Echoes From The Past

By JUDY MAUPIN *- Echoes From the Past
(A Column of historical and genealogical anecdotes, stories and family notes.)
Calloway County, Ky.

Stubblefield - Inventor And Man of Mystery

March 31, 1979
This week on the 51st anniversary of his death, I would like to do a little writing about Nathan Stubblefield. I did some esearch on this man who is credited with the invention of the forerunner of the modern day radio, but it seemed as if his life was a mass of contradictions. Every time I thought I had a fact pinned down, I would find something else that said something directly opposite, even on such normally simple things as his birth date and middle names.

Let's start with his middle name: I found at least four different versions --- Nathan Beverly, Nathan Bedford, Nathan Bernard, and finally, the one I believe to be accurate, Nathan Bowman Stubblefield. Since his mother's maiden name was Bowman, this seems logical, although there are other facts which might substantiate the others, too.

One source gave his birthdate as December 27, 1860, while others said he was born in the summer of 1859, and late in 1859. Even the date of his death is not agreed upon. He was evidently found a few days after his death, but versions of that date vary from March 25 to March 30, 1928.

Since the date surrounding his early experiements with electricity and later with radio are well documented, I thought it would be interesting to trace back his family. But even here, I found very little about the man. I did learn that his wife was Ada M. Buchanana and that he had had "several" children, four of whom were alive at the time of one writing. And there is one picture in existence which names his children -- five of them, Victoria, Pattie, Helen, Oliver, and Bernard. Bernard was to become well-known, since he was the only one of the children to be interested in his father's experiments and to serve as his assistant.

Nathan Stubblefield's parents were William (Lawyer Billie) and Victoria Bowman Stubblefield. In the only piece of genealogical information I could find, the children of William and Victoria were listed as: Walter (married the daughter of Nat Hale), Nathan, Frank, Alphonso, Billie, and Gilliam, who married Rilsiie Holland. There were no dates included.

Evidently, after many setbacks, both financial and otherwise, Mr. Stubblefield turned into a recluse, with his wife and family either driven away by h imself or choosing to stay away from him of their own accord. Anyway, he died alone, of starvation, with his only company his cat.

There is even some debate about whether the cat was a "beloved pet" which died with him (probably not by chulce, since he was found in a room which had been locked from the inside) or a half-wild animal that proceeded to gnaw on him after his death. As 1 said, there is mystery surrounding almost every aspect of the man's life.

None of his inventions were found either before or after his death, although evidently some amount of searching was conducted. It is still being debated whether the man himself destroyed them or they were stolen. He is said to have been working on an electrical light invention near the time of his death, but no trace of it was found. He was said to have been an eloquent poet, but to my knowledge, no examples of his nontechnical writing is in existence. It seems that Nathan Stubblefield chose to remain a mystery to the world.

Mr. John Tom Taylor sent me a short reminiscence of his memory of Mr. Stubblefield. "I knew him about 1910 to 1915 when he lived in a small house on the New Concord - Murray Road on top of a hill near the Preston Stub blefield home. I recall he would ride his horse over to home, approximately one mile to talk to my father. I think he was superstitious, did not want anyone to know what he was doing. Of course, he was a genius. I do not think he wanted visitors."

If Nathan Stubblefield "did not want anyone to know what he was doing," he succeeded admirably well. To this day, even those few people who were acquainted with him will agree on only one thing: they did not know what he was doing. And we still don't.

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