Mayfield man pens book on local history

SHELLEY BYRNE/The Mayfield Messenger

John Davis, 69, of Mayfield holds a copy of his history book "Mayfield -- As I Recall." The book, the work of two decades, is complete and available for pre-order.

MAYFIELD -- John Davis wears a gray polo shirt with his monogram and "local historian" written on it, but he didn't start out liking history very much.

"Oh, heavens, no!" he said, booming laughter. "I didn't like American history or world history. That's not my thing. This is local history. I grew up in it."

After roughly 20 years of collecting, researching and writing -- filling up three garage cabinets and an entire spare bedroom with his Mayfield memorabilia along the way -- Davis, 69, has completed his history of the community.

Titled "Mayfield -- As I Recall," the book should be back from an Indiana bookbinder near the middle of the month, and Davis is already taking pre-orders.

Filled with tales, urban legends, copiously researched notes and more than a fair share of Davis' pithy humor, Davis quips about its genesis. "People have said somebody ought to write a book. By golly, I have written a book."

It covers the community from the late 1800s to about 2003, he said. Along the way, Davis spent hundreds of hours digging through microfilm at the Graves County Library, thumbing through bound books of newspapers at The Mayfield Messenger's office, and reading city council minutes and copies of executive orders at City Hall.

The result is a hard-back book with 306 pages and -- he counted -- 495 photographs.

The title "Mayfield -- As I Recall" harkens back to a friend, mentor and fellow Mayfield historian, the late Lon Carter Barton, a former history teacher at Mayfield High School, veteran and member of the Kentucky House of Representatives who died in 2006 at age 80. Davis has a chapter about him in the book.

Davis recalled Barton's zeal for Civil War history in the Jackson Purchase area and how he would often begin his sometimes rather lengthy answers to historical questions with the words "As I recall …"

The book includes unsolved mysteries, such as a house where it is told an entire family disappeared from the supper table one night, never to be seen again, as well as what became known as the haystack mystery, a man murdered playing cards at the Hall Hotel in 1898 whose body was later found sticking out of a farmer's haystack.

Although some stories are likely urban legends that research has been unable to authenticate, Davis has put in the effort.

Many parts of the book are intentionally light-hearted.

For example, in a section titled "Did you ever?" Davis talks about "things we all did but have forgotten." Among them are playing Mother May I, avoiding stepping on cracks, soaping windows on Halloween and items specific to Mayfield residents, like buying tamales from a man, Mr. Adams, who sold them in front of First National Bank.

"It's shared memories, but sometimes you have to be reminded of your memories," Davis said.

When Davis announced the book's completion last month on his Facebook page, he was stunned by the interest in it.

He originally planned to order 150 copies. "I said I'll be doing good to sell 100," he said. "Before I knew it, I had 385 orders."

Now, he said, it's more like 400 that have been pre-sold, and he has ordered 626 copies of the book.

To order a copy of "Mayfield -- As I Recall" contact Davis via Facebook or by calling him at 270-804-2723. Callers should leave both their names and a contact phone number for the orders to be placed. Books are $25 each (an extra $5 if you want it mailed).

Davis also plans to schedule book signings soon at the Graves County Library and Good News Shoppe and to stock the book for sale at both of those locations as well as Two Chicks and a Farmer in Mayfield.

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