Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ugliest man in the county

Tom Jones, not quite the ugliest
man in the county
In 1903, my great-great-grandfather Tom Jones was a contestant for the title of "ugliest man" in Christian County, Kentucky. The contest was hosted by the Hopkinsville Kentuckian newspaper and was wildly popular. People voted for their favorite ugly man by buying subscriptions to the  newspaper or by returning ballots that were clipped from the newspaper.

All of the contestants, including Tom Jones, were nominated for the honor (and accepted the nominations) in March of 1903, and the race was off! The voting concluded in August of 1903.  During the 5-month election, over 25,000 votes were cast for ugly men.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) Tom Jones lost the election. Out of the 9 men who remained in the contest until the end, Tom finished second to the last with just 131 votes.  It could be said then that he was the eighth ugliest man in Christian County.

Charlie Smithson, winner of the title of
ugliest man in Christian County
The winner of the honor of Ugliest Man in Christian County was a man named Charlie Smithson, who received over 10,000 votes. His prize was a gold watch and also honor and prestige.

From what I've been able to tell, these "ugliest man" competitions were phenomenons particular to Kentucky. They went hand-in-hand with corresponding elections for "prettiest lady" (or "Most Popular Young Lady" in Christian County). For all intents-and-purposes, it seems that the goal of the election was really to elect ugly men. These men, though ugly, were supposed to be pleasant and good-natured about their appearance and were usually "jokesters" in their communities. Although the candidates were originally nominated by other people, they could not be included in the race unless they accepted the nomination. At least 5 men dropped out of the race during its 5-month duration, perhaps because their feelings really did get hurt?

a ballot and advertisement for the
election from the Hopkinsville Kentuckian
In reality, the election was a fundraiser of sorts put on by the newspaper in order to increase newspaper circulation.

"The contest is to be conducted in a spirit of pleasantry and not to hurt people's feelings. Candidates who enter the contest in good faith will be expected to furnish a photograph, if one can be taken without breaking the camera."

My descent from Tom Jones:

Thomas A. Jones md. Lee P. Whitlock
- Louetha Jones md. Newell B. Brown
-- Bettye Brown md. Paul Wadleigh
--- Randy Wadleigh md. Barbara Plymale
---- Ryan Wadleigh

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