In the Kentucky Derby Museum’s new “Welcome to Derbyville” exhibit

A new exhibition in Kentucky Derby Museum tells the story of “Derbyville”, the third largest city in Kentucky.

Never heard of Derbyville? A note: it is very close to the house and only exists one day a year.

“On a traditional derby day, Churchill Downs becomes the third largest city in the state of Kentucky, “said Jessica Whitehead, curator at The Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Avenue small town, then it disappears after 24 hours.”

This temporary city is created during the “golden years” of the Derby-goers that the museum calls. Like in 2015, when more than 170,000 visitors and workers flooded the 147 hectares of the historic racetrack to watch American pharaoh win the 141st Kentucky Derby.

Welcome to Derbyville is a new exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum

“In 2015 and other high-traffic ‘First Saturdays in May’, Kentucky’s major cities were ranked by population in this order: Louisville, Lexington, ‘Derbyville’, then Owensboro,” said Whitehead.

And like any other big city, Churchill Downs (on Kentucky Derby Day) is made up of a number of unique neighborhoods. It is the diverse culture of these “neighborhoods” that is highlighted in the exhibition “Welcome to Derbyville.”

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For the new exhibition, the museum’s graphic artist created a huge map in front of the entrance. It provides visitors with a visual map of where these unique neighborhoods are located in this temporary town in Churchill Downs.

At the exhibit, artifacts, fashion, art, and hundreds of photographs bring the wild stories and unique culture of the Kentucky Derby to life. From spectators climbing the infield flagpole to a parachutist surprising 100,000 infield fans with a parachute that lands in the crowd, the exhibition touches on every aspect of Derby day-to-day life.

Fashion worn to the Kentucky Derby over the years is in the.  to see "Welcome to Derbyville" Exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum

There is also a special section devoted to art and memorabilia. is dedicated Ralph Steadman. He is the British artist who accompanied the gonzo journalist and native of Louisville Hunter S. Thompson to the 1970 Kentucky Derby. Sketches Steadman made all day, some of which made Thompson’s iconic ones “The Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved” can be seen.

Make sure to check out Steaman’s handwritten expense report for the weekend. On it you will find his note for the cost of the ticket for the 96th Kentucky Derby – a whopping $ 1.

“This exhibition is really a place to talk about the cultural elements of Derby Day, which is really interesting when you think of the circuit as a city divided into different neighborhoods,” Whitehead told the Courier Journal. “Think Millionaires Row and the red carpet where haute couture and celebrities are spotted. Those who really want to watch and bet on the horses hang out in the paddock. Another section that we’ve identified as “Neighborhood” is The Winner’s Circle with that gorgeous horseshoe arch and pagoda – it’s only used once a year on Derby Day. “

A spectacular jacket worn by restaurateur Jeff Ruby at the Kentucky Derby.  Exhibited at the Kentucky Derby Museum

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Other Derby Day neighborhoods featured in the exhibit include The Backside, where the coaches, racehorses, jockeys and grooms make the Kentucky Derby possible, and The First Turn, also known as “The Money Shot,” which is the most photographed area from Churchill Downs. On race day this “neighborhood” is populated with media from all over the world.

Of course, the streets around the racetrack form an important district of their own. On every derby day, residents line the streets and offer pop-up parking, food and parties on race day.

Regular Derby visitors know the closest neighborhood, the grandstand. This section of the track seating is populated by racing fans who have often been around for decades and are traditionally finely dressed in their Kentucky Derby.

Artwork by Ralph Steadman on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum

One of these outfits can be seen in the exhibition. It’s a hand-sewn, floor-length dress made by Cora Jacobs, a regular race day, for the 1976 Kentucky Derby. Each Derby winner’s name is hand painted on their dress.

A miniature covered wagon used by a group of Alaskan friends to transport (and most likely smuggle) supplies into the infield is also on display. This article represents the loudest section of Derbyville.

“We think it really speaks to the person who is so creative and who really comes to Derby to have a great time,” said Whitehead. “There is no other track with such a unique and creative infield as Churchill Downs.”

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One warning, don’t try to roll in a tiny covered wagon today. Since September 11th, security at Churchill Downs has become much tighter. Yet sophisticated attempts to get contraband into the infamous infield remain as determined as ever.

“What we loved about creating this exhibit was searching through the photo archives and artifacts to tell the varied stories about the day at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby,” said Whitehead. “There are so many different perspectives, it really is a remarkable cultural experience that is unique to other sporting events.”

Reach out to Kirby Adams at or Twitter @kirbylouisville.

Welcome to Derbyville

WHAT: The exhibit features artifacts, fashion, art, and hundreds of photographs that bring the wild stories and unique culture of the Kentucky Derby to life.

WHERE: Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Avenue.

IF: Now until October 2022

HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, 12 p.m.-5 p.m.

COSTS: General Admission: Adults (13-64): US $ 17, Seniors (65+): US $ 15, Children (5-12) 11, Children (under 5) free

MORE INFORMATION:, 502-637-1111

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