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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.

PAST PADUCAHANS: Who Was A.W. Watkins?



Known throughout town as Andy, Andrew William Watkins was Paducah’s first African-American funeral director and embalmer.


Watkins was born in Tuscaloosa, AL in 1856. It is not known when he moved to Paducah, but early mentions of him all indicate that he always showed a great head for business. He started in Paducah as an express wagon driver (the early equivalent of a delivery van), and before long, he’d saved enough money to own and operate his own cab line. In 1894, in recognizing the growing need for someone to serve the funerary needs of African-Americans in Paducah, Watkins established his undertaking business in August of 1894. His first storefront was at 221 S. 7th Street, close to his personal residence. Finding great success, he later relocated to the two story brick building at 701 Washington Street, close to Washington Street Missionary Baptist Church. The building housed an office, funeral chapel, morgue, store, and trimming room (a room for building coffins). Besides being a savvy businessman, Watkins was proved to be a considerable property owner and influential civic leader, often described in the newspapers as “highly esteemed.” He was affiliated with the Masonic and Knights of Pythias lodges, and served as a long time president of the “Colored Men’s Business League.”


watkins2Watkins died on June 5, 1915 from what the newspaper described as a “long illness of stomach trouble.” He was only 50 years old at the time of his death and was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Paducah. The funeral home business survived his death and was successfully run by his nephew, D.P Rucker, for several more decades.


Recently, the McCracken County Public Library digitized 28 ledgers containing records from A.W. Watkins Funeral Home, covering the years 1894-1933. The information in the records varies, but can include the name, age, place of birth, cause of death, and burial place of the deceased; the person or fraternal organization paying for the services; items purchased for the funeral; and more.


Those digitized records are available for public access on the McCracken County Library website ( and are invaluable source for local history and genealogical research.


Photo sources: The photo of Mr. Watkins was copied from the 1915 book The Golden Jubilee of the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky. The photo of the gravestone is copied from

SEEING RED: Three Short Stories about Local, Historic Redheads


1. Were you aware that William Clark, the man who platted out Paducah, had red hair? It is reported that Native Americans in the Missouri regions called him the “the Red Head” or the “Red Head Chief” and that they called St. Louis “the Red Head’s town” because Clark lived there.


2. In 1898, it was reported that a young redheaded boy named Julius Pelcher could be seen about town carrying a garden hose or a piece of pipe, and by blowing in it, could make “very acceptable” music. Apparently, he could make any cylindrical object sound like a flute, from a roll of paper to a sewer pipe, and could repeat any tune he’d ever head. The Paducah Daily Sun reported that Julius was between 8-10 years old at the time.


3. In 1910, it was reported by both the Paducah Evening Sun and the Cairo Bulletin that a courtship had been ended because of red hair. Miss Mary B. Messey of Ballard County and Mr. Michael Givvens of Kokomo, Indiana had courted one another through the post and finally set a date to meet one another on December 17, 1910.  Mr. Givvens traveled from Indiana to Cairo, Illinois to meet his bride, and for all intents and purposes, it appeared as Miss Messey was traveling to Cairo to meet her groom as it was reported that she only brought enough money with her for a one way trip. But upon seeing Mr. Givvens for the first time, Miss Messey ran from the spot saying, “I just couldn’t live with a redheaded man. I just couldn’t.” Later, confessing to an Officer James Casey and trying to secure funds back home, Miss Messey said, “It would not make any difference if her were the mayor and the owner of the whole town. That hair would settle his case with me.”


It was reported that Miss Messey was a brunette.


For more about the crimson-locked, come see us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

The 68th Anniversary of the Day a Paducahan Became Vice President


With the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, January 20 was established as Inauguration Day for our nation’s president and vice-president. (Technically, the current president’s term doesn’t officially expire until exactly high noon on Inauguration Day) So, today, we not only recognize the swearing in of our new president and vice president, but also the anniversaries of all of those presidents and vice presidents since the 1933 elections, including our nation’s 35th Vice President, Paducah’s own Alben Barkley.

68 years ago on January 20, 1949, in front of the Capitol Building with president-elect Harry S. Truman by his side, Alben Barkley stepped forward on the inaugural platform and took this oath:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

With that, a Paducahan became Vice-President!

And also with that oath, Alben Barkley established another sort of inauguration distinction, one that he shares with Donald Trump.


At 71 years and 57 days old, Alben Barkley became the oldest person to assume the office of vice president. Similarly, as of today, Donald Trump (70 years and 220 days old) will be the oldest person to assume the office of president.

By contrast, the youngest vice-president to assume the office was John C. Breckinridge, VP under James Buchanan, at 36 years and 47 days old. With regards to the presidency, many think John F. Kennedy was the youngest, but the actual answer is Teddy Roosevelt. JFK was the youngest elected to the presidency at 43 years 236 days old, however, when Teddy Roosevelt assumed the presidency after McKinley’s assassination, he was only 42 years 322 days old.

For more about Barkley’s legacy and presidential ages, come visit the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger

*The attached photo of Barkley in the midst of his oath was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

THE BELL OF THE HALL: Today in Paducah History


Today, January 5, is the 25th anniversary of the formal dedication of the bell that sits on its marble perch in City Hall.

Now in the scope of historic events, 25 years is not that long ago. But when you know what that bell went through to get back to City Hall, the anniversary becomes rather significant.

The 134 year old bell has survived two major accidents: a fire and car wreck!!

The 3500-pound phosphor bronze bell was originally cast in 1883 by a foundry in Troy, NY and hung contentedly in the clock tower of Paducah’s old City Hall at 332 Kentucky Avenue. There it stayed for 83 years (from 1883-1966), dutifully chiming each hour.

bell2When that city hall was razed, the bell found its way into quiet storage at the Paducah Terminal Warehouse on Harrison Street. When the warehouse burned in 1983, however, the bell was found in the ashes, severely damaged and broken in three places.

The pieces of the bell then went into the hands of W.L. Beasley who stored them for safekeeping among the headstones at Beasley Monument Company at 1101 Mallory Street. But one Saturday night in 1986, a driver missed a curve and smashed into the bell on the Beasley property, breaking it in two more places.

Time had taken its toll on the poor bell. Now in five pieces, the bell looked like a dead ringer.

But in 1989, Mayor Gerry Montgomery sought help in restoring the bell and ultimately found that assistance through VMV Enterprises. Donating over 330 man hours, VMV fully restored the bell by mid-1990. W.L. Beasley found and donated a marble slab, and the 1.75-ton bell was moved to its permanent spot on Halloween Day in 1991.

Which brings us to the anniversary we honor today, the bell’s formal dedication on January 5, 1992 during the inauguration and swearing in ceremonies exactly 25 years ago!!

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

–Matt Jaeger

TODAY IN PADUCAH HISTORY: The Carnegie Library Fire


On this day, December 30, in 1964, Paducah’s first public library, the Carnegie Library, caught fire.

The determined cause of the fire?

A faulty Christmas light.

Pictured here is the shell of the building after the fire. The photo is part of the McCracken County Public Library’s Harriet Boswell Collection which you can view at



The carolers begin their tune very courteously…
“We wish you a Merry Christmas…”

But then they get a little pushy…
“Now bring us some figgy pudding

And then they get downright rude…
“We won’t go until we get some…”

But the carolers’ manners aside, the old Christmas song begs the question: Just what is figgy pudding? To get an idea, think of something like a fancy fruitcake.

Figgy pudding (also sometimes called plum pudding or Christmas pudding) is a dense cake, shaped like the container it is made in, often a bowl. It is filled with all manners of dried and candied fruits, as well as spices associated with the holidays: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. It is generally cooked by steaming, rather than baking. It is often soaked in alcohol. It can be eaten right away, or if preserved by alcohol, can be stored for months and reconstituted by further steaming. It is often soaked with brandy and lit on fire just before serving.


In olden days, figgy pudding became a dish reserved for the holidays because it was a luxury item. Though common now, the spices used were an extravagance in pre-Victorian times, so the dish became synonymous with wealth and indulgence. Preparation and cooking often took a full day, made doubly difficult when considering that it all happened on a cast-iron stove heated by wood or coal. And not just anyone could make a figgy pudding either. It took a masterful hand; all could wrong very quickly. Remember this scene from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol?”

”But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up, and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose: a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered: flushed, but smiling proudly: with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

So after all this history, surely you want some figgy pudding now. How could you not? And if you’re looking for a historically accurate recipe, look no further than your Local and Family History Department.

figgyOne of the oldest local cookbooks we have in our collection (if not the oldest) dates back to 1896, the end of the Victorian era, which was prime time for puddings. “The New Paducah Cook Book” was published by Sun Press for the benefit of Grace Episcopal Church at 9th and Broadway. There are many, many recipes for steamed puddings in the book, but the following recipe for plum pudding looks most similar to a traditional Christmas pudding.

“One pound of beef suet; one pound of sugar; three-fourths pound of bread crumbs; one pound of flour; one pound of raisins; one pound of currents; one-half pound of candied orange peel; one-half pound of candied lemon peel; one-half pound citron; one pound of almonds; six eggs; one quart of sweet milk; one teaspoon salt, cloves and cinnamon, each; two nutmegs. Mix suet, sugar and bread crumbs; then add the flour and fruit. Beat eggs and add to milk last thing. Steam seven hours.”

That’s it. Easy as pie. So get to it and whip up a figgy pudding. And if you do, make sure you bring some down to the Local and Family History Department.

Seriously, bring us some figgy pudding.
We won’t go until we get some.

–Matt Jaeger

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