Thursday, April 16, 2009

LAUGHING BEN ELLINGTON

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
The Story of Laughing Ben Ellington


     One of the most popular members of the Dublin community in the early years of this century was a Black man known as "Laughing Ben" Ellington. Ben Ellington (left on right) got his name from his loud laugh and humorous story telling. Ellington toured the country performing at festivals, fairs, and expositions. For a time he was managed by Captain Hardy Smith. G.P. Houser and Jule Green visited the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. They reported that Ben was one of the more interesting attractions at the exposition. He allegedly celebrated his 100th birthday, while performing at the Centennial Exposition of the Louisiana Purchase. Ben claimed to have been born in 1804 and lived as a slave for sixty years or so.

     Ben's favorite story involved his former master. The master promised Ben that he would give him a quarter for every chicken that Ben could fetch. Ben went to the plantation coop and picked
up a fat fryer. The master told him to put the chicken in the coop and gave Ben the quarter. Ben had the last laugh. "I stole that chicken seven times that night. Then I went back and stole him
again and ate him myself."

     One day Ben was summoned to testify in a blind-tiger liquor selling trial.  A lover of whiskey, Ben was reluctant to testify against a man who might supply him a drink in the future.  When Ben, refused to testify, Judge Hart sent out a deputy to arrest Ben and bring him to court.  Once Ben arrived, Judge Hart realized that Ben would never testify, so he the judge just ordered him to laugh before moving on to the next witness.

     Ben took a job with a traveling carnival after returning from the Pan American Exposition. When the carnival went bankrupt at Brunswick, Ben was stranded with no money. Ben telegraphed his friend W.W. Robinson to send ten dollars from his checking account. Mr. Robinson instructed the Brunswick bank cashier that Ben would laugh for his identification. This was probably the only time in history that a cashier required a laugh before cashing a check.

     Ben was quite the local celebrity in Dublin.  Whenever a prominent visitor came to Dublin, some one would fetch Ben to have have him laugh for the guest.  Although, he laughed for living, Ben always acted surprised and laughed louder when we got a tip.  Even when he received not a penny, Ben would laugh anyway and smile as he walked away.

     After he returned to Dublin, Ben went to the state fair in Valdosta. He disappeared for several months. His wife finally received a letter from Ben who was performing in San Francisco. After returning home by stage coach, Ben left for Coney Island, New York, where he was a big hit and made a lot of money. During his visits to Dublin, Ben was a mail carrier on the Dublin to Stephensville Route. He was loved by everyone he met. While visiting in Dublin, Gov. Bob Taylor of Tennessee invited Ben to come and live on his farm.

     Ben's last known appearance was at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis working along "The Pike" (left) and entertaining the patrons.  When Ben arrived at home, his health began to fail.

      Ben died at his home in northern Laurens County in 1905.  He claimed to be more than 100 years old, but was most likely 80 to 90 when he died.   Everyone smiled when they remembered "Old Ben." When Ben's laughter or funny story brought a smile to the face to of someone who was sad, his mission as a comedian was accomplished. It is true what they say - "laughter is the best medicine."



     Ernest Camp, editor of "The Dublin Times", penned his thoughts about Ben Ellington is this poetic obituary:






LAUGHIN' BEN ELLINGTON

He laughed down here in Laurens an' he laughed
throughout the state,
An' jes' everywhere he traveled he would
laugh an' imitate;
He laughed from sunny Dixie to the deep
Pacific shore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He laughed sometimes for money an' he
sometimes laughed for fun,
He would laugh in bleakest weather and
then laugh beneath the sun,
He would laugh in such a manner as you
you never saw before,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He would laugh for any person an' he'd
laugh at any place,
There was allers laughter runnin' down each
wrinkle on his face,
He would oftimes laugh at nothing till his
very sides were sore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He laughed because he liked it - ne'er a
shadow out for him,
An' he often carried sunshine where the hope
was growin' slim,
But he laughed his way to glory, far beyond
this mortal shore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any more!

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