Last week during a shoe shine at the barber shop over on Front and Beckham, Robert the shoe shine man showed me something he knew would interest me.
It was a matchbook from the old Blackstone Hotel in Tyler. It was in near-perfect condition. We talked about the old place, he from his memories and me from the memories of others.
He shared with me that Vernon “Shorty” Duncan spotted him as a 13-year-old working the square with his shine box and recruited him to join him at the Blackstone. It was the beginning of a long friendship. Shorty passed away several years back.
I have no memories of the place other than attending the demolition of the structure when it was imploded and having read a story in this newspaper about Ben Fitzgerald taking one of his prize bulls upstairs on the elevator. It was a great publicity stunt and may have made the front page.
Many Tylerites recall the Blackstone as the grande dame of hotels in Tyler.
My maternal grandparents spent some time there when my grandfather returned from the war. To hear them talk about the Blackstone was with revered tones and cherished memories.
I used to grab matchbooks at restaurants as a practice. That was back when I was a smoker along with many other folks in those days. When I started smoking, the movement was running out of steam but the matchbooks were a fascinating bit of archeology as I re-encountered them over the years.
It was a great way to keep matches around the house as well. Nowadays if I find the need for one it is usually from a box of matches purchased. Hard to conceive for some folks. I’m glad to buy matches rather than to have stayed a smoker for the convenience.
Some people can even remember places where you would encounter a “cigarette girl” who sold everything from cigarettes to cigars and matches were probably free. Presumably, Las Vegas would be the only venue you might expect to encounter a cigarette girl or boy these days.
The last place I can recall such an encounter was in the old L’Etoile (The Star) restaurant in San Francisco. It was a stunning place in the basement of the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill. It closed in 1990 after the earthquake and the space was ultimately converted into a spa. L’Etoile remains on my top 5 all-time restaurant list. Everything was done with excellence.
Such matchbooks were usually in my closet after a trip and would get raided by the kids to start a fire or for mere entertainment. I would cringe anytime I encountered an exhausted book. It felt like losing a memory.
If you have any “matchbook memories” or unusual matchbooks from faraway places send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org