History is the story of people as a nation, a community, a family or an individual. It tells us how they lived, what they accomplished, what they believed, how they failed and how they fought for freedom, laws and ideas. It takes a full accounting to present the whole picture – where we have been, who we have become and where we are going. It is our identity, the foundation for our beliefs and it helps us recognize truth – important at a time when we are bombarded with information.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., assistant and “court historian” to President John F. Kennedy said, “It is useful to remember that history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As persons deprived of memory, they become disoriented and lost, not knowing where they have been and where they are going. So, a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future.”
This portrait of our past is more than facts and figures – a good thing since facts and figures on a piece of paper don’t resonate with many. It takes a story to create an emotional response. We want to feel some of what people in the past were feeling because it helps us to understand the choices they made. This is called historical empathy and it leads to a desire in many to move beyond emotion in order to touch and experience the past.
But we can’t time travel, so where do we find this connection? How do we offer it to others? As Dr. L. Michael Trapasso, emeritus professor of geography at Western Kentucky University says, “It is impossible to go back in time, but it is possible to go back to place.” The answer, of course, is heritage. The objects from our past physically connect us to our past. They add to the story. When we can see, touch and feel an object from the past, it creates empathy and understanding. It brings history to life.
Our Bowling Green history is important – and significant. Our cultural heritage is well-preserved and accessible. Others want to learn about us, from us, and visit our community to experience our past. It’s also enjoyable to interact with a storyteller, that individual who has the narrative in his or her DNA or simply understands its significance. Historical tourism, of course, is good for the economy.
Several institutions in Bowling Green, collectively, paint a compelling portrait of our community – the important full accounting I mentioned earlier. They present, protect and preserve our heritage in order that anyone can experience our history. Their contributions are immeasurable.
- The Kentucky Museum on the campus of WKU tells our entire story and offers an extensive collection of objects from our past. Additionally, they provide a wonderful special collections library that is available to the public. Whether you are looking for the “big picture” or minute detail, the Kentucky Museum should be your first stop.
- The Historic RailPark & Train Museum showcases our railroad history, including the important contributions made by the L&N during the Civil War, in a first-class museum. It also offers an exciting collection of trains and railroad memorabilia to explore.
- The African American Museum details important contributions made by African Americans to our city. These individuals rose above many odds to achieve and succeed.
- Riverview at Hobson Grove, is a historic home and museum that introduces visitors to the Civil War in Bowling Green and the elegance of Victorian society. The first building in Warren County to be placed on the historic register, it remains Bowling Green’s only historic house museum.
- Lost River Cave preserves our natural history, showcases karst topography and offers visitors an exciting opportunity to explore the cave on an underground river. It is surrounded by a beautiful 70-acre nature park of trails, wetlands and meadows.
- The Aviation Heritage Park has a growing collection of aircraft to explore and experience. It details the important contributions area residents and veterans have made to the aviation industry.
- The National Corvette Museum displays the renown sports car, made locally, and chronicles its evolution since 1953. The car’s power, beauty and history entices people to Bowling Green from across the globe.
They all matter. Our portrait is complex – we come from a diverse group of people who ushered us into the 20th century and enabled us to evolve into a modern center of culture, education, hospitality, automotive technology and aviation excellence.
If all you know of history is a collection of facts and figures, you’ve missed the excitement. Fortunately, heritage is alive in Bowling Green. We are proud to preserve it, enjoy it, learn from it and pleased to share it with others. History matters. Come see for yourself what we are all about.