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PAST PADUCAHANS: Charles H. Brooks – Advocate, Author, and Odd Fellow

bROOKS

“A leading principle of our Order is its firm hope in the future…looking forward to the time when love, not fear, shall rule the human breast…the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows makes no discrimination.” –Charles H. Brooks

Born in Paducah in 1859, Charles H. Brooks grew to embody the very definitions of brilliance and success. He began teaching at age seventeen, and by the age of twenty-three had been appointed the principal of the Runkle Institute, one of the earliest state supported high schools for African-Americans in Kentucky. Seeking bigger challenges and opportunities, Brooks left Paducah in 1889 and moved to Washington D.C. to work in the Pension Bureau Office. While in D.C., he not only completed his degree in bookkeeping, but also entered law school at Howard University. Such was the respect for his character, that upon graduation from law school in 1892 he gained admission to practice before the Supreme Court of the District.

Teacher, principal, accountant, and lawyer all by the age of thirty-three…we could stop there and declare Brooks an enviably accomplished man. Not to mention the fact that he did all this while sporting a dazzling set of “friendly muttonchops” (the term for when your mustache connects to your sideburns).

Brooks’ success wouldn’t stop there, however. He’d ultimately find his greatest impact in his next venture, which wasn’t as a teacher or lawyer, but as an advocate and author for the Odd Fellows.

An Odd Fellow, you say? What is an Odd Fellow?

Essentially, the Odd Fellows was a club, a mutual aid society that focused on kindness, hard work, and charity. Whatever you call them—fraternal orders, benevolent organizations, secret societies—these clubs were all the rage in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them, like the Masons and Elks, are still around today, but a quick look in a Paducah City Directory from the 1880’s shows there used to be dozens more, including the United Order of the Golden Cross, the Independent Oder of B’Nai B’rith, the Knights of Pythias, and the Grand Army of the Republic.

The Odd Fellows got its start in England, and like any self-respecting social club, tried to trace its origins back to the Knights Templar and the Goths of the 5th century. The truth is that no one is quite sure how Odd Fellows got its start. Further, no one is quite sure where the curious name came from, though the most likely explanation is that because the members of Odd Fellows were not required to belong to any particular career or creed or faith, they came from many walks of life. Therefore, they are a gathering of “odd fellows.”

Despite those professions of inclusion, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in the United States did not welcome non-white members into its organization. Thus, in 1843, a West Indian immigrant named Peter Ogden founded a new inclusive branch called the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, after a charter in England that was inclusive to men of all races.

This is the order of Odd Fellows that Brooks first joined while teaching in Paducah and a membership that he maintained through all his subsequent careers. Brooks’s intelligence, civic mindedness, and social compassion gained such renown in the organization, that following his graduation from law school, he was unanimously elected to serve as the Grand Secretary of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. He left his job as a lawyer to work for the Odd Fellows, and used his position to spread the word about his beloved organization.

In his writings about the official mission of the G.U.O.O.F., Brooks penned these beautiful words: “The true Odd Fellow, he is out in the field, gathering the ready harvest; in the workshop, laying his strong hand to the anvil, the loom, and the forge; in the counting house, employed in the pursuits of professional labor. He is at home, fulfilling the duties of parent, husband; gladdening the hearth and the board by the virtues of the social spirit. He is by the bed of sickness, wiping the moist brow and cooling the parched lips; he is in sorrowful places ministering to poverty, comforting affliction, and relieving distress.”

Those words make you want to sign up, don’t they?

As the primary spokesman for a prominent and predominantly African-American organization, Brooks also became an early voice for civil rights in a period of time not too far removed from Emancipation. In a book Brooks wrote called “The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America,” he chronicled the establishment of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in opposition to blatant racism. With these powerful words, Brooks heralded the wisdom and conviction of founder Peter Odgen: “He [Ogden] thought it folly, a waste of time, if not self-respect, to stand, hat in hand, at the foot-stool of a class of men who, professing benevolence and fraternity, were most narrow and contracted, a class of men who judge another, not by principle and character, but by the shape of the nose, the curl of the hair, and the hue of the skin.”

Brooks served the Odd Fellows for ten years, and followed that career by operating his own real estate and insurance firm in Philadelphia. He stayed socially active with organizations like the National Negro Business League and the Reliable Mutual Aid and Improvement Society. Brooks died in 1940 at the age of 81 and is buried beside his wife in Oak Grove Cemetery, back home in Paducah.

To learn more about Charles H. Brooks or other great Paducahans, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to “Like” our Facebook page so you have access to more stories.

–Matt Jaeger

DIAMONDS ARE A TOWN’S BEST FRIEND: The Baseball Field at the Corner of Buckner and Lone Oak

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Baseball season is upon us!!

We Paducahans have extra cause to celebrate because 2016 marks the return of the Paducah Chiefs to Brooks Stadium.

In 1949, Brooks Stadium was built specifically to accommodate the Chiefs and their Kitty League games, but despite the new digs, the Chiefs only played there six years. The Kitty League disbanded in 1955, taking the Chiefs with it…until now.

(In case you didn’t know, the Kitty League was the nickname of the K-I-T League, which stood for Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee.)

baseball1However, Brooks Stadium wasn’t the first ball field built to accommodate the Paducah Chiefs. That recognition dates back to the founding of the Kitty League in 1903 and a ball field that was built that year on a spot that most of today’s Paducahans unknowingly drive past on a weekly, if not daily, basis. At the northwest corner of Buckner Lane and Lone Oak Road (cattycorner to the Coke Plant where Oasis Christian Center stands) there was once a baseball stadium that held 3500+ spectators. By comparison, Brooks Stadium seats about 1500 people.

The accompanying two maps show the exact location of where the ballfield once was and what stands in its place today. The hand drawn map dates to 1906 (Buckner was still Broadway at that time, and Lone Oak was called LaBelle). The contemporary map from Google Earth shows the area is still shaped like a baseball diamond!

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was a custom in many towns for streetcar companies to build “amusement” parks at the end of their line. Established by Paducah Street Railway, Wallace Park in Paducah began to take shape in the late 1800’s in the neighborhood currently bordered by Buckner Lane, Sycamore Drive, Lone Oak Road, and Alben Barkley Dr. The park featured a natural lake for boating and swimming, as well as a summer theater called The Casino, a dance pavilion, tennis courts, an amusement house called the Third Degree, and a “zoo” featuring alligators and prairie dogs.

When the Paducah Baseball Association needed a new field for the newly forming Kitty League, the Paducah Street Railway saw the opportunity to expand Wallace Park to include baseball. Known locally as the Wallace Park Field or League Park, the diamond saw its first game on May 21, 1903. The 1903 Kitty League included seven teams besides the Paducah Chiefs: the Cairo Egyptians, Hopkinsville Browns, Vincennes Alices, Jackson Railroaders, Henderson Blue Birds, Clarksville Villagers, and Owensboro Distillers.

12967453_502497356604701_868258046515904124_oFire would destroy the stands and dugouts a year later, but the whole thing was rebuilt in 1905 to include a “mammoth and modern grandstand” that seated more than 2400 people, plus an additional 1200 bleacher seats.

After that initial season, the Paducah Chiefs went through a few name changes and were called everything from the Indians, Paddys, and Padookeys to the Red Birds and Pole Cats. But the team started as the Chiefs in Wallace Park in 1903, ended as the Chiefs at Brooks Stadium in 1955, and now is returning as the Chiefs again in 2016.

It’s good to have baseball back in Paducah!

If you’re interested in learning more about Paducah baseball, check out Randy Morgan’s incredible book “Paducah’s Native Baseball Team” available at your McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this post, make sure to also “like” our Facebook page.

‪#‎kittyleague‬ ‪#‎baseball‬ ‪#‎paducahchiefs‬ ‪#‎brookstadium‬
–Matt Jaeger

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TODAY IN PADUCAH HISTORY: LION ATTACK…ON BROADWAY!!!!

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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.

Diavolo

Diavolo

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