Louis Kessel
Louis Kessel, my longtime assistant and friend

Louis Kessel was the most loyal man I ever met.

My longtime bodyguard and chauffer, Louis was thick as a house: 250, 260 pounds, standing 5-foot-5, with a mustache fit for royalty.

He was a wrestler before I hired him. Bartender, too. Russian descent. He aspired to become sheriff in 1935, and at the time he told the newspapers that he "served more drinks than any amateur bartender in the country," and given my endless partying, I tend to agree with him.

The daily routine: Lou would wake me up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, give me a rub-down, answer my telephone calls and prepare me for the day - er, night - ahead. The producers of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" adequately portray many of Louie's tasks - driving my powder-blue Rolls Royce or picking out one of my tailored suits, for example.

One critique - the guy on the show (the character thinly veiled as Eddie Kessler, played by Anthony Laciura) is a mouse of a man. The real Louis would easily have been able to break down a door, a situation encountered in the series' pilot episode, but the actor captures Lou's spirit.

The show also reveals my disregard for surroundings and listeners during lovemaking. Sometimes things got noisy. My assistants saw things, heard things. Discretion was low on my list of priorities, and I often felt inclined to act when the mood struck me, regardless of location or decorum. I coupled with women in the back of the Rolls, in motel rooms, in the Ritz. ... They don't call you the czar for being respectable.

Through it all, Louis was there. He was there for my finest moments, and he was there during the lowlights, too. Given the chance, he would have probably gone to prison with me.

When I went away to "college," Louie and my wife, Flossie Osbeck, would visit me a few times a week, making that long, winding, boring drive to Lewisburg, Pa. After one of those visits in October 1944, they were driving home through Egg Harbor City, when their limo was broadsided.

Flossie survived. Louis wasn't so lucky.

I begged and pleaded to attend the funeral, but the prison officials wouldn't allow it. God, how I wanted to be there. The loss, and the inability to say goodbye, haunted me for decades.

All I wanted was to pay my respects - to the most loyal man I ever met.

 

Farewell to the ‘kid'

Eddie Devlin, an Atlantic City native and longtime Boardwalk shop owner, passed away this week at age 89.

I met Eddie in 1928, Election Day. His father was an eye doctor in town, and Eddie was at the polls. I patted Eddie on the head and asked the "kid" who he was voting for.

"Al Smith," he said. Al Smith was half-Irish, but also a Democrat - going against Herbert Hoover, a personal friend and the presidential candidate for my Republican Party.

"You got it part-right," I told him, and my candidate won.

Eddie was interested in politics as a youngster, so his classmates nicknamed him "Nucky," after yours truly. As he grew into adulthood, I continued to call him "kid." He got a kick out of that.

Eddie's health had been fading for some time, but he hung around long enough to celebrate the start of the HBO show and share his stories of old-time Atlantic City.

For a few glimmering moments, the "kid" was back in the sun, talking about the numbers racket, how this town used to be and his interactions with ol' Nuck.

The "kid" is gone now, but his stories and memories will live on.

 

My own legacy

Atlantic City Councilman Dennis Mason announced a plan this week that would name a section of Belmont Avenue, in the shadows of my Ritz-Carlton, after me.

Nucky's Way.

I like the sound of that. I wrote about the decades-long slight three weeks ago, how a lot of other people have streets named after them in Atlantic City, but not the boss. I appreciate Councilman Mason's suggestion.

No, I was not perfect. Yes, I did some things that were illegal. Everyone did. I did what Atlantic City needed. The town of yesteryear was built on a foundation of shady industry, and I capitalized on that foundation better than anyone before or since. The booze and babes existed before I was born. I just made those industries work in the residents' favor.

Mason said the measure is a way for the city to generate tourism. And I say, wonderful.

Load comments