In February of 2012, the OMOCH was contacted by Mr. Rahim Ali concerning an item he wanted to submit for exhibition. What he had was film footage that was taken by his Grandfather, Mr. Louis Freeman, during the Ninth American National Checker Tournament, held at Martins Ferry, Ohio, in 1937. This amazing film has probably the only known live action footage of the legendary William Ryan, among others.
    Through correspondence with Mr. Ali, it was decided that we would create a tribute to Mr. Louis Freeman....




  Louis A. Freeman was an American Checkerist who excelled during the late 1920’s-40’s era, primarily in the State of Pennsylvania. However, he was initially known as a Kansas City player. Research reveals that he was listed as being on the “reception committee” for a Kansas City (Missouri) Zone Tournament, which would determine representative players to compete in the coming 5th American National Tournament to be held in Boston, Massachusetts in 1922. This “Zone” tournament was held in December 1921. A report in the American Checker Monthly lists Freeman as actually having competed in this tournament, where he was knocked out in the first round. This is not a disappointing showing, as he was born in 1901. This would have made him a rather young figure in the game, which was not uncommon in this period of the game’s history. Also, this tournament attracted some of the best players in the country. For example, the tournament was won by Joe Duffy, one of the “heaviest hitters” anywhere at the time, and second place went to Manson Teetzel, another prominent Checkerist of the period. It demonstrates Freeman’s devotion to the game at a very early age to even consider entering such a tournament.

  We next see a notice in the February, 1923 issue of ACM that Kansas City will be losing one of its promising young players, as Louis Freeman will be leaving for Pittsburgh, his native city. Manson Teetzel, Editor of the ACM, cites Freeman as being his “protégé”, and looks at Freeman’s prospects in Pittsburgh as being “certainly rosy”. However, with his return to Pittsburgh, the first mentions of his Checkeristic exploits are listed in the May 1924 issue of ACM as a loss on a “Team Match” between Pittsburgh and Uniontown. Here he was defeated in his heat 2-1-1 draws.  

  We have him next competing in the Cedar Point Tourists’ Tournament, where he tied for fourth and fifth place in the Round Robin No. 2 tourney, a credible showing in this very prestigious regional event.

  He continued to participate in local Checkeristic activities, compete with the Pittsburgh Team, and improve his play. And in November of 1927, he took 4th place, (out of 37 competitiors) in the Pennsylvania Checker Association State Championship Tournament , held at Pittsburgh. Later, in January, 1928, he took first place in the Pittsburgh District Tournament, which attracted fourteen entrants. He is recorded in the April, 1930 issue of ACM as taking second place in the Pittsburgh City Championship Tournament. In 1931, he won the same tournament.

  The Checkers climate in the State of Pennsylvania at the time was very unsteady, as there were several different areas with their own local organizations, but no major State organization pulling it all together. In May of 1933, the East Liberty Branch of the Pittsburgh YMCA sponsored a Tournament for the "Western Pennsylvania Championship". There had been already, for several years an Eastern, and even a North-Eastern Pennsylvania State Champion. Freeman entered this tournament and placed 8th out of thirty entrants. In January of 1935, Freeman competed in the Pittsburgh Tournament where he took third place. His play continued to improve, and by 1937 he was considered to be a veteran player. Around this time, Ray Kemmerer, a player-promoter from the eastern part of the state, listed what he believed were the top ten players in Pennsylvania. This list was published in ACM, where the editor chided Kemmerer's list for not including Freeman's name on it.

  In May of 1937, Freeman entered the Ohio Valley Championship Tournament in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where he lasted until the fifth round of this double knock out tournament. In 1938, Freeman would take second place in this same tournament, held in Pittsburgh. Also, at the 1938 Tournament, Freeman was elected as President of the organization for the coming year.



  Next came the 9th National Checker Tournament in Martins Ferry, Ohio in August of 1937. Here he was eliminated from the Major Tournament after two rounds, and he finished 26th overall. But, his participation in this tournament will be much more remembered for the film he took during the tournament.


  During the Tournament, he took a camera and recorded some of the contestants and promoters.This incredible footage laid all but forgotten for decades. From Louis’s Grandson, Mr. Rahim Ali…

“I have a film that was shot by my grandfather in 1939 or so.  His name was Louis A. Freeman and he was from Pittsburgh, PA. He died in 1988, but before he died I found footage that he shot in 1939 of famous checker players (they were 25 foot reels that were dated in the small boxes). When we watched the film my grandfather pointed out the New York State Champion who is very funny and animated in the film ...and from looking on your web site I see its William "Willie" Ryan. I thought about my grandfather and how he said that someday it could go to the Checker Hall of Fame and so I found your web site today. Using an old 8mm camera that did not have reflex lens the subjects are not always centered….”


  Mr. Ali allows the footage to be shown here. Although Freeman himself is not identified anywhere in the footage, it is remarkable in that it has probably the only known live footage of Ryan, Kenneth Grover, Harold Freyer and others.



  The soundtrack, played by Mr. Ali’s Grandmother, Irma Freeman, who passed away in 1994 (Louis’s wife)was later recorded and added to the film.


  In 1937, the Western Pennsylvania Checker Association was officially organized, and their first Tournament was held in November in Pittsburgh. Here Freeman reached the finals, where he was defeated by Charles Young.  In July of 1940, Freeman took third place in the annual Ohio Valley Checker Association Tournament at Steubenville, Ohio. The February 1941 edition of American Checkerist magazine lists Freeman as taking second in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Checker Tournament, where he defeated his nemesis Charles Young in two consecutive heats, then lost to Hermon Rudolph in the finals. In July of 1941, Freeman and the legendary Dick Fortman split third and fourth prize without a playoff in the Ohio Valley Checker Association Tournament held in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

  Later, Freeman would have more tournament success, capturing several regional level Pennsylvania titles. And, as mentioned in the Ninth National Tournament bio, he would continue to create Checker problems, and had several published in the Checkers Literature of the day, as well as in the Donora Herald American newspaper.







  After this, we find no mention of Freeman in the periodical literature of the game for many years, (see bio below) although we do have a photograph (BELOW) that was amongst his possessions, believed to have been taken at the Pittsburgh, PA. YMCA in 1955. Freeman himself is not in the photo, but it is presumed he snapped it. One person contained in the image is Wayne Van Leer (seated on the far right), another prominent PA. Checkerist who gave exhibitions during the 1950's-60's, and later competed with Newell Banks for the 11-Man Ballot World Championship.


   We offer here a biographical sketch of Louis Freeman, prepared by the brother of Rahim Ali, Robbie.....
LOUIS ALEXANDER FREEMAN was born on May 14, 1901 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents, Charles and Sophie Freeman, were Jews who had immigrated from Russia to the United States in the 1880’s. Louis grew up in Pittsburgh’s Soho district, a poor, crowded, bustling neighborhood composed largely of Jewish immigrants. His only brother Abraham was six years older than Louis.
Louis went to public schools and while still a child he became interested in what were to become his two lifelong hobbies, checkers and magic. Louis and Abe later spent time with relatives in Kansas City, Missouri and it was there that Louis’ name first appears in the checker literature as competing in a 1921 tournament. Louis went to work before completing his schooling but later returned to night school, graduating from Pittsburgh’s Fifth Avenue High School in 1925.
In 1929 Louis‘ mother Sophie died at the age of 57. (“She was an angel,” Louis would often later say, “I never heard her speak a single bad word“). Also in 1929, Louis married Miriam Gutel. Marion (Irma) was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1925. She was a talented artist who went on to create over five hundred paintings which continue to be exhibited today at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination in Pittsburgh. Irma and Louis had three children: Sylvia, Alfred-Morris (who died in early childhood), and Ruth.
Louis had training in stenography and worked as a clerk and bookkeeper for several companies until the 1940’s, including Edgewater Steel in Verona, Pennsylvania. Louis also developed his boyhood skills as an amateur performing magician into a sideline business selling magic tricks, novelties, and souvenirs. As a young man he traveled around the country demonstrating magic decks of cards, and later in Pittsburgh he started first the “Wonder Magic Company”, and later the “Freeman Novelty Company”.
The years around World War II were difficult for Louis and his family. His father and son both died, and in 1943 Louis lost his job at Edgewater Steel after 12 years. What is more, he and his wife Irma tried repeatedly during that time to help Irma’s cousin and best friend, a rising young musician named Ruth Poritzky, to escape from Nazi Germany, only to lose contact with her after a series of delays by the U.S. state department in granting her visa, and later to learn that she had been killed in a concentration camp. Irma’s older brother Leo, a prominent rabbi who spoke against the Nazis, was also assassinated in the United States by Nazi sympathizers.
Lou had always wanted to be his own boss and when he was let go by Edgewater Steel he moved into the house on Pierce Street where he was to largely remain, eking out a living with his Freeman Novelty Company, for the rest of his life. The basement of the house became the company warehouse, and Lou took wholesale orders by mail and phone, opened a storefront magic shop in downtown Pittsburgh for a short time, and peddled balloons and toys on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, along parade routes, and at county fairs all around the tri-state area. Later he also sold sports souvenirs outside Forbes Field, the Civic Arena, Pitt Stadium, and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, at nearby high school stadiums, at Mountaineer Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Nittany Lions Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. In the years when Pittsburgh area sports teams did well, these souvenirs were usually his main source of income, and he hired many teens from the neighborhood as “hustlers” to help sell them. Lou’s business made him a familiar figure around Pittsburgh, and in his own neighborhood his hustlers dubbed his old blue Bonneville the “LouMobile”.
Louis was a kind and generous man. He was scrupulously honest and fair in business, a little shy but always polite and friendly in his social dealings, a humble gentleman who would greet you with a smile and a tip of his golf cap, and often before too long in conversation set you laughing with his endless jokes and puns, some remembered, some made up on the spot. Louis struggled financially all of his life, but again and again he gave all he could to help out his daughters and his grandchildren in their times of need. When they had nowhere else to go he even yielded his house to them and went to live in an apartment with Irma and Abraham (his older brother, who had become diabetic and came to live with them for the last 12 years of his life). Lou also gave many teens in his neighborhood their first chance to earn money, always treating them with fairness and respect, even when they did not reciprocate.
Checkers was a lifetime avocation for Louis to which he earnestly devoted himself. “You have to make a study out of it”, he often said. He developed a large collection of checker books, magazines, and handwritten notebooks on checkers. In later years he focused especially on solving checker problems in the literature, sometimes devising new ones of his own.
Louis was a hale and healthy man with biceps like baseballs who for most of his life could and did walk for miles carrying an armful of souvenirs or toys, or stand out in the cold for hours. In his final years, however, as a late consequence of the rheumatic fever that he had contracted as a child, he suffered from heart disease. Unfortunately, his family’s financial condition was such that to pay their bills he still had to go out when he was in his eighties, even in the winter, and try to earn a little money selling balloons and souvenirs.
Louis died in Pittsburgh from complications of congestive heart failure on January 18, 1988 at the age of 86. He was cheerful to the end, smiling on and even doing little magic tricks on his deathbed for his grandchildren as if to say, “don’t worry about me.”
He was survived by Irma, his wife of 57 years, his daughter Sylvia and her children Robbie, Abira, Rahim, Sheila, and Liana, and his daughter Ruth and her children Cheri and Michael. Although he has been deceased now 25 years, Louis Alexander Freeman lives on in the hearts of his family and the many other people he touched, influenced, and helped.

  We do know from research that Freeman did, indeed return to the game he loved in 1977 (as so many do) and competed in the regional tournaments of the Pennsylvania area, where he was a member of the Pennsylvania State Checker Association, as well as the American Checker Federation. He also donated to the local tournament prize funds, financially supported the PSCA and participated in the "problem solving" contests conducted by the Keystone Checker Review, the Official Organ of the Pennsylvania State Checker Association.  He also, once again, devoted himself to promoting the game in his area, as we have him in 1979 listed in the Keystone Checker Review as being on the Board of Directors of the Western Pennsylvania Checker Club. 
Some of the standings in the tournaments he competed in at this time are as follows;
9/2-4/78  PA. State Championship Tournament at State College
10th  Place Majors 
9/1-3/79  PA State Championship Tournament at State College 
5th   Place-Majors
1980  First PA. State "Open" Checker Tournament 
5th   Place-Masters


   After this, we do not find anymore activity regarding Freeman's Checkers related activities, although we do find that he continued his membership in the American Checker Federation up to 1987.


   Mr. Louis Freeman passed away on January 18, 1988. In his passing, the game lost a great player and supporter. He had a remarkable career that spanned the generations, starting in the 1920's, and lasting into the 1980's. His contemporaries were some of the greatest names the game has ever known.

The OMOCH wishes to thank the family of Mr. Louis Freeman for the information granted which was used to create this tribute to this very remarkable man.....

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