Word of Mouth

US Airways

US Airways, June 2007

LARGER THAN LIFE

By Robyn Sekula Davis

US Airways | June 2007

Muhammad Ali may be the best-known native son of Louisville, but the city wasn’t always kind to the boxer. After winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, he was refused service at one of the city’s restaurants due to his race. But his impressive athletic feats and his work on peace and justice led Louisville to change its mind.

One of the city’s main downtown arteries was named for him in 1978, and in 2005, the Muhammad Ali Center opened downtown. Ali lives in Phoenix but returns several times a year for meetings at the Center, according to Jeanie Kahnke, vice president for communications at the Ali Center.

The Center is the place where his story is finally being told and used as an inspiration point to challenge the next generation to greatness.

Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942 at the Louisville City Hospital, now the University of Louisville Medical Center. His former home at 3302 W. Grand Ave. is in private hands. Ali ran the streets around his home and trained at the Columbia Gym, located on Fourth Street south of York Street. The public nicknamed him The Louisville Lip for his witty, quick banter.  When he joined the Nation of Islam, he took the moniker that the public knows him by today.

Visitors can walk through Ali’s life story at the Center and view exhibits on the six values he characterized — respect, conviction, confidence,  dedication, spirituality, and giving — watch a film about his life, and even take a round in the ring. But this isn’t a repository for memorabilia. This is a place for “ideas, not things,” Kahnke says.

The Muhammad Ali Center is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $9 for adults, discounts available for children, seniors, students, and groups.

­--- Robyn Davis Sekula

 

WHERE GREAT IDEAS GATHER

Some of the world’s best and brightest innovators gather every year in Louisville for Idea Festival.

“We try to bring together some of the leading innovators of the world in all different fields and get them to think outside of the box and talk about the cutting-edge ideas that they’re doing,” says Kris Kimel, president of The Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., which is the lead organizer of the event.

This year’s Idea Festival is set for September 13 through 15, and the nucleus of the programs will be at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. Some of the festival’s events will  be free. Speakers include Apple Computer cofounder Steve Wozniak, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, and fashion designer Karen Walker, among others. Kimel expects roughly 10,000 people to attend this year’s event.

For more information: ideafestival.com

— Robyn Davis Sekula

 

L IS FOR LOUISVILLE

Louisville is the kind of city you can fall in love with, says author Sue Grafton. But Grafton’s love for her hometown didn’t exactly begin with a swoon.

Grafton is the author of 20 mystery novels, all of which have titles that begin with a letter of the alphabet, including the forthcoming T is for Trespass, due out in December. She grew up in Louisville and lived there until she was 21, when she moved to California. “When I left, I was thrilled,” Grafton says. “I thought it was the happiest day of my life when I crossed the Kentucky state line.”

But Grafton’s husband, Steve Humphrey, a professor, eventually convinced her Louisville would be an ideal place to live. When they visited her family, he enjoyed the city. “He loved the look of it,” says Grafton, 67. “It is so green and so lush. In the spring . . . the thunderstorms are so dramatic. The foliage is dramatic. It is beautiful.”

Grafton also loves Louisville for reasons that might be lost on anyone but mystery authors: the rampant sin industry. “There is a lot of sin money in this town, whiskey, cigarettes, gambling,” she says. “The people who earned that money are very generous about giving back. They are very supportive of the arts. This is a very sophisticated little city.”

Sophisticated cities often have good restaurants. Lilly’s is among Grafton’s favorite dining spots, along with 610 Magnolia, Avalon, and Jack Fry’s. Her father, C.W. “Chip” Grafton, was an attorney who also wrote mysteries. He had published two books of a projected eight-book series. But Chip Grafton died in 1982, before the 1983 publication of A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton’s first book. He never even read the manuscript. “He knew it was being published,” she says. “But I wanted to present him with the fait accompli.”

Grafton hasn’t written about Louisville in her books except, of course, in the novel that begins with L, L is for Lawless. Her heroine, Kinsey Millhone, comes to Louisville as part of the plot. Millhone’s home base is a fictionalized California city called Santa Teresa. Making up cities gives Grafton more liberties and also means readers can’t pick her novels apart looking for details that she got wrong.

Grafton and Humphrey split their time between homes in Louisville and California.

— Robyn Davis Sekula