For those folks wanting a small-town, river-influenced vacation stop where you can revisit your mid-century memories, take a trip to Augusta, Ky. Augusta is one of many small towns that dot the Ohio River banks.
While Augusta is known for having the railroad tracks run right where 3rd St. would be, what sets Augusta apart is a special house that once belonged to Rosemary Clooney. The young folks today will know her nephew, George. But before George was even a twinkle in his father's eye, his aunt Rosemary was singing her way through America and starring in movie musicals.
Those of a certain age will know Rosemary Clooney. She was what they used to call a "girl singer." Hitting her stride in the 1950s, she sang with the Tony Pastor Band, Mitch Miller, Bob Hope, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. But I suspect she will be remembered most for singing with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in the 1954 classic "White Christmas."
In her later years Rosemary bought a home in Augusta just down the river from her hometown of Maysville. She wanted a place near family. George's mother, Nina, found Rosemary the perfect house, a mid-century brick house on the river. Rosemary said she felt "the river as a centering place."
That house is now a museum of Rosemary Clooney's life. And as she sang in one of her first big hits, "Come On-A My House," for $5 you can take a tour of the house and her life.
The rooms in the two-story white brick home are filled with costumes from her movies, movie posters, family photographs, record albums, sheet music and a set of paper dolls just like the set I owned as a young girl!
Tour guide Jewel Mefford led me from room to room, telling stories, explaining the collected items as Rosemary's singing floated through the house.
Rosemary's second-story, pink-flowered, wallpapered bedroom is a delight with a peaceful view is of the mighty Ohio River. Her bedroom is filled with personal items including a photo of President and Mrs. John Kennedy, for whom she performed in 1962.
The highlight of the house tour is the "White Christmas" room. This room has more memorabilia from the hit musical than any other location. With its Irving Berlin music, including the title song, "White Christmas" is regular viewing for many families during the holidays.
A set of the aqua feather fans the two girl singers used during a big production number is framed and hanging over the fireplace. The tour guide Mefford says some of the feathers are gone. This can be explained when you hear stories about the making of the movie. The one funny story is about Bing and Danny Kaye, stealing the fans and then running around the set, playing games in down moments during filming.
A DVD of the movie plays continuously in the room, and watching it surrounded by the clothing worn by the stars is a memorable experience.
For those too young to know Nelson Riddle from a childhood riddle or think that Bing Crosby was the inventor of Bing, the Internet the search engine, there is also something for you to view. Rosemary's nephew, George, has donated items from his now famous career. From his "ER" scrub to the football jersey he wore in the movie "Leatherheads," there is something for everybody to recognize.
Augusta is a beautiful walking town, with a number of delightful places to eat, including The Parkview Country Inn and The Augusta General Store. The clock at the center of town is dedicated to Rosemary Clooney. Check out Nina's, the antique shop operated by George's mother.
On the corner sits Rose Hill Boutique, operated by former Miss America Heather French Henry, also a native of nearby Maysville. Henry now designs woman's eveningwear and pageant gowns. The shop is a delightful experience with all the bright swatches of color from the many pageant and prom gowns.
Henry is now married to doctor and former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry. These dedicated Kentuckians are the two people who bought the Rosemary Clooney home and converted it into the museum. The Henrys often visit on weekends. For one small town there are many famous people who call Augusta home.
The sign on the wall of The Augusta General Store says "Relax and Enjoy." It seems that many folks have taken that advice.
Rosemary said it well in her book "Girl Singer": "From the porch, I can smell the river, keen and fresh. I know now that the faraway places the river suggests are not just around the bend, but faraway beyond imagining – knotted places in the mind and heart. But I can always follow the river safely home."
To learn more visit www.rosemaryclooney.org.
HOURS OF OPERATION
The Rosemary Clooney House is open during the following hours:
Tuesday – Friday 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday by appointment
Tours are by appointment Sunday and Monday, please call 866-898-8091 if you'd like to arrange a tour or will be bringing a group to visit.