The Frazier History Museum, located in Louisville, KY, recently launched an exhibit celebrating "the bourbon, the bottle, and then man" behind Pappy Van Winkle. This exhibit takes a deep dive into all things Pappy. As part of that exhibit launch, local reporter Doug Proffitt wrote a piece and created a two-part video we are thrilled to share with our readers. Enjoy!
I do have one favorite story about Pappy Van Winkle. It comes in the final few days of his life. He’s sick and in bed at his large house on Hill Road off Eastern Parkway in Louisville. He’s 91 years old and it’s 1965. Pappy is talking to his wife, Nana. His granddaughter, Sally Van Winkle Campbell, told me the two would drink one bourbon a night together. One night, she said, “Now Julian, remember the doctor told you he didn’t want you to have too much.” And Pappy would say, “Well, he didn’t want me to have too little either!”
When I went back to that house and knocked on the door, the owner who bought it in 1976, Mary Julia Kuhn, gave me a tour. She told me they are still visited by Pappy’s wife, Nana, who died in her bedroom three years after Pappy.
Mary says she’s a “friendly spirit.” So friendly, in fact, that they didn’t want me to use the word “haunted” in my story. So what does Nana do in the house? Two neighbors and another family member say she sits in her rocking chair with her hair braided up, the way Nana used to wear her hair. The Kuhns clearly love the house and Mary told me they ALL believe Nana “likes them very much.”
When you walk into a store to buy bourbon, don’t you find yourself looking at the unique bottles? The Pappy label is pretty cool. Here’s the story behind the bourbon industry’s most iconic photo.
Van Winkle is sitting there, with cigar smoke encircling his head, almost ghostlike. Many people think it’s a photo created for the label. Who took it? Where is he sitting? Remember, the first bottle of Pappy the bourbon appeared on shelves in 1994. So grandson Julian Van Winkle III, who created the brand, had time to figure out how he was going to market it. He was going through an old file and then….it hit him. One photo saved in the original files of Pappy’s Stitzel-Weller Company stood out. There he is: April 9, 1959, sitting for a business interview with the old Louisville Times. Photographer Charles Fentress snapped it and the caption says, “Julian P. Van Winkle, Sr Work…And lights up a Cigar in his Office.”
But I wanted to show more of Pappy than just that photo. I told the family of my TV project several months in advance and asked if they had any family home movies of him. Their discovery of film in the attic shows Pappy and Nana always dressed up no matter the occasion. He’s in a tie, wearing a hat, smoking a cigar. The silent film even capturing the family on vacation in the 1950s on Del Ray Beach, Florida. One hundred degrees on the beach. There she is in a dress, and Pappy in his suede jacket.
What a true Louisville character. At the age of 18, after leaving Centre College in Danville, he walked into 121 West Main Street, the original WL Weller building, which still exists, next to O’Shea’s.
He traveled by mule, by horse and buggy, by car, and by airplane. Nothing phased him. He just moved right on into the future — and his grandson made him world-renowned.