The Jackson Purchase Historical Society hosted a tour of Paducah's Oak Grove Cemetery this weekend, and local historian and guide Roy Hensel showed participants the final resting places of its "famous, infamous and interesting residents."
"Cemeteries are important historical resources that can connect us to our past in a very tangible way," wrote Dr. Bill Mulligan, historical society president.
"Those buried at Oak Grove include many who were locally famous and made important contributions to Paducah and west Kentucky, a few who achieved national prominence, and many ordinary people, who, it turns out, have an interesting life story to share. Plus, there is a rascal or two who found their way here."
Oak Grove was established in 1847 to replace Paducah's first burial place, where City Hall stands today.
Buried there is one of Paducah's most famous citizens - reporter, author and actor Irvin S. Cobb. Among Cobb's Hollywood moments is presenting the first Juvenile Academy Award to Shirley Temple in 1935.
"He's been called the Mark Twain of the 20th century," Hensel said. "He acted in more than 10 movies between 1932 and 1938. ... He died in New York City, and the cremains were brought back here. He wanted to be buried under a dogwood tree so they made that dogwood tree."
Another notable buried in Oak Grove Cemetery is Evett Dumas Nix or E.D. Nix. He was born in Calloway County in 1861, and his grandfather was the sheriff of that county, while his father was the deputy sheriff.
"He ran a grocery store and a hardware store in Coldwater, Kentucky, before becoming a traveling sales representative which moved into McCracken County in 1885," Hensel said. "In 1889, he and his wife moved into the Oklahoma Territory. Grover Cleveland, who was president at the time, appointed him as the first U.S. marshal in the Oklahoma Territory, and he was also the youngest U.S. marshal at age 32.
"...A Supreme Court justice told Col. Nix at the time that the only good outlaw was a dead outlaw. He said, 'Instruct your deputies to bring in dead outlaws. That will simplify your problems and save lives.' Well, he raised a posse of 27 men. They went to Ingalls, Oklahoma, and had one of the most deadly gun battles between outlaws and U.S. marshals in the history of the Southwest. He and his deputies killed 47 outlaws and made hundreds of arrests. He even carried a portable scaffold with him for hanging."
John Scopes, the subject of the famed "Monkey Trial" of 1924, is buried there, too. Scopes was charged with teaching evolution in a Dayton, Tennessee, school and found guilty.
As is Mary Brockwell, who killed three of her four children in 1905 because she claimed that one of her boarders, George Albritton, told her he would marry her if she got rid of her children. She put morphine in the children's cabbage, but the eldest child, who did not like cabbage, survived.
Thousands of people came to the cemetery for the children's funerals - including their mother - which was the largest crowd for a local funeral at that time, Hensel said. Brockwell served 12 years for the three murders, and was released for good behavior.
One man interred at Oak Grove, Hensel said, was known only as "John Doe" for eight years until he was identified in 1999 as Brian Stanley Duecker. Duecker, 28 at the time of his death, fell from a plane at Barkley Regional Airport on Sept. 30, 1991.
"He tried to trade his leather jacket for a plane ticket out West, but that didn't work," Hensel said. "He jumped the fence, ran toward the taxiing commuter plane and he held onto the underside of the plane. The plane reached a speed of 150 miles per hour and was 300 feet in the air when he lost his grip and fell to his death.
"He had no ID," Hensel added. "The community came together and businesses funded a funeral and buried him here at Oak Grove. For over eight years, he was simply known as John Doe. ... A woman from Cincinnati saw a rerun of 'Unsolved Mysteries' and thought it could be her stepson who left four years before the incident. Her stepson had schizophrenia and he had a hard time in life dealing with that."
Hensel said, because Duecker had a brief criminal record, authorities were able to use his fingerprint identification to confirm John Doe and Duecker were one in the same.