As many of you are aware, the Brookport Bridge is temporarily closed while the Greenway Trail tunnel is being built. Are you aware, however, that the Brookport Bridge isn’t its real name, only its common name?
Because of its color and the sound it makes while you drive across, some call it the Blue Hummer Bridge, but, of course, that’s not its official name. When the bridge was erected in 1929, it was known as the Paducah-Ohio River Bridge (a rather dull name), but that’s not its true moniker either.
No, you have to look to a dedication ceremony on November 22, 1943 to find its official name, for on that date, outgoing Kentucky governor Keen Johnson stood atop the span and dubbed it the “Irvin S. Cobb Bridge.”
Naturally, Governor Johnson thought to honor Cobb in such a way because he was Paducah’s most famous son. However, the reason for naming the bridge after Cobb had more to do with just the man’s relation to the town. At the time, many things across the nation were being named for Cobb because his fame and image as an actor, fiction writer, journalist, and humorist was so far-flung that naming something after Cobb was simply good for business. His name, it seems, went hand in hand with a sense of hospitality and trustworthiness.
Any Paducahan knows that besides the bridge, Cobb also had a grand, eight story hotel named for him, and as far as we have found so far, it’s the only hotel to have been named for an author. However, Cobb’s name was also found on a forty-acre park on the outskirts of town, as well as on a towboat that chugged along the Ohio River, the flagship of the fleet. Said Cobb on the day the towboat was christened for him, “Well, that’s pretty nice and I appreciate the compliment. But a fellow really doesn’t amount to anything till he has some disease named for him—something malignant, like Bright’s disease!”
Cobb never did get a disease named after him, but the list of other things bearing his name goes on and on. Cobb was an enthusiastic eater, so a Kentucky company named their burgoo after name. Also a fan of tobacco, his name was not only attached to cigar brand, but also a pipe, a cob pipe, or course.
In the sporting world, Cobb’s name was given to a racing boat, a racing colt, a champion bird dog, a brand of hunting shirts, and a bass lure.
Cobb’s name was further found on many things throughout the natural world. An avid horseback rider and camper, sometimes with his friend Will Rogers, a canyon in Arizona was given his name. A successful horticulturist, and apparently ardent Cobb fan, named his prize-winning dahlia for the author. And out in California in Founders Grove along the Redwood Highway, one of the 10 tallest, oldest trees in the word was presented with a bronze plaque, naming it the “Irvin S. Cobb Tree,” though many after ward just called it “Big Cobb.”
Most strangely, perhaps, a manufacturing company created a French-style smock bearing Irvin’s name. They sent Cobb half a dozen before they went on the market, and Cobb actually took to wearing the smock while writing. Living at the time in California in the former home of Greta Garbo, Cobb said that anyone peeking in the window hoping to catch of famed actress would surely remark upon seeing him in the smock, “Gee, ain’t Garbo changed!”
The Irvin S. Cobb Bridge, however, was likely the last thing named for Paducah’s favorite son; he died about four months later. In fact, he was so ill at the time of the dedication that he was unable to attend. Cobb’s sister, Mamie, wrote of the situation in a letter to Fred Neuman, a reporter at the Paducah Sun, “I share Irvin’s gratitude and pride, in the way our loving, loyal Paducah friends have honored his name. It was an enormous hardship and disappointment to Irvin that he was unable to attend the dedication of the Bridge.”
To learn more about the Irvin S. Cobb Bridge, The Hotel Irvin S. Cobb, the Corn Cobb Pipe, the Big Cobb tree, etc., etc., visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.