Remembering The Greek

To the Editor,

Sept. 9 marks what would be the 99th birthday of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who was taken from us at the young age of 77 on April 1, 1996. The Greek was a big part of my life growing up here in the Ohio Valley. As a CBS Sports commentator, he ranked right next to Howard Cosell as a person who influenced my thinking in sports.

“Twelve Against the Underworld,” the 1947 book by Norman E. Nygaard, tells the story of 12 local ministers who led the fight against gambling and vice in Steubenville in the 1940s. History is told by the winners, and mobsters and madams have gone down as heroes.

Who recalls the jury foreman in 1939 H.C. Cal Cook and his efforts to bring to trial those who were headquarted at Fourth and Fifth on Market? William “Money” O’Brien is linked as The Greek’s boss in Steubenville in a Feb. 11, 1935, Herald-Star article.

The Greek was a dealer in Half-Moon in the 1930s, and Dean Martin sang there in the 1940s. The place was an elegant joint that overlooked the Ohio River a mile north of the Fort Steuben Bridge on state Route 7. It offered two floor shows nightly, the finest food in Ohio and a gambling casino in the back that offered a plush and luxorious alternative to the back-room dives downtown.

In 1934, Money O’Brien, Harry Cooper and a third partner, Tom Griffin, opened after prohibition ended. Harry Charles Cooper, a Russian Jew, immigrated around 1907 at the age of 8, after the czars decided to separate the Jews from the rest of the Russians by creating a settlement. Cooper died in Steubenville in 1959 at the age of 60. He was a major figure in the Steubenville gambling scene. Like a lot of guys in Steubenville, he started young. He was arrested for gambling in 1919, and, in the 1920s, he served time after he was caught violating the liquor laws.

Around 1924, he began operating the Imperial Cigar Store at 535 Market St. in the Imperial Hotel building, and did so for 30 years. He was a partner in the New Lincoln Cafe, a restaurant and bar that was located across the street. All of this was just a few doors up from the Rex Cigar Store, where Martin was a dealer.

I grew up watching “The Hustler” with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, bet four-team parlays, always played William and Mary (the first names of my father and mother) and collected Coke bottle caps on a sheet to get a Pittsburgh Steelers autographed football. Never having more than 75 percent of the required amount, my dad convinced the Coke guy to get me a football, anyway.

I walked the streets of downtown Steubenville growing up every Saturday morning. Jimmy the Greek — 9-9 in 1918. Who could have beat those odds?

Michael Traubet