. Wallace often framed interview questions, even entire interviews, in opposition to the deeply ingrained public perception of Craw as a violent, criminal place. Several decades prior to Wallace’s project, a few archived oral history interviews with neighborhood outsiders discussed the subject of Craw in the larger context of documenting Frankfort history. Colonel George Chinn was the former director of the Kentucky Historical Society and a local historian whose father served as the warden at the penitentiary on High Street in 1907. It was well-known that one of Colonel Chinn’s favorite historical topics to discuss was bootlegging, and in an interview Enoch Harned conducted in 1980, Chinn discussed Craw: Chinn: There is something that is connected directly with the penitentiary that is seldom mentioned, and that is a place in Frankfort called Craw. There was a slum area in Frankfort that was known as Craw. It’s now right where the office towers are. . . . See, this penitentiary was built in early 1800, and by the time of 1900, around in there, there had been enough people in prison whose families had moved down here to be close to them. . . . If you got fifteen years in the penitentiary, you got fifteen years in the penitentiary. 112 CRAWFISH BOTTOM It was quite a common thing for the families to move down to be close to them, and they had a regular establishment here in Frankfort, and it was called Craw. Now if you think that Dodge City was rough, you should have known Craw in its heyday. There was just an unwritten law in Frankfort that as long as you did this on the other side of the railroad tracks and buried your dead, everything was all right. Don’t cross over on the other side. . . . You can imagine the lawlessness that went on among the people who settled under those conditions. Well, I mean the families, you can imagine the type of individual that was attracted down here in the beginning; they were the families of the people in the penitentiary. They prided themselves in Craw. You’d always have known who is “King of Craw.” He was supposed to be the Al Capone of that area, and whoever killed the “King of Craw,” he automatically became “King of Craw” himself, as long as he lasted. I could name two or three, but I won’t. Harned: When people got out of prison, did they stay around in this vicinity? Chinn: Their family had been here so long it was natural that they’d stay. As long as they stayed in Craw everything was fine. But don’t cross the railroad tracks.1 Chinn’s statements regarding the lawlessness of the neighborhood and the penitentiary’s influence on its purported culture of crime and violence serve as excellent examples of the view of the neighborhood generally held by Frankfort’s white residents and historians . Public perception of the neighborhood was, indeed, generally consistent with Colonel Chinn’s dramatic descriptions. Although neighborhood outsiders considered Craw to be a negative entity in a civic context, the prevalence of narrative descriptions celebrating these negative elements indicates a sense of historical pride held by Frankfort citizens who appear to eagerly claim ownership of Craw in a historical context. Craw’s presence in Frankfort’s historical narrative gives the city a distinctly unique and “entertaining” quality that emerges from what could be perceived as the city’s more mundane, politically dominated historical identity. Thus, dominant public memory in Frankfort tended to overemphasize the seedy elements of The Other Side of the Tracks 113 Craw’s compelling personality. In defense against one-sided accounts such as these, Wallace and those he interviewed invoked the spirit of the statements made by James “Papa Jazz” Berry in Ron Herron’s State Journal article about the Bottom and actively sought to change the public’s perception of the historic neighborhood. REMEMBERING SAFETY Jim Wallace did not set out to celebrate, or even confirm, the longheld perception of the...


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