Month: May 2015



It seems as if an unusual number of our enduring literary monsters were created in the Victorian era. What was it about this time that lent itself to macabre invention: an especial attunement to the gothic and religious, the rapid encroachment of industrialization, a surge in the studies of anatomy and medicine? Whatever the case, in the 19th century, monsters were born, and became so popular that they still haunt today: Frankenstein (1815), The Mummy (1827), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), the real life Jack the Ripper (1888), Dorian Gray (1891), the Invisible Man (1897), and all the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

And on this day, May 26, in 1897 perhaps the most famous of these fiends hit the bookshelves of London—Dracula by Bram Stoker. Though the author of several novels, Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) wasn’t well

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

known as a writer during his lifetime, but as the business manager of the famed Lyceum Theater in London. While greeted with positive critical reviews, Stoker’s release of “Dracula” in 1897 met with relatively little popular success. The average reader of the day regarded it as little more than another penny dreadful. It wasn’t until Hollywood got ahold of the book in the 1920’s (after Stoker’s death) that “Dracula” and Stoker really began to take off.

Stoker didn’t invent the vampire; it existed in folklore long before Dracula. Stoker didn’t even invent the vampire novel; a few examples exist before “Dracula.” But Stoker’s creations, both the monster and the book, are the ones who lasted, and have since achieved iconic, legendary, classic status. Stoker’s work continues to frighten and inspire, and for good or bad, all vampire stories since should rightfully be considered the spawn of Dracula (Rice’s Lestat, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). In that literary sense then, Dracula will always remain undead.

*Bonus Dracula Fact: Dracula, in Romanian, means “the dragon.”

*Another Bonus Dracula Fact: The original 541 page manuscript of “Dracula” was found in a barn in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s

*A Further Bonus Dracula Fact: The original title of Stoker’s book was “The Un-dead,” and instead of Dracula, the title character was named Count Wampyr.”

To check out Dracula or numerous other vampire novels, be sure to visit your McCracken County Public Library…but only in the daylight.

–Matt Jaeger



And then there were three.

Last Monday’s penultimate episode of the 20th season of “Dancing with the Stars” cut the field to its final trio. The remaining contestants for next Monday’s grand finale include Riker Lynch, singer and star of “Glee”; Noah Galloway, athlete and U.S. soldier; and Rumer Willis, actress, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and…Paducah native.

That’s right, in case you didn’t already know, Ms. Willis was born right here on August 16, 1988.

Her father, Bruce Willis was in Paducah filming the Vietnam drama “In Country,” a movie based on the novel by Mayfield native, Bobbie Ann Mason. His movie “Die Hard,” featuring his breakthrough role as Detective John McClane, had been released in July of that same summer. Demi Moore, quite pregnant with the couple’s first child, was naturally in town too, and at 7:03 on August 16, their “happy and healthy” baby girl was born at Western Baptist Hospital (weighing 8 pounds and 1 ounce and coming in at 21 ½ inches long). The Paducah Sun reported that Moore went through a natural childbirth and that the baby and her parents left the hospital within three hours.

At the time of her birth, baby Willis was yet unnamed, though she’d ultimately be given the name Rumer after the British novelist Rumer Goddard.

The “Dancing with the Stars” finale is Monday, May 18, and while everyone may have their favorites, Paducah is certain to cheer extra loud for its hometown girl.

For movies starring Rumer Willis, Bruce Willis, or Demi Moore, or for novels by Bobbie Ann Mason and Rumer Goddard, make sure to stop by your McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger



May 9, 1903.

Paducah was all aflutter with the arrival of the Ferari Carnival Company. This was the third annual city carnival sponsored by the Elks Lodge, and each year the carnival had gotten a little bigger and a little better. 190 carnival folk—workers, barkers, and stars–descended on the city. Blue and orange tents stretched from 3rd and Broadway to 9th and Broadway. At one end of the fairground, a country store had been constructed which promised to be the largest market the city had ever seen and at the other end was the German village which would feature constant music and “spirited” merriment .

Two boxes of Texas rattlesnakes arrived via express mail.



Performers filled the streets, setting up their exhibition sites. A man named Speedy made last minute measurements on his high dive platform. Diavolo, the renowned cyclist, double checked his gravity-defying loop to loop. The chorus of 18 “Liliputians” practiced their harmonies.

Under its own tent, a brand new automobile gleamed in the sunlight, a truly grand prize to be awarded at the end of the carnival for one lucky raffle ticket holder.

Among the spectacle wandered a 12 year boy, Master Mark Lydon, son of Paducah’s deputy sheriff. Likely feeling pretty lucky, young Lydon had gotten the chance to accompany his father and preview the carnival before the rest of the public. Riding his bike down Broadway at 8:30 in the morning, young Lydon paused when he reached the corner of 7th and Broadway. There he saw a caged show wagon, though he couldn’t see
what was inside. The wagon was too tall.

So he got a little closer.

And then a little closer still.

And then young Lydon climbed up on the wheel of the wagon and stood on his tiptoes to peep inside, clutching the bars with his hands.

And that’s when the big cat struck. With a lunge, the lion’s claws caught Lydon’s arm, ripping a gash from his elbow to his wrist. The lion then gnashed with his teeth nearly removing the boy’s finger. All this happened in the blink of an eye before onlookers were able to pull the boy to safety.

Young Mark Lydon was rushed to Dr. J.G. Brooks’ office, and while painful, none of his injuries ended up being too serious. The scars would linger, but all his wounds would heal.

And as for the lion…the big fella ended up being quite the attraction that year.

To learn more about this and that and other such things, visit us at the Local and Family History Department. And if you like this article, make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger


11113817_379728072214964_8867600962651066808_nWe continue our honoring of the 141st Kentucky Derby (and our Evening Upstairs program on May 7 called “Spirits in the River City”), with a look at Paducah’s connection to the mint julep. And such an undertaking would hardly be complete without hearing from Paducah’s native author, actor and humorist, Irvin S. Cobb.

Cobb’s visage was so well known in its day that his face was used to sell everything from tobacco to vacuum cleaners. Among his many endorsements was, naturally, bourbon. Sponsored by Four Roses, a whole book of bourbon recipes was printed with the title “Irvin S. Cobb’s Own Recipe Book.” Bourbon, however, was no mere cash cow for Cobb. He honestly loved the stuff and his first line to the introduction to the book reads, “By inheritance, by nativity, and by virtue of personal conviction, I claim the right to deal with this pleasing subject.”

Of particular adoration for Cobb was the mint julep. The beverage appears many times in his fiction, and within the recipe book, he said, “Come we now, reverently, please, to what I insist is the queen mother of all the infusions—the Mint Julep. Who first compiled this most regal of refreshments? Nobody answers. But our hearts are throbbing monuments to his anonymous memory. The very origin of the julep is wreathed in the mists of antiquity—the same as the early wandering of the Celts [or] the identity of the inventor of books.”

A separate booklet (the cover of which is posted below) was printed by Four Roses which focuses on Cobb’s own Mint Julep Recipe. We have printed it for you in its entirety below:

“Put 12 sprigs of Fresh Mint in bowl, covered with Powdered Sugar and just enough water to dissolve the sugar, and crush with a wooden pestle. Place half the crushed mint and liquid in the bottom of a cracked glass tumbler, or in a sterling silver or pewter tankard. Fill glass half full of finely crushed ice. Add rest of crushed mint and fill remainder of glass with crushed ice. Pour in Four Roses Whiskey until glass is brimming. Place in ice-box for at least an hour (preferably two or three hours—if you can wait that long). Decorate with sprigs of mint covered with powdered sugar when ready to serve.”

Bonus Cobb Factoid: Cobb’s grandfather, Dr. Reuben Saunders, who was also from Paducah, was a preeminent physician and is credited with discovering a method of halting the Cholera Epidemic of 1873. At the time of Saunder’s death, he was the personal physician of the King of Hawaii.

Bonus Derby Factoid. You know that William Clark who platted our city…that guy whom Clark school is named after? Well, his grandson, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., was the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club and the builder of Churchill Downs.

For more about this and that and other such things, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger



Yes, in honor of the 141st Kentucky Derby (and our Evening Upstairs program on May 7 called “Spirits in the River City”), we’re exploring our fair city’s connection to that sweet amber-colored beverage… the mint julep.

The mint julep is an old, old drink. Churchill Downs has been promoting it as the drink of the Derby since 1938, but references to the drink not only predate the very first Derby, they predate the Commonwealth of Kentucky. With such a long history, it comes as no surprise that there have been many products over the years that have tried to cash in on its unique flavor and scent. Even today, a quick search of reveals a number of julep-esque products, including lotion, candles, lip balm, soda, deodorant, taffy, and pet shampoo.

11193234_379717902215981_6592052292541933978_nSeriously, who wouldn’t want their dog to smell like a cocktail?

Such was the case in the late 1800’s when Paducahan Joseph H. Van Culin started making chewing gum in three flavors: grapefruit (mmmm), Cracker Jack (whatever that is), and mint julep (yay!). Van Culin was a stationer by trade, printing small books, pamphlets, and personalized letterhead. When and how and why Van Culin started manufacturing chewing gum in Paducah is a mystery, but he did and by all accounts he did very well. By 1902, Van Culin had taken his manufacturing plant from Paducah to St. Louis, and just couple years later he expanded once again to include a plant in New York City.

Van Culin’s Chewing Gum was on its way, it seemed, thanks, at least in part, to his mint julep flavor. Yet, he wouldn’t survive much longer to see his name become as big as Wrigley. Van Culin died in Paducah in 1913 at the age of 53; he is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Bonus Chewing Gum Fact: The first commercial chewing gum was made in 1848 by a man named John Bacon Curtis and was called State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.

Bonus Derby Fact: The largest mint julep on record was created for the 2008 Derby. Sponsored by Churchill Downs and Early Times, the glass measured 6 feet tall and held 206 gallons of julep. It was dispensed to the crowd via a special system.

For more about this and that and other such things, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger



The Run for the Roses. The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.
Whatever you call it, the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and with it comes a bevy of traditions: parties, giant hats, derby pie, a rousing rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” the bugle call to post…
…oh, and of course, the MINT JULEP!

In essence, the mint julep is a simple beverage comprised of four ingredients—bourbon, mint, sugar, and water—though its humble composition is often elevated by its service within a silver or pewter cup. And if served in such a manner, the julep cup should be handled only by the top or bottom rims so a layer of frost can successfully form around the tumbler without interference from the heat of the fingers.

While this may be the most traditional (and genteel) way to serve a mint julep, in truth, there is no wholly wrong method. And sometimes, when it comes to juleps, desperate times can call for desperate measures. Such was the case in Paducah in 1906 when Mr. Louis Rondo was arrested on suspicion of bootlegging whiskey. Chief of police, James Collins, cornered Rondo in a coal house in Maiden Alley on a Sunday morning at 10:30 AM after receiving word that Rondo had been trolling the alley for hours selling liquor. Witnesses described him as ”a regular walking saloon,” yet upon searching Rondo and the surrounding area, Chief Collins was unable to find any whiskey.

Not one drop.

Yet, Rondo was arrested anyway.

Why? On what grounds?

Suspiciously, Rondo’s pockets were filled with mint, sugar, and syrup. As the Paducah Evening Sun said, Rondo had all the “ingredients necessary to properly mix a mint julep”…except for the bourbon, of course.

The case against Rondo went to court the very next day, and while we were unable to find the verdict, we did find that the case was continued a few times, which suggests that Rondo might have been cleared of the charges. After all, it’s certainly no crime to walk around with mint and sugar in your pocket.

Bonus Smuggling Factoid: Bootlegging got its name from the practice of illegal whiskey distributors hiding their flasks down the legs of their high boots.

Bonus Derby Factoid: The garland given to the winning Derby horse contains over 400 roses.

For more information about this and that and other such things, visit us at in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger