Month: January 2014

WORLD’S BIGGEST HATBOX?

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On this day, January 30, in the year 1909, the Paducah Sun reported on its front page that likely one of the largest hat boxes in the world was constructed in Paducah at Fooks Lumber (10th and Monroe). The box was constructed for Marie Straub, a vaudeville performer and singer of illustrated ballads. Made of inch thick cypress and measuring 3’9″ long by 3’4″ wide by 1’6″ deep, the box was built to hold a single hat, a Merry Widow hat, which was a particular favorite of Miss Straub.

In Memory of Robert Frost

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Today, January 29, marks the 51st anniversary of the death of the great American poet Robert Frost. Just last week, we in the Local and Family History Department rediscovered this wonderful editorial from the Paducah Sun, which was first printed on January 30, 1963, the day after Frost’s death. We reprint it here for you in its entirety.

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‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.

White-thatched Robert Frost more than fulfilled the promise of his gentle poetic genius long before he entered those lovely, dark deep woods Tuesday at the age of 88.

Rarely has an America poet had such widespread acceptance. For surely anyone who has seen a newborn calf in springtime could not help but be touched by Frost’s joyous description of the wobbly-legged little fellow being licked by his mother in “The Pasture.”

And surely no one could read that poignant American classic, “The Death of a Hired Man”–with its description of home as “something you somehow haven’t to deserved”–without feeling his eyes sting with tears.

Perhaps the real reason for Frost’s broad acceptance–and his greatness–is the depth and richness of meaning found in his poetry. This depth, a hallmark of great art, is conspicuously lacking the work of Longfellow, with whom Frost is frequently compared as the American laureate.

By “depth of meaning” we do not mean the studied complexities of a Pound or an Eliot. Depth of poetic meaning has nothing to do with footnotes, citations, or allusions to curious medieval song cycles. It has to do, perhaps, with the wealth of feeling that a line of great poetry can evoke in the reader.

Frost’s little “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”–one of his best-known poems–has been endlessly and laboriously interpreted in the scholarly journals, sometimes as a protest against death, sometimes as an argument against suicide, sometimes as this, sometimes as that.

Some people–not many of them, unfortunately, on our symbol-chasing English faculties–have said the poem is simply a description of the feelings a man has had when he stops his horse at the edge of some woods at night, feels the snowflakes brushing his cheek, and thinks about the long way he has to go before he can get home.

We once heard a distinguished professor ridicule this interpretation as “simplistic.”

But Robert Frost, bless his heart, himself said this was the way his poem ought to be read.

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If you’d like to read the full text of “Stopping by Woods…” and interpret for yourself, follow this link –http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621

ANIMAL TALE #3 – RODENT ON RODENT VIOLENCE

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On June 4, 1907, in the offices of the McCracken County Courthouse, the pet squirrel belonging to Judge R.T. Lightfoot was murdered by a rat. The murder itself was quite heinous as the squirrel’s head was drawn through the wire netting of the cage and then bitten until the poor bushy-tailed critter finally gave up its spirit. While Judge Lightfoot pledged up to $100 to bring the culprit to justice, no arrest was ever made.

ANIMAL TALES #2 – SCOURGE OF THE CABBAGE SNAKES

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Jennie Little of South Third Street in Paducah found it first, wriggling from the center of a freshly cut cabbage. She then gave it John McFadden, the driver of chemical wagon No. 2, who promptly put it in a glass of water to keep it alive, and when anyone came to see it, he held it aloft on a broom straw so they could watch it writhe. And many in Paducah came to see it because they were afraid of it. Jennie Little’s discovery even made the front page of the paper.

The critter was commonly referred to as a cabbage snake, and judging by the number of reports in the early 1900’s, cabbage snakes infested nearly every head of cabbage in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri. The “snakes” were described as of various colors – green, white, pink, light red, yellow, olive green – averaging about three and a half inches long, and being about the width of “No. 40 sewing thread.” They were said to be found in the center of cabbages and had bites that were deadly. The snakes (and their eggs) were also renowned to be fatally poisonous if consumed, whether raw or cooked.

Here’s the kicker. There’s no such thing as a cabbage snake and never has been. It was a myth, a mass panic, but it took a very powerful hold on the nation. The rumor was so persistent and the fears so prevalent, that hundreds of deaths throughout middle America were attributed to the beast. Note that the “snake” was reported to only be the width of a thread, a hair, hardly what one thinks of when one thinks of a snake, and certainly not big enough to deliver a potent bite, yet it’s exactly the creature’s diminutive size that scared folks the most. The “snakes” were so tiny that they could be easily missed, and so in 1903-4 (and beyond) people simply stopped eating cabbage. One estimate reports that the negative economic impact on the farming community reached $5,000,000.

So what were people actually seeing? What did Jennie Little find? Perhaps just a hair worm (pictured in the accompanying photo), and while sort of gross, no more deadly or uncommon than finding a worm in your apple. Likely, however, most of the sightings were the result of hysteria.

So then, what were people dying from? If the reported deaths were actually true (and there’s evidence that many of the deaths were as fictitious as the snakes), perhaps they were dying of botulism or salmonella or dysentery or a dozen other things which might have plagued rural America in the early 20th century.

Only one thing is certain. They weren’t dying because of cabbage snakes.

ANIMAL TALES #1 – SHORT THE CAT

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We come across a lot of old stories about our animal friends here in the Local and Family History Department. Let’s see if we can post a few before the day is out. Our first story, from 1906, is about a cat, named Short, with a peculiar talent.

Her stunt? 

Imitating an alarm clock.

Short was the mascot of a barbershop on S. Third Street. J.B.M. Faulkner, the foreman of the shop, lived upstairs. Every morning at 6 a.m., Short left her bed in the shop, padded up the stairs, and woke up Mr. Faulkner with her best chiming caterwaul. If he refused to open the door, she raised her voice and scratched at the door until he appeared.

The Paducah Sun reports (in this front page story no less) that Short was so precise in her timing that she never varied by more than five minutes.

The Sun does not, however, state whether Short had a snooze button.

A face to the name

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Now proudly on display in the Local and Family History Department – the life mask of Irvin S. Cobb! On loan from Richard and Carolyn Roof, the life mask, cast in 1940 by Dr. Raymond Roof, is Cobb’s perfect likeness, complete with cigar. While photos of Cobb certainly give a sense of his person, there’s nothing quite like seeing the features of his face in three-dimensions to complete the picture. Of course, being the wordsmith he was, Cobb penned the following bit of humor to Dr. Roof upon receiving the mask.

July 5, 1940
My Dear Dr. Roof,
Please let me thank you for your very great kindness in sending me a completed copy of my life mask – cigar, eyebrows, under lip and all. I think it is a strikingly true replica but there naturally I’m prejudiced on the side of the subject who is by way of being a personal favorite of mine and a jolly good fellow besides, say I.
Always with best wishes.
Yours Gratefully,
Irvin S. Cobb

The mask along with many other bits of Cobb memorabilia are currently on display in the Local and Family History room. Come visit us!

Cold Man River

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Think it’s been cold this week? Imagine the winter of 1918 when subfreezing temperatures for over a month froze the Ohio river solid. That’s right…a swift flowing river was brought to standstill by Mother Nature. And just how frozen was it? Eight inches thick which is thick enough for Paducah folks to walk across to Brookport, thick enough even for a Model T to drive on it. Yeah…that’s cold.

To learn more about historic frigidity, visit the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.