Robert D. Webster of Covington, a member of the Turfway Park security team, has been recognized with a 2013 Kentucky History Award for his book, The Beverly Hills Supper Club: The Untold Story Behind Kentucky's Worst Tragedy.
Webster received the award at the Kentucky Historical Society's annual banquet on Nov. 8 at the Old Capitol Building in Frankfort. The book, the culmination of six years' work, was published in May 2012 by Saratoga Press LLC.
Webster's work was recognized for its new analysis of the May 28, 1977, fire that killed 169 and injured more than 200 at the Beverly Hills Supper Club, a popular nightspot that drew national acts to Greater Cincinnati. The venue, open since the late 1930s and repeatedly expanded into the 1970s, was located in Southgate, Ky., less than two miles from downtown Cincinnati. Webster researched his subject by sifting through photos and documents, many of which became available under the Freedom of Information Act when they were returned to the Kentucky state archives in June 2011. Further detailed research involved interviewing survivors and technical experts. In addition to an objective analysis of the fire, the book also tells personal stories of patrons and victims and their families as well as of rescuers on the scene.
“I love researching and writing about local events,” Webster said, “and the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire still ranks as Kentucky's worst tragedy. No one had ever told the history not just of the fire but also of the club itself, going back to the ‘30s when it was an illegal gambling hall owned by the Mafia.
“Everybody in Northern Kentucky knows about the fire so it's not uncommon for people locally to come up to me and say they enjoyed the book, and of course I appreciate that. But as a local historian, it means quite a lot to have state historical organizations recognize the amount of work and research that went into it.”
Webster has been on the board of the Kenton County Historical Society for nine years and vice president for the past four years. Before penning his award-winning history of the ill-fated nightclub, he also wrote The Webster Family Album, a 700-page genealogy that sparked his writing career; Northern Kentucky Fires, a summary of major fires in the 10 counties that comprise Northern Kentucky; and The Balcony is Closed, a history of the ornate movie theatres that used to be part of nearly every Northern Kentucky neighborhood.
Webster has worked for Turfway during live racing seasons since 2010. He also is an agent with the Independence office of Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance.
The Kentucky Historical Society is an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. Its Kentucky History Award recognizes outstanding achievements by historians, public history professionals, civic leaders, communities and local history organizations across the Commonwealth.
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