The Mystical GREAT SEAL
Where does the “keeper” keep it? What did the original look like? Why has it changed over the years? Does it really exist? The more questions, the more the legend of the Kentucky Colonels’ Great Seal grows, as it has over the 80 year history of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. “History”, someone once said, “is something that may never have happened, written by someone who wasn’t there”. For better or worse, here is how we piece together the story of the great seal.
Although the Honorable Order wasn’t formed until 1931, the Great Seal we use today actually dates to December 20, 1792. The General Assembly of the then only 6 month old Commonwealth of Kentucky directed the Governor to provide a seal for the Commonwealth that would include “Two friends embracing, with the name of the state over their heads and around about the following motto: United we stand, divided we fall.” Those two friends remain an integral part of the Seal of the Commonwealth and of the Honorable Order. They have not, however, appeared the same throughout the years. Among other things, the men have been depicted with “stovepipe hats, slouch hats, no hats, in various forms of convivial embraces and hand clasps,” according to the Kentucky Secretary of State. There has also been, over the years, much debate about who the two men were. Did they represent Daniel Boone and Henry Clay, etc. etc. etc. Finally, in 1962, the Kentucky General Assembly declared that they depict “a frontiersman clasping the shoulder and shaking the hand of a statesman.”
When Governor Ruby Laffoon, in late 1932, changed the name of the young Kentucky Colonels’ organization to The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, he also named Colonel Anna Bell Ward Olsen as the first secretary and “Keeper of the Great Seal”. The name and the title could only have come from the mind of a PR genius. But, was the Great Seal actually the Seal of the Commonwealth, or a new seal specific to the Honorable Order? Since no written records were kept of that session, we can only surmise. In 1947, newspaper writer Marion Porter did write that neither Colonel Olsen nor her successor has “ever had a hand on the seal”.
From records, we can determine that through early 1958, the Seal of the Commonwealth appeared on all Honorable Order documents. In 1958, the words “Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels” were placed in a circle pattern around the state seal. The new Seal appeared embossed on the cover of the 1958 Colonels’ Banquet program. A copy of the seal with the familiar serrated edge was used on Headquarters letterhead shortly thereafter. Colonel Anna Friedman, to whom the title Secretary and Keeper of the Great Seal had passed about 1935, no doubt played a big role in the change. The oval shaped Seal was introduced publicly with little fanfare in 1979. It was the first version to include the goldenrod leaves at the bottom. Although it has gone through periods of change, it is virtually the same as the version we use today. The oval came in to use at a time when the leadership of the organization was changing from Colonel Friedman to a Board of Trustees. That probably played a role in the final update of the seal.