Month: March 2017

Blind Joe Mangrum

Blind Joe Mangrum

Today we remember the late Joe Mangrum (March 29, 1856 – January 13, 1932). While many may not recognize the name, at one time “Blind Joe” Mangrum was possibly the best known musician to come out of the Jackson Purchase. He appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, played before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was a personal friend of humorist Irvin S. Cobb.

Joe Mangrum was born in Dresden, TN to James and Catherine Mangrum and spent his life playing the violin in West Tennessee and West Kentucky. It was said that at one time Mangrum knew over 5,000 compositions by memory. According to his obituary which appeared in the Carroll County Democrat, “He lost his sight when six weeks old. Playing the violin came to him almost naturally, and at 12 he was an accomplished musician. He never took a music lesson but the classics were as familiar to him as the song of the day. ‘I remember the first piece I learned to play,’ he said one day. ‘It was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I learned to play, “Listen to the Mocking Bird” by following a Mocking Bird across the square at Dresden.’ “

Mangrum lived in many places including Mayfield, KY, Cairo, IL, Paducah, KY and Nashville, TN and married Mary Elizabeth Stringer in October of 1915 in Paducah. He was known not only as a country and old-time fiddle player, but also as a classical musician which was said to have caused tension between him and Grand Ole Opry founder, George D. Hay, who differed from Joe on what was considered old-time music. Independent Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay noted on Mangrum , “He was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry from 1928-1932 and is one of the Opry’s earliest members, although they did not use the term at the time. His first appearance was on June 30, 1928 and his final Opry appearance was on January 16, 1932.”

In a 1976 interview with Rube Elrod and Everett Cummins, provided by the Kentucky Oral History Commission, Elrod notes that he learned a lot from Mangrum, playing with him in downtown Paducah as a child. He states that “Uncle Joe” often played on the streets of downtown and credited him as being a major influence on his playing style especially the numbers “Molly Darlin,” “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” and “Mockingbird.” He goes onto to say that, “He could play some deep notes!”


Mangrum was often accompanied by accordionist Fred Shivers. According to the Discography of American Historical Recordings, on October 6, 1928, the two recorded 5 songs for Victor in Nashville, TN. While three of them, “Mammoth Cave Waltz,” “the Rose Waltz,” and “Cradle Song,” were never released, we do have the great opportunity to hear, “Bill Cheatam,” and, “Bacon and Cabbage,” as provided here.

Joe Mangrum passed away on January 13, 1932 in Nashville, TN, but he is today remembered as one of the regions greatest musicians.

If you would like to learn more about Joe Mangrum and other Jackson Purchase musicians please visit us in the Local and Family History Room at the McCracken County Public Library.

- Nathan Lynn

AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW: Pots of Gold in Paducah

We’re nigh on St. Patrick’s Day around here, so what to write about….shamrocks, the wearing of the green, fairies, jigs, corned beef, Riverdance, the driving of snakes, James Joyce, blighted potatoes, Lucky Charms, or even the fact that Paducah may have gotten its name from an early Irish settler named Pat Dugan?


Or….how about pots of gold?


In honor of St. Patrick’s this year we actually found three quick stories about some locals who sought that elusive treasure at the end of the rainbow. Some may have even found it.


1)    Treasure at Third and Madison

On Wednesday, August 10, 1910, local sewer inspector A. Franke woke to find a strange, old man digging in the ground just to the rear of his property line at Third and Madison. The digger had chosen a spot that was near the ruins of an old brick house, six feet away from a tree stump. The old man dug with dogged determination for quite a length of time, and when curiosity finally got the best of Franke, he went outside to interview the stranger. The stranger was couched in his answers, he never revealed his name, but he ultimately revealed a few interesting details: 1) he was not local, but from Brookport, IL; 2) he was the father of 24 children; 3) and he was digging for $6000 in treasure that his father had buried just before the Civil War (about $150,000 in today’s money).


The old man dug all day, and was so convicted in his search, that he even hired another local to help dig for a while. Together they dug the hole to a depth of seven feet but didn’t report finding anything other than a large stone.


Sometime during the night, the old man from Brookport filled in the hole again and left, just as quietly and mysteriously as he’d shown up. Franke was convinced the old man hadn’t found anything and gave up. But who knows?


2)    Money in Mechanicsburg

Rumors of buried gold on the south end of Paducah had persisted throughout the mid-to-late 19th century. The story went that an early Paducah resident named Mr. Bullnoys, who had earned his money in tanning, buried his money somewhere in Mechanicsburg, but no one knew exactly where and no one ever found it.


But on July 17, 1908, the residents of Mechanicsburg were greeted by a new sign that the old rumors might have been true… a deep, mysterious hole and empty pot at the end of Meyers Street near Vaughn pond. New rumors started to circulate then that the treasure had been dug up by a convict who had escaped from Eddyville prison that very week. Some reports say that he dug up $20,000. Another said the convict found $90,000 in “specially prepared clay” (Paducah Evening Sun, 7/18/1908).


A local barber named Tom Goodman took a photograph of the pot and the hole from which it was taken. According to the paper, Goodman’s photograph clearly showed the imprints of coins around the hole.


3)    Gold Fever in Woodville…with a Twist at the End.

The news first hit the Metropolis Herald first on March 23, 1908.  Joseph Lugan told the paper that a friend of his, a Mr. Charles H. Wells, dug up an old pot while working in Woodville in Ballard County. Inside the pot was $5500 in gold and silver coins, some a little rusty but most in good shape. Mr. Lugan also reported that Charles Wells was a “thoroughly worthy, upright young man with no bad habits.”


On March 31, 1908, the Paducah Evening Sun ran a longer interview with Charles H. Wells himself. Wells’ stated that he had been employed by a Mr. Thurman of Ballard County to help dig the foundation for a new mill. The location of the dig was at the edge of a woods where an old house used to stand. The pot he pulled from the ground was an old fashioned bean pot with a heavy lid. Inside was $5500 in coins — $200 in silver and the rest five, ten, and twenty dollar gold pieces. Mr. Wells told the paper he took his new found fortune first to a bank in Wickliffe and then to Cincinnati where it was sold at a premium of almost 50 percent. Wells also reported that he discovered this pot of gold on Tuesday, March 17, 1908…which also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.


The next part of the story of Mr. Wells occurred almost two years later. On August 22, 1910, the Paducah Evening Sun reported that they had received a recent phone call from someone impersonating a doctor from the Western Kentucky Asylum in Hopkinsville who stated that Charles H. Wells, an inmate, wasn’t actually crazy but the victim of a conspiracy because of his discovery of a pot gold. This was the same man who had claimed to find the gold in Paducah two years earlier, and who, as it turns out, was declared insane and committed to an asylum.  The Sun followed up the claim by interviewing the judge in the case, Judge Patterson of Murray, who confirmed that there was no questions regarding Wells’ “lunacy inquest.” Patterson further stated that the “pot of gold was mythical.”




In 1922, a unique cookbook was released – a cookbook just for men. Part humor and part serious recipe book, The Stag Cook Book, collected and edited C. Mac Sheridan, was not only written for men, but by men, and not just any old men, but famous men. Contributed recipes include Harry Houdini’s Devil Eggs, John Philip Sousa’s Spaghetti and Meatballs, Warren G. Harding’s Waffles, Charlie Chaplin’s Steak and Kidney Pie, John Kellogg’s Mac and Cheese, and William Jenning Bryant’s Onion Rings.


And, of course, Paducah’s Irvin Cobb had a contribution, as well. He called his recipe Hog Jowl and Turnip Greens, Paducah Style. As you can see below, it isn’t exactly clear what “Paducah Style” means by his recipe. In fact, Cobb didn’t really submit a recipe at all. His contribution was more like a joke, so the editor, Sheridan, had to supply an actual recipe.


Irvin S. Cobb


Paducah Style

For a person who has written so copiously about food and the pleasures of eating it, I probably know less of the art of preparing it than any living creature.I cannot give my favorite recipe because I have none; but I am glad to give the names of my two favorite dishes, to wit, as follows:

1st—Hog jowl and turnip greens—Paducah style

2nd—Another helping of the same.

Editor’s Note:—Hog Jowl, Paducah Style, may be prepared like this:

Get the jowl. Some prefer it cooked and served with the bone; others remove the bone before serving. Boil it in well salted water for thirty minutes, then add the turnip greens and boil at least thirty minutes longer. Serve with plenty of butter for dressing; a dash of vinegar and a semi-colon of mustard are used by some folks who are hard to please.

Beet greens could be used but they are not considered au fait, and to use spinach is an absolute faux pas.



To read the full text of The Stag Cookbook for free, follow this link.

WORKING FOR PEANUTS: Paducah’s Goober Factories

The Paducah Peanut Company at 2nd and Jefferson.

The Paducah Peanut Company at 2nd and Jefferson.


Did you know that Paducah was once home to a couple large peanut factories?!


Paducah Peanut Company first opened in 1892 and occupied the entire block corner of Second and Jefferson streets, where the lawn for the National Quilt Museum is now. Pictured is a small artist’s rendering of that first building. Their business consisted of purchasing peanuts from a grower, and then cleaning the nuts with machinery to ultimately ship to consumers. Two years after opening, the company boasted having already shipped out 300,000 bushels of peanuts. (FYI: It takes 540 peanuts to make a 12 oz. jar of peanut butter


At this period in history, the late 19th century, peanuts were not exactly a popular crop, not popular like today. While eaten and enjoyed, the peanut plant was thought too laborious to grow, harvest, and process on a large scale. It was often used as animal feed. Planters Peanuts wasn’t founded until 1906, and George Washington Carver didn’t start his influential peanut research until 1915. As such, the Paducah Peanut Company was ahead of its time. The sort of cleaning machinery the Paducah Peanut Company used at the time wasn’t seen much outside of the state of Virginia (where most of the peanuts were grown then). One early article in the Paducah Sun stated that there were only four such peanut cleaning machines west of Virginia in the early 1900’s: two in St. Louis, one in Nashville, and the one at the Paducah Peanut Company. (FYI: follow this link to read the list of 300 uses for the peanut as published by G.W. Carver, including mock oysters, hand lotion, and axel grease.


The original Paducah Peanut Company was founded and managed by J.F. Perrine who farmed peanuts himself for a couple years in Humphries County, TN before moving to Paducah to open his peanut cleaning business. By all accounts, Perrine’s business was a success for nearly 12 years. In 1903, however, another peanut moved to town. The Southern Peanut Company, run by John W. Scott, bought out the Paducah Peanut Company, and for a while, operated out of the same buildings on Second and Jefferson. They advertised to selling the “finest of Fancy Virginia, White Tennessee, and Fancy Reds” varieties of nuts. (FYI: Runner peanuts are now the most commonly grown in the United States, accounting for 80% of the crop.)


Within a year, Southern Peanut outgrew their facilities and moved into a four-story facility near the river and rail line at First and Washington streets.  The new, larger factory claimed to employ 350 people. Around the same time, Southern Peanut also purported to introduce wider peanut farming to Western Kentucky which brought a lot of tangential business to the area as well. It looked for a bit as if Western Kentucky was vying to become a peanut capital!


The peanut business wasn’t without its hazards, however. Fires were a constant threat on the grounds of the factory because of the flammability of empty peanut hulls. Fire Company No. 1 in Paducah declared the hulls “a menace to the mill and surrounding property” (Paducah Evening Sun, August 27, 1906). Also, the dust level created by the factory was said to be nearly unbelievable. The Sun reported in 1906, that “anyone who goes into the peanut factory now wonders the employees can live at all in such an atmosphere. Sometimes the air is so laden with dust, that you can see only the outline of a person across a room from you.” Because of the dust, two businesses nearby pressed litigation on Southern Peanut. The river industry claimed that the dust emitting from the factory kept them from painting their boats, and the Paducah Water factory across from Southern Peanut said that the dust from the peanuts was settling in the machinery at the water plant and injuring it. Southern Peanut ultimately smoothed things over by installing a dust collector on the roof of their mill. (FYI – OSHA now has strict guidelines for peanut mills because of the highly combustible nature of the dust created by peanut meal and skins).


As quickly as the peanut business seemed to arrive in Paducah, however, they also left. By 1907, the Southern Peanut was poised to boom. An article in the Paducah Evening Sun on June 8, 1907 stated company that reported to doing half a million dollars of business a year. The plan was to reorganize its capital stock, expand its Paducah plant, and build a new plant in Texas that would handle all kinds of southern nuts. Just a couple months later, however, a small article in the Sun on October 21, 1907 stated that the Southern Peanut Company had gone bankrupt. It’s not exactly clear from the information available what went wrong.