Kentuckians in King Arthur’s Court
Step into medieval times at Round Table Literary Park in Hopkinsville
“Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.”
—From King Arthur And His Knights, Sir Thomas Mallory
If someone were indeed successful in pulling the sword from the stone that sits in Round Table Literary Park in Hopkinsville, you might wonder how the good folks in England would react.
Alas, the sword and stone here are replicas, but for visitors to the park, the impulse to tug Excalibur free from the stone is probably as strong as it was for the nobles in the legendary times of King Arthur.
The park was inspired by the award-winning Round Table Literary Journal, which has been published annually since 1967 at Hopkinsville Community College (HCC). The journal was established by former HCC English professor Frances Thomas, a key player in the development of Round Table Literary Park. In 1996, the college dedicated the park to Thomas, who died in 2012.
“We’re part of a long, proud tradition that we’re thrilled to continue today,” says Elizabeth Burton, an editor of the Round Table Literary Journal and an assistant professor of English at HCC. The 2022 edition will be published in May.
In 1974, the sword and the stone became the first pieces installed in the park, along with the 22,000-pound replica of King Arthur’s Round Table, which is encircled by 24 stone seats. The names of Arthur and his knights, including Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot and traitorous villain Mordred, are etched in the table at their designated places.
The Graeco-Roman amphitheater was added 15 years later, in 1989. Near its curved double arches is a sculpture of a seated Melpomene, one of the nine Muses. According to Greek mythology, the goddesses of music, song and dance was eventually named Muse of Tragedy and is typically depicted with a tragic mask or sword.
And what is a clutch of iconic and ancient structures without a Delphian Tholos? The circular temple, the original dedicated to Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and war, was constructed in the park in 1996.
Self-taught sculptor and longtime resident, the late Steve Shields, is the artist behind Melpomene—as well as statuary all over Hopkinsville and beyond, including the copper pioneer standing within Hopkinsville’s Pioneer Cemetery, his first large-scale project. Local stone mason Walton Smith completed the construction of the amphitheater.
“Round Table Literary Park is a benefit to Hopkinsville Community College and an asset to the community at large,” says HCC President and CEO Alissa Young. “It is a tranquil, peaceful place for reading, learning and reflection.”
History of Round Table Literary Park
Jennifer P. Brown, founder and editor of Hoptown Chronicle, a nonprofit newsroom in Hopkinsville, has researched the park’s history extensively.
According to Brown, the provenance of the stones in Round Table Literary Park is found in historic Hoptown sites. These include the town’s original high school and several other schools as well as a house that once stood less than 10 minutes from the college and has a literary connection of its own.
This was the home of John Wesley Venable Jr., believed to be the inspiration for a character in the 1947 short story, The Circus in the Attic, written by Kentucky-born poet, novelist and literary critic Robert Penn Warren. All the stones sit within a grove of trees, a little slice of Camelot right on HCC’s campus.
“I know many people enjoy it as a quiet, solitary place for lunch or an afternoon break during their work week,” says Brown. “But I’ve also seen the amphitheater when it is full of people enjoying an actors’ performance or a literary reading, and on those occasions it shines as an ideal setting for people to gather during those times when the arts need to be celebrated.”
Updates at the park
Depending on when they come, visitors to Round Table Literary Park may not spot Melpomene’s Mask of Tragedy. The mask was stolen and Melpomene’s hand damaged, but HCC officials plan to address the damage. Additionally, the community college plans to add a feature recognizing the life and work of Hopkinsville’s bell hooks, author, professor, feminist and social activist, in the fall of 2022—the first new installation to the park in over 25 years.
- 720 North Drive, Hopkinsville KY
- For more info: (270) 887-2300, Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention & Visitors Bureau