The moonlight falls the softest In Kentucky; The summer's days come oft'est In Kentucky; Friendship is the strongest, Love's fires glow the longest; Yet, a wrong is always wrongest In Kentucky. The sunshine's ever brightest In Kentucky; The breezes whisper lightest In Kentucky; Plain girls are the fewest, Maidens' eyes the bluest, Their little hearts are truest In Kentucky. Life's burdens bear the lightest In Kentucky; The home fires burn the brightest In Kentucky; While players are the keenest, Cards come out the meanest, The pocket empties cleanest In Kentucky. Orators are the grandest In Kentucky; Officials are the blandest In Kentucky; Boys are all the fliest, Danger ever nighest, Taxes are the highest In Kentucky.
The bluegrass waves the bluest In Kentucky; Yet bluebloods are the fewest (?) In Kentucky; Moonshine is the clearest, By no means the dearest, And yet, it acts the queerest, In Kentucky. The dove's notes are the saddest In Kentucky; The streams dance on the gladdest In Kentucky; Hip pockets are the thickest, Pistol hands the slickest, The cylinder turns quickest In Kentucky. Song birds are the sweetest In Kentucky; The thoroughbreds the fleetest In Kentucky; Mountains tower proudest, Thunder peals the loudest, The landscape is the grandest - and Politics - the damnedest In Kentucky.
"In Kentucky" is perhaps the best known and most printed poem about Kentucky. It was written by Judge James Hillary Mulligan for a banquet for the members of the Kentucky legislature held 11 February 1902 at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington. It was very well received and reprinted by three Lexington newspapers. The Lexington Leader ran the poem on its front page the next day and described the Judge's reading of his poem this way:
...At the close of an unusually brilliant and witty toast he drew from his pocket, as if drawing a deadly weapon, a dangerous-looking type-written manuscript, and, peering over his glasses with a smile of satisfaction that amounted almost to a leer, read a poem which he said he wrote himself and was willing to take responsibility of its authorship. Without excuse or apology, and with very little warning, he read the following, which was constantly interrupted by applause that burst into a grand napkin salute at its close...
The other papers agreed. The Lexington Democrat said "The judge was at his best and that means a great deal. At his worst, he is great, so the reader can imagine the feast of wit that was given to the visitors." The Morning Herald said of the banquet that "The service was so bad that much of the pleasure of the evening was spoiled and it would have been a failure had it not been for the speeches" and that Judge Mulligan "for a quarter of an hour kept the house in a continual uproar, closing with the following original poem..."
Copies were widely distributed and it was set to music, imitated ("In Virginia," for example), and parodied. John Wilson Townsend, in his 1913 Kentucky in American Letters, 1784-1912, wrote that
...it has been declaimed in the halls of Congress and gotten into the Congressional Record. It has been parodied a thousand times, reproduced in almost every newspaper in English, illustrated, and at least one Kentuckian has heard it chanted by an Englishman in the shadow of the Pyramids in Egypt! More than a million souvenir postal cards have been sold with the verses printed upon them; and had the author had In Kentucky copyrighted, he would have reaped a harvest of golden coins.
In his 1935 pamphlet on the poem and its author, Townsend quoted this verse from a parody by Jesse Merchant of Louisville:
Lynchers are the boldest In Kentucky; The defenseless treated coldest In Kentucky; To a limb that is skyest, With a hemp rope ever nighest, They hang the Negro highest In Kentucky.