Pogue Library - Danny Hatcher acted as its Indiana Jones.
(Murray, KY – Mar. 2, 2012) - The Board of Regents meeting had reached one of those moments in time when boredom reached for me. Casting about the room on the second floor of Pogue Library, my mind became locked into the shadows and designs of the great art deco windows before me.
In an instant my mind worm holed me backward to my career of rare book raiding. He looked normal. That was his disguise. In reality, he was a cultural raider like me. He was my arch competitor. The only difference between us was that I was free lanced while he worked for the system.
His name was Danny Hatcher, and he was an agent for Forrest C. Pogue Library. More specifically, he was their man in the field for securing rare books, maps, and documents.
We were both 20 years old and the year was 1967. This was the year we had our collective greatest year in raiding West Kentucky and West Tennessee for historical loot. It was a time of great upheavals and turmoil upon the landscape. Fortunes were being lost and fortunes were being made. It was the 1960s and a new generation of baby boomers was being released upon the land
Danny carried no whip nor wore a cool hat, like his alter ego in the movies. Danny’s weapon of choice was the Murray State University check book.
He and I played an intense game of rare book chess all over the back roads of West Tennessee during the cold and dark days of February 1967.
Two events framed that month forever in my mind.
The first Saturday in February of that year found me just outside Paris, Tennessee. The wind was sharp and cutting as I got out of my 1957 back Chevy. It would be a few minutes before the rain would start. Moving to shelter in what appeared to be a giant Indian teepee, I had finally arrived at the Pioneer Village. This was a collection of buildings, 10 in all, that housed lost artifacts from the 20th and part of the 19th centuries.
Greeting me was Colonel Bob, smiling, full of life, and jolly an the prospect that a real life customer had found his game.
We both knew how to play the game, look interested, ask how much, react to the shock of his price, put it down, move, listen to him reconsider his price, look almost interested in what he was talking about, ponder a spot on the wall, turn quickly and confront him eye ball to eyeball and offer cash if he would take an offer of half of his original price. More often than not, this tactic would work, as long as we were talking about books.
Colonel Bob had over 50,000 books. He had counted them. Most were priced at $1.00 up to maybe $2.50. Some really rare items could go as high as $10 to $20. Remember, this was the time that a gallon of gas was selling for about 25 cents.
As I was about to leave with an arm load of very nice 1790’s maps and geography books (Colonel Bob said that these things didn’t sell well), he slowly mentioned a curse at me. “Say, being from Murray, do you know a Danny Hatcher?”
Twitching in one eye, trying to not really react to his words, and lying just a little, I replied “Well, not really, why do you ask?
Oh God, the pain as I listened!
Colonel Bob told me his story of being at the Scopes Monkey trial as a Tennessee State Senator. It was one of the most profound experiences of his life. Not so much the depth and meaning of the trial, for him it was the daily witnessing of a new technology called radio, that was used to tell the story well beyond the courtroom. The year was 1925.
What hurt for me was that Colonel Bob had through the years gotten a procession of the notes made by the radio reporters of that trial. Along with the notes, the Colonel acquired several handwritten journals by Nathan Stubblefield of his time from 1907 to 1911 for running his Nathan Stubblefield Industrial School. The school sat on 85 acres that later would become the campus of Murray State University.
Colonel Bob sold the whole collection to HATCHER for the outrageous sum of $100. Why?
Because the collection had been taken up too much space in Building No. 4, out back.
“What, you have more in stock besides just this big old building?”
“Why, yes, but I “am getting too old to take care of them all. Care to get the tour?”
Thirty five minutes later, in Building No. 8, I had lost all feeling in my right leg as I stood rigid, looking at the wall in front of me.
The light was still strong enough to see clearly the black backed coverings of a full set of the Official Records of the Civil War. Above that collection and covering up two more walls were over 200 bound books containing a full run of Harpers Magazines from 1840 to 1921.
All I could say was “How much?”
Laughing, Colonel Bob boasted, “I’m really partial to the Civil War books, most of my family are in them. Don’t really care too much for the Harpers. There’re too heavy for me to mess with.
But, if I thought about it, I’d settle for $2.00 a volume on the Harpers, if you were to take them all.”
“How much for the Civil War?” I slowly asked again.
“Did I mention that there was a collection of battle maps used by Forrest during his raids through Mayfield and Clinton Kentucky.?
“No. You had forgotten to mention that little fact. HOW MUCH?
“IF you want a figure, then it’s a $1,000.”
Several minutes, later in my car driving back to Murray, all I could think about was how to raise the money to buy the lot.
Overnight, I found the money for the Harpers. I called Colonel Bob just past lunch the next day.
“Yep, that’s really good offer for them books, but they’re gone.”
In shock, I stammered, “What do you mean, gone?”
“This fella, Hatcher, brought me a check for the Civil War this morning. For little more cash from him, I threw in the old Harpers.”
My revenge came just three weeks later.
On a bright Friday afternoon, near South Fulton, Tennessee, I was quicker to the gold than Danny or MSU.
The location was an old shed used for tools, furniture, casts off from through out the region. This was one of my greatest hunting spots. The older gentlemen who owned this shed made all the local auctions each week.
Digging through his recent acquisition of books from three auctions, he causally asked me if I knew anything about old letters.
Still sitting on the floor among the books, I replied, “Not much. Generally I like books. What do you have?”
It seems that just two days ago, he had sold some 3,000 Confederate letters from the Confederate Post Office at Columbus, Ky. to a really big letter collector from Oklahoma. “The other guy, he was from Murray, name of Hatcher, couldn’t match the boys from Oklahoma.”
“If you see him, tell him, he missed a box”
“Really!” I gleefully uttered.
It turned out to be a great day. The auction had held three suitcases of rare American postal items from both sides of the civil war. Hatcher purchased all of the suitcases for $5.00 each.
But there was also a lone cigar box of early letters that somehow had been forgotten in the rush for the bigger collections. These I got for $25.
Later that night, with a strong drink at my elbow and a good steak meal behind me, I counted out 38 letters with no stamps on them. They were the earlier local provisional marks from St. Louis and Memphis. VERY, VERY RARE!!!!
At least this one time the rare finds of history would go to private collectors and not to Hatcher or Pogue Library.