Tennessee Headed To College World Series Title Game After 4-1 Win Over Aggies

Best of Grizzard- A Shining Example

  • Monday, May 20, 2024
  • Jerry Summers

The art of polishing the dust off a pair of Thom McMans or Johnston & Murphy leather shoes is going the way of the Edsel (Ford) automobile, Cameron Hill or Engel Stadium in Choo Choo town.

Broad Street in downtown used to have at least three shine parlors where you could either get your foot leather repaired or buffed. Read House Hotel, Bruce Bairds Mens Store, or Kenton’s Shoe Repair on the south east corner of the street to get a shine. Author Lewis Grizzard (1947-1994) discussed both the respected profession and the life experience of one successful individual from Macon, Georgia in “Shoot Low, Boys- They’re Riding Shetland Ponies” (1985- Ballantine Books- New York City).

“It used to be that there were a lot of people around-on street corners, in barber shops, in train stations and airports-who would shine your shoes for a price. But shining shoes got to be a social stigma, a sign of subservience in some people's minds, and so shoe shining has gone the way of service at gas stations: It's there, but you have to look for it.

When I met Eugene Ellis shining shoes in Macon, Georgia, I asked him if it bothered his self-image that he was still shining shoes for a living. He answered my question by looking at me like I was crazy.

He started shining shoes on the streets of Macon when he was five. Years later at the Atlanta airport, he shined the shoes of a young senator who hoped someday president of the United States. John Kennedy told Eugene that when he was elected president, he would give him a job shining shoes at the White House.

"Said he'd come back and get me," recalled Eugene, "but I didn't think he would."

Eugene Ellis shined shoes at the White House for three presidents-Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon-before he decided it was time to go back home. He brought memories with him:

On Kennedy-"A good Catholic man. Real quiet. I was in the eighth car when they shot him."

On Johnson-"If he was still president, I'd still be shining his shoes. He always took me to the ranch with him."

On Nixon-"He was a little different from the others."

Eugene shined the shoes of Hubert Humphrey, Gerald Ford, Muhammad Ali, Don McNeal and Elvis Presley. He said Elvis paid the best of the bunch.”

It may sound like an afterthought to state that EE was an orphan, a husband, a father of five children who put three daughters through college and stated that “when he’s got a good pair of shoes to shine and his rag is popping just right, it’s like I’m making music.”

(Lewis Grizzard would agree that was enough said!)

* * *
Jerry Summers
(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)
Jerry Summers
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