A Left at... Rabbit Hash??
From Awe to Monkey’s Eyebrow, Anything Goes for KY Names

Shawn Johnson can make a person blush just giving directions.

She figures anyone who has driven past the “Big Bone Lick State Park” sign outside the visitors’ center she runs in Boone County’s graveyard for woolly mammoths might be good for a laugh.

So she keeps folks entertained, listing all of the strangely named Kentucky towns she can think of, or mentioning that she’s the designer for T-shirts in the gift shop that say things like: “I’m not fat. I’m just Big Boned.”

The homespun historian is comfortable being the butt of jokes. It’s like that if you grow up in a Kentucky town with an odd name. And the Commonwealth has plenty of them — towns with funny names and characters who occupy them.

“I’m from Big Bone Lick,” says Johnson, a 50-year-old grandmother who has grown to love the place. “I live in Beaverlick. They’re both on Beaver Road. It’s nine miles down the road from Rabbit Hash. If we want to go to the store, we go to Kroger, and that’s in Sugar Tit, Ky. People say, ‘Where are you from?’ You’d be like, ‘Florence,’” she says. “Until you’re like 17 or 18, then it’s funny. Before that, it ain’t a dang bit funny.”

In dozens of places across the state, oddball names that early settlers put on maps have stuck — maybe not as official post office addresses, but at least as curiosities. And those who stake their claim in places like Black Gnat, Buzzard Roost, Pig, Paradise or Monkey’s Eyebrow have learned to have a sense of humor about it.

This must be why Paul Moses on the state park’s maintenance crew pointed Johnson out as the resident expert on all points west of Northern Kentucky’s “Florence Y’all” sign. Not only can Johnson give the paleontological history of Big Bone Lick State Park, she can spout off the names of every sulfur lick in a 20-mile radius.

“Try ordering from here,” she says. “You say ‘Big Bone Lick,’ they hang up on you. When you convince them that the park is Big Bone Lick, they ask for your address. You say, ‘Beaver Road,’ then they hang up on you again.”

“Where you headed next?” she asks. I give her the rundown, and she cuts in at “Pewee Valley.”

“Pewee Valley, you know what’s there, right?” she asks.

“It’s the women’s state prison,” she says. “Watch your back.”

Ver-SAILS
In Pewee Valley, four middle-aged suburban Louisvillian women get ready to say their goodbyes after a Sunday outing. There’s nothing menacing miles from the prison gates. Just a case of the giggles.

“Pee Wee Reese, is that who it’s for?” one asks about the area’s namesake. “He was a famous baseball player from around here.”

“No,” says another, “I think it’s named after a bird.”

The history books favor the bird answer. But no one has figured out the “valley” part. Pewee Valley lies on a ridge.

Pewee’s women decide the strange names of Kentucky are amusing even if you don’t know why someone ever called a place Poosey Ridge, Horse Branch or Thousandsticks. It’s something to talk about.

“We’ve got a Paris and London,” Sharon Doane says.

“And Ver-SIGH,” her friend Esther Jaggers adds. “But in Kentucky, we call it Ver-SAILS.”

“We’re international,” Doane says.

Joe’s Place at Monkey’s Eyebrow
On the far western edge of Kentucky, Joe Culver would like a little international attention. But he’ll settle for visitors who get out to take pictures in his front yard, where he posted a sign that says: “Joe’s Place — Monkey’s Eyebrow.”

“If you look at the map of Kentucky, in western Kentucky where the Ohio River comes around in Ballard County, it looks quite a bit like the profile of a monkey’s face,” he says. “And if a monkey has eyebrows, just about where that eyebrow would be is where Monkey’s Eyebrow is.”

Culver, 68, spent his career as a newspaperman and then as a public affairs director for two national labs. But he always longed for the small towns of his youth and moved back a few years ago to retire to his family’s farm, where he spent a week or two each summer as a child.

People have one of three reactions, he says, when he tells them where he lives. There’s disbelief, pride or those who mention the T-shirt slogan: “Paducah, Kentucky — Halfway between Monkey’s Eyebrow and Possum Trot.”

Culver has written a collection of stories about the characters of Ballard County, and when he mails things to people, he likes to write: “Monkey’s Eyebrow Road, Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky.” on his return address — even though it’s officially identified as Kentucky State Route 473 in La Center, Ky.

“There used to be an official Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, city limits sign, but it never stayed up very long because somebody would steal it,” Culver says. “Today, it would be hard to know if you’ve driven by or not unless you saw the sign in my yard.”

If he had the money, Culver says, he’d do something to make the place more of a tourist attraction. He wants people to appreciate it for its beauty and wildlife and not just its Monkey moniker.

“You’ll be lucky if you even know that you’re here,” he says. “But it’s a comfortable place.”

Slice of Americana
Nostalgia brings people to small towns like this, and a sense of community makes them stay, says Terrie Markesbery, who has run the general store for nearly 15 years in Northern Kentucky’s town of Rabbit Hash.

“What draws people here is just that it’s such an American icon,” she says. “It has this sense of community and slice of Americana.”

Motorcyclists know the small river town for the roads that lead to it.

“Locals know it as the center of the universe,” Markesbery says. “It’s where everything kind of happens. We gather here. For people who live in this area, it’s just a place to not be harassed. You know, you can watch the river go by and relax and meet up with other people.”

Hang around the general store’s front porch long enough, and someone will talk about how the place got its name: When the Ohio River flooded, thousands of rabbits ran for the hillsides, the story goes, only to be trapped for dinner. For weeks, rabbit hash was the only thing served.

Like other unusually named towns across the state that take pride in their storied past, Rabbit Hashers keep the spirit of the place alive with their sense of humor.

If Rabbit Hash is known internationally, it’s probably because it has a dog for a mayor. Lucy Lou, a red and white border collie, is Rabbit Hash’s most famous resident. And people like Terrie Markesbery are just glad to share the zip code.

“There’s so much to like about it,” Markesbery says. “I feel blessed to be here every day, really. I can bring my daughter to work. I homeschool her here. She plays in the creek. It’s just a simple way of life. You can always leave. I love to travel, love to visit places.

“But my gosh, it’s always good to come home.”