Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham will present a talk on the history of the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville Thursday, Sept. 8 at the McCracken County Public Library as part of their Evenings Upstairs program.
And he's uniquely qualified for the job.
Cunningham has had a long professional association with the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville; as a public defender, a Commonwealth's Attorney, a Circuit Court Judge, and now in his present position on the Commonwealth's highest court.
However, his personal connection goes back much farther. In fact, Cunningham was almost born within its walls.
"I came within 200 yards of being born in that prison," Cunningham says.
Members of his family have worked, and died, there. One of them, prison guard Hodge Cunningham, became the first guard to be killed in the line of duty during a notorious 1923 escape attempt that became known as "The Battle of Eddyville."
Those connections drove Justice Cunningham to write Castle: The Story of a Kentucky Prison in 1995. The book tells the story of the penitentiary nicknamed "The Castle on the Cumberland" for its imposing crenulated stone walls. It centers on the events that led up to the 1923 escape attempt of inmate Monte "Tex" Walters and Hodge's death at the hands of another prisoner named Lawrence Griffith.
Justice Cunningham says the prison has been a good neighbor to Eddyville and Lyon County, providing not only jobs for the residents, but also manpower. He notes that inmates from the penitentiary have used to help in natural disasters and at one time even run the city's water plant. It's a relationship that Cunningham calls a "blessing" for the surrounding community.
Justice Cunningham's presentation on Castle starts at 7 p.m. in the upstairs meeting room at the McCracken County Public Library in Paducah. The event is free and open to the public.