One of the last books written by WKU history professor Carlton Jackson has been published by the University Press of Kentucky.
Jackson, who died in February 2014, was the author of more than 30 books and was named WKU’s first University Distinguished Professor in 1996.
In Kentucky Maverick: The Life and Adventures of Colonel George M. Chinn, Jackson explores Chinn’s life and unique brand of brilliance in an account that reads like a dime store adventure novel—equal parts action, accomplishment, and humor. Jackson chronicles his upbringing, military career, and contributions to both the nation and Kentucky. His diverse interests and achievements in both technological and historical advancement made him a Renaissance man. His irreverent humor, larger-than-life personality, and non-conformity made him a maverick.
Growing up in Mundy’s Landing in Mercer County, Chinn (1902–1987) earned the nickname “Double Chinn,” thanks to his robust physical frame and family’s surname. Robust not only in stature but in personality, Chinn had highly diverse interests and accomplishments, and he was influential not only in Kentucky, but across the world. He played on the 1921 Centre College national championship football team, was personal bodyguard to Governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler, and served in the armed forces during both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, becoming an accomplished ordnance engineer and designer of the M-19 automatic grenade launcher.
Chinn’s contributions range from the informative to the explosive to the preservative. In addition to holding a dozen patents for military weaponry, Chinn was commissioned by the Navy to write a four-volume history of the machine gun. It was so informative that the volumes were protected as classified documents until the end of the Cold War, and even then only a handful were published. In Kentucky, he applied his interest in history to the development of the Kentucky Historical Society. In 1956, Chinn was put in charge of collecting, sorting, and classifying historic and modern military weapons for the Society, and in 1959, he was named director, serving in that capacity until 1973. Under his directorship, membership grew from 2,000 to 10,000.
Chinn’s often outrageous personality led him to carve his own moral path and earned him a reputation as a maverick. During prohibition, he blasted a cave into the limestone cliffs of the Kentucky River and used it as an illegal watering hole and gambling den called Chinn’s Cave House. When he was arrested, he defended himself, arguing that he was not running a game of chance because every slot was rigged so that anyone who played it lost money. He was acquitted. It was the same personal charm and stubbornness that enabled him to obtain a waiver to join the Marine Corps during World War II (and later Korea and Vietnam), despite being 10 years over the age limit and nearly 120 pounds overweight.
Early in his life, Chinn told a family friend that he could take things apart, but had trouble getting them back together. Long before he entered the military, however, he had mastered the ability to reassemble things. His genius was his ability to apply this trait to more than armaments. A true Kentucky original, Chinn never accepted another’s ideas unless he had thoroughly analyzed them. Total conformity, Chinn would assuredly have argued, is the worst thing that can happen to a democracy.
About the author: Carlton Jackson (1933–2014) was the author of more than 30 books, including P. S. I Love You: The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers. His book Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel was listed by the New York Times as one of the 50 most notable books of 1989.
Contact: Mack McCormick, (859) 257-5200