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Sunday, June 26, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Speedy' Gets Slow Burial, 66 Years Late -- Preserved Body Kept In Funeral Home's Closet Since 1928

AP

PADUCAH, Ky. - Henry Atkins has been standing around Velma Hamock's home for 66 years. She thinks it's time to put him in his place, with a proper church service and burial.

Henry is better known as "Speedy" Atkins, the tuxedo-clad, well-preserved corpse, a demonstration of the power of undertaker A.Z. Hamock's secret, homemade embalming fluid.

Speedy died in 1928 and initially was kept around so Hamock could monitor the permanence of his embalming technique.

The embalming fluid's secret went to the grave with Hamock when he died in 1948. Since then, Speedy has been kept mostly in a closet at Hamock Funeral Home, a display for curious visitors.

He has appeared on national TV three times. His life story has appeared in newspapers throughout the country. People travel hundreds of miles to see him; visitors were at the door last week from Louisiana. Radio talk-show hosts from around the country call to check on him.

Velma Hamock, the undertaker's widow, planned to bury Speedy in a quiet ceremony in 1991, but that ceremony didn't materialize.

Now, a memorial service is scheduled for Aug. 5 at Washington Street Baptist Church, followed by burial.

"It is time, after all these years, that he be buried," Velma Hamock said. "He is a dead person, and there is no need to keep on keeping on."

Speedy was a faithful worker at the old Dixon Tobacco Co. in the early 1920s and a friend of Hamock. His nickname developed because he was a fast worker.

On a sunny May 30, 1928, Speedy was fishing from a bank of the Tennessee River near Owens Island. As he fished, he sipped from a jar of homemade brew.

As the warmth of the sun and the brew began to take effect, accounts say, Speedy dozed, slid into the river and drowned.

Speedy had no family, so Hamock decided to use him to demonstrate his embalming fluid.

Velma Hamock will not mourn his departure.

"You don't cry over anything you have to give up, because you eventually must give up everything," she said. "Don't love anything so hard that you can't give it up."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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