Joe Castle

Joe Castle poses for a portrait with his novel, "The Ashland Tragedy: Murder, a Mob and a Militia in Kentucky" on March 10, 2021 in Morehead, Ky. Photo by Olyvia Neal | Trail Blazer

An Ashland native has written the history behind the Ashland Tragedy after years of dedication and research.

Joe Castle wrote The Ashland Tragedy: Murder, a Mob & a Militia in Kentucky after twelve years of research and a degree through Morehead State University, which he earned at 65-years-old. Through his research he learned about one of the greatest misfortunes in Kentucky history, and why it should be told by the perspective of the Ashland people.

“It is a tragic story, but it is also a story about a community of people who came under attack and through their resilience, courage and determination were able to see it through,” said Castle. “I decided that it really needed to be written from the perspective of the Ashland people. It had to come from an Ashland person, which I am as a native son of Ashland.”

While Castle was able to conduct years of research at the Boyd County Library through resources including genealogy and microfilm of newspapers, he felt the only way to complete this story was with a University Studies degree from MSU.

“I retired when the Ashland blast furnace shut down, so then I came to school and actually lived on campus for two years and continued my research,” said Castle. “I wanted to hone my writing skills, my English and my knowledge of history. Then, I felt like I was capable and qualified to put this together, and I did.”

Castle co-authored with J.M. Huff, whose chronicles of the Ashland Tragedy provided a primary source that makes up about 30 percent of the book.

“Mr. Huff was an Ashland newspaper editor at the time who had his finger on the pulse of the feelings of Ashland and Boyd County all together,” said Castle, now a Paintsville resident. “He was there. I think his account of the tragedy was very trustworthy, and so I basically used it to springboard from.”

Throughout his book, readers can see similarities in the characteristics of the Boyd County community then and now.

“I think it’s important for this story to get out to show respect for the victims of the tragedy but also to showcase the people of Ashland,” said Brandy Clark, Executive Director of Visit Ashland, Ky. “Our roots are still grounded in the same principals. This is really shown in the recent ice storms and flooding where we took care of each other just as they had then.”

The city of Ashland hopes to construct a memorial to honor the victims of the Ashland Tragedy and will continue to memorialize the victims within Highlands Museum’s annual Walking with the Past Tour, which is virtual this year. Castle’s book can be found at www.historypress.com as well as most outlets where books are sold.

Joe Castle, an Ashland Native, speaks with Olyvia Neal about his book about the Ashland Tragedies.