Town’s Propped-Up Celebrity Laid to Rest at Last
For a dead man, Henry (Speedy) Atkins gave people a lot of joy.
For 66 years, his well-preserved corpse--used in an embalming experiment--was a tourist attraction at a funeral home in this Ohio River town.
Townsfolk and the occasional busload of out-of-towners gawked at his mummified body, which was stored propped against a closet wall and carefully washed and dressed three times a year to keep mold off.
On Friday, the people who cared for Speedy at Hamock-Bowles Services decided it was finally time for him to be laid to rest.
About 200 people, some of whom posed for pictures beside his open coffin, bade him a rousing farewell with spirituals and sermons during a service at the Washington Street Baptist Church.
A bouquet of red carnations was placed atop the coffin in which Speedy lay dressed in a black tuxedo and bow tie.
“He came to Paducah a pauper, poor, homeless, a nobody,” said the Rev. H. Joseph Franklin. “Today, he’s going to be laid to rest at last, as a celebrity.”
Little is known about Speedy’s life except that he got his nickname by being a fast worker at a local tobacco factory and was in his 50s when he drowned in 1928 while fishing in the Ohio River. No family came forward to claim the body.
Funeral director A.Z. Hamock, who was fascinated by how the Egyptians mummified bodies, used his own experimental embalming fluid on Speedy to preserve the body and eliminate odor. The mixture turned Speedy’s body a rusty color, his yellowed teeth visible through drawn-back lips in his gaunt face.
Hamock never revealed the secret formula. He died in 1949, leaving the business to his wife, Velma Hamock.
During the summer, Mrs. Hamock would dutifully take Speedy out of the closet for sightseers, free of charge. He also appeared on national television three times.
After Speedy’s 66 years of glory, Mrs. Hamock decided, for no particular reason, enough was enough, and he ought to be buried.
“It’s just time,” she said.
Speedy’s funeral, coffin and burial plot were all donated by businesses in the neighborhood where he once lived.