Fifteen is a magical, transitional age, at least according to Taylor Swift. It’s also a rough time—just compare the person you are now with the one you were at 15.
Kentucky Monthly is 15 with the September 2013 issue, and it’s hard to say where the magazine will be 5, 10, 25 years from now. Here’s a glance at a few other Kentucky icons and where they stood at 15.
Kentucky itself was founded in 1792 and by 1807 had a population of fewer than 400,000. By then, even the state’s 15-year-old penitentiary was far different than it is today. Writer Fortescue Cuming wrote of his 1807 visit that “twenty-four miserable wretches” were imprisoned, working as “ ‘nailors,’ coopers, chairmakers, turners and stonecutters, the latter of whom cut and polish marble slabs of all sizes.”
At 15, pioneer Daniel Boone was still a recently expelled Quaker living in Pennsylvania, reading the Bible and Gulliver’s Travels. It would be another 26 years before he would blaze the Wilderness Road from the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina to the Bluegrass.
At 15, iconic filmmaker D.W. Griffith, best known for the controversial 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation, had dropped out of school and was working in a dry goods store. The Crestwood, Ky.-born director wouldn’t enter the film industry for another 18 years.
As for our largest city, Louisville, which predates statehood by 14 years, by its 15th birthday, Shippingport and nearby Portland rivaled the city’s commerce district. A settler named Aaron Fontaine was still operating a ferry system in the western part of the city, eventually providing the name for Fontaine Ferry Park, an amusement park that operated for 64 years, closing in 1969.
At 15, three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was a freshman at Louisville’s Central High School. Ali—then known by his birth name, Cassius Clay—already was recognized for his emerging skills in 1957. Supposedly, when kids got out of hand, Principal Atwood Wilson would announce over the school’s PA system, “Stop the crap, or I’ll put Cassius Clay on you.”
At 15, Academy Award-winning actor and producer George Clooney was still in Augusta and entertaining dreams of playing Major League Baseball for the Cincinnati Reds.
At 15, Harland Sanders, a school dropout who falsified his date of birth to join the United States Army, was working as a mule handler in Cuba. It would be another 40 years before “The Colonel” first bleached his mustache and goatee and began donning a white suit.
Kentucky bourbon, which today has more than a barrel aging for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth, was being produced by farmers as early as 1783. By 1798, however, it was still largely a secretive enterprise.
Fifteen-year-old Diane Sawyer was described as an insecure loner, who spent her free time reading Emerson and Thoreau. She wouldn’t learn the people skills that would take her to the White House (as staff assistant to President Richard Nixon), CBS’ 60 Minutes and eventually to ABC News until after she was named America’s Junior Miss during her senior year at Louisville’s Seneca High School.
In the University of Kentucky Wildcats’ 15th basketball season (1918), the coach was Stanley Atwood Boles, who as athletics director eventually would hire Adolph Rupp in 1930. In 1918, however, Boles coached the team to a 9-2-1 record, the odd tie coming when a statistical error was discovered after both the Wildcats and the Kentucky Wesleyan College team had left the building.
When the Kentucky Derby turned 15 in 1890, Riley, with jockey Isaac Murphy aboard, won the 16th and slowest Derby of all time. Crossing the line in 2:45 for 1½ miles (the distance would be reduced to its present-day 1¼ miles in 1896). The winner’s connections pocketed a purse worth $5,460. Second place took $300 and third $150.
Established in 1924, Calumet Farm at 15 was home to a yearling who later would be named Whirlaway. The colt won the Kentucky Derby in 1941, the first of eight Calumet-owned horses to win the classic race. Whirlaway would go on to sweep the Triple Crown, as would Citation, also owned by Calumet, in 1948.