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Exploring Kentucky: Feudin’, Fussin’ and Fightin’

New exhibit explores the stories behind some of Kentucky’s most famous rivalries

By Katherine Tandy Brown

As a student at the University of Kentucky when Rupp’s Runts ruled the court, I had the privilege of attending several thrilling basketball games. In one memorable match against UK’s preeminent rival, the University of Tennessee, a sold-out crowd filled Memorial Coliseum to standing room only. For the entire game, I perched in the nosebleed section screaming my lungs out for my team. At one point when the Wildcats surged ahead, irate Tennessee fans threw oranges onto the hardwood and the game had to be paused while the sticky mess was cleaned up…not the first nor last time that happened.

These days, the rivalry between UK and the University of Louisville is arguably one of the most intense in college basketball. This duel and others in the commonwealth—not all sports-related—are the focus of a fascinating, fun exhibit at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum that runs through November.

From the aforementioned archrival teams to battling barbecues, cave wars and feuding families, “Kentucky Rivalries” allows visitors to gain perspective on the commonwealth’s iconic matchups. At its pep rally-themed private opening,

Frazier President/CEO Andy Treinen said the presentation is “one of the most interactive exhibitions the museum has ever curated. And the stories it tells are written by the folks who’ve lived and died with these rivalry games: the athletes, the coaches, the students and the fans.”

Nearly 200 items of memorabilia dating from the 1800s to the present represent dozens of Kentucky college and high school sports rivalries; pop culture feuds such as Flatt and Scruggs’s 1948 departure from Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Owensboro’s big-name barbecue sauces competing for customers; and face-offs like the 1857 duel between the editors of the Louisville Journal and the Louisville Courier.

Various interactive stations offer Cards and Cats fans the chance to compare their height to that of 5’7’’ Louisville Cardinal women’s basketball player Hailey Van Lith and wingspan to that of UK’s star basketball player Anthony Davis (7’6”); try to palm a basketball and complete a dunk in a packed arena; and go mano a mano in a UK-versus-UofL pop-a-shot and quarterback toss. In a replica locker room, guests can play coach and design a play. In a replica arena, they can simulate high-fiving Louisville stars Wiley Brown and Derek Smith, co-inventors of the high-five. Who knew?!

See the Shillelagh, the Irish war club the Ancient Order of the Hibernians awards to the winner of the St. Xavier-Trinity high school football game in Louisville and a replica of the barrel that goes to the victor of the football clash between Louisville’s Male and Manuel high schools, the oldest such rivalry in the state. Pose on the original “Family Feud” TV set, which in 1979 featured the Hatfields and McCoys playing the game for cash and a pig. You’ll also learn about the annual Dirt Bowl basketball tournament, begun in 1969 in Louisville’s Shawnee Park; the 1970s Ali-Frazier boxing matches; and 1977 Kentucky Derby opponents Affirmed and Alydar.

In addition to those already mentioned, featured high schools and colleges that famously lock horns include Bowling Green–Warren Central, Mayfield–Paducah Tilghman, Lexington Catholic–Lexington Christian, Centre–Transylvania, and EKU–WKU.

Located on Museum Row in Louisville’s historic West Main District, the Frazier Museum was founded in 2004 by Owsley Brown Frazier, former executive of the Brown-Forman Corp. and fourth-generation descendant of the spirit and wine company’s founder.

This Smithsonian-quality museum is “where the world meets Kentucky”, says Treinen. “In 2022, we had visitors from all 50 states.”

Truly a treasure of all things commonwealth, the Frazier offers expansive insight into the tobacco industry, Derby City history, Kentucky’s people and cultures, clothing and textiles, works of art, and of course, the state’s native spirit, bourbon. Remember, 95% of the world’s bourbon comes from the Bluegrass State, and here you can explore its history, the natural resources that make for perfect bourbon, the distilling process, compelling characters, tall tales and even taste the real, luscious spirit.

In fact, the museum is the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (KBT), and the trail’s welcome center (502-753-1699) offers concierge services, KBT field guides and trail maps. At Frazier’s Flight Club, you can challenge your senses and bourbon knowledge at a blind flight of three different bourbons, learn how to make Louisville’s official cocktail at Craft Your Own Cocktail, and experience a multibrand tasting at the Ready, Set Go! Bourbon Experience.

Be sure to take in the compelling exhibit “Pappy Van Winkle: The Van Winkle Family Collection,” to find out what the fuss over “Pappy” is all about.

Visit the Frazier’s “Kentucky Rivalries” exhibit and channel your inner “us versus them,” then stay to find out lots more about your state. By all means, allow time to wander through the entire facility.

For more information, visit fraziermuseum.org or call (502) 753-5663.