June 24, 2011
KENTON — It’s been more than seven decades since Gene Autry visited Kenton, but the western star’s persona continues to fuel the fun at the annual Gene Autry Days.“We have cowboy entertainment and food and collectibles dealers, and that seems to be what people enjoy,” said Chris Barker of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. “We have people from all over the United States and Canada who come to town for this one event.”In fact, while there are other cowboy trade shows around, this is one of the few gatherings that also promotes entertainment and food.“We have changed and tweaked a few things about the show since it began 18 years ago, but pretty much it’s the same show, and people seem to be pretty happy with that,” Barker said.The connection between Autry and Kenton happened in 1937 when the Kenton Hardware Co. revived the local economy with a contract to produce more than 6 million Gene Autry repeating cap guns. Autry, a worldwide movie star at the time, visited the factory the following year, and the rest is history.Celebrating that village-saving contract and visit, the community began in 1994 to host Gene Autry Days. Although Autry died in 1998, his wife has continued to allow the town use of his name and likeness for the event. In fact, his likeness can be found on a mural just west of the Square in downtown Kenton, dedicated in 2004.“He’s still very popular. His movies are on TV, and people still watch,” Barker said.