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....
ONLINE MUSEUM OF CHECKERS HISTORY
ON BEHALF OF
MR. RAHIM ALI
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…
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
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.
|LOUIS FREEMAN AND HIS WIFE, IRMA.
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.
ABOVE, TWO NEWSPAPER ARTICLES FEATURING LOUIS FREEMAN.
ABOVE, A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE OF FREEMAN COMPETING WITH WILLIAM RYAN.
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),
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
10th Place Majors
9/1-3/79 PA State Championship Tournament at State
1980 First PA. State "Open" Checker Tournament
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
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.....