Month: June 2014


Tonight’s McCracken County Fair events are scheduled to include both a talent show and the Western horse show, but in 1910 a very different type of competition took place at the fair among the farmers of Western Kentucky.

That competition was a tobacco growers’ contest and the September 28, 1910 issue of the Paducah Evening Sun rightly called the dark tobacco market of Western Kentucky, “the keenest rivalry of the entire exhibits at the fairgrounds.”

It was noted at the time that the finest tobacco growing out of the fertile soil of the Jackson Purchase traditionally came from Ballard, Graves, Marshall, and Calloway counties. However, the 1910 fair saw two McCracken County farmers pull off a surprising upset over the perennial powerhouse tobacco farmers of Western Kentucky.

A tobacco barn

The two planters in question were none other than J.W. Harris and his son Earl, who took home five out of the six prizes for tobacco that year. No small feat, considering the rich, tobacco growing history of the region. The Harris duo took home first place and second place for their Italian tobacco, first place for manufactured tobacco, first place for Snuff, and also won for samples numbering over 100.

The monetary earnings of the Harris’ prizes aggregated to $100, a sum that numbers to over $2,000 of today’s dollars when accounting for inflation, and their first-rate tobacco netted them other gifts as well. All in all, the father and son’s hard work translated into a well-deserved pay day for two Kentucky farmers.

For more information about the McCracken County Fair, the history of tobacco farming in Western Kentucky, or the history of our region in general, please visit us at the McCracken County Public Library Local and Family History Department.


–Aaron Williams


Get Ready, Get Set...

Get Ready, Get Set…

Many of you are likely headed to the McCracken County Fair tonight to witness the Weiner Dog Races, which sounds fairly amusing, but in taking a look back at the line up from the 1903 McCracken County Fair, we’ve found an animal attraction on a slightly larger scale.


Beyond the harness races (which the fair still features today), the attractions from over a hundred years ago included a wide variety of circus-like acts:


Advertisement for the 1903 McCracken County Fair.

Advertisement for the 1903 McCracken County Fair.

An eccentric acrobat (awesome!)

Trick mule and clowns (incredible!)

A bagpipe band (stupendous!)

A monkey walking a rope (phenomenal!)

Captain Sigbee’s famed mathematical horse, Princess Trixy (mind blowing!)


But the true headliners of the 1903 McCracken County Fair must have been W.H. Barnes’ Famous Diving Elks.


We’re not talking about members of the local Elks Club here; we’re talking about the actual animal—burly and antlered and four-legged.


Their trainer, W.H. Barnes of Sioux City, Iowa, began displaying his gifted ruminants at fairs before the turn of the 20th century, but his teaching of the animals had started many years before that. The idea came after observing elk naturally, and without seeming concern on their parts, jumping over or from any obstacle in their way. He built a slight incline which he trained the animals to ascend and then to leap from.  Their first jumps were a mere five feet high, but with Barnews raising the incline incrementally, the elks reached twenty feet before the end of their first winter—a height which began to garner the troupe some recognition, though only half the height they’d ultimately achieve. By the time they reached the McCracken County Fair in 1903, the elks were jumping from a forty foot tower into a tank sixteen feet across and only six foot deep.




By today’s laws and standards, the training of elks (or any other animal) to jump off of high platforms into a tank of water sounds ghastly, if not cruel, so please keep in mind that we in the Local and Family History Department do not condone or revel in the practice.  But it’s hard not recognize that 101 years ago the citizens of McCracken County must have marveled at the sight of a 500 pound beast swan-diving into a shallow pool.


Mr. Barnes himself was a little astonished at their success, having said, “I did not realize what a sensation the elks would create, as I have put in so much time training them and raising the elevation foot by foot that I have become, like the elks, used to it.  But I have since been told thousands of times that it is one of the most wonderful feats ever accomplished with animals.”


The elks had no comment.


For more about questionable animal stunts, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

A CRACK IN THE CONE: The Great Paducah Ice Cream Probe of 1910

ice cream 4

We’ve been blessed by a relatively mild spring and summer to this point, but Paducah has finally begun to swelter in true Ohio Valley fashion. Temperatures in the 90’s are expected all week, and with the arrival of a such a hot spell, one’s mind can’t help but wander toward things cooler—swimming pools, gentle breezes, frosty beverages, and, of course…




We approached today’s post with the hope of finding out a little bit about the history of ice cream in Paducah. The popularity of ice cream, like the settlement of Paducah, rose in prominence throughout the 1800’s, so we thought for sure that we’d find an amusing anecdote or two about the frozen confection  in some of the early editions of The Paducah Sun.


Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

But we found a scant few, however. For instance, as early as 1897, a drug store in Paducah called Soules took out a daily ad in The Sun to advertise their ice cream flavors: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and orange. Brief notices of ice cream socials and ice cream suppers dotted the community listings, particularly among women’s groups and church functions. There are even a couple references at the turn of the 20th century to “diplomatic ice cream” being served at fancy dinner parties, a dessert made of layers of ice cream, rum-soaked ladyfingers, and diced fruit.


While these mentions of ice cream are pleasant enough, they are only mildly interesting and hardly worthy of a whole story. But then we ran across a headline from an August 1, 1910 Paducah Sun which read, “Ice Cream Cone To Be Analyzed.”


Our interest immediately peaked.


The article went further to state, “At a meeting of the board of health this afternoon…Dr. S.Z. Holland, city health officer, was authorized to procure an ice cream cone, against which a national fight is now being made, and have it analyzed to ascertain the ingredients. The analysis will probably be made by Dr. G.C. McKinney at the Illinois Central Railroad Hospital and should it result in improper materials being used the board will prohibit their future sale here.”


This sounds a bit like a kneejerk reaction by city officials. To ban a beloved food based on the testing of a single cone seems a little extreme. Yet, when the Paducah Sun article said that the ice cream cone was in the midst of a “national fight,” they weren’t kidding.


Throughout the U.S., the ice cream cone was under attack.


For all intents and purposes, the ice cream cone in America was only 6 years in 1910, having been introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. With over 50 vendors at the Fair and millions of visitors trying them out, the popularity of the ice cream cone skyrocketed. As such, many tried to cash in the cone’s immediate success, and with federal food regulation in its infancy, the cone was a prime target for some shady practices.


Between the years of 1905 and 1910, illnesses and deaths attributed to contaminated ice cream cones were reported in newspapers throughout the country. Finally, in 1910, the federal government stepped in. Under the authority of Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture and the new laws enabled by the recent passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act (the predecessor to the FDA), ice cream cones started to be tested and regulated, and if they were found to be faulty, they were seized. On July 9, 1910, regulators apprehended 4.5 million ice cream cones from a New York harbor. Affected cones were found to contain sawdust, clay, shavings, wrapping paper, and boric acid.


No wonder then that Paducah officials got a little leery.


Surely when the announcement came on August 1, 1910 that ice cream cones were to be analyzed and possibly discontinued in Paducah, the entire citizenry waited with sugary-bated breath to know whether they’d still be able to consume their delectable cylinders. They had to wait exactly 9 days for the results. On August 10, 1910, The Paducah Sun published the findings. According to Dr. G.C. McKinney, the cones “contained a mixture of sugar and a combination of protein and starch—probably wheat flour cooked. No clay or other foreign substances were found. The cones are not adulterated as chemists have found the cones sold in the large cities.”


The ice cream cones were safe to eat! And all of Paducah must have sighed with relief until they read the article a little further. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Dr. McKinney had not only tested the cones, he had also tested their contents…the ice cream itself. Said the article, “The ice cream with which they [the cones] are filled is of the cheapest quality. The contents of the cones is not ice cream at all, but a mixture of water, gelatin, and starch sweetened and flavored. The stuff is about equal in nutrition to a mixture of one-tenth milk and nine-tenths water.”


While the cone was fine, the cream left much to be desired, so much so that the examiner stated that the ingredients were “not recommended as food for children.” Thus, the exonerated cone ended up losing after all for the paper speculated that steps would be taken to stop the sale of all cones in the city unless better ingredients were used in the cream.


To learn more about sweet treats and bitter defeats, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger


Do It Yourself

Do It Yourself

GHOST OF A GRAVEYARD: THE Cemetery at the Foot of the Ledbetter Bridge


William Michael Oliver's headstone

William Michael Oliver’s headstone

Anyone who has ever engaged in genealogical research knows how many cemeteries are really out there, many more than you usually see on a day to day basis as you drive through town. Cemeteries abound in the oddest of places, tucked away in all sorts of corners, coves, and cloisters, on top of hills, in the middle fields, even on an island in Kentucky Lake.


Many of these hidden cemeteries have long since been abandoned as active burial sites, and quite a few of them are difficult to access, certainly by car but occasionally by foot too. If not for dedicated researchers and catalogers, as well as sites like, who knows how many of these resting places might get forgotten all together.


We bring your attention today to one such cemetery. It is a small area, serving as a resting place to just a few folks (16 according to No one especially famous is buried there; the gravestones aren’t especially spectacular, if they exist at all; the grounds are hidden from the street; and there are no legends or ghost stories associated with any of the plots or inhabitants.


The graveyard, which has gone by upwards of four different names over the last century and a half, is significant because of its location. The Oliver/Riverview/Jones/Habeck Cemetery happens to lie at the foot of the Ledbetter Bridge on the McCracken County side just off of Camelback Road. And if you’ve seen the news reports about the bridge in the last couple of months, you know that it’s quickly collapsing because of land slippage. In fact, if you look at Google Maps, the bridge still exists in close up, but has already been removed from the wide view.


The demolition of the bridge is inevitable, yet what that means for this little cemetery is unclear. We in the Local and Family History Department make no claims to be either demolition or geological experts, but between the land slippage and the impending wrecking of the bridge, we didn’t think it would hurt to draw a little attention to this plot, if for no other reason than to let people know it’s there.  While those interred are few and perhaps not especially notorious, they still have stories and legacies which deserve to be remembered.


Enoch Lagore's headstone

Enoch Lagore’s headstone

The oldest stone belongs to Enoch Lagore (1820 – 1870), a Union soldier in the Civil War serving in the 131st Infantry as a surgeon. Not long before his death, he married a woman 22 years his junior named Temperance who, after widowed, married a man named Herman Habeck. Temperance, also known as Tempe, likely lent her new last name as one of the names of the cemetery. Three others with the last name Lagore were also buried here; their dates of birth and death are unknown.


Also, interred here is Flossie Blanche Nuckols Williams who was quite young when she died, only 23 years old. According to an 1897 article in the Paducah Sun, Flossie, then 15 years old, ran away from Eddyville, KY with her boyfriend Alonzo Williams, and came to Paducah to get married. Because she didn’t have parental consent, the Paducah courts refused to marry the couple. But as The Sun said, “Love laughs deeply at deputy clerks as well as locksmiths, and took the morning boat to Metropolis where they were married this forenoon.” Flossie died a few years later in 1904. Just twelve days out from delivering a stillborn child, Flossie began convulsing while talking with friends and died a short time later. The Sun reports that the “funeral took place at the Haybeck [sic] cemetery in the county.” Three others with the last name Nuckols are buried here; their dates of birth and death are unknown.


M.E. Craig, wife of PJ Craig, was buried here not long after Flossie. M.E. was either 58 or 18 years old at the time of her death; the numbers on the stone have faded to the point of questionability. The death of an Elizabeth Craig  death was posted in The Sun on August 3, 1905 under the headline “Death from Fish Bone.” Two weeks before her death she pricked her middle finger with a fish bone, poisoning set in, and she passed in a fortnight. The Sun reported she was buried in Jones cemetery in the county on the same day of her death. Though we’re not 100% positive that Elizabeth Craig and M.E. Craig are the same person, the similar name and matching date of death indicate there might be a connection, plus the fact that we know the cemetery near the Ledbetter Bridge was once known as Jones Cemetery.


The Levan headstone

The Levan headstone

A couple was buried here. Under a single headstone bearing the words “Father” and “Mother” at the top, William Newton and Barbara Lane Levan rest in peace beside each other. Not much has been found about them excepting that William was a farmer and that once his wife Barbara was gored in the arm by a cow while milking it. The gash was apparently severe, exposing the bone. The goring was not the cause of her death, however. She recovered in due time. No, by known accounts, William and Barbara didn’t die by any particularly tragic means. Though dying in different years, both lived to be 71 years old.


Finally, a quick word about the last person to be buried here, also the person bearing the largest, most noticeable headstone…William Michael Oliver. Mr. Oliver didn’t pass until 1941, a gap of 30+ years since the previous burial. At the time, he owned the property (called Riverview then) on which the cemetery sat, which was why the burial place ultimately bore his name. William Oliver was a lawyer in McCracken County along with his brother George. The Oliver brothers not only shared the law practice, they also married sisters,  Ruth and Inez Parker. Oliver was the oldest member of the McCracken County bar at the time of his death at age 75.


The future of the Oliver/Riverview/Jones/Habeck may be a little uncertain, but a least we a few records to keep its memory alive. Many thanks to fellow librarian, Eileen Smith, for bringing the news of this precarious little graveyard to our attention. If anyone out there has more information about this cemetery or the families within, please contact.


Google Map view of the back of William Oliver's headstone.

Google Map view of the back of William Oliver’s headstone.

Except for the Google street view of the overgrown William Oliver headstone, the rest of the pictures come from the FindaGrave listing for Oliver Cemetery…


To learn more about this and more, please visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: The Legend of the Belled Buzzard


A belled buzzard

A belled buzzard

“Once, years and years and years ago, someone trapped a buzzard, and before freeing it clamped about its skinny neck a copper band with a cowbell pendent from it. Since then the bird so ornamented has been seen a hundred times–and heard oftener–over an area as wide as half the continent. It has been reported, now in Kentucky, now in Texas, now in North Carolina–now anywhere between the Ohio River and the Gulf.”

The above lines come from the short story The Belled Buzzard by Paducah-born author and actor Irvin S. Cobb, a murder mystery set in a southern swamp in which the murderer, Squire Gathers, is continually haunted by the vision (and sound) of a buzzard, or turkey vulture, with a bell around its neck.

The story was first published in the September 28, 1912 edition of The Saturday Evening Post and was an instant sensation. While a newspaper man for many years, Cobb was relatively new to the world of fiction (though some might say his journalism danced around the edges of factuality). With the publication of The Belled Buzzard, however, Cobb found a voice that resonated with readers and established him as a contender in not just the world of journalism, but also storytelling. In fact, many future articles about Cobb cited The Belled Buzzard as one of his greatest tales.

While surely a masterfully written story and deserving of all its kudos, the legend of a buzzard with a bell around its neck was not wholly a construct of Cobb’s imagination. The lines quoted above weren’t just rhetoric; for more than half a century, from pre Civil War through the 1920s, sightings of a belled buzzard spanned the southern and eastern United States.


Cobb, as a newspaperman, surely read many of these reports. In fact, in an interview with the New York Sun, Cobb’s wife, Laura, talked about her husband’s writing of The Belled Buzzard, “I have never known him to write a story until he has worked it over in his mind for a couple months or more. He tells me that he has always a hundred germs developing at a time, and that he will not live long enough to write all his stories. A year before he wrote The Belled Buzzard he was visiting in Georgia. We were sitting on a front porch one morning and a huge buzzard flew past. Mr. Cobb recalled a Southern story about a belled buzzard, and remarked that he guessed he would weave a plot round it. Just one year later he finished the developing and wrote the story.”


The cover of "The Post" in which Cobb's story first appeared.

The cover of “The Post” in which Cobb’s story first appeared.

Enough reports about a belled buzzard are on record, that its existence is probably not a hoax. Though its exact origins are unclear, it seems that someone at some point in time actually captured a buzzard and tied a bell around its neck. The chiming bird flew away and thus the legend began. However, the span and breadth of sightings are so far and wide, that a single belled buzzard seems unrealistic. Actually, it would be impossible. Sightings occurred from Pennsylvania to Texas, and while a turkey vulture lives on average about 20 years, the newspaper reports cover more than 60 years. This means there must have been several belled buzzards which made the tying of bells around the necks of turkey vultures, oddly enough, sort of a trend.

In Kentucky alone there were numerous reports. The first reference I found, reported in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian in 1889, actually declares the capturing of the belled buzzard. S.R. Boyd found the tintinnabulous bird on his farm, its wing crippled by a gunshot. Mr. Boyed removed the bell and “kindly placed the buzzard upon the carcass of a shoat, where he was left to enjoy himself.” The bell was engraved with the words : M.K. White, Garrettsburg, KY, 1881. Despite the buzzard’s capture and unbelling, a decade later, as stated in the Livingston Banner, Mr. George Jarrett and others in his company saw the buzzard in plain sight along with the bell which “was distinctly heard and was very much like the sound of a sheep bell.”

In 1897, the buzzard was even spotted in Grahamville, right here in McCracken County. The Johnson boys of Grahamville were outside burning a pile of rubbish when they heard the sound of a bell. According to the Paducah Sun, the boys “finally discovered that the sound came from overhead, and looking up they perceived a buzzard circling about above them, and could even see the bell.”

Of course, a cub reporter for The Sun at the time this article was printed was none other than Irvin S. Cobb.

In subsequent years, the buzzard was seen throughout central and western Kentucky, as well as in many other states. However, in 1910, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian brought shocking news with the report of the death of the belled buzzard in Carlisle, KY. Said the article, “On top of a hay stack on the farm of J.C. Arthur, near here, was found the carcass of the belled buzzard, which for a number of years, has visited all parts of Kentucky. When found the buzzard had a turkey bell fastened to its neck with a leather strap.”

A sad day for all fans of large, musically adorned birds.


But if you think that was the end of the belled buzzard, you’d be sorely mistaken! Like a phoenix from the ashes, the buzzard rose again, spotted a couple years later in Crittenden County and in Pulaski, TN, and for many more years to come…even after Mr. Cobb published his famous story.

For whom does the bell toll?

Not for thee, Belled Buzzard!!

Ring a ding, ding!


To read Cobb’s story The Belled Buzzard in its entirety, follow this link:

To learn more about Irvin Cobb himself, please visit the McCracken County Public Library on June 26 at 7:00 p.m. for a program on Cobb’s life and work presented by Andrew Halford. More information about this program can be found on the library’s website at

And to learn more about carrion carillons, visit us in the Local and Family history Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

-Matt Jaeger