Purple Crackle Becomes The Pony

On our way over to Thebes this afternoon, we passed The Pony, a “gentleman’s club” that used to be the Purple Crackle. I commented that I didn’t think I had ever been in the Crackle or the old night club near it, The Colony Club.

Mother said, “I’ve danced there.”

I assumed that meant that she and Dad had gone there in its heyday for a nice evening of entertainment, but I’ve watched enough lawyer shows to know that it’s a bad idea to ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. I let the topic drop and pretended an interest in the road construction along the way that has apparently stalled.

A typo made the Purple Grackle the Crackle

You can tell when you start calling up old newspaper stories that every rewrite pulls stuff out of what we called, in the old days, The Morgue. You can count on reading the same accounts and anecdotes every time an editor says, “We haven’t done a story about so-and-so in five or 10 years. See what you can dig up.” You hustle out to find some minor new peg, then go back to see Sharon Sanders in what’s now called The Library.

So, I don’t know if it’s true or not that the place was supposed to be named the Purple Grackle when it opened in 1939, but a 1979 story quotes owner Clyde “Bud” Pearce Jr. as saying “The club didn’t have a very extravagant beginning. It opened with a bottle in a box and a crap game. And the name — Purple Crackle — was a mistake. My father had named the club the Purple Grackle, after the bird, but I guess the crack of the dice led everyone to call it Crackle, and the name stuck.”

Since I have no direct knowledge of the facts, I’ll perpetuate the story like any good reporter.

Goodman, Ellington and Herman played up front

Up front was band music played by the greats: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman. Hometown boy Jerry Ford played the trumpet there when he was 15. The house band, Jack Staulcap’s Orchestra, made more than 850 appearances before the club’s format changed in 1979. The club was known for having some of the first and best Chinese food in the region.

In the back, legend has it, was gambling.

The landmark business transitioned to a “gentleman’s club” in 2006.

Clubs kept blowing up or catching fire

I can remember hearing people talking about mob activities in Southern Illinois. Night clubs and juke joints seemed to blow up and / or catch fire on a regular basis. Dad said you’d better keep your life insurance paid up if you were in the pinball machine business in Illinois.

Missourian reporter Ray Owen mentioned that “The first bomb dropped on United States soil was in Williamson County [Illinois] when members of the Shelton gang flew over the Charlie Birger roadhouse and tossed three dynamite bombs at the Shady Rest. The only one to explode did little damage.”

One-Shot Frony came into The Missourian sporting a new telephoto lens one afternoon. “What are you going to do with that?” I asked him.

“I going to stand over here in Missouri and shoot corruption in Illinois,” he growled.

The Purple Crackle burned at least twice, with two men arrested for arson in a 1984 fire. A 1982 fire was blamed on a neon sign.

East Cape depended on Purple Crackle taxes

Purple Crackle owner Bud Pearce was instrumental in the birth of East Cape Girardeau. In 1975, when the area reached a population of more than 400, he led the drive for incorporation.

His business was essential to the city. When it burned in 1982, the village board had to cancel plans for landscaping and equipping the city park due to the loss of tax revenue from the night club. Pearce estimated that he paid about $500 a month in sales tax to the village. When the club burned again in 1984, the tax roll took a similar hit.

Stories about the Crackle and East Cape

I’m sure some of you have stories that are more interesting than the ones from The Morgue. Just don’t share any about my mother dancing.

37 Replies to “Purple Crackle Becomes The Pony”

  1. Can’t even begin to recant the stories from ’66 onward that revolved around tales of going across the River to the “Crackle”…fake I.D.’s and all, we had a ball in Illinois, and more often than not brought the fun back to SEMO in the trunk of someone’s Mustang!!!!! If you’re stuck in “dry” SEMO, and you can drive across a river into Illinois and PARTY!!????? Good Gravy Gertudikus, we’re going EAST!!!! Great steaks for our ladies, and good Chinese, when no one else in that part of the world had ever heard of chopsticks!!! RIGHT ON, “Crackle” as we knew it, long live the drive across the River, especially on Sunday……beer in Illinois!!!!!!Be Well, kkr

  2. For my 5th birthday I asked my parents to take me to the most exotic place I’d ever heard of – The Purple Crackle. Another of my later classmates was also celebrating her birthday there, and I recall being prompted to ask her to dance to the music of Jack Stalcup. But the most memorable part of that 1954 evening was the appearance of seemingly hundreds of IL State Patrolmen who removed the folding wall and carried away strange devices.

    Perhaps the Capri will have a Purple Crackle Room to recall a Cape long gone.

  3. Sad-it once was such an elegant place. If you got to go there, it was special. I do remember Jack Stalcup. Nice memories.

  4. In late 2008 my mother’s extended family gathered in Cape for her parents 60th wedding anniversary. After the festivities at the Country Club, a couple of my uncles wanted the 3rd generation to witness the town’s nightlife.

    They packed several of us, including my now wife and their own daughters and sons, into a small bus and took us first to the Playdium – not unlike many of the college bars we were familiar with. When the lights flashed at 1:15 they packed us off to the East Side.

    Whether they knew what the Pink Pony was is not certain, but in we went over the protests of one of my cousins who felt it not right to go to a strip club with her father.

    The club itself was bush-league leaving me to wonder about the definition of a a SEMO gentleman, but for better or worse, it’s a memory I’ll always have of Cape.

    My grandmother thought it was great.

  5. The Purple Crackle was an interesting place for sure a source a couple for good memories and tales of daring do for sure. Legend has it the name came from the sign painter from Herrin, IL who painted the sign on the door as Purple Crackle, instead of Grackle. He thought it was just misspelled and who ever heard of a Grackle anyway? Repainting the sign was expensive, so it stayed. That story was told to me thru out my life and confirmed by my dad. I do think perhaps that ALL industries in Cape probably have a story on how the club got its name. I would be interested to see who and what others are out there.
    I recently went in to the Pink Pony and looked around for scientific purposes only. The beer is cold and they let me smoke a cigar inside with no problem and even supplied me with an ash tray. The ladies were grade “B” and pole dancers were just okay. I could not stay beyond two shifts so I really could not got into too much detail on shift changes and quality of the day shift, so will return to keep you all up to speed on my next trip to Cape.

  6. It has always amused that to my parent’s generation, the Purple Crackle was a swanky place with a seedy side (out back) that if you avoided, things were great.

    To my generation (HS grad 1986), when it managed not to burn it was a deathtrap, scary place that patrons carried all weapons – or so the rumors we heard said. I never knew of anyone who was brave OR interested enough to try it. I have no idea if it really was that rough in those days, but that’s what we believed.

    And now it’s a strip club,that in some ways is probably safer to go to than the club it was rumored to be in my generation. Not that I plan to go anyway!

    I loved the bit about your mother saying she danced there. I know she must have meant the early days version of the club (or, like you, hope that what’s she meant), but I can’t stop thinking about the modern incarnation of the club in connection to that statement. Your articles DO make you mother sound like a bit of a spitfire… 😉

  7. An interesting tidbit that Mike Seabaugh told me – if I remember it correctly. When Linda Bloodworth was writing Designing Women she had named a brothel in her script “The Purple Crackle Club” and the censors did not like the word ‘crackle’ in this context and had her change it.

  8. So was it at the Colony Club that I heard Herb Suedekum playing with his group? Jerry (’62), can you help us out here! Another small club, the name of which I’ve forgotten, was north of the Rt. 3 intersection. Must have been payoffs over there, as never was an ID requested when I ordered, in my teens, a “Tom Collins”.

    1. Larry, you may be thinking of the “Why Not” a little further north on Rt 3. Lots of underage drinking going on there during the 60’s, also lots of live music and dancing. It was a very small unremarkable place as I recall. The reason the place was packed was mostly due to the free flow of alcohol without being carded. There were some other similar small bars located just a stone’s throw from each other along that strip, but the “Why Not” was the most popular.

  9. I was swanky in the 60’s with sit down dinners and big band music…which was probably why I did not go there much. Also in the 60’s I was not much of drinker or night owl and so going out after every thing else closed did not have much value to me.
    I was married at 20 so…
    I do remember taking my first wife, Pat Latham (“66”) to a fine dinner. Mike Singleton (“68”) was our waiter and will a wink and smile offer to serve us wine with or meal. We both declined, but enjoyed Shrimp Cocktails and dinner with salad and dessert.
    The place was packed and Linda Maddox and her whole family entered for dinner. They were all seated up front my the band and I thought so that is how the ohter half lives!!! Swanky and sitting up front by the band…does it get any better! I still remember the long Blue dress she wore that night!

  10. It was the Purple Crackle–Jerry’s dad, Herb Suedekum’s band did play there. Jerry’s dad played the bass fiddle.
    My dad and mom used to take Leslie and I there on Friday nights. The special was fish and hush puppies. SOOOOO good. That was very special for us and me–because I got to dance with my daddy.
    David and I celebrated getting engaged December 24th, 1968, by going there to have drinks.

  11. I never went to the Purple Crackle myself but I sure heard plenty about it as I was growing up. It was an upscale place with reportedly fantastic food and maybe some illegal gambling hidden from view. My mother and step-father and friends of theirs went there for special occasions, leaving us kids at home of course. Mom always brought me home some Waverly Wafer crackers. That was the only food I ever ate from there. Mom always dressed up in her finest clothes and looked like a million bucks when they went there. I do remember it being bombed or set on fire, along with the Colony Club. At the time, the word on the street was that it was Mafia-related. Most people I met when I moved to Central Illinois had never heard of Cape Girardeau, but many had heard of the Purple Crackle. When I drive by there now, I almost laugh out loud at the giant pink pony towering above the highway, advertising the “girls” inside. As a kid growing up I wanted so bad to go there just once; now you couldn’t pay me to step in there. Looks like the doorway to hell to me. No thanks. And, Ken, your mother probably danced there around the same time my mom did when it was the best thing going around Cape with the best food and music. Mom raved about their blue cheese salad dressing. She always had on sparkly jewelry and high heels for a night at the Purple Crackle. My step-dad even wore a suit when they went there.

  12. The Purple Crackle was the location of my first introduction to Chinese food at a restaurant, sometime around 1968 as a guest of the Tom Phillips (architect) family. It was, at that time, a fairly nice place and the live music was very enjoyable.
    Later years, it ended up being more of a dive and the clientele was considerably younger.

    Just east, the Colony Club became “My Place” where a younger crowd also was entertained by live bands of varying caliber in the early to late seventies.

    On the southwest corner intersection of IL-146 and IL-3, was the Hushpuppy Catfish Farm, that started as a little carry-out liquor store that continued to grow as they served liquor by the drink. Many hours of many nearly mis-spent youths were passed in various states of alcohol induced/influenced behavior there.

    I really don’t miss those nights…

  13. Yes, Yes, Yes!! Fun memories…Was the Lion’s Club annual Christmas party held at the Colony Club or the Purple Crackle?

  14. Reading about the purple crackle, brought back many memories. Could tell many stories re “The Purple Crackle”; some would make some of your recipients smile, or blush. During family story telling session over the years, I have told the more benign stories to my children.
    When my father passed away in 2007, we had a memorial for him in Cape. While there, my children said that I would have to show them “The Purple Crackle.” Much to my surprise, it had turned into a “gentlemen’s” club.
    Before my father passed away (here in Kansas), he was having some memory problems and would think that he was somewhere in Cape; such as Unnerstqll’s drugstore, Capaha Park – places that he used to patronize. He would go to the nurses’ station and ask them to call me. When I answered he would tell me “where he was at” and ask me to come pick him up, and then hang up. Once he said that he was at the “Purple Crackle”, and before he could hang up the nurse said “Clarence, let me have the phone please.” She said excuse me, but I have to ask, just what is a “Purple Crackle? I explained.

  15. Daddy used to play his Sax at the Purple Crackle. I remember that Mother and he took Beth and me there for dinner, years later. Daddy danced with all of us girls. Mother and he were the best. It really felt special!

  16. I remember many evenings at the Purple Crackle in the late 50s and early 60s. My parents and their friends danced the cha-cha and other dances to those wonderful bands, looking very glamorous, and also I danced with my Dad and my brother Rob danced with our Mom. It was also a place my folks went with their friends, the Hechts, Pollacks, Sheets, Kinders, Limbaughs, Harrisons and others. The Chinese food actually was wonderful–a chef and his family had moved there from China, and they grew the vegetables and herbs in a garden right behind the club. I believe my mother even took our Girl Scout troop there during daylight hours to hear the family’s story and learn about the foods. There was Bingo, too, with prizes like portable TVs and small appliances. For years we had two little black and white portable TVs my mother had won playing Bingo at the Purple Crackle. I think the Colony Club was similar, maybe even a little fancier, with bands and dancing, but not the Chinese food and maybe not the Bingo. I heard there was more serious gambling in back rooms at both places, but I never knew any more than rumors about that.



  18. My Mother-in-law worked at The Crackle for many years as a waitress and made it easy for me to take her daughter there on special occasions in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Does anyone else remember the candles in the tall glass cylinders that had the metal open topped caps that when turned would expose or hide the red portions of the glass to call a server to your table? The dark atmosphere, the big band music, the exotic asian food, the personal service and the “Upper Crust” dressed in their finest made me dig deep for my best manners and posture. Ma-in-law taught me how to use the right fork, manipulate chop sticks and properly open a baked roll with a fork. I married good.

  19. I remember the Crackle. We spent a special evening there when we were dating, my senior prom night supper, I believe. I tasted my first frog legs there.
    Years later we visited to pick up one of the first Illinois lottery tickets and all I can remember were the seedy looking clientel, and the smell of old beer. So much for the sands of time.

  20. I remember the Purple Crackle as a great place to eat and dance. I think Bill Ewing had a band that played there often. I had a friend in college that loved to dance as much as I did and we would sometimes go for drinks and dancing. We both LOVED to tango.
    I also remember a bar on route #3. I had my “exotic” drink there. Can’t remember the name, but it was a layered drink that was as pretty as it was potent!

  21. i remember the purple crackle from the late 70’s
    disco music.alot of fun.we used to drive all the way from flat river,missouri to go there.

  22. I remember going to the Purple Crackle as a kid. We only went a couple of time and it was always on a Friday night after Dad got paid. We dressed in our finest clothes and drove across the bridge to an evening of fine dining and the sounds of the big band music. I remember one of the most exciting things for us kids was the end of the meal when they brought the fortune cookies.

  23. My parents loved the Crackle, we would go to have dinner on Sundays and they loved to dance. They introduced me to my wife, Vi Ann who sang with her parents Vi and Eddie Keys in the lounge. So it became a regular hangout for me. Tons of fun, lot of history. And the history of “Little Egypt”, Southern Illinois gambling is fascinating. BTW, Bud Pearce confirmed that the mis-spelling on the sign is exactly how it got it’s name.

    Vi Ann sang with her parents and with Jerry Ford’s Band, who was a Fraternity brother,so I could always get a great spot. She sang some with Jack Stalcup’s Band. But great food and great entertainment. When i came home after being away for 42 years, it was a disappointment to not have the Purple Crackle!

    It used to be a Routine when I closed up Ricardo’s in Cape to end up after hours at the Colony Club…Party Time! Fast and Furious days.

  24. Hey. I remember passing the Purple Crackle on my first trip to Cape Girardeau in search of an old soul singer named William Bollinger. Sadly I never did find him, and I ended up finding his obituary in the Southeast Missourian before I ever found him, but I was wondering if you recalled him, or ever got to see him perform. I read in an excellent book called “Tales Of An All-Night Town” (which is about his brother James Bollinger) that he often performed at the Purple Crackle or the Colony Club. Both he and the Black Cairo band known as the Soul Phonics are part of the hidden history of the area’s soul and funk music scene.

  25. I remember both clubs very well. Very good food down stairs tables upstairs. Harvey Henry and I spent several hours upstairs. My family and friends spent several hours down stairs for food and music.
    The owner of the motel at 3 and 146 learned not to mess with the mob as well as others in the area.

  26. I’m surprise no one has mentioned the downstairs disco club. In addition to the very nice upstairs restaurant with great big band music and dancing, in the mid 70’s, The Crackle opened a disco club a la Saturday Night Fever in their basement. During my college years it was generally packed. They even had a lighted disco floor.

    I was terribly disappointed to see its degeneration to The Pink Pony. Why do people people keep referring to it as a “gentleman’s” club. I doubt its patrons are gentlemen.

  27. Had a “blind date” at the Purple Crackle in the Fall of 1952, when I was an Aviation Cadet at Malden Air Base, Missouri. Great food snd dancing. My blind date is now my bride of 62 years!. I like to say she was “blind” but I wasn’t.

  28. To the author, Ken Steinhoff:
    Thought you’d like to know that there is a brass embossing die in the archives of the Nevada Historical Society in Reno – a die of the type used to stamp the club name “The Purple Grackle” on gaming chips! Yes, it’s “Grackle” with a G.

  29. My grandfather, Vernon Fee, was a friend of Bud’s. I remember standing on Papaw’s shoes, dancing, as a little girl to a “Big Band” in the ’60s when my grandparents took us to dinner. I also remember the night that the old Colony Club (of which I have a membership card courtesy of the Sig Eps) was burned. The fraternity had purchased/rented the building, and the first night they charged admission and allowed people other than frats/sororitys there, it was burned. Story is, the live band’s last song was Talking Heads “Burning Down the House.” I’m guessing 1984-85? Also, there’s another fraternity that took pics with a gas can outside the next morning, and within hours had the FBI at their door. Gotta love the Tekes.

  30. Ah, yes, The Purple Crackle. I remember as a kid that it was the Saturday and New Year’s Eve date night destination for my older sisters, Gerry and Beth, and their dates. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians Orchestra played there on New Year’s Eve for many years. My uncle, Homer Gilbert – a trumpeter extraordinaire – played in the house band as his part-time gig every weekend for years. As a kid I was tall and adult looking. I remember the Rialto Theater trying to charge me adult rates (over 12) when I was 10. But in my teens it paid off when I learned I could buy beer, etc., at the PC’s drive-up package window without an ID, and was served liquor in the dining room on my own Saturday night dates without question. Who am I kidding, I think any one who was old enough to drive back then would have been afforded the same service. Because, as we all remember, the Chicago mafia supposedly ran Southern Illinois in those days.

  31. We would often go on Friday or Sat nights for dinner. I remember they advertised “milk fed “ chicken. And it was very good. The first and o Lu time I ever heard that term. The music was always good.

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