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The Amazing Jack Shadow

The life of a man

I want to tell you a true story of a man. Not a celebrity in any sense, although he was quite well known in his very small town, where most everyone knew everyone else, or knew of them. He wasn't a politician, but had a deep interest in politics. He was just a businessman who ran a small business with help from his family.

It would be better if I started at the beginning. He was given the name Walter when he was born in the year of Our Lord 1890, the third child of four. But he was forever known as just Walt by everyone.

He grew up as most kids did in those years with the childhood diseases of measles, mumps, flu, and even had a mild touch of Scarlet Fever, but fortunately, it didn't affect his heart. He was growing into a healthy, strong youth until one fateful day.

At the age of twelve he was either playing or helping in a nearby livery stable when he was kicked in the head by a horse. The most lasting damage was a detached retina in his left eye, an injury that could easily be repaired now with laser surgery. But that was then, not now, and he lost the vision in that eye.

That didn't stop him from growing very talented in sports as he grew, in fact he became the star pitcher on his town's baseball team. The rivalry between different town's teams in the area was quite fierce and drew large crowds when the played one another. Their fame, and his, spread and was even noticed by the papers in Chicago, the nearest big city.

Eventually the White Sox heard of this pitching ace and sent a scout to evaluate him. He was amazed at the speed and accuracy of this comparative youth, but was puzzled by the catchers actions.

Whenever the opposing team had a man on first the catcher would throw to the second baseman who would throw it to Walt on the mound. Asking around he found out that Walt could not watch the man on first out of the corner of his left eye and still catch the ball from the catcher.

There went Walt's chance for the Big Show. It probably wouldn't have made much difference as the bad eye became infected or some other malady and it spread to his other eye too. By the time of his mid twenties he was completely blind

During his pitching career he had started exercising with a punching bag to build his arms, shoulders and chest. His athleticism and dexterity soon allowed him to start using two at a time, and then four, and then six, until he could keep ten going in rhythm all at one time. He had built a stage of sorts where he could do one bag in front of his head, one behind, one with each hand, one with each elbow, and two with each leg, one bag in front and one behind.

This was as a sight to behold, I'm told, and his fame spread again, this time to the circus world. There were three big circuses at that period. Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey being the largest. The next two, battling for the second spot, were Sells Floto and Hagenbeck Wallace.

Walt worked for both of these second place circuses in the side show tent over the next period in his life, astounding the audience with his physical feats. He would hang upside down from a trapeze while punching six bags on the floor and other actions plus the ten bag windup. He performed under the name Jack Shadow, World's Champion, the title he would still hold, were he living.

I know what some of you are thinking now, it's, “What kind of fools does this guy take us for, this sounds like a comic book.” Bear with me friends, there's more to come.

In the early nineteen twentys, while performing in Cincinnati, he visited some relatives living there where he met his future bride, Olive. They corresponded and whenever he could, he visited. They fell in love and were married January the sixteenth of nineteen twenty four.

Because the circus was no place for a married couple they returned to his hometown where he opened a small business repairing tires and tubes. In a few years they bought a building down the street from his original location where he expanded his business to selling tires, tubes and auto accessories.

He was the one who jacked up the cars, took off the wheels, dismounted the tire and repaired the tube. Then he reversed the process.

He even put in two gas pumps on the front sidewalk. This was the type of pump where you would swing a handle back and forth which would pump the gas into a glass dome on the pump. As each gallon would enter the glass a bell would ding. Walt would ask how many gallons they wanted and would pump that many dings. Then he would take the hose to the car where it would gravity flow into the tank.

By now they had two daughters.

The building they had bought was in disrepair. So Walt remodeled it, mostly by himself. Later improvements and additions he could afford to have done or done by his six children he and his wife then had when four boys showed up. About this time is when I became acquainted with the family and have gathered this information through the years.

You have to remember he did all this while totally blind. There was no government assistance, no disability payments, no food stamps, just hard work and determination, tempered with a large helping of intestinal fortitude.

My personal opinion is his accomplishments since he married far transcend his exploits ante marriage, but then I'm prejudiced, because Walt was my Dad.

I don't want you to believe I think he was a paragon if virtue, he had faults. One was his temper, which was terrifying. He had been raised in an era where the man of the house was the master of it, and if things weren't to his satisfaction we knew it.

I'm sure he never hit Mom but he laid into his kids with a vengeance. I was the youngest and didn't get it as bad as my older brothers but there were times I didn't feel comfortable sitting, or even standing.

He didn't swear much, drank moderately.....most of the time. He used tobacco in all forms, and when he had a chaw in his mouth you watched which way his head was pointing. He couldn't see where he was spitting, so he just spit, and if you were in the way, too bad.

He loved animals, always had a dog, even if they were mean. He had adopted a German Shepherd that had been abused and trusted no one, except Dad. I sat for days, just out of his chain's reach before he would let me hand feed him a piece of meat The first day Dad walked up to him with his dish and that dog wagged his whole butt and licked Dad clean.

He could have charmed Satan when he sat playing his concertina and singing. He had a myriad of friends who would stop in the shop just to say hello. The moment they would step in the shop by two steps we would call, “Hi Pete,” or “Hi Joe.” He knew them by their footsteps.

He always knew exactly how much money he was carrying, and it was usually quite a bit as most transactions were cash. He knew how many twenties, tens , fives and ones he had in his roll so he could count out change with no problem. He had most people believing he could feel the difference. He couldn't but encouraged that belief so as to not get cheated. He'd pull a five off the roll, finger it and say, “Here's five,” knowing exactly how many bills had been in front of it.

Cribbage was his game. I'd sit next to him and tell him his cards. At the end of the game he could tell you every card that was played through out the whole game and in what order. What a memory he had, especially when I'd do something wrong and he'd throw it up to me five or maybe twenty years later.

I have to tell you one more thing. Dad made inlaid tables with small pieces of exotic woods. He cut them on a hand mitre box and fitted them. He would feel if there was a crack with his tongue. If there was he would sand it on a piece he had glued to a board and try it again until it fit perfect into his pattern that he had in his head. A thing of beauty.

I'm pretty sure I could write a book on this but I'm also sure I haven't the audience I started with so I'll stop now. But look on my gallery for proof of what I've told you. I'll try to put them up by the time this is approved. Dad died at the age of eighty five. I miss him. Thanks for listening.

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