“Frank’s other passion” by Betsy and Archie Allen

Frank Horton was admired, well-known, respected and honored for his enormous contributions and devotion to Southern decorative arts.

In reflecting on Frank’s interests we should also mention his other passion, not as well- known but equally ardent.  It was poker.  Legend has it that when he came home from serving in the Navy during World War II Frank left his ship with bags that were much heavier than when he boarded.   There was a story without many details about a poker game that had lasted for the duration of the voyage.  When asked about that trip home Frank just smiled.

Frank Horton (standing far left) and shipmates on shore leave in Mexico; 1945; Frank Horton Photo Collection

After the preservation of Old Salem was well underway and MESDA was established and thriving Frank would take a little time away from the office to enjoy some serious backgammon with his cousin Anne Gray.   Then sometime in the 1990s Archie Allen asked Frank to sit in on what Roy Thompson of the Winston-Salem Journal called “the Oldest Established Pure Poker game in town.”

The game was started by Archie’s father in the 1930s.  He died in 1979.  Archie has continued the game with changes only in the players.  It is still played every Tuesday night at 7:30.  Dedicated to the preservation of real poker they play Five-Card Stud and Draw.  No wild cards.  Just pure poker.  As Roy said “Players were picked with thoughtful care, and they played as apprentices for a time…filling in seats left empty by regulars who were on vacation or in the hospital.”   Frank started as an apprentice.

Archie remembered “Frank loved the game.  He used his negotiating skills with players who took the game seriously.”  Frank got ready for poker by leaving MESDA early on Tuesdays to meet his friend Chester Davis at Cloverdale Kitchen at 5:00 o’clock for supper. Frank always ate a boiled egg and toast.  They arrived at the Allen’s at 7:00 for the game at 7:30, took their usual seats at the poker table in the basement and waited for the other six players.  The rules and rituals of the game have never changed and Frank became an integral part of its history.  He was generally a winner.  He enjoyed bluffing and did so with gusto.  With his steady, steely nerves the other players never knew what cards he held.  He had no tell.  When Frank could no longer get down the stairs to the game the table was moved upstairs where it stayed as long as Frank played.

The only time the poker players recalled Frank mentioning his first love, MESDA, was when he invited them to come to the museum to see a table he had just acquired.  It was the Buckland sideboard with pierced legs and a slab top.  It wasn’t a poker table but a couple of the players did go to see it.

There is someone else in Frank’s seat these Tuesday nights but there are still players who remember with great fondness the man who put his white socks under the poker table with them.

Betsy and Archie Allen, North Carolina


Celebrating Frank L. Horton’s 100th Birthday