By Jennifer Hewlett
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Maggie Bailey, known as "The Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers," died of complications from pneumonia Saturday at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital. The Kentucky legend, who began selling moonshine when she was 17 and was still selling alcohol from her modest home at Clovertown in Harlan County when she was 95, was 101.
Over and over again, often despite a preponderance of evidence against her, Mrs. Bailey beat charges of illegally selling alcoholic beverages. Juries just would not convict her.
"Everybody knew her and she had helped everybody. Why do you bite the hand that feeds you, as the old saying goes," said Helen Halcomb, who is married to Mrs. Bailey's nephew.
Mrs. Bailey was well-liked and well-respected, and she often helped poor Harlan Countians, buying coal to heat their homes in the winter and giving them grocery money so they would not go hungry, friends said. Mrs. Bailey put several children through college.
Anybody who wanted to get elected went to see Maggie Bailey, Halcomb said.
"She was very influential. She had power," she said.
Former Gov. Albert B. "Happy" Chandler was among the many politicians who paid Mrs. Bailey a visit while campaigning.
During one of his campaigns for governor he told her, "'Mag, if you can help me get elected, I'm going to buy you some shoes,'" Halcomb said. "Sure enough, when he got elected he sent his lieutenant governor in here with some new shoes."
'A delightful lady'
While she spent money on other people, Mrs. Bailey lived like a pauper, Halcomb said.
For years, Mrs. Bailey, perhaps appropriately, wore a uniform with the name "National Distillery" over a breast pocket when she greeted her customers. One of Mrs. Bailey's sisters worked at the distillery in Louisville and handed down her old uniforms to Mrs. Bailey, Halcomb said.
"I represented her for a number of years. I always thought she was a delightful lady," said U.S. District Judge Karl Forester.
"She was an expert on the Fourth Amendment. She knew the laws of search and seizure as well as any person I've known," he said.
Forester recalled once representing Mrs. Bailey on bootlegging charges at six trials on the same day.
"We had six acquittals at three different courts in the same day," he said.