Updated 3 months ago
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Annie Denny loves history.
Not in the read-a-couple-of-historical-biographies-a-year way, the History-Channel-devotee way or even the Civil-War-battle-re-enactor way.
Annie loves history - specifically Kentucky history - so much that after retiring from nearly three decades of guiding tours at the Old Capitol and the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, she decided to fill her days with - wait for it - guiding tours at the new Capitol. It's only a part-time gig though, so Annie still technically counts herself as retired.
The 60-year-old Mercer County native has never been able to suppress her passion for the past. Even before she retired, Annie would spend winters holed up in the history center - when tourists were few and far between - combing the state's legislative archives and stockpiling interesting bits of information for vacationing families and spring semester school groups.
It's hard to imagine many would relish hours alone in a room of 100-year-old divorce settlements and newspaper clippings, but Annie did.
"Oh, you get such a sense of everyday life!" she explained. "And then - then you can tie it to legislation and see all of it together. Lawmaking was so personal prior to 1850."
Annie credits her parents - ardent readers - for passing on a love of history. Raised in Salvisa, she and her three siblings were taught to appreciate the value in historic literature from a young age. In fact, Annie's work with many of Frankfort's historical homes and buildings is a direct result of her family.
In the winter of 1976, she was in the midst of a second year at the University of Kentucky. The then-20-year-old couldn't pin down a major and limped into Christmas break disappointed and struggling to find direction.
At the time, Annie's older sister, Nancy, was chief guide at the Old Capitol. With her regular tour guides at home on their own Christmas breaks, Nancy enlisted her younger sister to volunteer over the holiday.
Annie was a natural fit and excelled in the role, so much so that she stayed through the winter - and another 29 years after that.
Her experiences as a guide are as endless and entertaining as her knowledge of state history.
With a warm laugh, Annie recalled giving an eventful tour of the Old Capitol to a Mennonite group several years ago.
"We're walking through the building, and they told us they had written a song about Kentucky and asked if they could sing it," she began. "Of course we said yes and so they're in the Old Capitol rotunda and they start singing in the most beautiful harmony and a cappella . it was just so wonderful.
"But then, all of a sudden, it starts sounding like somebody is terribly off key. And then I think, 'Oh my gosh, that is a dog howling. There's a dog.'"
She paused a moment to let the visual sink in: A dog, somewhere in hiding, wailing along with a Mennonite choir in one of the most opulent and awe-inspiring buildings in the state.
"But then," she continued, "I realize it's the fire alarm going off! Now, we had rules. If the fire alarm goes off, you immediately take everyone out, but I was very polite and couldn't interrupt them - for 27 verses."
Twenty-seven verses? That's longer than "American Pie" and "Stairway to Heaven" combined.
"Well 27 is probably an exaggeration," she conceded with a smile. "But it went on and on and it was so uncomfortable. I guess we'd have all died, because no one in the room could bring themselves to stop them. It was a false alarm, but as soon as it was over we applauded and I said, 'You know, that's a fire alarm and we have to leave.'"
Many find out quickly that Annie is a storyteller, not a rambler. She weaves tales of a time gone by into the reference points of an everyman - something as simple as a relative's name or a hometown landmark.
"People love to make connections," she said. "That's why I think my research at the history center has really enhanced my tours."
Annie's become something of an expert on 1830-1854 Kentucky. She got flashcards to quiz herself on former governors and significant dates in their administrations, and she's yet to meet a diary from the 19th century she doesn't love.
Sitting on a marble bench outside the new Capitol rotunda, Annie described the draw of being a tour guide.
"Well, you can't beat this building for grandeur, that's for sure," she said. "And it's hard to beat the history of Old Capitol, but I love the people that come in. I love watching their wheels turn during conversation."
Pointing to her feet, clad in cushy black support shoes, she smiled. "As long as these hold up, I'll be here."
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