Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, August 17, 2012

THE KINGS OF CROWNS


The game of checkers and its predecessors has been around for thousands of years.  The British called the popular game "draughts".  In America, we called it "checkers."  It was about 90 years ago when checkers skyrocketed to popularity in the latter years of World War I and the decade thereafter.  


The people of Dublin were right proud of their checker playing abilities.  In the summer of 1910, the greatest checker players in the South gathered in Macon.  Dublin City School Superintendent Roland Brooks was there too.  It was claimed that he was the best checker player in Laurens County.

When the game's popularity really began to soar in 1921, the checker afficionados of The Emerald City formed the Dublin Checker Club, said to be one of the first in the state, although  it was actually, only the first in the East Central Georgia area.  

L.G. McNeely was elected president.  The organization's first vice president was George W.  Shepherd.  H.M. Hatcher served as secretary.  Shepherd was hailed as one of the best checkers players in the state, finishing fifth at a past state convention. 

The real Kings of Crowns, in their own humble opinions, resided in the city of Irwinton, Georgia in Wilkinson County.  

Whenever a visitor or novice player came into town, he was pitted against Herschel Dominey.  If he managed to best the mediocre Dominey, the winner then faced, H.B. Adkins, who would pull out his pipe, "Old Betsy," to show the optimist who was really the best.   Then if he was a pretty fair checker man, Ol' Lum was called in to defend the honor of Wilkinson County.  And, if that failed, George H. Carswell, the reserve King of Crowns,  No one, ever beat Carswell.  And if such a travesty ever happened, there was always the threat of showing the purported champion a swift, and not so pleasant, way out of town.

The clock was just about to strike high noon on a hot August Saturday in 1924.  H.F. Heywood had just lost his 22nd game in a row to Herschel Dominey.  George H. Carswell, the local king of crowns, had just wagered four to one that Captain Skelton didn't get into heaven.  An intense argument arose over the issue of tariffs.  Among the assembly of the checker players and onlookers, politics was the main topic of discussion.   

Clang! Clang! rang the bell at the old Union Church.

Instantly everyone thought fire!

The memory of the cremation of the courthouse some six months earlier was still on everyone's mind.    Eyes turned to look for fire hoses.  Eyes looked toward the roof tops and tree lines for signs of smoke.  With not a single plume in sight, the crowd frantically began to collect buckets and fill them with water.  

Not knowing which end of town was on fire, one resident threw down a plug of Brown Mule tobacco which he was cutting for a customer, commandeered Tom Murphy's 1909 Ford, and dashed throughout the town looking for black smoke and flames.  The manic merchant nearly careened into the checker crowd which had assembled at Lum's corner drugstore.  Riding only on two wheels as it rounded the corner, Murphy nearly sideswiped Miss Pinkie Adams' rooster as he was in a wild path while on the way to see a flock of hens.  A pack of agitated hounds followed the swirling trail of dust.

And, the bell rang and rang and rang. 

Mrs. H.B. Adkins, in obedience to the Reverend's request, rang the bell at the appointed hour to remind townsfolk of the beginning of the revival on Sunday. 

Once the excitement was over, the games resumed, but not for long.

"All good things come to end," so they always say.  And so did the checker playing in Irwinton.  Or so, it was said.

Seems that the main topic of the Christian reawakening was the perniciousness of the grand old game.   Rev. Barron, the visiting minister, warned the congregation that checker playing was sinful.  The church members, composed of Methodists and Baptists, were somewhat divided on the issue.  A large number of the Methodists insisted that checker playing was not a sin, since it is not specifically mentioned in the Bible as being in derogation of God's word. The Methodists proclaimed it was only a sin for the Baptists to take part in the game.  Other Methodists remained insecure about the consequences of resuming the games, if indeed Rev. Barron was correct.

Doomsayers predicted the church imposed ban would ruin the city by turning away visitors and prospective citizens who had a passion for the game.  

It wasn't long before checker addicts reasoned and rationalized Rev. Barron's stern warnings.  When it was announced that the recent state championship was determined to be undetermined, those who had the ultimate confidence in their abilities began to wonder what would have happened had they taken a secret trip to Macon to compete and possibly win.  They had no doubt that someone in Wilkinson County would have come back with high honors.

After the ban on checkers was declared, Carswell, a devout Baptist, returned from a trip to Atlanta.  Checker fans held out all hope that since Carswell was not present in church when the matter was cussed and discussed, that the town tradition would resume and the Baptists would soon begin backsliding toward their normal behavior, saving the town from an abomination.  

Apparently, their wishes came true.   When plans for the new courthouse were announced and no steeple or clock was included, town residents went into another frenzy.  Some, like Lum Fleming who cussed the county commissioners for not promptly rebuilding the courthouse,  wanted a steeple like every other courthouse they ever saw.  While others insisted that a large clock be placed on the tower, to remind the checker players that it was time to go home for lunch and avoid the wrath of the beloved wives.

  Victor Davidson, an attorney and Wilkinson County historian, reported, "The checker board at Heywood's store has been consigned to utter destruction and the one at Thads', although still in existence, presented a forlorn and deserted appearance."  Davidson woefully stated that a 50-cent harmonica had taken the place of the checker board at Heywood's.  
When the church folk effectively  pinned the Kings of Crowns in a zugswang*, they resigned their games, removed their boards from the sidewalks  and took their draughts men to the back rooms where the games resumed out of plain sight of the ardent Baptists.


* Zugswang is where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move when he would prefer to pass and make no move. The fact that the player must make a move means that his position will be significantly weaker. 

2 comments:

John Wrot said...

Great post here. I am curious about your image of the stacked checkers pieces. Do you own that image? I would like to use it for a moment in a comedic video short about board games this week.
Please Respond.

Scott Thompson said...

No, I don't own the image.
Thanks for the kind words.