Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 5, 2013

Observing Derby traditions

Big hats a trend for ladies at McConnell House festivities

GREENUP — Saturday was a tricky day for ladies observing the tradition of wearing large and ornate hats in honor of the annual Running of the Roses as they attended festivities at the historic McConnell House.

“I nearly lost it in the wind,” was a common comment at the front door as a crowd of more than 70 arrived for the annual gathering at the McConnell House a couple of hours ahead of post time for the 139th Kentucky Derby Saturday afternoon. Nearly each guest was greeted by Jody Hannah, who portrayed Mrs. McConnell wearing a “day dress” Hannah sewed by hand, based on the fashion styles of 1838. While Hannah described the dress as “simple,” many observed the fine details, including hand-pleating on the sleeves, and commented about the outstanding workmanship of the antique-style garment.

Even among the many hats present, it would have been difficult to miss Phyllis Huffman of Raceland, who said she spent only a short time crafting her unique headwear.

“It is a garden-party hat,” she said with a warm, southern-style smile, later adding. “Oh, it took about an hour to make it!”

The buffet line, complete with ham biscuits and burgoo, was a favorite hub for nearly everyone, especially as they discovered the mint juleps being mixed up by the day’s beverage specialist, Bill Secrest. With his simple syrup mixture mixed ahead of time and a bottle of “the cheapest stuff I could find” to fulfill the bourbon requirement, Secrest prepared each traditional Derby-Day drink on demand, often finding surprised guests back for a second serving after they determined the classic concoction was an ideal libation for the afternoon’s festivities.

“I just wanted to have on to say I had one,” said Destiny Webb, who attended the party with William Jones of Portsmouth, after she traded her empty Mint Julep cup for a full glass of iced lemonade.

The sounds of the party were often punctuated by the laughter from one table, occupied by “Red Hat ladies and friends,” including Hazel Fields, Gussie Pratt, Sandy VanHorn, Deloris Fleming, Thelma Phelps, Helen Hunt, Pat Glockner and Phyllis Thornbury.

Along with nearly constant drawings for door prizes, as well as a bit of friendly off-track betting on the day’s best horse, the crowd also enjoyed games and competitions including a stick-pony race and a “best hat” contest. As predicted early on, the best hat of the day award went to Phyllis Huffman, although second place winner Hazel Fields, whose Derby hat featured peonies and roses, received much praise after several in the crowd recognized her as a breast cancer survivor after they noticed she had also included a scarf featuring pink ribbons in her hat for the day.

Organizer Bud Matheny was eliminated from the competition after he attempted to use one of the potted plants on the front porch as an impromptu entry. McConnell House board member and historian Claudine Williamson theorized many enjoy the social aspect of the annual Derby Day celebration.

“I think they enjoy our food and it gives them some time to be together — a lot of laughter,” Williamson concluded.

A few minutes before the race began, organizers said “Goldencents” was the crowd favorite in Greenup for the annual running of the roses.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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