It has been thirty
years since Charlie Castle died, but they still talk about him in Lufkin.
Charlie was a legend, a black man who, according to many East Texans in the fifties,
delivered the best shoe shine in Texas.
Charlie died at the age of 53 in 1960, it signaled the beginning of the end of
an era when men went to barber shops to get their shoes shined. Charlie was an
institution who worked in Lufkin's downtown Palace Barber Shop, an institution
that has also passed.
got two bits for a mirror-finish shoeshine, but he also gave a chuckle, a smile,
and a comment about his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. When the Dodgers deserted Ebbets
Field for the lure of the West Coast, he took it as a personal disaster. But his
Dodger loyalty never faltered. By the time they won the World Series in 1959,
Charlie had forgiven them for leaving Brooklyn.
shined shoes in the back of the Palace Barber Shop for 24 years, but he once told
a customer he had been shining shoes since he was a kid growing up at Pollok in
Angelina County. "That's mostly all I've done, but I've tried to do it the best
way I could," he said. Someone once asked Charlie if he ever shined the shoes
of anyone famous. "Sure," he grinned broadly, "every day...everybody who gets
a shine here is famous to ol' Charlie."
Charlie's clientele included
doctors, lawyers, and business owners -- among them Lufkin's most prominent men.
Most said they came to him not just for the shine, but for his touch of humor
and his smile. Every Christmas Charlie received hundreds of dollars in special
tips of $5 and $10 from his customers.
about Charlie were legendary. While putting the finish on a customer's shoes,
he usually sprinkled a few drops of water on the leather. The water, he told the
customer, came from Bodan Creek and carried a special power for bringing out the
luster of shoe leather.
unopposed politician once came into the Palace for one of Charlie's shines. "You
want my vote?" Charlie asked him. "Nope," said the politician, "I don't think
I'll need it. I'm unopposed."
few days later, the politician found himself with a serious opponent, and visited
the Palace again, this time for a haircut. Charlie sized him up, wandered over
to the barber's chair, and chuckled: "Now, tell me again how you don't want my
once joked to a newspaperman: "When I die, I want to see my death notice on your
Charlie would have been pleased if he could have seen his obituary. Only a few
columns away from the major league standings with his beloved Dodgers, on Page
5 of the Lufkin Daily News, was Charlie Castle's death notice. All
Published by permission.
A syndicated column in over 40 East
(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical
Association, is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore.)