FRED PERRY,  THE ELK CITY FLASH


Fred Perry was born and raised on the West Side of Charleston, known back in the day as "Elk City".  He became the most widely known and popular gambler of his day. Not counting the money he made in America, he also made over 7 MILLION dollars in Cuba.  But before
we get into Fred Perry's life, let's start at the beginning with his father:

Fred Perry




Fred Perry

 


Fred Perry was the most famous gambler in his day, with stories appearing
all over the U.S. in major newspapers, like this one from the L.A. Times.

Fred Perry



Amazing isn't it?  And yet no one remembers the "Elk City Flash".  Well, I am here to correct that and give you the story that nobody today knows....

Fred Perry was born on the West Side in 1886, and lived at 115 Fayette St, now Lee Street W. just before he left home in 1905.  Below you will read of his exploits, including his stint at the White Sulphur Springs Resort....

Fred Perry



Fred Perry




The following is a chapter on Fred Perry's life from the book
"When it's Cocktail Time In Cuba"


Fred Perry

Fred Perry is a "square gambler."


Charleston, W. Va., 1889. A frame house of some pretension, painted white. A God-fearing man of gentle features paces anxiously the porch. Suddenly he halts; sweat breaks out on his forehead; there is a faint — becoming lusty — cry from within. A woman hurries out and beckons, speaking softly:

"It's a boy."

1900....  Another house but the same gentle-faced man speaking to his small son.

"Boy, you are to be raised for the Church, to follow the vocation of your father. It may be that when you are older you will not feel the Call. In that case you will go your own way in life, remembering the stock you spring from. You'll remember that your grandfather was Colonel Flintlock Perry, a hero of the war. You'll remember also that your father was a gentleman, and that you must always be a gentleman, in whatever paths your life may lead you.

"A gentleman, Fred, means honor, trustworthiness, decency, charity. Never forget that."

Fred Perry never has. He never "felt the Call" and never entered the Church, but if he failed in this ambition of his father's the testimony is overwhelming that he has planned his life according to the other.

"How in the world," I said, "did you ever become a gambler—raised in that atmosphere?"
Perry was meditative.

"Well," he said, "I guess it just had to be, that's all. I must have been a throw-back to old Flintlock Perry, who was some lad if all I can gather is true. Gambling fascinated me the more because it was so strictly condemned in my home.

"Why, my home was the strictest you can imagine. My mother wouldn't allow a card or a drop of alcohol to cross the doorstep. One day she was failing and the doctor prescribed malt beer. She was horrified. She said she would rather die than touch a drop.

"My father regarded drinking and card-playing in the same light as murder, adultery, or the other deadly sins. That's why it happened, I guess. It's an old story. Being forbidden certain things, I set out to find out why they were forbidden, and found I liked them."

Perry hesitated a moment. Then he said: "I think if father had known these things himself his attitude towards them would have been different. Playing cards can't be a sin, because it isn't dishonest in itself, it's just your skill against someone else's, your luck against his. All life's that, if you really come down to it. The principles of life are the same that a fellow goes up against at poker or craps.

"And I've known men in the gambling business who were just as honorable, to their way of looking at it, as my father was in his own view. None of the gamblers I played around with for years would take money from a man if they knew he needed it. Lots of times I've seen them give it back to a man when they found out he'd a wife and kids at home."

"Perry," I said, "when did you start to gamble?"

The fair-headed, smooth-cheeked man thought a moment.

"Well," he said, "it wasn't in the Epworth League— ( the Epworth League is a Methodist young adult association) though there was a kid there who—but we  needn't go into that. I think the first time I ever saw a gambling game was when I was a page in the State legislature. The pages used to shoot craps behind the scenes.  "I liked to be thought a 'good sport' in those days, and I got to be a pretty good crap shooter. Then I started playing pool — and father found out." 

"That was the beginning?" I said, gently.

"Yes. There was a row, and I left home when I was nineteen. Went to the Jamestown Fair with a fellow. Carl—he was my pal—and I were both pretty fair with a cue and we drifted from place to place making our living in the pool-rooms. Then we met a civil engineer who offered us a job over in Joplin, Missouri. That was my first real trip away from home. I'd never even been inside a theater until then.
"Over in Joplin, which was a pretty wild town, there was an old man with a white beard named Hanley. He was a professional poker player. He saw the way I was drifting and tried to get me to go home. But I wouldn't. I was willful—and scared.

" 'Well, boy, if you will be a gambler you'd better be a good one,' old man Hanley told me. And he taught me the tricks of the trade.

"Hanley was the one who taught me to respect the viewpoint of the other man. Always to look behind the words of a man, and not go butting in with my own half-baked ideas. He said the first thing a gambler had to be was square, because if he wasn't he'd be shot, sooner or later."

Perry, first with one pal and then with another, drifted around the Middle West and finally "made a killing" which brought him East again. He and a gambler named Eddie Young became great friends. Eddie was from his part of the country.

"A good deal of what I know about human nature I learned from the gaming tables," said Perry, "and most of what I know about gambling I learned first from Old Man Hanley and secondly from Eddie Young."

He looked up from where we were sitting in the Casino and, seeing a man passing, called to him.

"Oh, Eddie!" he said. When the man, short, stockist, with clear, quizzical eyes, came, he introduced us.

"Sit down, Eddie," he said. "Eddie, I want to see you two meet. . . . This is Eddie Young of West Virginia, my best pal and my right-hand man."

Mr. Young and I shook hands.

"Eddie," resumed Perry, "this gentleman wants to write about gambling and gamblers. Do you think we should let him, Eddie?"

Mr. Young was deliberate. "Wa-al, now," he said, finally, "I don't know why he shouldn't. Gambling's a business, just like any other. It's a tolerable clean business, too, nowadays. As clean as any I know of."

"Not only clean, Eddie," said his chief, "but it's the only business in the world that's got to be clean. If we tried tactics here that some businesses they claim are 'honest' do we'd be out of business in a week."

Mr. Young nodded. "That's whatever," he said.

"To get back to the subject," I said, "what happened after you had become a full-fledged gambler?"

"Oh—I don't know. Just drifted around. Ran a place here and there. Worked awhile in New York. Got to be quite a boy at golf."

"Golf!" I said.

"Yea, golf!" repeated Perry. "America's greatest gambling game after poker—and Wall Street, of course."

"He was an amateur champion golfer once," said Mr. Young, with a grin. "Eddie here thinks it's funny," Perry explained. "Gamblers didn't use to golf much in those days."

After "driftin' around" Perry became manager of the club at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
There he made his reputation, and it was there that Messrs. Bowman and Flynn found him and appealed to him to come and run their casino.

"It's a nice little show," said Perry, "and I've got a fine bunch of boys working for me—starting with Eddie here."  "The boys would go to hell for him," said Eddie, aside.

I found that this was literally true. Perry has collected dealers and croupiers from all the reputable houses in the States,* men whose reputations he knows. Many of them are gray-haired, veterans of the old open days of California and the Territories. Some worked for Tex Rickard in the old Concordia Club; others were dealing faro in Tucson and Phoenix when the Forty-eighth State, puffed up in brand-new statehood, prohibited public gambling. Men like Holladay, Billy Stewart, Barton, Barry, Andy Ginter, Cap'n McKeen of Texas, Frank Jones.

"See that little fellow there?" asked Perry, pointing to a small man whose manner of walking denoted the horseman, and whose frank smile and courteous ways I had noticed before. "That's one of America's best amateur polo players, Herbert Wynn. He's not a rich man, though, and you have to be rich to play polo. So now he's one of my right-hand men." He called to Mr. Wynn.

"Herbert," he said, "I was just telling this gentleman about you. He's going to put us in a book. Do you mind?"

* I asked Perry how many "reputable" gambling houses there were. "In the entire United States," he said, "there are not more than five places worth a good gambler's time."

"If I was ashamed of my job I wouldn't be working here," said Mr. Wynn, easily. "This is as good as any other job—as good as selling bonds, anyway."

"And as hard," put in Mr. Young.

"Is it really hard work?" I asked. I had always heard gamblers referred to as "soft-fingered idlers."

"So hard," said Perry, "that an hour at a time is a long time for a dealer to deal without relief. Short of stoking a battleship—and that shift's two hours— I don't know anything so hard as that."

"A dealer has to be wide awake every minute," explained Young. "It may look easy, but a good dealer is so fast that it takes a lightning calculator to keep up with him. And he can't make mistakes. If he does, the house pays for them many times over. Making mistakes at dealing is often worse than being downright crooked."

After watching some of the dealers awhile, seeing how deftly they estimated the number of chips in front of you without counting them, noting how they made change and paid winning bets without an error, I was inclined to agree with him.

Young took me to a table and gave me a number of chips.

"Stack 'em up on the hazard table over there and ask Joe how many you've got," he suggested.
I did so. Joe glanced at the stacks with a casual eye.

"One hundred and sixteen dollars, sir," he said. "Will you take cash?"

Eddie smiled. "Count 'em," he urged. I counted. One hundred and sixteen dollars!

A man walked into Perry's office in the Casino. He wanted to cash a check for two thousand dollars.
His name meant nothing to Perry. He offered his card—with a small middle-western town as address.

"Stranger," said Perry, "if I walked into your place of business at home and asked you to cash a check for $2,000 when you didn't know me, would you do it?"

The stranger stammered, cleared his throat, finally thought he would.

"You wouldn't," said Perry. "Here's what I'll do. I'll gamble with you. Make this check for a thousand and I'll take a chance."

Another man walked into the office, in a towering rage.

"What's this hundred-dollar limit stuff?" he sneered. "Say, this is a cheap joint!"

Without a word Perry fished out a coin from his vest pocket.

"So you want a gamble, do you?" he said. "Well, in the game you were playing, there's five percent for the house. I'll tell you what I'll do. We'll toss this coin and you can call it heads or tails. Or you can toss one of your own coins. And make it any limit you want. How much is it? Five—ten—fifty thousand? I'm right here to accommodate—and no percentage."

The man grinned sheepishly and withdrew.

Sitting with me over supper, Perry watched a woman enter the gaming rooms. He looked a little disgusted.

"Back again!" he said. "Wait a moment." He called an assistant. "Bill, that lady is not to play," he said. Then, to me: "We have two of her checks from last year. She can't afford to play. She only has a small income and it goes in a night at the tables. We don't want that kind of money here."

On another occasion, when a certain big gambler from New York objected to a croupier's rapidity, Perry took him into the private room and showed him a roulette wheel, a hazard-board and other games. "Name your limit," he said, "and I'll deal for you myself—and no percentage. Anything you like up to a million. Or, if you prefer, you can deal, and I'll play."

A famous humorist lay on his back in a hospital. The appendicitis operation hadn't quite succeeded.  There had been complications.

"Haven't been able to work for three months, Fred," he said. "Tough on the wife."
An hour later the wife returned and saw a slip of paper on the bed. She read it, and blanched.
"Fred Perry's been here!" said her husband. "I know," she said. "He left this. We got to send it back." It was a check for ten thousand dollars.

I asked a man in business in Havana about Perry. Never have I seen worship so absolutely flood a man's face.

"Listen," he said, "I'd go to hell for that guy, see? You know when I started this place I didn't have much capital and what with one thing and another things didn't look too good. Sugar had crashed and nobody was spending. "Then the wife took sick, and after that I had to get sick too. All my savings looked like being swept away. It certainly seemed my finish.

"Then one night I met this man Perry. 'Hello, George,' he said. He'd known me in New York— not well, as a friend—only casually. 'Hello, Fred,' says I. That was all. But he must have seen by my manner that I was in a hole. Next day he comes to my place and looks me straight in my face.

"'George, you damn' fool,' he says, 'why didn't you put me wise? How much do you need?' I tried to protest. 'George,' he continues, 'I could poke you a swift one, you're so dumb! How much do you need?'
"Well, the long and the short of it is that Fred Perry pulled me out of a damn' tight hole. You couldn't say 'no' to him. 'Shucks,' he'd say, 'what do you think it's good for, anyway?' That's how he thinks of money. Something to help out his pals with. And I wasn't even a real pal."

A night club in New York. A bit of "fluff" is "giving her line" to the "boy from the sticks," the "free-handed spender."

Fred Perry looked at her with a smile.

"Sister," he said, "you tell me that you've got a dying mother, a crippled sister, and a brother in jail, not to speak of the younger brother you're puttin' through school." "It's true, Fred," said the girl, her voice quavering professionally. "It's true, so help me—"

"Gosh, girl," said the tall man, "I'm not asking you if it's true or not. You tell it—that's good enough."

The man who told me that story, one of New York's best-known sporting writers, said that an hour or two later they found the girl all alone in a corner, weeping over a thousand-dollar bill. "C'n you beat it?" said the sport-scribe. "She wanted to give it back! Said he was too decent a guy to bilk."

I taxed Perry with these and other crimes and he merely smiled, his blue eyes looking into mine humorously.

"Just put me down as a damn' fool and you'll have said it," he said.

It was like the man not to try to deny the tales. A less honest man would have done so, or pretended to.

When it comes right down to it I don't know of any man whose hand I'd rather shake, whom I'd rather call friend, than "the Elk City Flash"—Fred Perry, gambler.



Just a few of the hundreds of articles on The Elk City Flash



Fred Perry






Fred Perry




Fred Perry






Fred Perry



Fred Perry




Fred Perry

Fred Perry




SEE MORE ARTICLES ON FRED PERRY HERE







AND NOW ABOUT HIS GRANDFATHER "FLINTLOCK" PERRY

flintlock Perry


Flintlock Perry


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