A dollar in 1947 was equal to about $10.64 in 2015 dollars




         I was finishing my freshman year at the University of Louisville. Saturday, May 3, 1947 was the day of the Kentucky Derby and we all got jobs at Churchill Downs for that stupendous event, considered by the locals to be bigger than New Years Eve and the Mardi Gras combined. You could get those jobs then. Today, as I understand it, one must be a union member. My position was behind the $2.00 place window for the less affluent bettors. My salary for derby day was $13.00. I was told that any shortages would be deducted from my pay. If the shortage was more than $13.00 it would come out of my pocket.


         Everybody got jobs at Churchill Downs for that day, not just college students. There were, I was told, professors, medical doctors, lawyers and people of all professions working at the track for the running of the Derby. I was told many things but I remember one statement in particular. This was the day, it was said, when the locals “skinned their northern neighbors”. I didn’t understand what that meant until I saw and heard how it was done. It was an event at which, otherwise honest people, found justification in the shady acts-for-profit they carried out.


         Let me say that I was not a personal a witness to those dishonest acts I am about to describe. All were described to me in detail by a few of the bragging perpetrators, those people I presumed to be honest. Let me set the scenes:


         The partying began the day and night before the running of the Kentucky Derby. In many cases the drinking and celebrating started days before. Seeing people stagger up, into the grandstand and out into the infield was not unusual. Here, the partying continued.


         I must admit that from my place behind the $2.00 place window it   was all business. I had few problems with inebriated bettors. The stories and illicit profits bragged about from many of my friends and acquaintances were quite different.




         What alcoholic mixed drink is most associated with the South? It was unquestionably the mint julep. When one thinks of The Old South and the “gentle folk” relaxing beneath their columned manses on a warm summer night, listening to the banjo playing and singing, what tall, cool drink were they sipping? It was the mint julep, of course. It is important to note that the good people of Louisville consider themselves true southerners and that can be attested to by the fact they say y’all and eat grits.

         That brings me back to the Kentucky Derby and the mint julep. Forget the grits. Mint juleps were sold during that very special racing event and the other races of that day (At least, they were called mint juleps and they weren’t cheap.). I learned that there was a good amount of money to be made in the sale of mint juleps throughout the entire racing card. All it took was a little illicit creativity. Here is how it worked. A person would drink half a mint julep and leave the rest in order to see the race. Another would drink a lesser amount and leave it. The entrepreneur student or business- person bartender would combine the two and resell it at full price. This would be repeated over and over again. An illicit profit of several hundred dollars was not unusual and that was in 1947 dollars (over $2,167.88 in today’s dollars).



         There was no place to sit in the infield for the 100,000 or so sports fans who jammed themselves within its limited space who came to see the running of the Derby as well as all the other races. Relief came through the purchase of the canvas, folding seats. It was a simple device comprising of thin, wooden legs, hinged together with a piece of canvas that formed a seat when the legs were spread apart.


         This was a real moneymaker for those with a dishonest streak and a well-insulated conscience. The beauty of this scheme was that it required virtually no inventory and fast hands. Here is how this worked:


         Our canvas folding seat salesperson would approach a tired standee between races and sell that person a folding, canvas seat. A fast-moving salesperson might make ten or twelve sales to people in close proximity. When a race began his customers would stand in order to see the race. Our speedy sales person would snatch the seats from his distracted customers and resell them again and again and again making a tidy profit, particularly when figured in terms of 2015 dollars.






         Alcohol, super celebrations and money don’t mix. A celebrating drunk and his money were soon parted, especially during the Kentucky Derby. The $100.00 win window (that would translate into a $1,083.94 window in 2015 dollars)  was an excellent source for ill-gotten gain by unscrupulous people who were not in short supply.


         Many big bettors who frequented the $100 win windows liked one hundred dollar bills, particularly new one hundred dollar bills. Anyone who has handled new bills of any denomination knows there is a tendency for them to stick together. And so they did at the $100 win windows. An employee behind  the $100 window would secretly separate the bills and keep one for himself. Incidentally, none of the bragging temps that I knew were female.


         How many times those dishonest events happened I can’t say but I am sure, many more times than I knew about.


Bob Flicker




                                    TESTING HONESTY


         My $13.00 salary ($137.32 in 2015 dollars) was in jeopardy. Management had determined I had made a $13.00 error that wiped out my salary. My honestly earned $13.00 was gone while people I knew had walked away with hundreds of illicit dollars. Where was the justice?




         A week or two later I received another envelope containing a note of  apology and a check for $13.00. They had made a mistake!




 © robert 2014