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The Day Oscar Ekelund and I Met the Hotel’s New Manager
By Bill Cherry
Moments before, George Mitchell had finished up the stuff necessary for him to buy the long out of business flop house called the Belmont Hotel.
It sat on the northwest corner of Tremont and Mechanic streets, adjacent to the two other buildings he would also be using to comprise his latest vision for Galveston, a reenactment of the Tremont Hotel of days gone by.
As I stood looking up at the building from across the street, I noticed the four windows at the top floor’s southwest corner were open.Old curtains were ruffling in the gulf’s breeze.
“Oh great, some bum has gotten into the building,” I thought.With me being only about five and a half feet tall, coupled with a coward’s mind, I went to find Oscar Ekelund.
When my generation of the ‘50s was growing up in Galveston, Ekelund was the sidekick of John Kaiser.They were the police department’s juvenile officers, the ones we had been taught to go to when we thought things weren’t right.
By now, 25 years later, Ekelund was walking the downtown beat, keeping the wineos from sitting in doorways and making the tourists feel safe.
I found Ekelund at the Old Strand Emporium, finishing up his poboy sandwich.
When we got to the padlocked front door of the Belmont, he said to me, “Look at that!There’s a mezuzah on the door jam. Looks like some Jewish guy must be camping out in the building!”
For centuries, Jews have marked their homes with these small metal tubes.On the outside of the tube is the Mogen David.Inside it on a teeny piece of parchment paper in Hebrew are a few words from Deuteronomy.
When I had gotten the padlock off of the front door, and we had walked across the lobby floor to the big circular staircase that tied all of the floors together, Eklund cupped his hands together and yelled up the staircase atrium, "Shalom aleichem” – peace be with you.
I followed him upstairs to the very top floor. When we got to the southeast corner room, we found a neatly dressed young man lying in a bed looking at the pictures in a Playboy magazine.
The room was imaculantly arranged.In fact, it was decorated, for goodness sakes!
Ekelund said to the fellow who was lying in bed looking at the pictures of the pretty girls, “Vuz machs du?”That’s Yiddish for “What’s up?”
For the next few minutes the man and Ecklund spoke, each with sentences of part English and part Yiddish words and phrases.
Ekelund translated for me, “He says he’s an Israeli seaman whose ship sailed into the Galveston port a few days ago, and now he’s the building’s manager.”
Ekelund motioned to me indicating he wanted us to step out into the hall for a private conference.
“I don’t think he’s lying.I think he’s used the English word “manager” improperly.Why don’t we let him stay.He’ll ship out in a few days.I’ll keep my eye on things while he’s here.Probably would be good to have someone staying in the building for George.”
Not one to argue with Oscar Ekelund, I said, “OK.”
As we bid the building manager goodbye, he smiled, shook our hands and said to us, “Gay gazenta hayt.”
When we got downstairs, I asked Ekelund how he knew Yiddish.“You know Yiddish, too,” he said proudly. “We’re from Galveston.”
The next day tacked on the Belmont’s front door, just above the hasp and padlock, was a hand lettered sign on white poster board.It said, “Under New Management by order of O. Ekelund."
Oscar Ekelund, the legendary police officer, died November 4th, 2011.
Copyright 2011 – William S. Cherry
Note: I wrote this piece for the November 9, 2011 issue of the "Galveston County Daily News."
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