Oak Grove Cemetery in the city of Paducah is a lesson in history of not only the city, but McCracken County. It was established in 1847 when 36 acres were purchased for $3.00 an acre. The cemetery grounds were designed by John Porteous, who came from Scotland for the job. Porteous loved America so much he had his wife and children join him in Paducah, where he became the first sexton for Oak Grove.
Many of those who died earlier than 1847 and were interred in the first cemetery at 4th and Washington, were moved to Oak Grove. The old section is nicely divided into named avenues, which makes it very easy if you know in which lot they are buried. The avenues are named accordingly – Silent, Peace, Mercy, Charity, Faith, Willow, Myrtle, Rest.
Due to rain on Saturday we only had a few hours Sunday morning before leaving for home. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but freezing. Still, we persevered to get photos of many of the 50,000+ people and two mules buried there.
Today I share with you the story of Dollie the mule – who worked tirelessly to pull wagons for fire engines, and later in the cemetery, to earn her spot in history and rights to a spot in the cemetery.
Friday, February 26, 1897
Witten At Random
The death of ‘Old Dollie,’ the graveyard factotum, and beast of many municipal burdens, deserves more than a passing notice, for ‘Dollie’ was an odd character – an animal as faithful as she was perennial. ‘Dollie’ was as indispensable to Oak Grove as sugar to a good toddy, and now that she is dead, and laid to rest amid the trees and shrubs and flowers that for sixteen years were so familiar to her, it is but just that poor Dollie’s history should be given to the world as a last tribute to her memory.
About thirty years ago, when the late Mr. J. G. Fisher was serving his second term as mayor of Paducah, Dollie was purchased in Marshall County. Yes, Marshall County had been born some time then, and to the fact that Dollie there had her nativity is perhaps due her tenacity of life and everlasting usefulness.
She was a spry, scrubby little mule in those halcyon days, and was driven to the hose carriage of the fire department. Jolly Jim Collins, now city marshal, drove her for over five years, and says she was never sick or lame during the fifteen or more years she was in the fire department. Sixteen years ago the council substituted horses for mules in the fire department, and Dollie’s usefulness was over. For a time she followed the city’s dirt wagons about for lack of more arduous duties and whenever there was a fire Dollie was there as soon as the department. She knew the location of every cistern in town.
Capt. J. E. Williamson was then on the council, and asked that Dollie be taken to Oak Grove. The old horse ‘Prince,’ which was recently retired from further service on account of old age, was bought about this time, and it is a strange coincidence that ‘Prince’ took Dollie’s place in the fire department, and now he has taken her place in Oak Grove. Capt. Williamson’s suggestion to place the mule in Oak Grove was carried out, put instead of being left to die on the commons, Dollie, after a sixteen year service to the city in the fire department, was taken to the City of the Dead, where she gave sixteen years more of service equally good. All these years the muscular little mule did all the hauling in the cemetery and for a long time whenever there was sounded a fire alarm she would dash up and down the pebbly avenues with the dump cart or anything else that chanced to be attached to her, rattling in her wake, unless she was prevented by sheer force.
A year ago Capt. Williamson, who in the course of time was again elected to the council and was placed on the Cemetery Committee, introduced a resolution that ‘Dollie be forever exempted from work, and that every attention be paid until death came.’ For a year the faithful beast had lived in solitary comfort, and the dim light at last burned low – and yesterday went out entirely.
She had seen many a winding cortege in the beautiful City of Rest, and during the sixteen years of her unswerving loyalty many a good and beloved citizen found a last resting place in Dollie’s retreat.
As near as can be learned she was thirty-six years old at her death, and in her life is a lesson that even human beings might profit by.
‘Humanity should extend even to beasts,’ remarked Councilman Williamson in telling of Dollie’s last days and the kindly treatment she received, ‘and anything with as much fidelity as Dollie, even tho’ it be a beast, should be rewarded.’
Hence Dollie received a very respectable burial in one of the city’s lots. She was more fortunate than many of her human contemporaries, for she escaped Potter’s field.
Wednesday, December 16, 1998
But not even death can end this story here. After burial 101 years ago, in 1998 school children in the Paducah area, along with other citizens, decided to raise money for a gravestone to mark Dollie’s final resting place. Another mule buried in Oak Wood Cemetery, Tom, has a small marker for his grave and it was felt that Dollie should have a marker, too. Tom is somewhat of a mystery, although he may have been a fire department mule as well. Dollie and Tom are featured in special living history dramas the parks department puts on at Oak Grove. School children attend and there is always a mule there to represent Dollie and Tom
‘Pennies for Dollie’ became a contest at all four elementary schools to help pay for the granite monument. The school children raised the most money – $458.91. According to the January 31, 1999, Messenger Sun, ‘Dollie has her tombstone.’