Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Editor’s note: In memory of longtime Post reporter Rose Post, who died this year, the Salisbury Post is reprinting some of her columns. This one first appeared in the Post on Oct. 7, 2005.
OK, so you’ve probably already read that old story about Lord Salisbury and his chamber pot.
But Ralph “Tony” Misenheimer of Rockwell wanted to be sure nobody missed it considering that this is Lord Salisbury Festival weekend, so he called up to tell it again, and why not?
Back in Lord Salisbury’s heyday, most anything about him got repeated over and over again, which was fine with him. He wanted to make people laugh.
Tony figures he was about 5 when his granddaddy, Jim Park, a painting contractor who spruced up a lot of Salisbury’s downtown stores, took Tony with him one Sunday afternoon to cover up merchandise in a store he was going to paint Monday.
But before they went home, he decided to introduce little Tony to Lord Salisbury who lived in the Empire Hotel.
And talk about making an impression! Lord Salisbury made it!
When he answered his door, Tony remembers, he had on two neckties tied together.
“The things came almost to his ankles!”
But he might have forgotten Lord Salisbury and the ties if it hadn’t been for the chamber pot full of rock candy he offered Tony.
“I’m sure it was clean as all get out,” he says now, but then …
“My grandfather reached right in and got a piece, but I knew what a chamber pot was used for. We had indoor plumbing, and so did my grandmother, Ollie Misenheimer, but the bathroom was downstairs, and when I spent the night, she put a chamber pot in my room upstairs in case I had to go to the bathroom during the night.
“So I wouldn’t have touched that candy for love or money.”
And he remembers he stared another time when he saw Lord Salisbury again walking down Main Street.
“He had on a coat that had about 10 or 15 colors on it. It reminded you of the Biblical coat of many colors.”
In fact, his dress inspired a former Post reporter, Joe Junod, to write that “His Eminence, George Grace McPoole, Lord of Salisbury, now deceased, was a crash of color from top to toe, a dashing dresser unhampered by sartorial tradition.
“He was the spirit of the minstrel,” he added, “the man who clicks his heels, taps his topper, sniffs his rose, winks an eye and then continues his daily constitutional for no other reason than that the day deserves it.
“From the yellow feather in his hat to the suede shoes, from the leopard skin handkerchief to scarlet tie hanging below his knees, Lord Salisbury reigned over the spirit and styles of this city until his death in April of 1951.”
And his death was as memorable as his life.
An estimated 10,000 people went to the old Peeler Funeral Home on South Main to view him. He’d made sure they’d have plenty of time because he’d ordered in advance that he was to lie in state for two days.
He wanted people to see what he was buried in — a gray suit, a yellow shirt and a blue tie. The inside of the casket was eggshell, the exterior two shades of rich wine.
And nobody was ever surprised to learn that he’d run away when he was little more than a kid and joined the circus.
But he came home and went to work for the Southern Railway as a painter and decorator.
But things happened —a bad marriage, too much whiskey, a family spat and cousins who fancied up their name.
It was Poole, just like his own.
But a relative became Van Poole and made money.
So His Lordship became McPoole.
And that marriage.
“My wife was beautiful,” he said, “but she was unfaithful. I had to shoot the other man.”
Was that true? The Post files left it at that.
So when he retired, he appointed himself Lord Salisbury, which he decided would be better than drowning himself in whiskey, and moved to the old Empire Hotel in the middle of the second block of South Main where he developed his large wardrobe that brought him fame.
He changed outfits a dozen times in a single day, usually on Easter Sunday, and when he wasn’t at the baseball park, put on shows for orphans, hospital patients and others in need of uplifting experiences.
Once he saved the day for Statesville by dropping into town and pitch-hitting for President Harry Truman, who was unable to get there.
Instead of listening to Harry, Statesville folks watched Lord Salisbury do the “Missouri strut,” and he was wined and dined and got his picture in the Statesville paper.
And he always made it clear that he had more fun as Lord Salisbury than he had had as George Poole.
If anyone asked him why he dressed like he did, he had the perfect answer.
He was like the old woman who kissed the cow, he said. “Everybody to his own liking.”
And nowadays, for the most part, he’d been forgotten until Salisbury turned Gary Thornburg into a second Lord Salisbury and this weekend into a Lord Salisbury Festival.
And that lets our first Lord Salisbury live in memory not just as the loudest dressed critter in Christendom but as a man who loved his fellowman and an entertainer whose heart reflected the glorious attire on his body.