Speedy Atkins

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Charles Henry "Speedy" Atkins
Personal details
Born 1875
Died May 27, 1928(1928-05-27) (aged 53)
Paducah, Kentucky

Charles Henry "Speedy" Atkins (1875–1928) was an American tobacco worker in Paducah, Kentucky, who became posthumously notable. A pauper at death, he drowned in the Ohio River. The city turned over his body for a pauper's burial to his friend A.Z. Hamock, the only African-American undertaker in town. Hamock preserved Atkins' body in an experiment with preservatives, and occasionally displayed it after his death. Hamock's wife had custody of the remains for 45 years, during which Atkins' mummy acquired increasing notoriety. The body of Atkins was finally buried in 1994, 66 years after he drowned. The event was covered by national media and TV.


Charles Atkins was born in Tennessee and, as an adult, moved to Kentucky to find work. Not much is known about his life. He settled in downtown Paducah as an hourly employee at a plant with ties to the tobacco industry. He gained the nickname "Speedy" at work because of his speed with handling tobacco. He was also known as a womanizer. Single and without known relatives, he befriended A. Z. Hamock, an African American who owned the city's only funeral home for blacks in the segregated city.

In May 1928, Speedy went fishing and fell with his line into the Ohio River, where he drowned. The city transferred his body to Hamock's Funeral Home for a pauper's burial. Having created a powerful preservative, Hamock decided to experiment with it to preserve Atkins' body. The mixture transformed the corpse into a wooden-like statue. While Atkins' black skin was altered to a reddish color, his facial features remained recognizable.[1]

Hamock put the preserved body of Speedy on occasional display at the funeral home; he mostly stored it in a closet.[2] He did not charge a fee for viewers. Washed away by waters of the Ohio River during the Paducah flood of 1937, Speedy's body was recognized and returned to Hamock at his funeral home.

After Hamock died in 1949, his wife Velma took over custody of Speedy's body. She kept it for another 45 years before burial. During the 66 years that Speedy's body was preserved, awareness of the mummified corpse became more widespread.

Mrs. Hamock planned to bury the mummy in 1991 on her late husband's 100th birthday,[3] but waited until May 1994.[4][5][6] About 200 people attended Atkins' 1994 funeral and burial in Maplelawn Cemetery in Paducah.[2]

Representation in other media[edit]

Because of his body's unique condition, "Speedy" Atkins' mummy was featured in national media as well as Ripley's Believe It Or Not, the TV program That's Incredible, and the National Enquirer.[7] His story was also told on the Discovery Channel.


  1. ^ Quigley, Christine. Modern Mummies, McFarland, 1998, pp. 94-96. ISBN 0-7864-0492-2, ISBN 978-0-7864-0492-6. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Embalmed 'Speedy' Is Laid to Rest - Finally", Chicago Sun-Times, 6 August 1994
  3. ^ [1] "Man to be buried in '91", Washington Post, 16 July 1987.
  4. ^ "66-tear-old corpse to be laid to rest in Paducah", Lexington Herald, 26 June 1994.
  5. ^ "TV show to feature Paducah corpse", Lexington Herald, 4 January 2003.
  6. ^ "Black man who died 66 years ago is finally buried", Jet, 29 August 1994
  7. ^ Sceurman, Mark, Weird Kentucky, Sterling Publishing Company, 2008. Page 220. ISBN 1-4027-5438-8, ISBN 978-1-4027-5438-8 Retrieved April 17, 2009.