Sunday, June 24, 2007

the louis "hawk" rogers connection

Photo by Bryan Sherwood

Bryan Sherwood sent me this photo today. We had been talking about restaurants in Bardstown and I recommended Colonel Hawk’s to him. So Bryan, who makes frequent trips to Gethsemani, found it – I had only given him sketchy directions (S. 4th Street) – and he took some photos.

There are only 2 places (other than Dr’s offices and the hospital) that I know Merton visited in Bardstown: the home of Thompson Willett and Hawk’s.

“It looks pretty run-down, do you think this is it?” Bryan asked. Tell you the truth, I don’t remember ever being at Hawk’s except at night, so I never was really sure what it looked like from the outside, but it was not a "fancy" place when I knew it the 50’s and 60’s. We would call ahead and then go as a big group. It always felt like a “secret” place. Special. And the best food in town.

My guess is that Merton came to know Hawk through his friendship with Thompson Willett, a local Catholic businessman (distillery owner).

On the night that Martin Luther King died, Merton went to the restaurant to be with his local Negro friends, Colonel Hawk and his daughter, Beatrice Rogers. Merton writes in his journal:
Hawk with his arm around me saying, “This is my BOY, this is my FRIEND.” … I could cry.” (“The Other Side of the Mountain”, p. 78)

Louis “Hawk” Rogers had worked in Washington DC as a cook, butler, chauffeur, and house manager for politicians. In 1941 he returned to his native Bardstown and built a small, concrete block dinner club. For almost 25 years the restaurant was prohibited by law from serving both black and white customers. It was a black owned public restaurant with a white-only clientele. Even though America Rogers, Hawk’s wife, could cook on the wood stove in the kitchen and Hawk could wait tables, they could not legally sit down and eat in their own restaurant.

The barriers were removed in the early 1960’s and the restaurant continued to thrive. I am not sure if it is still operational, it’s hard to tell from the photo. The last time I was there was probably in about the mid 1980’s. Colonel Hawk was alive and the walls were decorated with photos of Merton.

Baptist minister, Will Campbell, claims that he was Merton’s close friend and they would slip away from Gethsemane to “enjoy country music and go to places like Colonel Hawk’s on the backside of Bardstown, Ky., and enjoy lamb fries and illegal whiskey in the back room.”


  1. You're really making Merton "come alive" for me, Beth, and Bryan's picture is excellent.

    I read that Hawk's daughter-in-law, Beatrice, worked for the Willett family, so maybe Merton met her when he was visiting them, and found out about Hawk and his restaurant. (?)

    In any case, it's amazing to me that you have such wonderful memories of places that Merton enjoyed as well!

  2. Yes, I also think that Merton came to know Hawk through Beatrice and the Willett's. My family was/is a life long friend of the Willett's, and I grew up with the Willett children. Thompson taught me to make bread in his big oven one Sunday afternoon. And though I was just a teenager during the years that Merton visited there, I was aware of his visits.


The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-s...