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.)

SEMO’s Double Standard

You don’t hear the phrase “in loco parentis” much these days. It’s Latin for “in the place of a parent” and refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. It allowed for institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the “best interests” of the students as they saw fit.

I didn’t realize just how loco the parentis Southeast Missouri State College was until I ran across my old SEMO Student Handbook that I must have been given when I was a freshman. Women going to school in this century won’t believe the double standard restrictions women had placed on them until the 1970s and beyond.

Campus run like Bootheel high school

President Mark Scully ruled the college campus just like a Bootheel high school. [In fairness to Dr. Scully, his obit in The Missourian had nice things to say about him when he died in 2002.]

Dress Code for Men: Dress for men is slacks and sport shirt or sweater. Shorts may be worn in warmer weather to classes. Shirt tails should never be worn out, and because of sanitation reasons, socks should always be worn with shoes. Thongs are not considered appropriate for any occasion other than dorm wear. For concerts, plays and the like, a suit and/or sports coat is called for. [I’m pretty sure the word “thong” had a different meaning in 1966. Dr. Scully would go out of his way to enforce the shirttail rule personally.]

Dress Code for Women: Skirts and blouses and/or dresses are the appropriate dress for class wear. Girls may dress informally for trips into the Cape Girardeau community and on campus after 4:00 p.m. Informal wear (slacks or shorts) may not be worn in any instructional building or Kent Library. Dress in the residence halls depends on each hall’s rules. Also, teas and concerts and plays call for a suit or party dress with heels and hose.

[Notice that men can wear shorts to class, but women may not wear slacks or shorts in any instructional BUILDING. Guys DID have to wear socks for “sanitation reasons.”]

Association of Women Students

Women students DID get one perk male students didn’t. They were all automatically members of the Association of Women Students.

Membership of the A.W.S. includes every woman student enrolled at SEMO State. Each year this organization carries our several projects designed to aid the women of the campus, and among these projects are a fashion skit during the Orientation which advises the freshman coed on the various types of clothes to wear to college activities, a fall tea for all women students, and a Twirp Week. [The fall tea, Wife Lila informed me, was NOT optional.]

Twirp Week: The Woman Is Required to Pay. Every year, under the sponsorship of the Association of Women Students, one week is designated as Twirp Week. The woman has the opportunity to ask the man of her choice for dates, and assumes the responsibility for providing money and transportation. She must also perform common courtesies such as opening doors, and helping her date with his coat.

Life as a co-ed

I would occasionally need to go into female housing on assignment. It was kind of exciting to be in the inner sanctum with an escort hollering “MAN ON THE FLOOR!” as you walked along. You envisioned meaningful glances from your subjects.

Women’s Hours

  • 11:00 Sunday and the first night back after a college holiday (night before the first day of classes)
  • 10:30 Monday through Thursday
  • 1:00 Friday and Saturday

Unfortunately, this was a more typical reaction.

Late Emergencies

If a co-ed returning to her residence is delayed until after hours, she should notify the houseparent or head resident by phone, i.e., babysitting or travel delays. If a phone is not available, come in and ring the doorbell late. Also, if it is necessary for a co-ed to leave her residence before the time it is regularly opened, she should make the necessary arrangements with the person in charge.

Special Permissions

1:30 closing hours for Homecoming and Sagamore Ball. On these special late nights there will be no overnight permissions granted. All co-eds will have 15 minutes after the close of the following events to return to their living units: Plays, concerts, lectures, college sponsored movies, and similar special events that last beyond closing hours. Arrangements should be made in advance with the houseparent or head resident for any college sponsored group activities such as band trips, debates, and conventions which require extra privileges.

Sign Outs

Overnights in Cape Girardeau and surrounding towns require the use of special sign out forms in the residence halls. Students who plan to stay overnight should request the form only after the Head Resident has contacted the student’s hostess and learned that the guest is welcome. (Maximum number of times per semester, 4 on-campus and 4 off-campus) Any signouts in excess of the stated maximum will be given only at the discretion of the person in charge…Students on restricted permission from their parents must have a letter from them for each separate absence.

[Women could stay out overnight only if the Head Resident called to make sure is was OK with the student’s “hostess.” I would guess that a “host” would not be appropriate. Parents could have an even tighter lock-down: if the student’s parents had put her on “restricted permission,” the parents had to provide a letter approving each request.]

General Conduct

A student at SEMO State is expected to conduct herself in an appropriate manner in her living unit and to conform to standards of propriety at all times. This implies a thoughtful consideration of the welfare and reputation of the school, the individual student, and the community.

[Note the word “herself.” Apparently, except for keeping their shirttails tucked in, men didn’t have any restrictions.]

No panty raids

College Property and Buildings – …Any student found guilty of inciting to action or willingly participating in action resulting in destruction of property or in unauthorized group activities, i.e., raids on women’s’ residences, that may or may not be destructive, will be subject to dismissal from the college. [It doesn’t explicitly spell it out, but this is the No Panty Raid rule.]

Residence Hall rules

Liquor in the hall – State law and College policy forbid the use or possession of alcoholic beverages on State College property. This includes parking lots and other campus areas, including residence halls. Bottles that have contained or appear to have contained alcoholic beverages are not to be used as room decorations.

Gambling – Gambling in every form is prohibited in the residence halls. Mere absence of money from sight does provide loopholes to permit gambling.

Weapons – Possession of any kind of firearms, including war souvenirs that constitute a hazard, is prohibited in residence halls for safety reasons. Hunting equipment should be checked in with the Head Resident.

Pets – For health reasons, dogs, cats, and other pets are not permitted in the residence halls. Goldfish and tropical fish are accepted.

Television – TV’s are not permitted in residence Hall rooms.

[Just for the record, I make enough typos on my own that I usually don’t play grammar policeman. I have to point out the the information in italics came from the student handbook. I’m not responsible for the spelling, consistency in style, or punctuation. An inside page credits Robert Northcutt with the cover design.]

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.