When Kentuckians have an appetite for nostalgia, they know to head to the Harland Sanders Museum and Café in Corbin for a taste that dates back more than 80 years to the Great Depression.
Kentucky’s most high-profile contribution to the global culinary landscape began in this town of 7,300 when, in 1940, Harland Sanders mixed together 11 herbs and spices—a combination of ingredients that remains a fiercely guarded secret—and came up with an Original Recipe that has given people in 110 countries a reason to thumb their noses at Miss Manners and lick their fingers.
In 1930, the 40-year-old Sanders was operating a service station in Corbin, where he began cooking for hungry travelers who stopped to fill up. With no restaurant, they joined him at his own dining table in the service station’s humble living quarters. Soon after, he invented the bucket of chicken—or as Sanders dubbed his “home meal replacements” for time-strapped families, “Sunday Dinner, Seven Days a Week”—at the place where it all began (known then as the Sanders Court and Café).
Those who remember him know that the Colonel wore an immaculate white suit, skinny tie, and trademark goatee, much like he appears on millions of buckets of his famous chicken.
Diners sit near the model motel room that Sanders constructed in 1940 to show the “lady of the house” how clean the rooms were at his “motor court,” added to his burgeoning empire in the 1930s. There is an original suite of maple furniture, tiled bathroom, and carpeted flooring that replicates the rooms of Sanders’ motel. Reconstructed in their original locations are the ladies’ restroom and small powder room.
Visitors can step into the Colonel’s kitchen—reconstructed from historic photographs, recollections from former employees, and evidence in the building—where he labored to perfect his Original Recipe chicken and experimented with pressure frying. When Sanders first began selling chicken, he cooked it in an iron skillet, a process that took much too long as his popularity—and number of diners—grew.
By using the pressure fryer method, Sanders was able to shave 21 minutes from the cooking time. According to company history, it was the combination of Sanders’ specially developed recipe and his cooking process that led to the creation of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as well as the beginning of fast food.
Artifacts in the museum include photographs of Sanders Court advertising “tile baths” and “steam heat”; hand-painted menu boards, circa 1954, showing a 21-piece barrel of chicken costing $4.95; a 1969 glass globe from a hanging chandelier inscribed with “North America’s Hospitality Dish” from the lobby of a Lexington KFC; and Christmas Eve with Colonel Sanders, an original RCA Victor Christmas album whose cover art shows the Colonel in a Santa hat.
A life-size Colonel Sanders stands in a replica office that also includes a Wurlitzer juke box, rotary dial phone, and adding machine, and another white-suited statue sits on a bench in between the museum and the café—one of the most famous photo ops in Corbin.
Of course there are plenty of photos of the Colonel himself, a man who worked as a soldier, ferry boat captain, insurance salesman, gas station operator, innkeeper, restaurateur—even philanthropist—but gained fame as the kindly Southern gent decked out in white who encouraged folks to get a bucket of chicken—and lick their fingers.
Share your own story about your memories of the Colonel as well as watch videos, read stories and quotes, see photos, and more online at www.colonelsanders.com.
KFC Corporation is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands Inc. in Louisville. To read more about the Colonel, go online to www.kfc.com, click on “About Us” then “History” on left.
Other one-of-a-kind Kentucky gems
APPLE VALLEY HILLBILLY GARDEN & TOYLAND, opened four years ago and housed in a circa 1928 Gulf gas station/diner/store on six acres in Sharpe, is described by owners Keith Holt and Dianne Karnes as “a sprawling eclectic art tribute to old bygone tacky roadside attractions.”
These include a Jungle Walk; Jack and the Giant Beanstalk made from car jacks; a Hillbilly Gym, a Lawn Mower Ranch—a tribute to Cadillac Ranch featuring a parade of broken-down lawn mowers—and a Holy Roller Church with bowling ball and pins standing in for preacher and congregation. There are also six running trains, 3,000-plus toys and folk art pieces, and a Fantasy Toy Diorama in a separate building, with a few toys trimming the trees.
Guided tours are available, including flashlight tours. Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Admission: donations. For more info, call (270) 366-2301 or go online at Facebook.com, search “Apple Valley Hillbilly.”
MARION’S BEN E. CLEMENT MINERAL MUSEUM holds a one-of-a-kind collection of minerals from primarily Kentucky as well as from around the world, period journals, photographs, and mining tools. Fluorite treasures include “Bird in Flight,” faceted fluorite (by a German family dynasty pre-World War II), and folk art carvings. Hours: 10 a.m.
-3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission: $5 adults, $3 children ages 6-12. Tours for other times can be arranged by contacting the museum. For more info, call (270) 965-4263 or (877) 965-4263, or visit online at www.ClementMineralMuseum.org.
VENT HAVEN MUSEUM in Fort Mitchell, founded by Cincinnati businessman and amateur ventriloquist William Shakespeare Berger, is the world’s only museum of ventriloquist figures and memorabilia. Famous figures include Jeff Dunham’s Walter, Peanut, and Jose Jalapeno; replicas of Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd; and Jimmy Nelson’s Farfel and Danny O’Day. Museum tours are by appointment only, May-September. Admission: $5 per person donation. For more info, call (859) 341-0461 or visit online at www.VentHavenMuseum.com.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: >Colonel’s timeline
You can see the Colonel’s culinary timeline, beginning in 1930 through the 1980s. Go to Colonel’s timeline.