It’s in the Cards

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016When I was 14, Bill Hardwick, Martin Dubs and I got on a train in Cape Girardeau that took us all to way out to Philmont Scout in New Mexico. While we were aboard the Santa Fe, I picked up this deck of cards to while away the time. It’s been living in a drawer with a bunch of other decks for 35 or 40 years.

She’s a little worse for the wear, but the box still looks almost like new. I thought using Congress as the Joker might be a political commentary, but I found that it was the name of the card company.

Dad and I played Canasta

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016When I wrote about running across my Old Maid cards in the back of the sock drawer, I mentioned that Dad and I played gin rummy and canasta in the basement in the evenings.

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016In fact, I recognize the back on these Blackstone cards. I might be able to remember how to play gin rummy, but I have long forgotten the rules to canasta.

Hamilton cards had a Christmas theme

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016One of the two decks of these Hamilton cards is still in its original cellophane wrapper.

Rider Back Bicycle playing cards

There’s a good reason why these were called Rider Back Bicycle Playing cards

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016The backs show a winged cherub riding what appears to be a bicycle. This deck’s seal is still unbroken.

Never played bridge nor poker

1930-02-11 SE Missourian Bridge PromoI’m surprised that I was never drummed out of the newspaper business for not knowing how to play poker. That ignorance probably saved many paychecks.

Bridge was a big deal in Cape Girardeau. Here’s a front page promo for Bridge by Radio.

When I transferred into Ohio University my junior year, dorm space was tight, so I was pigeonholed into a tiny room with two freshmen. One of them was an over-privileged twirp whose obnoxiousness was trumped only by the volume of his snoring.

Fortunately, early in his college academic career he discovered all-night bridge games in the lounge. They were followed by all-day bridge games. The other roomie and I didn’t miss him when he flunked out after the first quarter.

Not much news about card games

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016With Cape being in the Bible Belt, I figured there would be lots of stories about card gambling. It turned out most of the busts had to do with moonshine, bootlegging, and the “operation of gambling devices.”

Typical of the stories was one in the July 23, 1930, Missourian where “George C. (“Curley”) Norris, who for months operated a notorious roadhouse on the Bend road, was arrested for the operation of a roadhouse, sale of liquor and operation of gambling devices.” Arrested with him when he was apprehended in Poplar Bluff was Edna Conrad, who, the paper pointed out, “admitted they were not married, according to officers.”

Maybe Edna had a salacious twist like the Queen of Hearts in the Northbrook deck.

Revenue stamp dates deck

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016This unopened deck of Northbrook cards still sports the U.S. Int. Rev. stamp on the package. Those revenue stamps were issued between 1894 and June 22, 1965. That would mean the deck is at least half a century old.

Mother and the slot machine

Mary Welch Steinhoff, right, in front of Prather Building with half of Advance, MOI can’t let the topic of gambling pass without repeating the story Mother always told about her girlhood.

My grandparents owned several businesses in Advance at one time or another. One was a tavern that had a few slot machines to bring in some extra (if illegal) income. Her parents had to leave one afternoon and left her in charge. She was all of about 13 years old.

It must have been an election year, because the place suddenly filled with law enforcement officers who were going to confiscate the slot machines as being illegal gambling devices. Mother knew that one of the machines was full of money, so she stood up to the sheriff and said, “You can’t take that one. It’s broken. If it doesn’t work, it’s no more a gambling machine than that bar stool.”

They left it behind.

The coy joker

Playing cards owned by Steinhoff family 02-20-2016Kings, Queens and Jacks all looked pretty much the same, but Jokers could have some personality.

Northbrook how-to pamphlet

In case you didn’t know how to play cards or take care of them, Northbrook packaged this pamphlet with their cards. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.

Vice Raids and a Skeptical Editor

I guess it’s safe to tell this story now. On my way back home, I passed through Gastonia, N.C., where I worked in the early 70s. One of my favorite SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) officers, sadly, is no longer with us, I found. To keep him from haunting me, I’ll just refer to him as “Vance.”

Bill, the Gazette cop reporter, and I supplemented our meager newspaper incomes by freelancing stories and photos to crime magazines. Gaston County folks had unique and imaginative ways of eliminating each other. I had lots of tasteless pictures and Bill had a knack for lurid prose, so we could sell something every couple of months to turn fifty or seventy-five bucks each.

“You’re making this stuff up”

One of the editors we dealt with in Chicago called and said, “I think you guys are making this stuff up. I have to pass through there and I want to meet you.”

He happened to pick a day when there was a major bootlegging and gambling raid going on, so we took him with us. My SBI buddy, Vance, said, “We know there is gambling going on in that bar, but they know all of us. We need a stranger to go in and observe the gambling so we can get a warrant. Hey, you, Chicago. Go knock on the door and tell ’em ‘Charlie sent me.’ Look around and come back out.”

He was a frail little thing who was obviously more comfortable editing crime than seeing it, but he went in, saw skullduggery and reported back. They got the warrant and busted the place for gambling and bootlegging. The cops were standing around the card table counting the cash they had seized when one of them asked, “Anybody here got a rubber band to wrap this up?” One of the gamblers reached into his pocket, pulled out a roll of cash bigger than what was on the table, slid a rubber band off it and handed it to the cop.

Later that evening, we were over at Bill’s house rehashing the day’s events when the phone rang. It was Vance looking for me.

“I need a favor”

“I’ve got a favor to ask. It’s totally off the record. Can you help me out?”

“Let’s talk.”

“An old woman who had been confined to a state mental hospital died and her body was shipped down here to a funeral home. The family, who hadn’t seen her in years is insisting that the woman in the casket isn’t ‘Aunt Nellie.’ We KNOW it’s Aunt Nellie because the institution’s records say that Aunt Nellie has a club foot. They want someone to go to the funeral home to take a photo of Aunt Nellie and her foot so they can confirm her identity.”

I went with him to the funeral home, shot the photos and handed him a roll of film. “This never happened,” I told him. (Not that the newspaper would have cared anyway.)

“Can I pay you for your time?”

“Nah, I’d rather have you owe me.”

“Well, we took down all those joints today. I have a trunk full of booze. Want some?


“How ’bout some pot?”

“That’s OK.” I was afraid to see what else he would offer me.

I just “happened” to have a screwdriver

During the raid, I spotted this cool slot machine being carried out. It had a brass Indian head on it that had been polished shiny by hundreds of hands rubbing it for luck. When the courts were through with the case, all of the gambling equipment was consigned to the local landfill where it was to be destroyed by pulverizing it with a bulldozer.

I saw my slot machine sitting waiting for its turn and just “happened” to have a screwdriver with me. I took the Indian off and sidled up to my buddy Vance. “I’d really like for this to follow me home.”

“Sorry, Ken, I have to swear to the judge that I saw the pieces scattered all over the landfill,” he said, tossing it about 10 feet and turning his back.

The Indian head is in a place of honor on my bookshelf. R.I.P Vance.

Oh, and, by the way, the Chicago editor never questioned any of our stories after that.

P.S. Mother has a slot machine story of her own. (It’s at the bottom of the post.)