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Hope shines through historical tragedy

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

The date is March 6, 1922, the opening day of circuit court in Graves County. For reasons still not entirely clear, 28-year-old sheriff's deputy Sam Galloway shoots his former friend John Roach - who happens to be the sheriff - in broad daylight inside the county courthouse.

As a young boy, Graves County native Sid Easley hears his mother recount the day she heard the news that the Galloway name had been ruined. From the seed of that story, a book grows.

Ninety-one years after the shooting, Easley - now a practicing attorney in Murray - sits in the Graves County courthouse with a hardback copy of his first book, "A Courthouse Tragedy," near the spot where Galloway turned himself in.

"I'm fascinated by how humans deal with tragedy, especially sudden tragedy," Easley said. "How do people, and how does a community, adjust to an insult like this being inflicted on them?"

Easley spent about three years examining the local newspapers, books, and other records from the era in order to tell the story of the shooting and its aftermath. Although "A Courthouse Tragedy" starts with a story of murder and betrayal, the author said the way the community coped with the tragedy reinforced his faith in the human spirit.

"I found a lot of positive coming out of a dark story," he said. "Out of that, you really see some bright things happening."

After Roach's murder, a petition with about 3,000 signatures nominated Roach's wife, Lois, to take over as sheriff. Despite County Judge J.W. Monroe's misgivings, he appointed Lois Roach, making her the first female sheriff to serve in Kentucky. After serving that term, Roach ran for another and was elected over two male candidates.

"You see a woman (Roach) rise up and become a real beacon. It's personal to me, because I grew up in a household of strong women, and I know what strong women meant in this county and everywhere else. I think they never, ever got the credit they deserved," Easley said.

The author said he made several other surprising discoveries while researching the book. Mayfield, he said, was more prosperous in the 1920s than one would think, with eight passenger trains and modern amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing and movie theaters.

"Mayfield wasn't at all provincial in those days," he said. "It was certainly not the backwater you would expect."

The civility of the residents, the caliber of the newspapers and the efficacy of the legal system also impressed him.

"I came away really admiring the institutions of the time: the institutions of the family, of the church, the government and judicial system and how it functioned," he said.

At times, putting the book together was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Transcripts of Galloway's trial had been thrown away, leaving only records of the motions that were passed in the court. Contemporary eyewitness accounts proved difficult to come by, and descendants of the key players didn't always remember much about the story.

"I never realized it would be so difficult," he said. "It's perfectly suited for procrastination."

Despite the challenges, Easley found the work rewarding and believes "A Courthouse Tragedy" conveys the message he set out to express.

"That's what I wanted this book to ... say: that regardless of what happens, we'll endure, and we're not doing a real bad job of it," he said.

"A Courthouse Tragedy" is available for purchase at the Murray State University bookstore and at Gibson's Pharmacy in Mayfield. Copies also may be purchased by calling 270-753-2633.

 

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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