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.”