Month: July 2014



We found this story purely by happenstance while searching for something else.

It just wandered across our path.

Some of the best stories just do that.

Early in the summer of 1902, around 11 o’clock in the evening, two men were walking down the road near Center Furnace (in what is now the Land Between the Lakes) when they encountered a strange animal, a fierce-looking beast, lurking in the darkness. William Littlejohn and William McWaters, both of Trigg County, didn’t tell their story to the papers until weeks later, but they relayed their sighting in vivid detail. The beast was six feet tall and covered in hair. It reared and growled upon seeing the pair of Williams. The men swore it was ape-like, even stating they thought it was a gorilla.

Littlejohn raised his gun and fired three times…

Perhaps we in the Local and Family History Department are a little too eager to even suggest that this story smacks of a Sasquatch sighting. After all, we are a department which strives toward and prides itself on hard, accurate research.

But we do like our mysteries and oddball stories, too. And really, just how likely is it that the two men saw a gorilla in Western Kentucky in 1902?  There are no proximal stories of zoo escapes or overturned circus trains.

While the Bigfoot-sighting craze didn’t truly hit its stride until the 1950′s, culminating with the release of the notorious Patterson Bigfoot video in the late 1960′s, legends abound in oral traditions of ape-like creatures wandering the woods, mountains, and countryside, and not just in the United States, but on every continent except Antarctica: the Yeti from the Himalayas, Yowie from Australia, and the Yeren from China. Native American history is rich with stories of giant man-beasts, dozens of them, across the nation and into Canada. In fact, a British Columbian tribe gave us the now common term “Sasquatch.”

Western Kentucky has its own Bigfootian legacy. The Chickasaw, who first settled our region, had a legend about Lofa, a long-haired, bipedal creature who roamed the woods at night and overpowered foes with its body odor.  Claims of Sasquatch-sightings in the LBL area have been made as recently as 2011, and other claims throughout Kentucky are cataloged by the Kentucky Bigfoot Research Organization.

We even found a story in the Paducah Sun from October of 1897 which claimed a “wild man” was roaming the Lovelaceville Section of Paducah. This man-beast was later discovered merely to be a large sow with missing ears.

However, no such porcine claim was ever made about the creature that Littlejohn and McWaters stumbled across on that summer evening in 1902. Littlejohn raised his gun and fired three times. The beast fell to the ground, “and after struggling for a few seconds, dragged itself off through the woods, growling fiercely, and could be heard for quite a distance” (Paducah Sun, August 1, 1902). Neither man chose to follow the creature that night, but McWaters went back the next morning and witnessed the trail the creature left by dragging its hindquarters through the brush. Curiously, McWaters found no trace of blood.

Littlejohn and McWaters stated they had seen a gorilla that night, and perhaps, by some accident of circus or miracle of migration, they actually had. The theory of Occam’s Razor would suggest the creature was a black bear, though you’d think country boys like those would have known a bear if they saw one. Besides, black bears, which were never very common in Western Kentucky anyway, were essentially eliminated from the whole state of Kentucky by the early 1900’s.

So maybe, just maybe, there’s an inkling of truth to the old Chickasaw legend of the Lofa. Maybe, just maybe, Littlejohn and McWaters can be listed as the two men who made Western Kentucky’s first, recorded Sasquatch sighting.

Of course, we in the Local and Family History Department can’t offer any proof that it was the first sighting.

By the same token, we can’t offer any proof that it wasn’t.

For more information about regional cryptozoology, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger


The Irvin S. Cobb Bridge

The Irvin S. Cobb Bridge

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!”

pipeCobb 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.”

Cobb in his smock

Cobb in his smock

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.

–Matt Jaeger


The Hotel Irvin Cobb

The Hotel Irvin Cobb


Illustration from the 1890 Jacob's version.

Illustration from the 1890 Jacob’s version.

We present the briefest of stories this afternoon, and no, it isn’t about how many of us in Local and Family History are sporting beards at moment. Rather, it’s about the nursery rhyme “The Three Little Pigs.”


You see, the Market House Theatre has had a troupe at the library this week performing their rendition of the classic tale, and it got us to wondering more about the origin of the story. “The Three Little Pigs” was likely a rhyme in the oral tradition for centuries and vaguely resembles a Grimm tale, but we know that it first appeared under its recognized title in an 1843 book by Shakespearean scholar and lore collector James Halliwell-Phillipps called “Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Tales.” However, that particular version doesn’t exactly fit our common recollection for in Halliwell-Phillipps version, the three pigs are eaten (which kind of ruins the moral).


It’s not until 1890 and the publication of Joseph Jacobs’ books“English Fairy Tales” that we encounter the more familiar tale. Jacobs’ version included the straw, stick, and brick houses, the ultimate survival of the three pigs, and the now famous line, “Little pig, little pig, let me come in/Not by the hair of my chiny, chin chin.”


Following Jacobs’ more family-friendly rendition, “The Three Little Pigs” started appearing in all sorts of places: Uncle Remus, Lang’s “Green Fairy Book,” the famous Disney cartoon, and ultimately the Market House’s version in our second floor meeting room!


However, our library’s connection to the nursery rhyme doesn’t stop there.  As luck would have it, we have been able to track down exactly when “The Three Little Pigs” first appeared on our public library shelves. The Carnegie Public Library opened in Paducah on October 4, 1904. Five years later, on October 11, 1909 an article appeared in the Paducah Sun advertising “new literature for girls” that had been added to the shelves at the Carnegie, a list which included Baum’s “Road to Oz,” Potter’s “Jemima Puddleduck,” Lang’s “Red Fairy Book,” and Jacobs’ “English Fairy Tales!”


To learn more about huffing, puffing, or blowing houses down, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


Market House Troupe

Market House Troupe

–Matt Jaeger




This Thursday, July 24, our library’s Evening Upstairs program, “Mounds and Priests, Cathedrals and Popes,” will feature Dr. Kit Wesler, professor of archaeology at Murray State, and his discussion of the how the Wickliffe mounds relate, both chronologically and symbolically, to the medieval castles of Europe.


In recognition of Dr. Wesler’s scholarship and his insights into the history of our native population, our post today features another bit of local Native American related history, though history not quite as ancient as the mounds.


Today we give you the story of Wacinton, the Whispering Giant.


Ever heard of him?


Some of you may have, but for those you who can’t quite place the name, likely you’ll remember his face. It’s quite recognizable. Wacinton (pronounced way-cheen-too) is the carving of the Native American head that sits in Noble Park in front of the tennis courts. Unlike the ancient Wickliffe Mounds, however, Wacinton just turned 29 years old.


Wacinton was the vision and creation of artist Peter “Wolf” Toth, a Hungarian native, who fled his home country to escape Communist oppression when he was only eight years old. He and his family ultimately settled in Akron, Ohio, and it was there that Toth’s fascination with Native American culture began, for being a refugee himself, an outcast in his own country, Toth found a great kinship and fascination with the stories of the Native Americans.  The carving he learned by watching his father who whittled toys for Toth and his siblings.


Beginning in the early 1970’s, Toth set out on a mission:  to donate a giant wooden sculpture of a Native American to each state in the union, an undertaking which would eventually be called “The Trail of the Whispering Giants” because each of statues stands between 20-40 feet high and weighs in the tens of thousands of pounds.  Using no power tools, and usually only armed with only a five-pound hammer and a chisel, Toth received no payment for his sculptures, only some lodging, meals, and the donation of the tree from which his sculptures were made.


Toth carved his first “Whispering Giant” in La Jolla, California in 1972 and by the time he got to Paducah in 1985, he had carved 49 different giants in 44 different states, each statue tailored to painstakingly match the facial features of tribes native to the region.


Cover of the dedication pamphlet

Cover of the dedication pamphlet

Toth chose Paducah as a site for one of his statues because of its name, its legend of chief Paduke, and its history with the Chickasaw tribe. Dedicated to the city of Paducah on May 26, 1985, the 50th of Toth’s statues, a rendering of a Chickasaw chief, was carved from a 56,000 pound piece of Red Oak and stands 35 feet tall. The statue was named in a contest sponsored by the city. Wacinton, meaning “to have understanding,” was the winning suggestion of St. Mary’s student, Jessica Dryden.


After leaving Kentucky, the 45th state to receive one of his statues, Toth continued on his “Trail of Whispering Giants,” following up with giants in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon. In 1988, sixteen years after his first carving in California, Toth finished his mission by donating a statue to the 50th state on his list: Hawaii.


As of today, there are 74 Whispering Giants in total, located in the 50 states, as well as in Canada and in Toth’s native country of Hungary. Wacinton in Paducah, however, is the only Whispering Giant in Kentucky.


To learn more about Whispering Giants, the Wickliffe Mounds, or other history related to Native Americans in our region, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. The Evenings Upstairs program with Dr. Kit Wesler will be on July 24, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the library’s second floor meeting room.


–Matt Jaeger



Wacinton's Historical Marker

Wacinton’s Historical Marker

WHEN A SOFT DRINK GOES HARD: The United States Vs. Paducah’s Doctor Fizz

Temperine Ad from the Paducah Sun

Temperine Ad from the Paducah Sun

Last Sunday marked the 88th anniversary of “Ale-8-One,” Kentucky’s crisp, ginger/citrus-flavored, caffeine-spiked, soft drink. Though bottled in Winchester, far from our side of the state, the drink belongs to all Kentuckians as it is the only soft drink invented in Kentucky that’s still in existence! So raise a glass, celebrate their belated birthday, and enjoy “A Late One” for “Bracing Pep.”


But, of course, that got us in the Local and Family History Department thinking…has Paducah ever had its own soft drink?


The answer is yes.


Sort of.


Well, briefly anyhow.


With the rise in popularity of soda fountains and the near simultaneous inventions of the cork bottle cap and automatic glass-blowing machines, the soft drink bottling industry took off in the late 19th/early 20th century. Paducah was no exception to this trend. Luther F. Carson, whose legacy includes Paducah’s Performing Arts Center, was the first to bottle Coca-Cola in 1903. Also in this era, the Paducah Bottling Company filled local glasses with such products as Kola Mint, Lemon, and Gay-ola Cola, an early rival of Coke.  Former Paducah mayor George Jacobs  (and creator of the Duke of Paducah award) owned a bottling company  which, into the 1950’s, distributed numerous flavors including Suncrest Orange, Mr. Cola, Lucky Cola, Lemonette, Grapette, and Frostie Root Beer.


A Coca-Cola Rival

A Coca-Cola Rival

However, none of these soft drinks appear to have been actually invented or created in Paducah. The syrups were shipped to Paducah from elsewhere, and once combined with carbonated water, they were bottled and distributed to local and regional merchants. We in the Local and Family History Department haven’t yet found proof that Paducah had its very own soft drink (see note below*).


But we did have slim glimmer of hope that Paducah had a few native soft drinks because for a few years in the early 1900’s some local beverages were labeled as such.  H. Friedman, also known as T.H. Reid, who did business as A.M. Laevison & Co., created, marketed, bottled, and distributed three separate drinks—Dr. Fizz, Cream Ale, and Temperine. To give you a sense of what sort of beverages these were, the full label for Dr. Fizz read “The Great Temperance Beer, Laevison’s Original Doctor Fizz Special Brew: Guaranteed by A.M. Laevison & Co., Paducah, KY., under the Food and Drugs Act, June 30, 1906.”


That’s right….Dr. Fizz, Temperine, and Cream Ale were all near beers, and because they claimed to contain less than one half of one percent alcohol, they could be called soft drinks, they could be marketed as soft drinks, they required no license to sell, and they could legally be sold on Sundays. In fact, the city business license to produce soft drinks in 1908 only cost Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison $25, whereas a license to produce alcohol would have cost him $250 (a difference of $600 and $6000 in today’s money).


Yet, there was a problem with Laevision’s purported soft drinks. They turned out not to be soft at all.


Local assertions were made against the drinks claiming they were intoxicating. Despite a non-guilty verdict at a couple local trials and an intense ad campaign in the Paducah Sun in which Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison professed his innocence and the truthfulness and quality  of his product, the case of his “soft drinks” ultimately went before the US Department of Agriculture in 1911. His three beverages were tested by the Bureau of Chemistry and each was found to contain between 4% and 4.55% alcohol, the equivalent of a regular beer. Mr. Reid/Friedman/Laevison was found guilty of violating proponents of section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. He was fined $50 and the costs of prosecution, the case was recorded by the United States Department of Agriculture as Judgment No. 834 under the Food and Drugs Act, and his products were shamed in a book put out by the American Medical Association called “Nostrums and Quackery” in which Laevison’s beverages appear in a chapter called “Mislabeled Drugs and Food.”


Thus, Paducah’s only soft drinks were found to be hardened criminals.


Dr. Fizz fizzled out.


Be Perk, Drink Jurk!

Be Perk, Drink Jurk!

*Note: Just because we in the LAFH Department haven’t yet proved the existence of a local soft drink doesn’t mean one didn’t exist. In fact, we’re a little suspicious that a lemony/grapefruity drink called “Jurk,” distributed by George Jacobs in the mid-twentieth century, might have been a regional creation. We just can’t prove yet, so contact us if you know about Jurk (Be Perk, Drink Jurk!) or any other regional sodas.


Meanwhile, to learn more about nostrums and quackery, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger



Drinking Fountain from 1910

Drinking Fountain from 1910

It’s still there.

Likely you pass by it all the time and hardly notice.

You may have even seen a rendering of it on Paducah’s flood wall.

What are we talking about?

A drinking fountain…for a horse.

Of course, of course.


Next time you drive down Broadway toward the river, glance to your right as you pass 10th St./Walter Jetton Blvd, and you’ll see the horse fountain still standing, only 15 feet from its original spot.  Note, too, that it probably has just as much water in it now as when it was first installed in 1908…



The idea for a horse drinking fountain was first proposed for the city of Paducah by Frederick Tilghman, son of General Lloyd Tilghman, on September 18, 1907. Though born in Paducah, Frederick hadn’t visited the city since he was a boy, and was in town to make arrangements for an eight foot tall bronze statue of his father to be erected in Lang Park. Enamored of the city he’d left long ago, Mr. Tilghman proposed the procurement of a second monument: a drinking fountain that would provide clean water to horses, and dogs.  It was an issue close to Mr. Tilghman’s heart for he also happened to be vice president of the National Humane Alliance in New York, a precursor to the Humane Society.


Because Tilghman offered to foot the $1000 bill, the city accepted the proposed fountain and decided to place it at the intersection of 10th and Broadway.


Details of the fountain reached the Paducah Evening Sun on October 11 of that year. Under the headline “Humane Society Fountain Will Be Shipped At Once,” the article stated, “The fountain will be six feet, six inches high from the ground to the top. The large bowl for the use of horses will be six feet in diameter and carved from a single piece of granite. At the base will be four cups or basins to contain water for dogs.”  One side of the fountain held a plaque in honor of the National Humane Alliance’s president, Herman Lee Ensign. The other three sides held large lion heads with streams of water flowing from their mouths into the bowl below.


Drinking Fountain as pictured on the Flood Wall

Drinking Fountain as pictured on the Flood Wall

Despite the statement that the fountain would be “shipped at once,” miscommunication with the National Humane Alliance’s secretary delayed the delivery significantly. The Evening Sun reported on December 2, 1907 that the fountain wouldn’t be shipped for another couple weeks, and since it was coming from Maine, that likely put the arrival of the sizable granite structure sometime at the beginning of the new year.


While the fountain eventually arrived virtually assembled and ready be placed, we must flash forward another eight months to August 5, 1908, for it was then that newspaper ran a front page article that the fountain had finally reached its home at 10th and Broadway. With that, one might think the story would end there, that the horses and dogs of the city had finally received their long awaited oasis.


But, no.


Skip forward yet another year to July 21, 1909. Buried in a long column of city news on page 3, the Evening Sun reported that “City Engineer Washington said he would connect the fountain at Tenth Street and Broadway soon with the water mains, and start the water to running. The fountain has been completed about a year, but has never been put to use.”


That’s right. The fountain was installed but never hooked up.


Two weeks later, the paper reported that the fountain was in need of a reducing valve which was “expected any day.”


And then, after nearly two years , news of the fountain finally ran dry.


We don’t know exactly when the first drop dripped out of the lions’ mouths, but we do know it was sometime before or during  1910 as we do have a photo from that year (pictured below) of the fountain in operation. And don’t feel too bad for our animal friends either. While the fountain may have been a beautiful addition to the city, it wasn’t their only source of refreshment. Troughs were located throughout town, creeks were much more prevalent, and there’s a pretty sizable river nearby, as well.


To learn more about your favorite watering hole, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

Drinking Fountain Today

Drinking Fountain Today