By Danny Crownover
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, one of the most colorful figures of Gadsden was Mr. Puck.
Where he came from, nobody knew. He was a complete mystery.
Mr. Puck stood daily on the front doorstep of the John S. Paden store on the north side of Broad street between Court and Fifth streets. He usually was seen with a bunch of cigars in his left hand extended out from his body, as if he was inviting passerby to help themselves to smokes.
The late W.R. Phillips, who told much of the history of this funny-looking character, said that the fellow’s name was Mr. Puck, but neither he nor anyone else knew why.
Mr. Puck did not look like what the dictionary describes as a class of evil spirits or a hobgoblin. Nor did he resemble the mischievous sprite of medieval English folklore, Robin Goodfellow, nor did he look like what Shakespeare in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream described as a “tricky household fairy in the service of King Oberon.”
The late Gadsden historian Will I. Martin’s childhood memory of Mr. Puck was that he resembled Mr. Punch, the puppet who had so much trouble with his wife Judy.
Be that as it may, Mr. Puck stood on Mr. Paden’s doorstep nearly every day. According to Mr. Phillips, Mr. Puck occasionally stepped out at night with the boys, but never with the consent of Mr. Paden.
However, it came to a point that Mr. Paden made sure that Mr. Puck was made to be in his room in the rear of the store at nightfall or when the store closed for the day.
Every time that Mr. Puck was not locked in his room, Mr. Phillips said, he was taken out by “the boys.”
One Sunday morning, Mr. Puck was found standing on the porch of the First Baptist Church at Broad and Fifth streets, his left hand extended and offering cigars to all who entered for Sunday School and the morning sermon.
On another Sunday morning, Mr. Puck repeated the performance at the First Methodist Church at Fifth and Chestnut streets, and later at the Presbyterian and Catholic churches.
Mr. Puck was a funny-looking fellow, dressed in highly colored clothes and wearing a many-colored hat.
One Monday morning, Mr. Puck was found tied to a tree in the old Gadsden Cemetery in back of the Paden Store, which Mr. Paden did not like at all.
One Sunday morning, Mr. Puck was found lying on his back on the front porch of Sal Sugarfoot’s disorderly house, an old colonial mansion located in the rear of what was the Dobson Store (Meeks Building) at Third and Broad streets. By Mr. Puck’s side lay a drunk, sound asleep.
Sugarfoot and her sister Maggie, both of whom were capable of putting up a good fight with the strongest men in the town, evidently tossed both Mr. Puck and his drunken companion outside to bake in the early morning sun.
That settled it so far as Mr. Paden was concerned. He sent a worker to bring in Mr. Puck, whom he locked him in a back room to stay.
You see, Mr. Puck was a wooden cigar sign who had been carved expertly to resemble some sort of historical character. Over the years, he became a familiar sight on Broad Street. Up to this time, Gadsden never had a cigar store Indian, although many were to be found in nearby cities such as Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Chattanooga. Tenn., and Atlanta, Ga.