Most people who haven’t been to Kentucky associate the state with two things—horseracing and fried chicken. However, there’s a lot more to the Bluegrass State. From a long list of historical figures, to bourbon, to Babe Ruth’s giant bat, Kentucky home to a lot of interesting things. These 15 fun facts about the state may surprise you!
While a lot of people know Kentucky is nicknamed the Bluegrass State, very few people know why. Some think that Kentucky is covered in a special grass that is blue in hue rather than green, but the nickname is actually referring to a blooming ground cover that is often used on horse pastures. When the land that is now the state of Kentucky was first settled, bluegrass became very popular among settlers, earning the state its nickname.
When most people think about food and Kentucky, the first thing that comes to mind is KFC. And while Colonel Sanders is well-known and respected in the state, Kentucky is renowned around the world for much more than just fried chicken. Louisville, Kentucky, frequently receives awards for its innovative restaurants. Last year, Louisville was the only U.S. city to be recognized in the World Food Travel Association’s Food Trekking Awards, winning the grand prize.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in Hardin County, Kentucky. Legendary pioneers Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark were also both born in Kentucky and are both buried in the state—Boone in Frankfort, Kentucky, and Clark in Louisville’s famous Cave Hill Cemetery (alongside Colonel Sanders).
Major movie stars George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Ashley Judd, and Jennifer Lawrence were all born in the Bluegrass State, as well as a number of musicians like Billy Ray Cyrus, Patty Loveless, Loretta Lynn, John Michael Montgomery, and Joan Osborne. Kentucky has also produced several famous athletes, the most notable being Muhammad Ali who was born and raised in Louisville and has a museum in the city that’s dedicated to sharing his life and values.
Unfortunately, Kentucky doesn’t have any professional sports teams to call its own, but the state makes up for it with a fierce college basketball rivalry. The state is divided into two camps—Wildcat fans that root for the University of Kentucky, and Cardinal fans that root for the University of Louisville. Both teams regularly make it into the NCAA tournament, and both have won multiple championship titles. When the two teams play each other, expect every sports bar in the state to be full of crazed fans.
The storefront of the Louisville Visitor Center proudly mocks the five different common pronunciations of the city’s name: looavull, luhvul, lewisville, looaville, and looeyville. Most residents of the city pronounce its name as “looavull” or “luhvul.” If you visit the city and refer to it as “lewisville” or “looeyville,” no matter how right you might be, expect to get odd looks, be immediately identified as a tourist, and possibly get corrected.
Ninety-five percent of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky. In fact, at any given time there are more barrels of bourbon in the state than people. Many people think bourbon only comes from Kentucky, but it’s not true. You can make bourbon anywhere in the U.S. Most bourbon comes from Kentucky simply because of tradition. Residents love the state’s signature liquor, so when visiting, expect to find hundreds of varieties of popular brands, rare vintages, and small batches.
A 120-foot tall replica of the baseball bat used by Babe Ruth in the 1920s leans against the side of the Louisville Slugger Museum. It’s the largest baseball bat in the world, weighing more than 60,000 pounds and towering over the five-story museum building. While the bat looks wooden, it’s actually made out of carbon steel.
You’ve probably heard of the Kentucky Derby, but did you know that the largest annual fireworks show in North America kicks off the two weeks of festivities known as the Kentucky Derby Festival that precede Derby? Thunder Over Louisville features 30-minutes of non-stop fireworks and draws more than half a million people to the banks of the Ohio River to watch the show every year.
Since 1981, every Corvette that’s been produced was built at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. You can catch a glimpse at some of the oldest, rarest, and most unique at the National Corvette Museum just across the street from the assembly plant.
The title of the longest known cave system in the world belongs to Mammoth Cave National Park in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Mammoth Cave has more than 400 miles of explored cave systems. Visitors to the park have been touring the caves for more than 200 years, making it one of the oldest tourist attractions in the U.S.
Remember Kentucky on your next birthday when someone sings you the birthday song—the birthday song is claimed to have been written in Kentucky by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill. Though the origins of the song have been disputed, it is generally accepted that the Hill sisters wrote the melody of the birthday song with different lyrics, “good morning to all,” that were designed as a morning greeting for the women’s kindergarten classes.
Fort Knox, an Army post in Central Kentucky, is said be home to the only gold depository belonging to the Federal Reserve. It’s said that nearly 150 million ounces of gold are contained in the vault at Fort Knox which is on a plot of land of more than 100,000 acres and protected by the Army, a bombproof roof, and thick granite walls.
Old Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, boasts the nation’s largest Victorian preservation district. The neighborhood is filled with block after block of towering Victorian mansions. While most of the homes have been converted into apartments, the facades of the homes have been preserved to maintain a 19th century feel to the neighborhood.
Kentucky is one of the few places in the world where you can spot a moonbow—a rainbow that is created by the light of the moon rather than the sun. If you want to see a moonbow in person, head to the waterfall at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Kentucky, on the night of a full moon.