Month: November 2014



Twas the day before Thanksgiving

And all through the library

The staff was all dreaming

Of sauce made of cranberry.


‘Tis true.  It is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and such that the compound word dictates, I should be giving thanks. My mind should be filled with counted blessings, taking stock of family and friends, consummating the understanding that, despite any travails and hiccups, my life is truly a horn of plenty.


But my mind is not doing these things.

Instead, I’m thinking about Thanksgiving food, and not the cranberry sauce, but stuffing.


Ahh stuffing, yes stuffing, and I say this with the full realization that it is an odd thing to think about for what is stuffing but saturated bread? Sure you can doctor it up with sage, celery, apples, onions, sausage, and oysters. You can float it in gravy. Substitute farmhouse white breads for brown breads, corn breads, rice, oats. You can even call it something else: dressing, farce, or forcemeat. Whatever you do to it, whatever you call it, for most of us, it’s still just mush.


And yet, what delicious mush it is!

While it may seem peculiar to so loudly proclaim an affinity for stuffing (to the point where I’d deem it my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal), I’m not ashamed. In fact, I venture that I’m not alone. I know I’m not. Many of you, my ravenous readers, doubtlessly feel the same way, and it is further documented that fellow Paducahan and native son, Irvin S. Cobb, enjoyed his stuffing. Cobb was a gourmand, a lover of the gastronomic, and in his book “Bill of Fare,” Cobb wrote, “He [the turkey] had not been stuffed by a taxidermist or a curio collector, but by the master hand of one of those natural-born home cooks—stuffed with corn bread dressing that had oysters or chestnuts or pecans stirred into it until it was a veritable mine of goodness, and this stuffing had caught up and retained all the delectable drippings and essences of his being.”


Well said, Irvin.


And may I add that while I may eat the rest of the Thanksgiving meal is eaten with a thanks as to be akin to virtue–the turkey with compassion, sweet potatoes with patience, green beans with humility—the stuffing is unabashedly devoured, nearing sinfulness, particularly lust, greed, and gluttony.


I can’t help myself around stuffing, and neither can the history of the human race it seems. The practice is ancient. Yet, as skilled as the Local and Family History Department is, we cannot track down the origin of stuffing. One can imagine that as long as there has been the consumption of meat, there has been the stuffing of that meat, too. But we can track down the first recipe which appears to have come from a Roman cookbook called Apicius dating back to 200 or 300 AD in which a variety of consumables (chicken, rabbits, and pig) are advisedly stuffed with a variety of other ingredients (vegetables, spices, cereals, and organ meat). The book even contains a recipe for stuffed dormouse (an animal which looks like the offspring of a squirrel and a possum) with reads, “the dormouse is stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, garlic, and broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.”


Mmmmmm. There’s nothing quite like some fresh dormouse.


With the Romans being so creative with their stuffings so early in recorded history, one can only imagine the scope of stuffing ingredients before and since. The possibilities are endless! And recently, it seems, there’s been a rise in the popularity of turkeys stuffed, not with vegetables and breads, but with other fowl. Yes, the turducken as it’s called—that is, a chicken stuffed into duck then stuffed into a turkey–has flown into public awareness in recent years, but while this chimeric delicacy seems innovative, it is hardly new either. The practice of stuffing animals with other animals is old as well. An Andalusian recipe from the 13th century advises stuffing a ram with a potpourri of small birds. In 1807, a French gastronomist, Grimod de La Reynière, recorded the following dish: a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan, bunting, and a garden warbler. He called this his “roast without equal,” and it almost is, unless one believes the tale of the traditional Bedouin wedding feast in which cooked eggs are stuffed into fish, then the fish into chickens, then the chickens into sheep, then the sheep into a camel. The whole kit and kaboodle is then roasted in a pit.


Surely, if true, this is the pinnacle of all stuffings! That being said, , I probably wouldn’t eat it. The preparation of camel is laborious and I find the flavor a bit gamey.


No, my taste in stuffing runs a bit more humble, more traditional. Bread crumbs and gravies. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for novelty, for experimentation, for a new chapter in the history of stuffing. Western Kentucky has its own history of pork barbeque which, combined with Thanksgiving, could very well make a resounding splash throughout the culinary world.


Thusly, and with great respect, I propose the following recipe for Western Ken-turkey (as it has to be called): Buy several barbeque sandwiches from your favorite barbeque joint. Stuff them inside a turkey along with any other ingredients you may desire. Deep fry your turkey…naturally. Serve with sauce.


A turkey stuffed with breads and pork…doesn’t sound half bad, does it?


For more about glorious stuffing, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger



A madstone perhaps similar to Captain Fowler's.

A madstone perhaps similar to Captain Fowler’s.

Let’s talk stones…famous stones.

Your average stone gets no attention other than a kick up the backside as you stroll down the street. But there are a few stones which rise above, which demand to be noticed, whose names stretch far and wide, whose very legends inspire beyond rational thought, and whose properties sometimes transcend the natural. And we’re not even talking about mountains or carvings or sculptures here.

Just stones.

Who among us, whether Irish or not, hasn’t heard of the magically delicious and oft besmooched Blarney Stone? Or the fabled stepping stone to a nation that was Plymouth Rock? How about the Stone of Destiny, upon which the kings of Scotland are crowned, and which, according to generational lore, Jacob once laid his head upon and dreamed of a Stairway to Heaven (Genesis 28: 10-13)? Or the Hope Diamond, now housed in the Smithsonian, so cursed that it brought misfortune and even death upon all who touched it?

Yep, those are some pretty famous stones, so much so that folks come from far and wide to glimpse them or kiss them or brush them with the tips of their fingers.

And believe it or not, in the late 19th century, Paducah had its own famous stone. It belonged to noted riverboat pilot Captain Joe Fowler , and people from all over the region would flock by the hundreds to his boat store at the foot of Broadway to touch his stone, or more precisely, to have it touch them. The “rock” in Captain Fowler’s possession was called a madstone and it was thought to have miraculous, curative properties. When applied to a poisonous animal bite, whether from a snake or rabid pig, the stone was said to draw out the poison so long as it continued to stick to the wound.

Captain Fowler’s madstone was a dark, porous, bony-like mass that was about two inches long and about one inch wide and believed to have originally come from the stomach of a deer, most likely an ossified hairball, that is, a bunch of undigested hair in the poor ruminant’s gullet that hardened over time. Captain Fowler didn’t discover the madstone itself, but was gifted the stone from an Indian in exchange for passage up the Tennessee River.

1511577_315304675323971_8470766898499005536_nThe belief in the magical, healing properties of madstones is not singular to our area, but was a commonly accepted folk remedy, not only in the early United States, but in Europe, parts of the Middle East (where they are called Bezoars), and Africa (where they are called Snakestones). In fact, the advocation of these charmed gastrointestinal nuggets goes far back into history; the first written reference (from a physician no less) comes from 12th century Andalusian that advises the ingestion of madstone-infused water to draw out poisons. Some think the tradition originated in Asia some time before the Middle Ages, which dates the belief to as early as the 4th or 5th century.

As crazy as it sounds to us now, folks truly believed the stone could make them well, and maybe that’s because they had to. Because people lived in closer proximity to animals in those days, bites were much more common than today. Medical cures hadn’t been discovered yet, so trust might as well have been placed in a calcified hairball from a deer’s stomach.

Madstones were rare, and Captain Fowler’s was the only in one the area. This coupled with the fact that his stone had the reputation of a high rate of success caused people to come in droves to his boat store, sometimes on a daily basis. Between visits and per legend, Fowler would cleanse the stone by soaking it in warm milk; reports say the poison caused the milk to turn green. The frequency of customers was such that Fowler began to charge $5 per application, a sum which folks were willing to pay. Issues of The Paducah Sun from that time are chock full of accounts, often stating the name of the victim, the offending animal, and the length of time the madstone stuck to the wound. For example:
*July 21, 1899, George Owen of Gracey, bitten by cow which had been bitten by a dog, stone stuck (no length of time given).
*February 5, 1901, 13 year old Luther Cox of Lamont, mad dog bite, stone stuck four hours.
*June 13, 1901, W.A. West of Bardwell, mad dog bite, stone stuck for 12 ½ hours.

By the early 1900’s, however, faith in the madstone began to wane with news of Louis Pasteur’s invention of a rabies vaccine. There are even a couple reports in the Paducah Sun of folks forsaking the Fowler madstone, and taking the train to the Pasteur Institute in New Orleans. But the real end of the madstone began into 1903 with a visit from J.H. Rhye of Dawson Springs. Mr. Rhye had brought his 10 year old son Alva to town because the boy had suffered a dog bite. The bite was so severe that Fowler let the Rhyes borrow the stone and take it back to Dawson Springs with them. The boy, Alva, survived the journey, but the madstone did not. The Rhyes mailed the stone back to Fowler as promised, but it came back in pieces thanks to the stamper at the post office.

In pieces now, Fowler gave the broken stone to the chief clerk at the Boat Store, Frank Mantz, who continued to apply the shards to bites for years to come. As for Fowler, he would die just a year later, on Christmas Eve, 1904. Whether he actually believed in the madstone himself remains a mystery, though his daughter later recalled him saying that he was at least glad he could “relieve people of mental distress, to help those who believed in it (Paducah Sun, August 3,, 1934).

For more information about odd things pulled from animals’ stomachs, visit us in the Local and Family History Department of the McCracken County Public Library, and if you like this story, please make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

The copyright of this article belongs to the McCracken County Public Library.

PADUCAH’S FIRST CAR…AND WRECK: This Week in Paducah History


This  is representative of Paducah's first car.

This is representative of Paducah’s first car.

As students and products of history, we’re always fascinated by firsts…the first time something occurred, the first person to accomplish something great, the first to be built, the first to be considered, etc.  There’s something special about firsts: newness is accomplished, wonder is created, standards are set. 

And so, in our segment of “Paducah History This Week,” we bring you a first, and likely, it’s a first of which you’ve never heard, perhaps never even considered, a first which was once significant enough to make the front page of “The Paducah Sun” but has since drifted from memory like fumes in the wind, like a horn in night, like the roar of an engine as it rounds the bends of time.

Paducah’s first car!!!

Yep. That’s right. Exactly 113 years ago this week, Dr. J.D. Robertson debuted his spanking new “horseless carriage” on Broadway Street, and as stated in a story on the bottom right hand corner of the front page of “The Paducah Sun” on November 2, 1901, “it is the first machine of its kind to be owned by a Paducah man.”


JD Robertson

JD Robertson

J.D. Robertson was a physician about town, making the columns every other day for the treatment of the unfortunately injured: brewery workers with dislocated shoulders, women whose feet had been crushed by elevators, children having been poisoned by chewing on match heads. He was also the president of the local board of health. Certainly, he was a well-known man already, but on that glorious day in early November at about one o’clock in the afternoon, Dr. Robertson also secured himself as the owner and driver of Paducah’s first car.

And what about the car itself?! What a marvel it must’ve been to those whose buggies had only been pulled by horses until that point! In the Sun article, the automobile was described as being of “medium size” with a “regular buggy top for the bad weather season.” The car had no steering wheel, but rather a lever which pointed it in the vague direction in which the driver wanted to head. The body and fenders resembled a runabout buggy of the day, and as it was painted red, the vehicle quickly earned its own moniker… “The Red Devil.”

Can you imagine the thrill, the pride, the joy of Dr. Robertson as he paraded Paducah’s graveled roadways in this marvelous new machine, boldly going where no man had gone before?

Yet…into every life a little rain must fall.

As Paducah’s first car owner, Dr. Robertson was also the first victim of Paducah’s first car accident. And he didn’t have to wait long. The fender bender occurred a mere two days after the initial journey. In late afternoon on Nov. 4, Dr. Robertson “was going along rapidly in his automobile near Ninth and Jones Street” when he encountered not only a horse buggy coming his way but also a hole in the street. In his effort to dodge both, he drove his “Red Devil” into a ditch. Dr. Robertson was thrown from the vehicle but escaped injury. The car was damaged considerably.

Despite the wreck, Dr. Robertson’s foray into the world of automobiles was the first in a swiftly growing trend. Paducahans of all types soon felt the need…the need for speed. So much so, that in one year, the number of automobiles on Paducah’s streets increased 1300%, from one car to 13.

For more information about originals in Paducah, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like our stories, please take a moment to “like” our Facebook page at

–Matt Jaeger

THE BROADCAST HEARD ROUND THE UNIVERSE: Today in Literary History, October 30


Today we acknowledge the 76th anniversary of the day on which many Americans thought the world was coming to an end. According to the CBS Radio report on October 30, 1938, Martians had landed in New Jersey, and they hadn’t come in peace.

Meteors, fires, explosions!
Octopus-like creatures!!
Death Rays!!!!!!

Shortly after 7 p.m., radio listeners heard the news about the invasion and widespread panic soon took hold. Phone calls flooded into police, fire, and news stations. Folks evacuated cities in New York and New Jersey, running to their cars and heading for the hills. Preachers stopped in the midst of their Sunday evening services to inform their communicants of the end times, inviting them to pray.

For a little while, hysteria gripped a large portion of the population. And all because of a radio program, one much many thought was real, but was truly a fictional broadcast of Orson Welles’ now famous (some would say infamous) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “War of the Worlds.”

H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells

H.G. Wells’ original novel had been published in serial form forty years earlier and was so well received, critically and popularly, that it hasn’t been out of print since. Orson Welles’ hadn’t yet been born when the novel came out, and at the time he decided to adapt it for radio, he was only 23 years old. (By the way, Wells and Welles are not related).

While keeping the basic plot intact, Orson made a few key changes that likely made the broadcast seem more realistic to listeners. Instead of telling the story from an unnamed narrator’s point of view, he told the story through a series of simulated news bulletins, even interrupting a staged musical program to do so. Also, he changed the setting from London (as in the novel) to New Jersey, likely to give the script an added familiarity and urgency. In Orson’s words, he did so to “make it more interesting” to American listeners.

His changes were effective, so much so that many, many listeners of the broadcast on that Sabbath night in 1938 believed the broadcast to be true. Despite the fact that the broadcast was interrupted four times with the announcement that it was a work of fiction, many still bought into the ruse.

Orson Welles insisted that it wasn’t his intention to fool anyone, saying, “We can only suppose that the special nature of radio, which is often heard in fragments, or in parts disconnected from the whole, has led to this misunderstanding.” Yet, the panic over the broadcast was such that the Federal Communications Commission was called in to investigate. Said the director of the FCC at the time, “Any broadcast that creates such general panic and fear as this one is reported to have done is, to say the least, regrettable. The widespread public reaction to this broadcast…is another demonstration of the power and force of radio.”

For his part, H.G. Wells had sold the rights to Orson for the radio broadcast though asserted that he gave “no permission whatever for alterations which might lead to the belief that the broadcast material was real news.” In a later interview, however, the novelist would acknowledge the actor’s accomplishment, saying that Orson’s adaptation helped increase sales for one of his titles.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles

H.G. Wells’ legacy was certainly secure without the radio broadcast. At the time of his death in 1946, he had published over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction, including “The Time Machine,” “The Invisible Man,” and “The Island of Doctor Moreau.” Following that legendary broadcast, Orson Welles went on to increasing fame as well, a legacy which included the movie “Citizen Kane,” often cited as the greatest film in cinematic history, which Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and acted in the lead role.

Follow this link if you’re interested in listening to the historic broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” .

For more about H.G. Wells and Orson Welles, your McCracken County Public Library is overflowing with books and films featuring these two artists. All quotations in this article are from the Paducah Sun’s report of the story on October 31, 1938.

–Matt Jaeger

HARRY TRUMAN VISITS PADUCAH (with video): This Week in Paducah History


Just a little over a week ago, Paducah was visited by President Bill Clinton who came to town to campaign on behalf of the Democratic Party before the midterm elections. While political stumping and campaigning in our region is common enough, visits by former presidents are a little rarer.

Today we flash back 55 years to the last week of October in 1959 and a visit from former president Harry S. Truman. In 1945, Truman had only been vice president 82 days when President Roosevelt died, elevating Truman to the office. He served out the remainder of that term and was reelected to a second term as POTUS in 1949. It was during that second term that he chose Paducah native Alben Barkley as his running mate. Truman, a Missourian, had plenty of Kentucky roots besides his vice president, however; four of his grandparents hailed from Shelby County.

President Truman came to Paducah for much the same reason as Clinton…to campaign on behalf of the Democratic Party. In the accompanying video (Youtube link: ), you can see the former president visiting three distinct sites in town. The first was Barkley Regional Airport (named for the vice president in 1949). The second looks to be some sort of restaurant or hotel; we suspect it’s the Ritz but we’re not sure. The third site is Paducah Tilghman High School which was the location for Truman’s speech as well as a luncheon in his honor.

The luncheon cost $20 a plate and 350 folks were in attendance. Truman was introduced to the attendees by David Barkley, son of the then late Alben Barkley (Barkley died in 1956). Before Truman addressed the crowd, however, he was presented with a framed picture of Kentucky Dam (evident in the video) for the Truman library in Independence, Kansas. As president, Truman dedicated Kentucky Dam in 1945.

To learn more about Truman or Barkley, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

TODAY IN LITERARY HISTORY, Oct. 22: A Nobel Gesture?


Fifty years ago today on October 22, 1964, an award was offered and declined. 

Perhaps this act in and of itself isn’t all that noteworthy. Except in this case, the award happened to be one of the most prestigious and globally-staged awards out there…the Nobel Prize. 

The honor declined was the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the decliner was French philosopher, novelist, and playwright, Jean Paul Sartre. Famous for writings such as “The Flies,” “No Exit,” “The Age of Reason,” and “Being and Nothingness,” Sartre was chosen as the 1964 recipient “for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age.”

As a writer, Sartre held fast to existentialism, a philosophical theory which “emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” And Sartre tried to make his responsibility as a free-willed existentialist evident by declining the Nobel Prize.

His decision to decline the award (the first time in the history of the Nobel Prize) was so scandalous that Sartre ultimately released a statement to the press which explained that his decision was nothing against the Nobel Prize itself, but that it was his custom never to accept honors. He, in fact, turned down thebLegion of Honor for his military service. His reasoning stated that the acceptance of an award forever institutionalized a writer, in that his name would always be associated with the institution of Nobel Academy. Sartre did not want his name to be identified with any establishment, whether an award, college, academy, military, etc. Further, he had concerns that such awards could negatively affect the honesty of his writing. In turning down the award, Sartre also turned down some hefty prize money….250,000 Swedish crowns.

In a great irony, despite the declining of award and Sartre’s personal philosophies encompassing choice and free will, the Nobel Academy still recognizes him as the prize winner in literature for the year 1964. The award is his, whether he wants it or not.
Congratulations anyway, JP.

To check out books by Sartre, be sure to visit us at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger


pulp “Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France?” 

If you know the answer to this question, it means one of two things…you’ve gone to a McDonalds in Paris (though seriously… why anyone would go to a McDonalds while in France?) or you’re a fan of the Quentin Tarentino movie, Pulp Fiction.  For the majority of us, it’s likely the latter. It’s hard to believe, but today, October 14, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the film Pulp Fiction. The film was an undisputed box office and critical success, garnering favorable reviews from 94% of critics (according to the website Rotten Tomatoes), and earning more than $100 million at the box office (while costing less than $10 million to produce). The film is even touted by some to be the most influential movie of the 1990’s. While ultimately a crime story, the film employs so many storytelling techniques that it’s hard to pin down to a particularly genre, and with so many interconnected and non-chronological storylines, it’s difficult to give a succinct synopsis. But the whole thing works brilliantly, and because of its witty (and highly quotable) dialogue, outrageous violence, and pitch-dark humor, the film became an instant fixture in pop-culture and a contemporary film classic. The stars of the film are a virtual Who’s Who of Hollywood, including Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, and Christopher Walken, but perhaps the real star of the film was the director himself, Quentin Tarentino. Though he’d written and/or directed a couple critically acclaimed independent movies prior to this (Reservoir Dogs and True Romance), the release and success of Pulp Fiction brought him a layman’s recognition and respect that only a handful of other directors enjoy. The film was ultimately awarded the Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning one for Best Screenplay. On the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Films of All Time, Pulp Fiction ranks 94th, in between The French Connection and The Last Picture Show. Pulp Fiction is available to rent at your McCracken County Public Library, as well as many other Quentin Tarentino films: Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. Music from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack is available to listen to through the Freegal application on our library’s website ( We also have a book by author Jason Bailey titled, “Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarentino’s Masterpiece.” Zed may be dead, but 20 years later, Pulp Fiction is still going strong. –Matt Jaeger