In most cultures around the world, when you die, there is a visitation, a funeral, and a burial. All of this usually happens over the course of several days. That wasn’t the case for one man in Paducah, Kentucky. The path for Charles Henry Atkins, also known as “Speedy”, to get from death to burial took 66 years.
Before we get to his burial, let us talk about the life of Charles Atkins. He was born in Tennessee in 1875 and moved to Kentucky later in life to find work. He would eventually settle in Paducah and work at the Dixon Tobacco Company. He got the nickname “Speedy” because of how quickly he could handle the tobacco.
From what I could find in newspaper archives, Atkins didn’t have any family in Paducah. He was friends with a man named A.Z Hamock. Hamock was a Black man, who ran the funeral home for Blacks in Paducah.
In May of 1928, Atkins was fishing in the Tennessee River and fell into the water and drowned. Since he didn’t have any family, Atkins’s body was handed over to Mr. Hamock at the funeral home. According to an article from the Messenger-Inquirer-Sun, Atkins was the subject of an experiment by Hamock, who mixed together chemicals to create an embalming fluid that preserved bodies the way Egyptians preserved mummies. A few months later, Atkins’s body turned to what resembled stone.
It’s not clear why Hamock didn’t bury Atkins after he was essentially turned into a mummy, but Atkins stayed in the Hamock’s home for 66 years. An article in the Paducah Sun-Democrat said that during the flood of 1937, the funeral home was flooded and Atkins floated away. Atkins was found a short time later near the funeral home. A burial was planned for Atkins in 1991, but for some reason, it didn’t happen.
Charles Henry “Speedy” Atkins was finally given a proper burial in 1994. Atkins had become something of a celebrity over the decades. He appeared on national TV three times. His life story has appeared in newspapers throughout the country. People traveled hundreds of miles to see him in person, and his burial made the front page of the Paducah Sun on that day. Atkins was buried in Maplelawn cemetery in Paducah, Kentucky.
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