Encounter 1 -
Living just a couple of hours away, we decided to take a little day trip to Owensboro, since we're new fans of Johnny Depp and wanted to get out of town anyway. It was a very hot day, about 96 degrees, so we left at 6 AM to make the trip.
Owensboro is a small town on the northern border of Kentucky, west of Louisville, KY, directly between Nashville and Indianapolis. There is another city 30 miles west, which in 1970 had a mall, a stadium for rock concerts, a zoo, some nice parks and an annual circus. It's not very far, and I would guess that Johnny went there at least a few times. But Owensboro is much smaller, with a downtown area, a few main drags, and a huge blue steel bridge crossing the Ohio River. Today it has a busy shopping area, with a mall and dozens of fast food restaurants, and a hotel which features concerts by country's top names. In the late 1960's, I doubt much of this was here.
When we got to town, we found the downtown area, which is busy and occupied with specialty and antique shops, much like any other small town which has a Walmart. The International Bluegrass Museum is here, and the smell of barbecue pervades the air no matter what time you arrive. Downtown is on the north edge of town, across the river from Indiana farmland. From downtown, there are two main streets, which are also highways, both of which go south. Triplett runs south through the East side of town, and it shows evidence of once having been a major route, but as is the case with many once-important highways, its motels have become apartments or truck-stop motels, its gas stations have become used car lots. Frederica, the other route south from downtown is a different story. It bisects the town and is heavily developed, leading south through the historical district to a huge shopping district and connecting with the bypass that encircles the town. The west part of town, except for the hilly historical district, is more rundown. All of the important Depp sites are in the historical district or off of Frederica Street.
The first place we went was the public library, which Johnny may have visited. It was dedicated during his time here and is only a few blocks away from several relatives' homes. Located just off Frederica Street, on Griffith Avenue, the library is behind the huge public high school which Johnny's brother probably attended. In its basement is a genealogy/ historical library, and this is where we went first. Finding the information we found took only 10 minutes and cost 30 cents. We first looked at city directories for the 1960's, which had addresses for Johnny's childhood home, the house that his parents had owned previously, and several other Depp addresses, most of which we didn't bother to write down. Over in the Kentucky birth records books, we found the index for 1963 and found Johnny instantly. In the microfilm archives of the local newspaper, we found Johnny's birth announcement in the Sunday paper immediately after his birthdate. Another trip to the directories yielded the address of the hospital. With that, we were off.
The Depps are a large family. Even today there are several Depps living in town. From what I have read, Johnny's mother already had two children, Dan and Debbie, when she married Johnny's father. Their first baby was Christi. They lived in a small white house in a shady old-fashioned neighborhood in the best part of town, on Freeman Avenue. This is the white house in the picture.
A couple of blocks away was a huge old house, covered in ivy. This was the home of another Depp family, the head of whom owned "Depp, Johnson and Quisenbury Construction," a company which is still in business today on Frederica Street and has, ironically enough, one of the ugliest buildings in town as its office. Whichever relation of Johnny's this was, she still lives in this house. We didn't feel right about putting this house online, so this picture wasn't sent.
A few blocks south of these homes, also in the historical district, was the Catholic hospital, Mercy. This is where Johnny was born, on June 9, 1963. There was another hospital over on the East side of town, Owensboro- Daviess General. When we found what should have been the hospital, all we found was a construction site protected by No Trespassing signs. There is a small building that houses doctors' offices, but that is all that is left of the hospital. A few small clinic buildings are in the process of being built, and the signs say "Owensboro Mercy" so perhaps these two hospitals have merged. It was a strange feeling to stand and look over the fence at the very place where Johnny Depp was actually born, on a day very much like the one we were experiencing.
We then left the historical district to find Stockton Drive, which we found easily. 518 Stockton Drive was the address we had written down as the address that Johnny's parents had lived at when he was born, and our check of the city directories had shown that they had lived there until their move from Owensboro, so this is the house that Johnny would have lived in as a small boy. The house is a small 3-bedroom tract house, probably built in the 1940's or 1950's, in a quiet residential neighborhood a couple of blocks east of Frederica Street, but sheltered from its noise and traffic. We took our pictures early in the morning when no one was outside, but later in the day the neighborhood was full of children. When we slowed down to look at the house again, a neighbor across the street took out her cell phone, and shortly after that some children came out of the house and stared at our car. I don't know if they know about Johnny Depp living in their house when he was their age or not. We left then, so we wouldn't bother them, and I wasn't sure whether to give out the address, but since I did, please, if you go to Owensboro to see where Johnny used to live, please don't bother the people who now live in his house.
Later on we were driving around and found a gas station that had a local map, and on it we found a school that was only a few blocks away from the house on Stockton. So, we drove over to it and took a few pictures. Johnny's sisters almost certainly attended this school, and if Johnny attended kindergarten while he lived in Kentucky, he would have attended it as well. It was only a few blocks walk from their house and is called Newton Parish School.
I would imagine that Johnny's memories of Owensboro are pretty few, but you never know, he might have visited grandparents or relatives here during holidays...he may still do so sometimes. What he probably remembers most is his house, his yard, his neighborhood...all the things a little boy knows best. Maybe the huge blue bridge leading north from downtown to Indiana, where ten miles north there was a drive in theatre. Maybe the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer, or the fall leaves, or the icicles that froze off his gutters as he played in the snow that he didn't get once he moved to Florida. Maybe the corn and soybeans in the fields, the huge river, or the smell of barbecue. Who knows? Whatever Johnny Depp's memories of this town, Owensboro doesn't remember him - there is no plaque commemorating his birth or residence there. Though most people we asked knew exactly who he is, none of them had any idea he had been born there, not even the librarian at the historical library. His first years of life were when he learned so much, and Owensboro, Kentucky, is a part of him, somehow bringing about the chain of circumstances that made him what he is today.
The Anonymous Fan