Henderson County, Kentucky

Some 'characters' from the past

Jennie Sigler among those who caused eyes to pop
By Judy Jenkins

By all accounts Jennie SIGLER was a beautiful woman whose glowing good looks were exceeded only by her outlandishness.

Definitely not a shrinking violet or a lady who fit the mold of the "good wives should be seen and not heard" philosophy of the latter 19th century, she made waves that captured the attention of Henderson-born author Lucy FURMAN.

As a result, Jennie won a kind of immortality in Ms. FURMAN'S "Stories of a Sanctified Town." In that book about Robards, Jennie was given the name Kate HEGLEY, but Henderson County folks knew who Kate really was.

And she didn't, they knew, live in Robards. She resided in Dixie, where she no doubt kept people talking as she got deeper and deeper into her own brand of religion.

As county historian Maralea ARNETT describes in her account of times past in Dixie, Jennie's views narrowed until she believed that even the good Methodists of the community were wayward souls. While still attending that church, she took to carrying her own chair there, plunking it down in the aisle to avoid sitting "in the seat of the scornful."

Eventually Jennie, who chose to wear her long hair loose and flowing, instead of pinned into one of the conservative styles worn by most women, got to the point that she wouldn't sit at all, even to eat, because she wanted to be on her feet and ready to go in case the Second Coming should occur at that moment.

Her husband, a Dixie physician, didn't share her beliefs and ignored her demands that he give up going to his gentleman's club, which Jennie considered a sinful place.

Upon arriving home one evening, he found that she'd retaliated by locking him out of the residence. She no doubt thought he'd beg her to open the door and promise never again to attend one of those terrible meetings.

Instead, the doctor went to the woodshed and fetched an ax, which he used to destroy the fine, imported front door that Jennie had regarded as the height of elegance. Further showing his disdain, he didn't bother to replace the ornate door with another just like it, but instead hung an ordinary closet door at the entrance of the house.

Considering those mutual antics, it's no surprise the marriage ended in one of the few divorces of that era. That parting took place in 1897, with her receiving the house, 23-1/2 acres, a piano, a sewing machine and a gray mare.

Instead of living comfortably, Jennie, two years later, gave up the house to be used as the "Holy School" and took up residence in an abandoned mill.

She was a character, but that period bred many of them. There was the enterprising Sophronia GALLOWAY, for instance, a businesswoman who smoked a clay pipe filled with home-grown tobacco, and there were the fellows who, once their chores were done, spent most of their free moments at Ambrose HIBBS' store in Dixie.

Once, when the store had received a lot of fresh oysters, the men decided to make some oyster stew. Trouble was, they didn't have a cooking pot, but that soon was remedied. In no time, they had a batch of stew simmering - in a brand new chamber pot - atop the store's pot-bellied stove.

Simple stories had a way of becoming tall tales as these men attempted to outdo each other. One farmer bragged that his cow produced more milk than any other cow in the county. "You know," he said, "she doesn't even quit to have a calf. She's never had a calf, and her mother never did either!"

Those fellows weren't quite so arrogant, however, on the Halloween night when their mischief-making offspring wired shut the doors of the store, making the men temporary prisoners. Likely with much muttering about what they were going to do to those kids when they caught them, the men tried in vain to get out until, finally, they thought of lowering a gent from an upper window.

Though most people of that era probably were too busy and too church conscious to have the time or inclination for naughty behavior, there was one merchant who had a girlfriend in the community, and who corresponded with her via notes left in a particular bolt of calico.

"This worked fine," Ms. ARNETT relates, "until the merchant's wife needed a new calico dress. The 'post office' was closed abruptly!"

Reprinted with permission.
Special Edition, The Gleaner, Henderson, Kentucky, Page (31)
March 27, 1988


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS