Month: June 2016

HAPPY 140TH BIRTHDAY, IRVIN S. COBB!

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The theme of the library’s summer reading program is “Locally Grown,” and there is no one who fits this theme better than Paducah’s own Irvin S. Cobb.

Born in Paducah on this day in 1876, “locally-grown” Cobb went on to become a world-renowned journalist, author of more than 60 books, radio host, screenwriter, screen actor, host of the Academy Awards, humorist, and general bon vivant. He was so popular in his day that he not only had a hotel and bridge named for him, but also a towboat, dahlia, redwood tree, golf championship, brand of pipes, cigar, and burgoo.

So, what better way to celebrate Cobb’s birthday than to read some of his stories this summer? Thankfully, many of Cobb’s early writings (which are arguably his best work) are part of the public domain and are free to download. All of his available works can be found on this link to Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=irvin+cobb). But if you’re not sure where to start, here are some suggestions from our Local and Family History Staff:

Nathan Lynn recommends “Back Home” which includes many of Cobb’s famed and humorous Judge Priest stories. The character of Judge Priest was based on a Paducah judge named William S. Bishop.

Matt Jaeger recommends “The Escape of Mr. Trimm: His Plight and other Plights,” a collection of some of Cobb’s earliest and darkest stories including the title story, “Fishhead” and “The Belled Buzzard.”

Dusty Luthy recommends “Paths of Glory: Impressions of War at and Near the Front,” a collection of Cobb’s journalistic observations during WWI.

Zach Underwood recommends “Eating in Two or Three Languages,” essays by Cobb regaling his gastronomical adventures.

And if you’d like to read more or our blog posts about Cobb, all of our posts that invoke his name can be found here (https://mclib.net/blogs/history/?s=irvin+cobb)

–Matt Jaeger

Paducahan Quote of the Week #13

paducah quote 13

Paducahan Quote of the Week #12

paducah quote 12

Paducahan Quote of the Week #11

paducah quote 11

THE WEEPING TREE OF MECHANICSBURG: Miracle or Aphid Poo?

weeping tree

Rain, rain, go away….

Ugh. Yet another dreary, rainy day in old Paducah. Sometimes it seems like it just won’t quit. But as squishy and moist as it is out there, it’s nothing like the fall of 1904 when one particular tree in Paducah decided to make its own rain.

That’s right. In the early 1900’s, Paducahans flocked to the Mechanicsburg section of town to view a walnut tree that had started making its own rain….

well, sort of…

Located in the blocks framed by S. Third, Bridge Street, and Highway 62, Mechanicsburg was so named because the area of town was filled with railroad yards, lumber mills, and factories of all sorts. The men and women who lived in Mechanicsburg were hardworking, no-nonsense individuals, and as a rule, it wasn’t in their nature to get caught up in any falderal. Nonetheless, they gathered by the hundreds on Charles Smith’s lawn on Farley Street to witness the weeping walnut.

A weeping tree is not a singular phenomenon. There are reports from around the world. Heck, it’s even appeared more than once in our area. A couple years later in the Milburn Chapel area of West Paducah witnesses testified to tears emanating from the naked boughs of a black gum. And lest you think the sight is limited to uninformed folks of the early 20th century, note that there are many contemporary reports…like an especially precipitous crape myrtle on the grounds of St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno, California, around which people still gather in wonder.

With both of the these latter examples, the black gum of Milburn Chapel and the crape myrtle of Fresno, divine explanations were given for the seemingly miraculous weeping. In 2013, some of the believers in Fresno claimed the crape myrtle cried the tears of God and that it expelled more water with each prayer. As for the black gum in West Paducah, a report in the Paducah Sun in 1906 stated: “Those of the neighborhood who profess some knowledge of the Bible are hunting through its leaves for some interpretation of the meaning.”

But as for the walnut tree in Mechanicsburg, the folks sought out a different sort of explanation and brought in Professor George O. McBroom, former superintendent of schools. After observing the tree, Professor McBroom stated: “Every tree root sucks up moisture and throws it into the branches. The leaves evaporate or consume the moisture and when the leaves have fallen and the tree continues to suck up moisture, then it has to have some outlet and I suggest that the moisture comes out through the places where the leaves were.”

In essence, Professor McBroom was correct. The process is called “positive root pressure” and is the result of tree’s absorption of extra water during periods when there are changes in temperature. Like the professor had conjectured, without the presence of leaves or fruit, the excess moisture pulsing through the tree’s “veins” came out “where the leaves were.” The moisture, in this case, was not water but sap, though a very watered-down version. Positive root pressure is the same process which allows us to tap maple trees for syrup.

The walnut tree, in fact, is sometimes called a “bleeder” tree because it’s especially known excessive seeping, so positive root pressure is the cause of the weeping in the Mechanicsburg tree, as well as the black gum tree in Milburn Chapel.

Kind of boring, huh?

But it’s a slightly different story for those standing under the crape myrtle in Fresno. The drops they felt on their faces and arms was not water or sap, but honeydew. Honeydew is the excretion produced by aphids after they eat sap. The crape myrtle on the grounds of St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno was shown to contain so many aphids that their excrement rained down from the leaves in a sort of shower.

For more sappy stories, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this story, make sure to also “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

Paducahan Quote of the Week #10

paducah quote 10

THE NAME SURE RINGS LA BELLE: The Road, The Park, and The River

Labelle Street in Paducah

Labelle Street in Paducah

Can you name the little street that runs between the Coke Plant and Independence Bank in Paducah? Many probably miss the name…the street is only a block long, after all. Or perhaps they just assume that block is part of Lone Oak Road since that is what it turns into after crossing Broadway.

But that small stretch of road has a French name, LaBelle Street, and if you knew that, then give yourself a pat on the back. But of course, this knowledge begs a further question: Why is that little road called LaBelle?

The street name dates back to when that area of town was first mapped out in the late 1800’s. Originally, LaBelle Street was a bit longer, running from Jefferson to what is now Alben Barkley Drive. Through the 1890’s the street formed the eastern border of a large, wooded park called….La Belle Park. In 1904, the park was renamed Wallace Park and the section of LaBelle Street south of Broadway was renamed Lone Oak Road. Only the short section that is still called LaBelle Street remained.

So, there you go LaBelle Street was named for La Belle Park. That’s the official answer.

But we can’t leave it there. Now we have to ask ourselves where the name of the park came from, right?

Translated from the French, “La Belle” means “The Beautiful.” Now, of course, with its rolling hills and shimmering lake, La Belle Park (and its accompanying street) were likely beautiful, so the name certainly fit. But isn’t it curious that the park was a given a French name? Why? Paducah is not a town which immediately brings to mind the French…not like New Orleans.

labelle2But as it happened, Paducah did have quite a large French population in its early days. So much so, that an entire section of the city, from North 9th to North 13th, was called Frenchtown. In fact, North 10th used to be called Mocquot Street after a prominent French family of druggists and lawyers.

Well before Paducah was platted as a city, the French were in this area. This region of the country is on the eastern edge of what later constituted the Louisiana Purchase. The confluence of the rivers here in the middle of the country served as a French foothold in the region, a midway point between their Louisianan and Canadian settlements. St. Louis was settled by the French and named for their King Louis IX. Cape Girardeau is named after an early French officer, Jean Baptiste de Girardot. And Fort Massac (which played a major role in the French and Indian War) is named after the French Naval Minister, the Marquis du Massiac.

Beyond the cities they settled, the French had their own names for some of the land’s natural features. They called the whole Mississippi River Valley “La Louisiane,” and they called the Mississippi River itself the “Colbert Riviere.”

As for the Ohio River, the French had a name for that, too. They named it “La Belle Riviere.” Though the river ultimately officially adopted its Native American name, some continued to call the river by its French name even after Kentucky became a state and Paducah was settled. You even see references to the French name in poetry and newspaper reports well into the 20th century, often simply called “La Belle.”

And, of course, that name is still remembered today on one of our road signs. LaBelle… a little street named for a pretty park named for a big river.

For more on the etymology of Paducah’s avenues, visit us in the in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this article, make sure to “Like” our Facebook Page.

–Matt Jaeger

Paducahan Quote of the Week #9

paducah quote 9

Homer Louis “Boots” Randolph (1927-2007) was born in Paducah, KY, and raised in Cadiz, KY and Evansville, IN. The nickname Boots was given to him as a kid though he claimed to never know why. Coming from a musical family, he learned to play several instruments—ukulele, trombone, and vibraphone—but it would be the saxophone that would propel him to musical fame.

As a recording artist, he has over 40 albums to his credit on the Monument Label. He was the first saxophonist to play with Elvis Presley (Return to Sender) and played on the soundtracks of eight Elvis movies. Boots also played with the likes of Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee, Al Hirt, and REO Speedwagon. As a songwriter, his compositions have been covered by Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and Alabama.

By far, Boots Randolph’s biggest hit was the multi-million selling record “Yakety Sax” which many people recognize as the theme to the “Benny Hill Show.”

APOCALYPSE NOT RIGHT NOW or THE DAY THE EARTH PASSED THROUGH THE TAIL OF A COMET

Halley's Comet in 1910

Halley’s Comet in 1910

Sometimes a phenomenon is so big it affects the whole world…even Paducah. That’s exactly what happen on this day in history, May 19, 1910.

You see, the entire planet was aflutter, some would say anxious, because of the return of Halley’s Comet. Now granted, sightings of this comet are rare as it’s only visible from Earth at 74-79 year intervals. But folks were extra jittery in 1910 because Halley’s Comet passed particularly close to the Earth, so close in fact that on the very early morning hours of May 19, the whole planet was scheduled to pass through the tail of the comet for a full six hours.

Despite the assurances of most of the world’s leading astronomers that the Earth would feel no ill effects from the comet’s tail, there were many who were convinced that something really bad was going to happen. This fear was fueled by a handful of crackpot scientists, like French astronomer Camille Flammarion who claimed that the comet’s gases “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”

Folks conjectured not just about these poisonous gases, but also fiery meteorites and a full on collision with the comet. They boarded up their houses, taping the doors and windows shut, and bought gas masks. Drug manufacturers came up with a special “comet pill.” Reports in various global papers claimed that some people confessed to crimes in effort to atone for their sins before death, and some panic-stricken individuals committed suicide. Some preached the end of times to crowds that spilled out of the church walls.

In western Kentucky, the level of dread didn’t seem too high, though you can sense twinges of anxiety in the Paducah Evening Sun’s reports, especially as the world approached the date it would pass through the tail. On the day before, May 18, the Paducah Evening Sun ran a story about how a “fine dust” had been seen falling Benton. They further reported on the great number of prayer meetings that had sprung up, saying “the possibility of a comet sometime jumping the track and running amuck among the planets has got everybody’s nerve.”

The newspaper report on the 18th concluded by stating that most of Paducah wouldn’t sleep that night, between those who stayed up to witness the events and those too scared to close their eyes.

In truth, the folks who stayed awake both in Paducah and around the world, did so needlessly. Across the planet, the night came and went without otherworldly incident. It is true that we passed through the comet’s tail, but what many didn’t know is that tail is 24 million miles long, making the part we passed through very small and sparse. In fact, Halley’s comet was very difficult to even see that night, if visible at all.

On the evening of May 19th, the Paducah Sun reported of the people who stood on the street in the early morning hours: “They were rewarded by what appeared to be a filmy train across the sky, extending from slightly north of west in a curve to the east. The brightness of the moon prevented any possible luminous display and no meteors were visible.”

In 1910, Halley’s Comet came and went without too much fuss, as it did again in 1986 and will probably do again in 2062. But if you’re into celestial wonders, you don’t have to wait too long nor travel too far to see the next one. A total eclipse of the sun will occur on August 21, 2017, and as you can see by the accompanying map, we live in one of the best areas of the country to witness it.

apocalypse

For more spacey stories, visit us in the Local and Family History Room at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this story, make sure to “like” our Facebook page.

–Matt Jaeger

Paducahan Quote of the Week #8

Paducahan Quote of the week 8