Monday, March 22, 2010

Memories of Norfolk and Wimpy Lassiter

In my continuing spring cleaning efforts, I'm transferring some posts from an old blog that I'm about to discontinue. Here's one from a few years back featuring a letter from Ken McCarthy, who recalls fondly his years in Norfolk, Virginia, a favored haunt of Wimpy Lassiter. Lassiter was a giant there in the 1940s, during and right after World War II. I've got a fair amount written about Wimpy's exploits in Norfolk in Hustler Days. I also wrote an article about Norfolk a few years back in Billiards Digest. Although the formatting is screwed up, an online copy of that article can be found here.

Just below are two notes from Ken McCarthy. According to my records, he sent them to me sometime
before 2006. And just below these notes from Mr. McCarthy I've reproduced some other online memories of Norfolk....

Read on...

"When I was in the navy (1961-1965) I was stationed in Norfolk ,VA and played pool every minute I had at St. Elmos pool hall (2nd floor, a few buildings up from the YMCA). As you know this is where Wimpy played when in town, and it is where I saw him ( I still have a perfect vision of that white head standing out in the dimness along the left wall watching the goings-on). I was just starting to play pool and my friend pointed him out to me as a great player, although at the time I really didn't realize HOW great a player.

"In 1963 or 64 I bought a Willie Hoppe special (Brunswick) cue through the owner (a kindly, short, bald-headed man). I then sanded off a section on the top of the butt, bought a Parker ink pen and asked Mr. Lassiter to sign it. He did, and I still have the cue and the pen. I have recently picked up the game again and I now know that he was actually at the top of his game when he signed my cue!"

I wrote Ken back later, asking him if he had any photos of the St. Elmos to post up here on the Untold Stories website. I also asked if he had ran into other players like Fats at the pool hall. This is his response:

"I do not have any pictures of St. Elmo's even though at the time I was an amateur photographer and my ships official photographer. In 1963 there was no such thing as a family billiard parlor. This was an old time pool hall where you keep your mouth shut and pay up when you lose. I think you can imagine that taking pictures in an establishment like that may have made one "un-popular" with some of the notoriety. But now I sure wished I had.

No, I never run into Fats or Willie. I did meet Art Cranfield once simply because he was from Syracuse, my home town.

So I'm sorry to say that the only thing I can give you are my memories of St. Elmo's and a vivid picture of that white mane sitting along the side wall watching the players.

My good friend at the time, and the guy who started me in pool, played Luther once for five bucks -- a lot of money for a sailor in 1963. Fred broke and nothing went. The one ball lay down by the corner pocket and the nine up by the side. Luther stepped up, pocketed the one, came back up the table with the cue ball and knocked the nine in the side pocket. He turns to Fred and says 'My gosh, what luck. Let's play another.' Fred declined.

If there is anything else please let me know. I would be delighted to see any pictures of that venerable palace of pool if you run across any in your research.



And now, here are a few notes I received on the same topic:
Brian the Bricklayer said...

"I have lived in Virginia Beach my entire life and you have brought back some fond memories for me about St. Elmo's. I was fortunate enough to have gotten one of those cherry wood grained tables when SE closed and I went to the auction. Unfortunately that table went up in a fire a couple years ago. In Lassiters last few years I was lucky enough to have met and talked to him quite a bit. He was full of stories very colorful stories of his life. He told me about when he won the US Open in 64 and going AWOL from Navy by jumping off the ship he was assigned to.
He died like he lived. Playing pool in Elizebeth City practicing the game he loved. What a character"

Anonymous said...

"I grew up in Ocean View and remember St.Elmo's as the old time pool hall it was. Like Brian I was also fortunate enough to aquire a table at the auction. Sorry to hear Brians pice of history went up in smoke."

And Foodbill said...

"I played there from august 66 to August 68. I was a Dental Tech at N.O.B and spent a lot of time at St Elmo's. I went there on the last night of my tour of duty at Norfolk and ran 49 balls in a straight pool match. I too wished l took some pictures. Last year l was looking through Ebay and won a bid on an old cue ball that was used at the pool hall before it was sold in 1970. I was telling a young pro in Conn. about that place all the money you could win or lose in those days. The owner back then was Carolina Witfield,his son worked there too. Does anyone remember Big Red? He love to play golf pool."

-- R.A. Dyer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good grief ! I was born in Portsmouth and grew up in Norkolk-Portsmouth. My dad ran Beacon Billiards in Portsmouth off and on and I spent many hours playing under his watchful eye. One day the phone rang and my dad took the call. Told me I could make $10.00 if I would go to the T O Williams plant and pick up 30lbs of hot dogs and take the to St Elmos. I was 15 and wasn`t legal for driving in Norfolk but $10.00 was huge. That was my first visit of many visits to St Elmos.
Carolina was a good man. I got to know the regular crowd. Wimpy, Cornbread, Fatman, Cabdriver, Sandblaster, Titanic, Shorty Dean, Charlie Boy, and many others.
I have a Bachelors Degree from Old Dominion and a Masters from the St Elmo