Tag: Kentucky History (page 1 of 2)


Drinking Fountain from 1910

Drinking Fountain from 1910

It’s still there.

Likely you pass by it all the time and hardly notice.

You may have even seen a rendering of it on Paducah’s flood wall.

What are we talking about?

A drinking fountain…for a horse.

Of course, of course.


Next time you drive down Broadway toward the river, glance to your right as you pass 10th St./Walter Jetton Blvd, and you’ll see the horse fountain still standing, only 15 feet from its original spot.  Note, too, that it probably has just as much water in it now as when it was first installed in 1908…



The idea for a horse drinking fountain was first proposed for the city of Paducah by Frederick Tilghman, son of General Lloyd Tilghman, on September 18, 1907. Though born in Paducah, Frederick hadn’t visited the city since he was a boy, and was in town to make arrangements for an eight foot tall bronze statue of his father to be erected in Lang Park. Enamored of the city he’d left long ago, Mr. Tilghman proposed the procurement of a second monument: a drinking fountain that would provide clean water to horses, and dogs.  It was an issue close to Mr. Tilghman’s heart for he also happened to be vice president of the National Humane Alliance in New York, a precursor to the Humane Society.


Because Tilghman offered to foot the $1000 bill, the city accepted the proposed fountain and decided to place it at the intersection of 10th and Broadway.


Details of the fountain reached the Paducah Evening Sun on October 11 of that year. Under the headline “Humane Society Fountain Will Be Shipped At Once,” the article stated, “The fountain will be six feet, six inches high from the ground to the top. The large bowl for the use of horses will be six feet in diameter and carved from a single piece of granite. At the base will be four cups or basins to contain water for dogs.”  One side of the fountain held a plaque in honor of the National Humane Alliance’s president, Herman Lee Ensign. The other three sides held large lion heads with streams of water flowing from their mouths into the bowl below.


Drinking Fountain as pictured on the Flood Wall

Drinking Fountain as pictured on the Flood Wall

Despite the statement that the fountain would be “shipped at once,” miscommunication with the National Humane Alliance’s secretary delayed the delivery significantly. The Evening Sun reported on December 2, 1907 that the fountain wouldn’t be shipped for another couple weeks, and since it was coming from Maine, that likely put the arrival of the sizable granite structure sometime at the beginning of the new year.


While the fountain eventually arrived virtually assembled and ready be placed, we must flash forward another eight months to August 5, 1908, for it was then that newspaper ran a front page article that the fountain had finally reached its home at 10th and Broadway. With that, one might think the story would end there, that the horses and dogs of the city had finally received their long awaited oasis.


But, no.


Skip forward yet another year to July 21, 1909. Buried in a long column of city news on page 3, the Evening Sun reported that “City Engineer Washington said he would connect the fountain at Tenth Street and Broadway soon with the water mains, and start the water to running. The fountain has been completed about a year, but has never been put to use.”


That’s right. The fountain was installed but never hooked up.


Two weeks later, the paper reported that the fountain was in need of a reducing valve which was “expected any day.”


And then, after nearly two years , news of the fountain finally ran dry.


We don’t know exactly when the first drop dripped out of the lions’ mouths, but we do know it was sometime before or during  1910 as we do have a photo from that year (pictured below) of the fountain in operation. And don’t feel too bad for our animal friends either. While the fountain may have been a beautiful addition to the city, it wasn’t their only source of refreshment. Troughs were located throughout town, creeks were much more prevalent, and there’s a pretty sizable river nearby, as well.


To learn more about your favorite watering hole, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

Drinking Fountain Today

Drinking Fountain Today


Tonight’s McCracken County Fair events are scheduled to include both a talent show and the Western horse show, but in 1910 a very different type of competition took place at the fair among the farmers of Western Kentucky.

That competition was a tobacco growers’ contest and the September 28, 1910 issue of the Paducah Evening Sun rightly called the dark tobacco market of Western Kentucky, “the keenest rivalry of the entire exhibits at the fairgrounds.”

It was noted at the time that the finest tobacco growing out of the fertile soil of the Jackson Purchase traditionally came from Ballard, Graves, Marshall, and Calloway counties. However, the 1910 fair saw two McCracken County farmers pull off a surprising upset over the perennial powerhouse tobacco farmers of Western Kentucky.

A tobacco barn

The two planters in question were none other than J.W. Harris and his son Earl, who took home five out of the six prizes for tobacco that year. No small feat, considering the rich, tobacco growing history of the region. The Harris duo took home first place and second place for their Italian tobacco, first place for manufactured tobacco, first place for Snuff, and also won for samples numbering over 100.

The monetary earnings of the Harris’ prizes aggregated to $100, a sum that numbers to over $2,000 of today’s dollars when accounting for inflation, and their first-rate tobacco netted them other gifts as well. All in all, the father and son’s hard work translated into a well-deserved pay day for two Kentucky farmers.

For more information about the McCracken County Fair, the history of tobacco farming in Western Kentucky, or the history of our region in general, please visit us at the McCracken County Public Library Local and Family History Department.


–Aaron Williams


Get Ready, Get Set...

Get Ready, Get Set…

Many of you are likely headed to the McCracken County Fair tonight to witness the Weiner Dog Races, which sounds fairly amusing, but in taking a look back at the line up from the 1903 McCracken County Fair, we’ve found an animal attraction on a slightly larger scale.


Beyond the harness races (which the fair still features today), the attractions from over a hundred years ago included a wide variety of circus-like acts:


Advertisement for the 1903 McCracken County Fair.

Advertisement for the 1903 McCracken County Fair.

An eccentric acrobat (awesome!)

Trick mule and clowns (incredible!)

A bagpipe band (stupendous!)

A monkey walking a rope (phenomenal!)

Captain Sigbee’s famed mathematical horse, Princess Trixy (mind blowing!)


But the true headliners of the 1903 McCracken County Fair must have been W.H. Barnes’ Famous Diving Elks.


We’re not talking about members of the local Elks Club here; we’re talking about the actual animal—burly and antlered and four-legged.


Their trainer, W.H. Barnes of Sioux City, Iowa, began displaying his gifted ruminants at fairs before the turn of the 20th century, but his teaching of the animals had started many years before that. The idea came after observing elk naturally, and without seeming concern on their parts, jumping over or from any obstacle in their way. He built a slight incline which he trained the animals to ascend and then to leap from.  Their first jumps were a mere five feet high, but with Barnews raising the incline incrementally, the elks reached twenty feet before the end of their first winter—a height which began to garner the troupe some recognition, though only half the height they’d ultimately achieve. By the time they reached the McCracken County Fair in 1903, the elks were jumping from a forty foot tower into a tank sixteen feet across and only six foot deep.




By today’s laws and standards, the training of elks (or any other animal) to jump off of high platforms into a tank of water sounds ghastly, if not cruel, so please keep in mind that we in the Local and Family History Department do not condone or revel in the practice.  But it’s hard not recognize that 101 years ago the citizens of McCracken County must have marveled at the sight of a 500 pound beast swan-diving into a shallow pool.


Mr. Barnes himself was a little astonished at their success, having said, “I did not realize what a sensation the elks would create, as I have put in so much time training them and raising the elevation foot by foot that I have become, like the elks, used to it.  But I have since been told thousands of times that it is one of the most wonderful feats ever accomplished with animals.”


The elks had no comment.


For more about questionable animal stunts, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

A CRACK IN THE CONE: The Great Paducah Ice Cream Probe of 1910

ice cream 4

We’ve been blessed by a relatively mild spring and summer to this point, but Paducah has finally begun to swelter in true Ohio Valley fashion. Temperatures in the 90’s are expected all week, and with the arrival of a such a hot spell, one’s mind can’t help but wander toward things cooler—swimming pools, gentle breezes, frosty beverages, and, of course…




We approached today’s post with the hope of finding out a little bit about the history of ice cream in Paducah. The popularity of ice cream, like the settlement of Paducah, rose in prominence throughout the 1800’s, so we thought for sure that we’d find an amusing anecdote or two about the frozen confection  in some of the early editions of The Paducah Sun.


Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

Soules Ice Cream, Paducah

But we found a scant few, however. For instance, as early as 1897, a drug store in Paducah called Soules took out a daily ad in The Sun to advertise their ice cream flavors: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and orange. Brief notices of ice cream socials and ice cream suppers dotted the community listings, particularly among women’s groups and church functions. There are even a couple references at the turn of the 20th century to “diplomatic ice cream” being served at fancy dinner parties, a dessert made of layers of ice cream, rum-soaked ladyfingers, and diced fruit.


While these mentions of ice cream are pleasant enough, they are only mildly interesting and hardly worthy of a whole story. But then we ran across a headline from an August 1, 1910 Paducah Sun which read, “Ice Cream Cone To Be Analyzed.”


Our interest immediately peaked.


The article went further to state, “At a meeting of the board of health this afternoon…Dr. S.Z. Holland, city health officer, was authorized to procure an ice cream cone, against which a national fight is now being made, and have it analyzed to ascertain the ingredients. The analysis will probably be made by Dr. G.C. McKinney at the Illinois Central Railroad Hospital and should it result in improper materials being used the board will prohibit their future sale here.”


This sounds a bit like a kneejerk reaction by city officials. To ban a beloved food based on the testing of a single cone seems a little extreme. Yet, when the Paducah Sun article said that the ice cream cone was in the midst of a “national fight,” they weren’t kidding.


Throughout the U.S., the ice cream cone was under attack.


For all intents and purposes, the ice cream cone in America was only 6 years in 1910, having been introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. With over 50 vendors at the Fair and millions of visitors trying them out, the popularity of the ice cream cone skyrocketed. As such, many tried to cash in the cone’s immediate success, and with federal food regulation in its infancy, the cone was a prime target for some shady practices.


Between the years of 1905 and 1910, illnesses and deaths attributed to contaminated ice cream cones were reported in newspapers throughout the country. Finally, in 1910, the federal government stepped in. Under the authority of Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture and the new laws enabled by the recent passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act (the predecessor to the FDA), ice cream cones started to be tested and regulated, and if they were found to be faulty, they were seized. On July 9, 1910, regulators apprehended 4.5 million ice cream cones from a New York harbor. Affected cones were found to contain sawdust, clay, shavings, wrapping paper, and boric acid.


No wonder then that Paducah officials got a little leery.


Surely when the announcement came on August 1, 1910 that ice cream cones were to be analyzed and possibly discontinued in Paducah, the entire citizenry waited with sugary-bated breath to know whether they’d still be able to consume their delectable cylinders. They had to wait exactly 9 days for the results. On August 10, 1910, The Paducah Sun published the findings. According to Dr. G.C. McKinney, the cones “contained a mixture of sugar and a combination of protein and starch—probably wheat flour cooked. No clay or other foreign substances were found. The cones are not adulterated as chemists have found the cones sold in the large cities.”


The ice cream cones were safe to eat! And all of Paducah must have sighed with relief until they read the article a little further. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Dr. McKinney had not only tested the cones, he had also tested their contents…the ice cream itself. Said the article, “The ice cream with which they [the cones] are filled is of the cheapest quality. The contents of the cones is not ice cream at all, but a mixture of water, gelatin, and starch sweetened and flavored. The stuff is about equal in nutrition to a mixture of one-tenth milk and nine-tenths water.”


While the cone was fine, the cream left much to be desired, so much so that the examiner stated that the ingredients were “not recommended as food for children.” Thus, the exonerated cone ended up losing after all for the paper speculated that steps would be taken to stop the sale of all cones in the city unless better ingredients were used in the cream.


To learn more about sweet treats and bitter defeats, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger


Do It Yourself

Do It Yourself

GHOST OF A GRAVEYARD: THE Cemetery at the Foot of the Ledbetter Bridge


William Michael Oliver's headstone

William Michael Oliver’s headstone

Anyone who has ever engaged in genealogical research knows how many cemeteries are really out there, many more than you usually see on a day to day basis as you drive through town. Cemeteries abound in the oddest of places, tucked away in all sorts of corners, coves, and cloisters, on top of hills, in the middle fields, even on an island in Kentucky Lake.


Many of these hidden cemeteries have long since been abandoned as active burial sites, and quite a few of them are difficult to access, certainly by car but occasionally by foot too. If not for dedicated researchers and catalogers, as well as sites like findagrave.com, who knows how many of these resting places might get forgotten all together.


We bring your attention today to one such cemetery. It is a small area, serving as a resting place to just a few folks (16 according to findagrave.com). No one especially famous is buried there; the gravestones aren’t especially spectacular, if they exist at all; the grounds are hidden from the street; and there are no legends or ghost stories associated with any of the plots or inhabitants.


The graveyard, which has gone by upwards of four different names over the last century and a half, is significant because of its location. The Oliver/Riverview/Jones/Habeck Cemetery happens to lie at the foot of the Ledbetter Bridge on the McCracken County side just off of Camelback Road. And if you’ve seen the news reports about the bridge in the last couple of months, you know that it’s quickly collapsing because of land slippage. In fact, if you look at Google Maps, the bridge still exists in close up, but has already been removed from the wide view.


The demolition of the bridge is inevitable, yet what that means for this little cemetery is unclear. We in the Local and Family History Department make no claims to be either demolition or geological experts, but between the land slippage and the impending wrecking of the bridge, we didn’t think it would hurt to draw a little attention to this plot, if for no other reason than to let people know it’s there.  While those interred are few and perhaps not especially notorious, they still have stories and legacies which deserve to be remembered.


Enoch Lagore's headstone

Enoch Lagore’s headstone

The oldest stone belongs to Enoch Lagore (1820 – 1870), a Union soldier in the Civil War serving in the 131st Infantry as a surgeon. Not long before his death, he married a woman 22 years his junior named Temperance who, after widowed, married a man named Herman Habeck. Temperance, also known as Tempe, likely lent her new last name as one of the names of the cemetery. Three others with the last name Lagore were also buried here; their dates of birth and death are unknown.


Also, interred here is Flossie Blanche Nuckols Williams who was quite young when she died, only 23 years old. According to an 1897 article in the Paducah Sun, Flossie, then 15 years old, ran away from Eddyville, KY with her boyfriend Alonzo Williams, and came to Paducah to get married. Because she didn’t have parental consent, the Paducah courts refused to marry the couple. But as The Sun said, “Love laughs deeply at deputy clerks as well as locksmiths, and took the morning boat to Metropolis where they were married this forenoon.” Flossie died a few years later in 1904. Just twelve days out from delivering a stillborn child, Flossie began convulsing while talking with friends and died a short time later. The Sun reports that the “funeral took place at the Haybeck [sic] cemetery in the county.” Three others with the last name Nuckols are buried here; their dates of birth and death are unknown.


M.E. Craig, wife of PJ Craig, was buried here not long after Flossie. M.E. was either 58 or 18 years old at the time of her death; the numbers on the stone have faded to the point of questionability. The death of an Elizabeth Craig  death was posted in The Sun on August 3, 1905 under the headline “Death from Fish Bone.” Two weeks before her death she pricked her middle finger with a fish bone, poisoning set in, and she passed in a fortnight. The Sun reported she was buried in Jones cemetery in the county on the same day of her death. Though we’re not 100% positive that Elizabeth Craig and M.E. Craig are the same person, the similar name and matching date of death indicate there might be a connection, plus the fact that we know the cemetery near the Ledbetter Bridge was once known as Jones Cemetery.


The Levan headstone

The Levan headstone

A couple was buried here. Under a single headstone bearing the words “Father” and “Mother” at the top, William Newton and Barbara Lane Levan rest in peace beside each other. Not much has been found about them excepting that William was a farmer and that once his wife Barbara was gored in the arm by a cow while milking it. The gash was apparently severe, exposing the bone. The goring was not the cause of her death, however. She recovered in due time. No, by known accounts, William and Barbara didn’t die by any particularly tragic means. Though dying in different years, both lived to be 71 years old.


Finally, a quick word about the last person to be buried here, also the person bearing the largest, most noticeable headstone…William Michael Oliver. Mr. Oliver didn’t pass until 1941, a gap of 30+ years since the previous burial. At the time, he owned the property (called Riverview then) on which the cemetery sat, which was why the burial place ultimately bore his name. William Oliver was a lawyer in McCracken County along with his brother George. The Oliver brothers not only shared the law practice, they also married sisters,  Ruth and Inez Parker. Oliver was the oldest member of the McCracken County bar at the time of his death at age 75.


The future of the Oliver/Riverview/Jones/Habeck may be a little uncertain, but a least we a few records to keep its memory alive. Many thanks to fellow librarian, Eileen Smith, for bringing the news of this precarious little graveyard to our attention. If anyone out there has more information about this cemetery or the families within, please contact.


Google Map view of the back of William Oliver's headstone.

Google Map view of the back of William Oliver’s headstone.

Except for the Google street view of the overgrown William Oliver headstone, the rest of the pictures come from the FindaGrave listing for Oliver Cemetery… http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gsr&GScid=2442235


To learn more about this and more, please visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.


–Matt Jaeger

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: The Legend of the Belled Buzzard


A belled buzzard

A belled buzzard

“Once, years and years and years ago, someone trapped a buzzard, and before freeing it clamped about its skinny neck a copper band with a cowbell pendent from it. Since then the bird so ornamented has been seen a hundred times–and heard oftener–over an area as wide as half the continent. It has been reported, now in Kentucky, now in Texas, now in North Carolina–now anywhere between the Ohio River and the Gulf.”

The above lines come from the short story The Belled Buzzard by Paducah-born author and actor Irvin S. Cobb, a murder mystery set in a southern swamp in which the murderer, Squire Gathers, is continually haunted by the vision (and sound) of a buzzard, or turkey vulture, with a bell around its neck.

The story was first published in the September 28, 1912 edition of The Saturday Evening Post and was an instant sensation. While a newspaper man for many years, Cobb was relatively new to the world of fiction (though some might say his journalism danced around the edges of factuality). With the publication of The Belled Buzzard, however, Cobb found a voice that resonated with readers and established him as a contender in not just the world of journalism, but also storytelling. In fact, many future articles about Cobb cited The Belled Buzzard as one of his greatest tales.

While surely a masterfully written story and deserving of all its kudos, the legend of a buzzard with a bell around its neck was not wholly a construct of Cobb’s imagination. The lines quoted above weren’t just rhetoric; for more than half a century, from pre Civil War through the 1920s, sightings of a belled buzzard spanned the southern and eastern United States.


Cobb, as a newspaperman, surely read many of these reports. In fact, in an interview with the New York Sun, Cobb’s wife, Laura, talked about her husband’s writing of The Belled Buzzard, “I have never known him to write a story until he has worked it over in his mind for a couple months or more. He tells me that he has always a hundred germs developing at a time, and that he will not live long enough to write all his stories. A year before he wrote The Belled Buzzard he was visiting in Georgia. We were sitting on a front porch one morning and a huge buzzard flew past. Mr. Cobb recalled a Southern story about a belled buzzard, and remarked that he guessed he would weave a plot round it. Just one year later he finished the developing and wrote the story.”


The cover of "The Post" in which Cobb's story first appeared.

The cover of “The Post” in which Cobb’s story first appeared.

Enough reports about a belled buzzard are on record, that its existence is probably not a hoax. Though its exact origins are unclear, it seems that someone at some point in time actually captured a buzzard and tied a bell around its neck. The chiming bird flew away and thus the legend began. However, the span and breadth of sightings are so far and wide, that a single belled buzzard seems unrealistic. Actually, it would be impossible. Sightings occurred from Pennsylvania to Texas, and while a turkey vulture lives on average about 20 years, the newspaper reports cover more than 60 years. This means there must have been several belled buzzards which made the tying of bells around the necks of turkey vultures, oddly enough, sort of a trend.

In Kentucky alone there were numerous reports. The first reference I found, reported in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian in 1889, actually declares the capturing of the belled buzzard. S.R. Boyd found the tintinnabulous bird on his farm, its wing crippled by a gunshot. Mr. Boyed removed the bell and “kindly placed the buzzard upon the carcass of a shoat, where he was left to enjoy himself.” The bell was engraved with the words : M.K. White, Garrettsburg, KY, 1881. Despite the buzzard’s capture and unbelling, a decade later, as stated in the Livingston Banner, Mr. George Jarrett and others in his company saw the buzzard in plain sight along with the bell which “was distinctly heard and was very much like the sound of a sheep bell.”

In 1897, the buzzard was even spotted in Grahamville, right here in McCracken County. The Johnson boys of Grahamville were outside burning a pile of rubbish when they heard the sound of a bell. According to the Paducah Sun, the boys “finally discovered that the sound came from overhead, and looking up they perceived a buzzard circling about above them, and could even see the bell.”

Of course, a cub reporter for The Sun at the time this article was printed was none other than Irvin S. Cobb.

In subsequent years, the buzzard was seen throughout central and western Kentucky, as well as in many other states. However, in 1910, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian brought shocking news with the report of the death of the belled buzzard in Carlisle, KY. Said the article, “On top of a hay stack on the farm of J.C. Arthur, near here, was found the carcass of the belled buzzard, which for a number of years, has visited all parts of Kentucky. When found the buzzard had a turkey bell fastened to its neck with a leather strap.”

A sad day for all fans of large, musically adorned birds.


But if you think that was the end of the belled buzzard, you’d be sorely mistaken! Like a phoenix from the ashes, the buzzard rose again, spotted a couple years later in Crittenden County and in Pulaski, TN, and for many more years to come…even after Mr. Cobb published his famous story.

For whom does the bell toll?

Not for thee, Belled Buzzard!!

Ring a ding, ding!


To read Cobb’s story The Belled Buzzard in its entirety, follow this link: http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/10586/

To learn more about Irvin Cobb himself, please visit the McCracken County Public Library on June 26 at 7:00 p.m. for a program on Cobb’s life and work presented by Andrew Halford. More information about this program can be found on the library’s website at www.mclib.net

And to learn more about carrion carillons, visit us in the Local and Family history Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

-Matt Jaeger

BETWEEN THE BUNS: A Short History of the Hamburger in Paducah

Photo is not of a Paducah hamburger stand, but one similar to those found at the turn of the 20th century.

Photo is not of a Paducah hamburger stand, but one similar to those found at the turn of the 20th century.

March 28 was National Hamburger Day.

Let the rejoicing begin.

We who work in the Local and Family History Department are quite fond of our hamburgers (so much so that they are often times a matter of debate and salivation behind the desk). Thus, it only stands to reason that on this glorious holiday we should spend a little time researching Paducah’s history with this beacon of foods.

Hamburger steaks have likely been around as long as people figured out how to mince beef. The emergence of the hamburger steak between two slices of bread, however, looks to be an invention of the late 19th or early 20th century. Several lay claim to the creation of the sandwich from a county fair in Wisconsin to a street vendor in Texas to a German cook in New York who was trying to recreate a popular sailors’ lunch from his homeland. Though we may not be able to figure out exactly who invented the hamburger as we know it today, all the early claims fall between the years of 1895 and 1904.

There are a few references to hamburger steaks in editions of The Paducah Sun from the late 1800’s, but the earliest mention of a proprietor serving something just called “a hamburger” was in 1902. Sam Gott, a saloon owner and restaurateur, owned a few businesses in Paducah yet his flagship establishment was located on North Fourth Street. He advertised his lunch specials daily in The Sun, and his early fare included Pork & Turnips, Rabbit, Veal, Barbecued Spring Lamb, and Turtle Soup. Long about 1902, and several times a week thereafter Mr. Gott started advertising “the best lunch the market affords…go there tonight for a nice hamburger.” As there was no description or recipe, it’s unclear as to whether this meal was the hamburger sandwich as we think of it, though not once did Sam Gott’s advertising ever use the word steak.

Following Mr. Gott’s plate lunch specials in 1902, Paducah seemed to burgeon with street food vendors for the next few years. “Hamburgers and Hot Tamales? Go to Shorty’s on 117 S. Third.” Lem Parker had his hamburger stand on the corner of Broadway and Jefferson at Fourth Street. There were stands all over the city it seems. Next to Weille’s Department Store sat one such stand. It was a prime and well-trafficked area of Broadway, yet that small stand was the victim of an inexplicable Christmas-time crime on December 23, 1904. According to The Sun, at 7:00 that evening, the “hamburger man” was in his small house cooking up his wares when a “drunken farmer” stopped, pulled a large canon cracker from his pants pocket, lit the fuse with his cigar, and threw it under the stand. The hamburger man was unhurt and his stand only suffered a little broken glass. The drunken farmer got away.

Hamburger stands were so popular in this time that the Chief of Police James Collins ordered the vendors to take their food off the streets at night, as the scent of so many hamburgers was driving people indoors while the “plaintive cries of ‘red hot’ almost made many candidates for the asylum.”

While none of the of these stands advertised hamburger steaks, there is still no mention of bread, so it is unclear to this point whether Paducah had yet discovered the joys of the real hamburger. It wasn’t until 1906 that The Paducah Sun first used the phrase hamburger sandwich. Unfortunately the hamburger sandwich wasn’t celebrated in the article. In fact, it was listed as a cause of a shooting. On July 23, 1906, John Mix got into a scuffle with Cicero Anderson at Graham’s Saloon on 9th and Kentucky. Anderson ended up fatally shooting Mix in the abdomen. Said an eyewitness, “The shooting is the result of a quarrel over a pint of whiskey and half a hamburger sandwich.”

A shooting at a saloon.

What a horrible place to stake our hamburger heritage!

However, the mere mention of a “hamburger sandwich” in a police blotter does not establish a precedent. By 1906 we may have had bread included with our hamburgers, but where are the toppings? True hamburgers—note-worthy, historically relevant burgers—must have toppings as well. For that we flash forward to February 1909 and a much more pleasing anecdote again published in the Paducah Sun.

A farmer of meager means approached Lem Parker’s hamburger stand on Fourth and Jefferson. Seeing that hamburgers were only a nickel, he ordered one. Lem, the proprietor, asked the farmer if he wanted onions or pickles. Not knowing any better or thinking he was being misled by a city boy, the farmer said, “Neither. I want a meat hamburger.” Lem then proceeded to construct the sandwich for the naïve farmer—onions, pickles, and meat between slices of bread. In the words of The Sun, “The farmer devoured it with relish.”

That was that farmer’s introduction to the hamburger, and, as far as we know, Paducah’s introduction as well. Our history with the hamburger may be a little sketchy, falling somewhere between 1902 and 1909, but what we do know for absolute sure is that we have a lot of fine burgers in this town now. Just ask us in Local and Family History. We’ve tried them all.

For more about “Food, Glorious Food” or inane, arbitrary holidays, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

–Matt Jaeger


Though not a Paducah scene, this was the same German Village brought to the Elks Fair in 1901.

Though not a Paducah scene, this was the same German Village brought to the Elks Fair in 1901.


This weekend, Paducah celebrates the Lowertown Arts and Music Festival, one of the many great festivals held in our fair city every year. But the festival atmosphere is certainly nothing new to Paducahans, and in fact, during this week in Paducah history, May 14-18, 1901, the town was in the midst of a massive carnival sponsored by the Elks Club. Held in the Downtown/Lowertown area with the main attractions showcased on a lot at Ninth and Broadway, the carnival brought festival-goers from as far away as Evansville, Louisville, and St. Louis. According to the May 16, 1901 issue of the Paducah Sun, “The crowd in the city today is estimated to be the largest ever here at one time before in the history of Paducah,” which proved later to be about 12,000 people on that one day alone.

1901 wasn’t the first year for the Elks carnival. It had been started two years prior in 1899, but for those first two years the carnival was a relatively small affair, a local fundraiser, if you will. Even the early accounts for the 1901 carnival didn’t tout the event as being quite so spectacular. A major attraction, as reported in a February 1901 edition of The Sun, was to be the inclusion of a nursery for children… “where people may leave their children in the care of good, responsible nurses and have them checked like a trunk at the depot or an overcoat at the hotel.”

Something happened in the interim months, however; the size of the carnival grew, expanding from a weekend to a full five days. Midway performers were brought in from out of town. The event was advertised far and wide, up and down the rivers. The carnival grew such that it essentially took over the entire city, to the point that Mayor Lang handed over the city to the Elks on opening day, formally putting the Elks in charge of the city for the duration of the event.

Said Elks’s Director General Lagomarsino to a crowd of thousands upon receiving the key to the city – “Ladies and Gentlemen—In these days of mad racing for wealth, when we live two days in one day, and the duties of two weeks are crowded into one, it becomes a necessity to devise some means which will relax the tightly strung nerves and give rest to the over-taxed brain. A means by which this end may be attained should be hailed with delight by the whole people and the projectors thereof should have their comfort and support in their arduous labors. Such we claim this carnival to be.”

The townspeople took this mandate to heart. With the fair beginning at 1:30 pm each afternoon of that week, the vast majority of merchants and banks in town agreed to close shop by early afternoon so their employees could attend. The post office shut down. Children were let out of school early.

Big Joe Grimes of Cincinnati, once thought to be the heaviest man in the world at 764 pounds.

Big Joe Grimes of Cincinnati, once thought to be the heaviest man in the world at 764 pounds.

The scope and variety of the attractions at the 1901 Elks Carnival were second to none, and likely novelties to many of the festival-goers of the early 20th century. We don’t have a complete list of Midway performers and attractions, but we know of a few…
*a wild animal menagerie
*camel rides
*a German Village which featured musical and comedy acts, as well as beer and sausages
*the Ladies Auxiliary “fish pond” from which prizes could be drawn
*the Streets of India tent which featured acrobatics and “oriental” dancing girls
*the famous Backman Glass Blowing demonstration with a working glass steam engine as well as glass dresses, neck ties, and pin cushions
*a Flower Parade, not unlike the Rose Bowl Parade in concept, during which the crowd threw so much confetti that it stood ankle-deep in the streets. As reported, “Every body caught throwing flour, rice, or anything other than confetti will be arrested by order of Director Lagomarsino.”
*the Thompson High Divers, a husband and wife team. “The man dives one hundred feet and his wife about half that far. They are paid five hundred dollars a week for this feature.”
*Madame Roltare, a palm reader out of Chicago. The paper praised her as a “highly educated young woman” who “deserves the popularity that she is winning.”
*Joe Grimes, “the fat boy,” who tipped the scales at 740 pounds. Mr. Grimes made his living with his girth and had actually been to Paducah before, helping advertise a bicycle firm.

Of course, no major event is without its mishaps. One of the performers from the “Streets of India,” a Mr. Jeff Presley of Knoxville, tried to jump a fence at Ninth and Broadway and landed on the iron fence at Grace Episcopal, striking one of the pickets through his foot. In trying to dislodge himself, Mr. Presley succeeded in piercing the other foot as well. The paper reported he was in “very bad condition.”

Also, one of the hyenas from the Midway menagerie managed to escape its cage at two ‘o clock in the morning and wandered over to the “Streets of India” tent, finding its way into the sleeping quarters where the “Turks” were at rest. The sniffing beast woke one of the performers who promptly rolled himself into his blanket, figuring the hungry creature wouldn’t want to eat the blanket as well. He was right. The was ultimately lassoed and returned to its cage without further incident.

All told, the Elks fair of 1901 brought in 80,000 paid admissions—a staggering figure for the time. After expenses, the Elks profited $6000, approximately $150,000 in today’s money. The carnival proved to be so popular that it ran for many more years after 1901, getting a little bigger and better each time.

To learn more about menageries, mishaps, and Midways, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

Backman's Steam Engine

Backman’s Steam Engine



Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson

Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson

Popular history (which includes Wikipedia) states that the founder of Mother’s Day in the United States was a West Virginian woman named Anna Marie Jarvis who on May 10, 1908 organized a celebration at a local church to celebrate the memory of her mother and to honor all mothers. Following her initial celebration, Miss Jarvis started a campaign, soliciting national executives and politicians to recognize the commemorative day. Her efforts paid off for in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a holiday.

Not to take away from Miss Jarvis’ persistence and hard work (her recognition is certainly deserved), but there’s evidence that some of the seeds for a Mother’s Day celebration were planted many years earlier in Henderson, KY at the impetus of a schoolteacher, Miss Mary Towles Sasseen.

In 1885, Miss Towles, aged 25, became a teacher and the principal of the primary department at the Center Street School in Henderson. She was described as being quite tall with auburn hair, a quick wit, and even quicker smile. She was once quoted as once saying, “Say what you’d like to say, just say it with a smile.”

Her efforts to found a day in honor of mothers started early in her career. Within the first couple of years of teaching, she’d already organized a program in her school to celebrate motherhood. Held on April 20, her own mother’s birthday, she wrote poems and stories that her students recited and invited her students’ mothers to be present.

Miss Sasseen’s efforts didn’t stop with a local celebration. It was said that she traveled extensively, addressing organizations and meetings around the country to promote the idea that there should be a national day set aside to honor mothers. In 1893 Miss Sasseen published a 32-page pamphlet entitled “Mother’s Day Celebration” in which she wrote: “It suggested itself to me that by celebrating Mother’s Day once a year, much of the veneration, love and respect due to parents might, by song, verse, and story, be inculcated in the next generation. By a Mother’s Day, I mean a day on which parents shall be invited to the school and a programme presented, the recitations being on the subject of mother, the songs referring to home.”

Recognition of her efforts to establish a Mother’s Day did not go unheeded by the wider public. In 1899 Miss Sasseen sought state office as the Democratic nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Her biography circulated in newspapers throughout the state, and each included the following declaration: “She is an author and originator of Mother’s Day. Within the past five years she has, unaided, secured the adoption of the day of the day in a large number of States and cities, like Boston, Brooklyn and Little Rock have had from 10,000 to 14,000 pupils in line, singing songs of home and reciting poems in honor of mother (Richmond Climax, June 7, 1899).

Miss Sasseen, who became Mrs. Wilson in 1904, unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see the continued efforts of Miss Jarvis in 1907 or the institution of a national Mother’s Day in 1914. In an ironically tragic twist of fate, Mary Towles Sasseen Wilson died in childbirth in 1906. She had no other children.

However, her obituary from the Henderson Gleaner stated that she “will long be remembered for her institution of ‘Mothers’ Day’ in the schools,” and in 1926 the Kentucky state legislature honored her as the “originator of the idea of a Mother’s Day celebration.”

And we still remember her today!

So three cheers and a big bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Sasseen Wilson for her role in creating (and you can tell my mom I said this) the most wonderful, richly deserved, and mom-tastic holiday of all time!

For more information about Kentucky moms, visit the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.




While our library may have McCracken County in its name, in truth we serve patrons from all over Western Kentucky, so today’s historical tale comes to you from Fulton County.
Yesterday in Western Kentucky history, April 30, 1900, we remembered the anniversary of the death of a legend, and not just a Kentucky legend, but a true American legend.

Jonathan Luther Jones.

Never heard of him? Hmmmm. Well, perhaps you know him better by his nickname.


Casey Jones.

That’s right. Casey Jones, fabled in story and song, was a true-to-life figure. Though born in 1863 in Jackson, Tennessee, Jones spent most of his formative years in Fulton County, Kentucky…in the town of Cayce…and if you’re able to put two and two together, I’m sure you can now devise how his famed nickname came about.

Jones went to work for the railroads in his early twenties and by 1891, at the age of 28, he’d already been promoted to engineer. In short order his talents were recognized by his peers, for he was heralded as always being on time, “to get her there on the advertised.” It is said that people set their watches by Casey’s trains.

Of course, his record for punctuality may have occasionally come at the expense of a few rules. In the course of his career, Jones was cited with 9 infractions, which included 145 total days of suspension. Such ambition and drive (not to mention old-fashioned bad luck) were perhaps, factors in his death on that April morning. His train, “The Cannonball Express,” was scheduled to leave Memphis, TN at 11:35 PM and arrive in Canton, MS at 4:05 AM, but because of the tardiness of a previous train, Casey wasn’t able to pull away from the Memphis station until 1 AM. Ever determined, Casey, along with his trusted fireman Simeon Webb, vowed to make a record run and get the train to Canton on time.

The skies spit rain, and the fog was swimmingly thick. The tracks on that stretch were known for some harrowing curves, yetdespite the challenges, Jones and Webb traveled at breakneck speed, pushing the Cannonball Express to heretofore unknown limits. Within the first hundred miles, they had already made up one hour of the lost 95 minutes.

Casey Jones

Casey Jones

Casey Jones was still doing a brisk clip, about 75 miles an hour, as he approached the city of Vaughan, MS, and it wasn’t until he rounded the blind 1.5 mile curve that would take him into the station that Jones and Webb realized that another railroad car had stalled on the tracks in front them. A crash was inevitable. Jones hollered for his fireman to, “Jump, Sim, jump,” and Mr. Webb did, landing nearly 300 feet from the spot where he leaped, knocking himself unconscious.

Jones, like a good captain, stayed with his ship. He sounded the horn to warn those ahead, slammed on the air brakes, reversed the throttle, and somehow, inexplicably, before ramming the caboose of the stalled train, was able to bring the train from 75 miles an hour to 35.

Only one person was killed by the accident…Casey himself. While the rest of the passengers were shaken up and received a few scrapes and bruises, none of them were seriously injured. Even Simeon Webb recovered from his jump. Jones’ decision to stay on the train and slow it down certainly saved the lives of many.

At the time of the crash, the Cannonball Express was only two minutes behind schedule.

It didn’t take long for Casey Jones’ legend to begin. Papers the following day recalled his exploits under the headlines, “The Sad End of Casey Jones” and “Heroic Engineer.” One paper reported, “”The marvel and mystery is how Engineer Jones stopped that train. The railroad men themselves wondered at it and of course the uninitiated could not do less. But stop it he did. In a way that showed his complete mastery of his engine, as well as his sublime heroism.” Following these reports, the legend grew and grew, inspiring museums, stories, movies, cartoons, and a line of postage stamps. Certainly though, the legend found its greatest security in the enduring folksong, “The Ballad of Casey Jones,”

Come all you rounders if you want to hear
The story of a brave engineer
Casey Jones was the rounder’s name
On the “six-eight” wheeler, boys, he won his fame

All this from a man nicknamed after a small town in Kentucky.

If you’d like to learn more about legendary Kentuckians, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

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