Text of “Stoney Knows How”

Ed Hardy: Stoney, what did your daddy do?

Stoney: What did my daddy do? His father was a miner, and he got accidentally shot throught the neck, it was in the line of fire, around the coal company store. Laid him out of work. My dad had to quit school at 14, went trapping in the coal mine. 65 cents a day and he had to keep a family up. When grandpa got back to work, my daddy went back to school, and he became a motorman inside the mine. That’s running a train, an electric train, under there.

About 19 and 16 or 17 he put me in Johns Hopkins, I had rheumatism, for 3 dollars a day. Now you couldn’t get in there for 100 dollars a day. His wages were 2 and a half dollars a day. He had a little money in the bank. He went broke. I stayed in there for 24 months…

Sue: Tell him about the little circus wagons.

Stoney: And I used my stationery up then, drawing a circus wagon on each sheet of a different thing: animals, the band, and everything. And then I would paste them together and I had a string as long as from here across that street. You unrolled it and looked at them little old circus wagons. That just come up in my blood, ‘cuz I had an uncle that was in that business. I had to follow him into it.


Alan: How long have you been on this block, Mr. Hartman?

Mr. H.: Right here? Thirty years. Alan: Do you own this store here?

Mr. H.: Yeah, uh huh. Alan: What’s it like, having a tattoo artist next door?

Mr. H.: I wish I had two of ‘em like Stoney. A good neighbor, good business man, and a heck of a good fellow. One of the best. If I had one next to him, I’d get maybe more business, because . a lot of his customers, believe it or not, come in here and buy vacuum cleaners. And sewing machines. You’d be surprised who comes in there to get tattooed. There’s a lot of nurses, doctors, lawyers, churchmen, clergymen…

Alan: Oh, really?

Mr. H.: You’d be surprised some of the people come in there. Most people are of the opinion a person who comes in and gets a tattoo rides a motorcyle, or is a drunken sailor; this isn’t true. Matter of fact I used to think that myself, years ago.


Stoney: This Gretchen, German sword swallower… I wanted to follow the Cole Show and I couldn’t – there was nothing I could do fired,- couldn’t do anything – and this woman, she got fired, in Bluefield, West Virginia, 30 miles from my home, and she heard my story: I wanted to go with the circus, and I was crippled, and she took me under her wing, and in 3 days she had a stove poker down my throat: I could swallow swords. And I started out at $ 75 a week, 3 meals a day, and a stateroom on a circus train. My uncle like to blowed his stack. Oh, my God.

All right, we played Norfolk, Virginia, and we was there four days passed this tattoo shop on East Main – Cap Coleman. And I didn’t know anything about tattooing – we had a drunken tattooer on our place. So I said, I’m going to go in there and look at his pictures. They said, ‘you’re not going to get tattooed?’ And I said, ‘Never in this world! No, I’m a sword swallower!’ – 15 years old – crippled…

They took me in there and I saw him putting an eagle on a sailor’s back. I knew I could draw a better eagle than that! And I got an old piece of paper off a desk over in the corner. I said, ‘Can I borrow a sheet of this paper?’ ‘Yeah,go right ahead.’ – cigarette hanging in his mouth, old big black heavy tattoos all over him – and I drew an eagle, and he said, ‘How’d you learn to do that?’ I told him, ‘I just picked it up.’ ‘You ever think about doing this?’ I said, ‘No’.

The next day I went down there and stayed 3 hours with him. I was there 4 days, and the fourth day he says, ‘when you leavin?’ I told him tomorrow, and he says, ‘You come by here and see me, I’ve got something for you.’ He give me 2 old machines and 2 or 3 sheets of designs that Professor E.J. Miller across the street had drawn, and a stencil, and he showed me how to cut a stencil with a phonograph needle – scratch – and some black and red. And he says, ‘If you get stuck, you write to me.’

I got on the road and started working on them grapefruit, and started tattooing them guys behind the elephant barn. Finally the tattooer and the sideshow boss got in a racket, and he run him off. And he says, ‘Hey kid, I know you been sneakin a little of that stuff around here; you get up on that platform and just put on whatever you think you can do – don’t try anything complicated cause we don’t want no beefs.’ And he said ‘I’ll run an ad in the Billboard and I’ll have another jagger back in here next week.’ – jagger, see? So I got up on the platform, and he ain’t run no goddam ad. I’ve been here ever since. That’s the way it worked! Yeah. It was by accident: accident.


Alan: Is this your first tattoo?

Subject: Yeah.

Stoney: He was with his buddy, though…

Subject: I think I’m going to get more, though, later on…

Stoney: Oh, you are. I’m putting Comeback in it. I drop a little two drops of it in there, you know, you come back. No, Stoney’s not crazy. Must be something to him. All of them old coondogs, and all of them keep coming back and sending me people: Cousineau, all of them.

Alan: Tattoo a lot of football players, Stoney?

Stoney: Yes, these guys can tell you, they see ‘em on ‘em, don’t you?

Subject: We’re all crazy.

Stoney: No, you’re not crazy. Weightlifters, football players, and wrestlers – that’s what I get… Don’t get ready for anything, don’t prepare for anything, that’s what’s going to happen, nothing. There’s nothing gonna happen. You just watch him: look at him curling his toes. Yeah. He’ll be wanting to play tootsie. I’m in no mood to play tootsie.

Alan: What’s the first tattoo you ever put on?

Stoney: I don’t remember…oh yes, I do, that star on my hand.

Brian: 51 years ago.

Stoney: I was determined to have this one inside of my lip. If you can do it to a race horse, I can do it.

Pacho: Would you do it again? We missed it.

Brian: You’ve got stars inside your eyelids…

Stoney: Yeah, I’ve got stars inside the eyelids, but I can’t show them, I’m afraid to turn the lids up! Ha, ha! . . . Leave it to us hillbillies to think up sumpin like that… you like that, don’t you?

Pacho: Yeah, I like that.

StoneyY S-u-m-p-i-n. Like I say, buddy, this hillbilly accent has been with me a long time, and I’ll be damned if I’ll change. ‘Cause it’s payin’ off; yeah, it’s payin off like a slot machine.

Brian: It’s not put on…

Stoney: Not, it’s not put on, it comes from the heart. . . I can’t guarantee that any longer than 10 days after you’re buried… like that. Keep it out from under freight trains, and stuff. Glad you came?

Subject: Heck, yeah.

Stoney: Ha, ha. I am, too. Don’t want you goin round looking like
the great speckled bird…

Subject: Some of that might be paint. I was painting yesterday.

Stoney: No, tha’s not paint, that’s my fallout. Yeah. You want to put a patch on there, Brian?

Brian: Yeah, I’ll put a patch on there. Now can you raise your leg up a little there…

Stoney: Here, I’ll help him.

Brian: Now I’ll put this on where it’ll be sure and catch some hair…

Stoney: Yeah… hair holds better . . . ain’t we mean? What was the price on that bear?

Subject: 22, I think.

Stoney: 22. You know, most tattooers make you pay in advance. You never seen me do that, have you? And nobody’s ever done it to me. No, you see, I was raised that you trust people, you know, and I can look and say, what was your price over there, and he’ll tell me. Hell, he’s going to tell me the truth, and you can trust people that way. If you learn what trust is, that’s a great damn thing, you know that?

Subject(counting money): I think it’s all there.

Stoney: I don’t have to count it. I feel everybody else is the same way.

Subject: Thanks a lot.

Stoney: Thank you, boys, and y’all behave. You know where I live… Okay, fellas, y’all take care…


Browser: Are there any ones you can put on there for any less than that? I want to save money, and I want to cover this up.

Stoney: I can put you a rose on there for just about $ 18. That’s about as low as I can come.

Browser: Yeah, okay, I’ll have it done, because I want it covered.

Stoney: I know what initials give you – turn your chair around. Sit sideways to me, buddy, Names or initials, if you’re a married man, give you a fit.

Browser: I had it put on when I was 15 years old…

Stoney: I knew it, but it’s some girl’s name, ain’t it?

Browser: Yeah…

Stoney: And your wife don’t like it, is that what it is?

Browser: Well, not really, I just want it covered.

Stoney: Here, put your hand straight through here. Now you lean forward a little further now. Did somebody send you to me?

Browser: No, I’m just cruisin up the avenue.

Stoney: You haven’t heard of me?

Browser: No, sir.

Stoney: Raise your arm up. Well, I’m known all over the world, so have faith in me.

Alan: Who did that tattoo?

Stoney: This one’s home-made.

Browser: Oh, a friend of mine when we were drinking a lot of beer, you know, we was young, putting tattoos on each other…

Stoney: I’ll tell you why I never like to ask a guy who did his home-made job, because sometimes that’s done in some ‘unfamiliar’ places. so you don’t want to call the name and you don’t want to tell where you was at when you had it put on. So therefore, I don’t embarrass him by asking him. ‘Cause a lot of that is what we call “chain gang tattooing”. Did in jail, a lot of it, though you can do the same thing sitting in Sunday school…

Browser: We were hooking school that day…

Brian: Was it you who was telling about a woman who kept having a series of names put on her back and she’d come back in a little while…

Stoney: That was on her hip; on her cheek of her hip, ha, ha!

Brian: And you covered them with a little wreath…

Stoney: No, I covered them with “Property Of,, and a name. You know what that is, “property of”. That means you belong to so and so. Big Bad John, force his women to come in and get tattooed. Later on, she came in when he kicked her out. ‘We fight like cats and dogs.’ I says, ‘Well you better straigthen up and fly right, cause every time he gets mad at you, he’s gonna bring it up that he married a cemetery, because that’s what it looks like.’ Six wreaths, and then another name. . . . The only safe name to put on you is ‘Mom’ . . . .


Alan: What makes a good tattoo?

Stoney: A good tattoo? Something a man studied and thought it out a long time before he got it; then he got it.

Alan: As an art?

Stoney: As an art, it’s the shading, not the color. You can put just a minimum amount of color to real good shading and it will go where it will stand out. You take the old timey tattoing that was done this way with heavy shading. That’s the way I was taught. And I’ve seen the people grow older and their tattoos still look better and they were put on over 50 years ago.

Alan: Is that the Old School?

Stoney: That’s part of the Old School, yeah. . . . Oh, see, we have our stencil cleaned up, laying down here, and I have powdered charcoal: dust a little on that, then we rub it into this groove – the charcoal – like that – then we dust it off, wipe the excess off. Now the stencil is prepared. Then a small application of Bacitracin – a little greasy surface – then turn this right over and stamp it right down – that pulls the charcoal off on the skin and the charcoal will leave an imprint there. That’s your guiding line. . . .
Okay, Jim, try to relax.

Alan: Why did you pick that scene from Moby Dick?

Jim: Well, it was the end of the book. I can’t think of anything that would depict the whole of the book like that scene. There’s the white whale, pretty much winning out over the ship if it ever was a battle. Queequeeg was maybe the most important character in the book – Ishmael survived on his coffin, and on the coffin was inscribed a bunch of hieroglyphics, he called them, that matched the tattoos that Queequeeg had. Ishmael didn’t quite know what to make of them… I think he was speaking for Melville at the time, too.

Pacho: You ever done any Moby Dick before?

Stoney: No, never had no call… How come, you say? Never had a call for it!. 51 years! Everybody don’t read Moby Dick. But I did Barney Google! Happy Hooligan! Katzenjammer Kids…


Stoney: I was tattooing this cowboy, Brian, when a well-dressed guy walked in, last summer. ‘N I said ‘Howdy’, and he spoke, and he looked, and I knew what he was lookin for, he didn’t want any tattoo… He waited a few minutes: ‘Does it hurt?’ – and Brian says, ‘Is it supposed to?’ And he shook his head, and he went out of here – never said another word – and you know he was disappointed by being fooled right there in 10 seconds. He was fooled. He thought he was going to step over a bunch of drunks, blood running everywhere, and all that crap.

Ed Hardy: That’s what a lot of them are after, they come down and they.want to see the lurid part, you know, they want it to be some kind of a cheap vicarious thrill – it’s just too bad that that’s the way it’s gone so much… You’ve got a fantastic shop here.

Stoney: Oh, this is ancient stuff. I never was much of a hand to change anything. I had a lot of stuff that disappeared in New Orleans, before I came up here – and that’s about it.


Pacho: Do you feel like when you’re tattooing someone that you’re helping people somehow?

Stoney: Let me study that over. Yes and no. I must be helping him because he’s craving it, and he’s in his right mind, he’s not under the influence of anything, that’s for damn sure, and he’s paying me to do it. But I don’t think I’m helping him a bit if certain designs he picks. He might smoke pot, which is none of my business. He might have a lot of fun with it. I had a lot of fun with liquor. But why go out and wear a badqe saying ‘I am a drunkard; I am high as a kite’? We all know that a baby craps in his diaper. But why pull that diaper off in front of everyody and say, ‘My baby does this’? You understand what I’m talking about? – I never put a swastika on in my life till I came here, and I didn’t do it then for the first year. But I got big bucks come in here, buddy, with money: ‘I’ll just take my business to Chicago.’ That’s the way it happened. Now I got swastikas. You think I like that swastika? The man that thinks I like it is a damn fool.


Les: Didn’t you use to work with snakes?

Stoney:’ I’ve had snake shows, I’ve had several snake shows. I started out with big ones, and they got too expensive, you know they’ll kick off on you, you lose a lot of money; then I wound up with a den of all small ones, different types, worked it as an educational exhibit – no damn geek or wild man stuff… Guy told me how to work ‘em I had an old man working ‘em, 60 some years old, World War I veteran, and he knew snakes, and he could lecture on ‘em and work with ‘em 2 hours and never tell you a lie they’re awful interesting, a lot to know about them – and an old guy in Alabama told me one time, he says ‘Boy, you’re crazy. Get you a young broad to work them’. I says, ‘They’re too dumb, they don’t know anything about snakes.’ He says, ‘That don’t make a goddamn. Just put her in shorts.’Jungle Jim and the hat on. He says, ‘They ain’t going to look at the snakes anyway.’ And I got a damn broad and put her in there and they’d say, ‘What kind of snake is that?’ ‘It’s a snake.’ ‘What kind of snake?’ ‘It’s a goddamn snake’, she’d say, that’s all she knew, and they’d just buy them tickets and come in there and see them legs, that’s all!

Now these daggers, I got them from Sailor Katzie way before he died…

Alan: How did Sailor Katzie die?

Stoney: Snake killed him. In Tampa, Florida. His own python squeezed him to death.

Alan: What was the story on that?

Stoney: The story? Man it was all over the world. Russia even published it. not every day you get to see a python squeeze a man to death in civilization. I mean out here, out of the jungle. He was doing some painting, he was painting the show front outside – his wife was down at the other end of the zoo – had a little zoo below Tampa – and she was cleaning the lion cage and he was up at the other end, painting, and he happened to look through the glass and saw his python trying to shed, and he was having a struggle. So he walked around and walked inside of the building where he could get into the cage – ‘course the cage door was open – that was the only way they know – but when they found him the snake had just finished squeezing him, and was climbing up a palm tree, or getting ready to climb it – and what he had done – he’d went in there to help him shed, and he had that paint thinner all over him, and that new hide… That snake just got ahold of him and wouldn’t turn loose… And oh, man they got write-ups. She took that thing on the road for four years and cleaned up. I saw one of the letters some ignorant church woman typed; it says, ‘You are working for the devil, and I hope you be next:’ That’s what it said…

There’s oldies, buddy. Yeah, that come from Grimshaw.

Ed Hardy: I’ve seen… Sailor Jerry had that mermaid painted up. He painted that in the early 40’s, his version.

Stoney: That Red Cross nurse, that was called The Rose Of No Man’s Land.

Ed Hardy: Yeah, that was from the First World War.

Stoney: Charlie Wagner, I guess, put more of them on than anybody in the world. Hell, I was in his shop – he let me work in there 2 months to get enough money to go to Florida – and a sailor come in, and he wanted an eagle on him. Charlie says, ‘No, no, today’s hearts day. I don’t put nothing but hearts on.’ ‘I want an eagle, Charlie, I been comin here a long time, a long time.’ He says, ‘Maybe I’ll get to you after a while.’ So after a while the man put his arm down there – he drew a goddamn heart right on him – he didn’t give him no goddamn eagle..,


Stoney: Sue’s husband went to work for me here, cleaning up. He worked a little while, finally his butt got to itching, he went out on a carnie. He says, ‘My wife will be glad to have the job.’ Well, she came up here, started helping me clean up, so he took off. I said, ‘You must drive me to the stockcar races.’ ‘Oh, no, nothing like that.’ ‘Well, I’ll have to get somebody to drive me to the stockcar races.’

Finally, I scared her into it. Now, she’s the one that won’t miss one. Oh, my goodness! Got a photographic mind. She remembers the time trials at all three tracks. Yeah, she’s got it bad.

Alan: What’s your relationship with the car?

Stoney: With the car? I’ve just got my name on it, one of the sponsors. I’m across the tail end of it so the drivers all get to see it when they follow it – I said ‘follow it’ – around the track. I only use it just to break up the steady grind. ‘Course, tattooing is my bread and butter. I guess I could spend half of it watching something like this. Keeps me from taking the buck aggie.

Alan: Could we see your tattoo? Your Dad’s a driver, too, isn’t he?

Dick Dunlevy: Yes, he’s been racing for about 30 years.

Alan: What’s it like racing against your Dad?

Dick: When I’m on that racetrack there’s no friends or family or nothin. It’s just every person for theirself.

Announcer: A good combination, a good car, and a good driver. Dick Dunlevy, off and running in car # 39… They’re doing a feature movie there on Stoney, and I understand Stoney used to be with the circus some years ago. Quite a performer. So that’s what it’s all about. They had their cameras down there on him. I understand they were down in the pits a while ago, taking some movies of him. Stoney’s quite an avid race fan – I’ve never had the pleasure to meet him – he gets around to all the races, he loves races, also operates a tattoo parlor up in Columbus, Ohio, Here they go…uP on High Street, so look him up.

Stoney: He’s capable… Not the best, the very best . . .

Sue: Go, Dunlevy… Go, Dick… C’mon Dunlevy…

Stoney: Roll it boy…

Announcer: There it is: Dick, Dunlevy, jr.; Darrell Walker second; Dick Norton is third, and Donny Whitnauer fourth.

Stoney: Oh, I crave action; I’m a glutton for punishment.

Ed Hardy: Oh, this is great. I’ve never seen anything like this. I used to see a little bit on television, but it’s nothing like the live activity, you know.


Stoney: I’ll try to read that little sign. I kinda like it myself. It says: ‘I, Leonard “Stoney” St. Clair, am in the business of rendering a service to this community for the small group ot people who choose to have their bodies decorated in some way or another. I choose to pursue my profession with intelligence and skill, wishing not to offend anyone, but instead with my love of mankind to do what good I can before I die. Leonard L. St. Clair, Tattooist of the Old School, since 1928.’ – A lot of people look at that and wonder, what does that mean, the Old School? – And are you proud to be what you are? I’m just proud that I was able to – in the past – carry on the oldest art in the world and try to keep it decent.

I’m not going to be here all the time, and I hope that somebody I got it from a good man – so maybe someday somebody will look at them little daisies growing over me and say, ‘Well, he didn’t butcher it up – he carried it on.’ It’s handed down anyway, you know. You don’t find us on every street corner. No… I’ve just been at it a long time, god durn…

Pacho: What keeps you going, Stoney?

Stoney: What keeps me going? Like I told you, cornbread and black-eyed peas! No, determination, buddy, that’s all. Im not fighting a battle. It’s natural for me just to be jolly and get up singing in the morning, saying ‘Howdy’ to somebody that comes in the door…

Pacho: There’s so many people, crippled like you, and they get sad…

Stoney: Hell, I never feel like a cripple. I haven’t walked since I was 4 years old. What you never had you never miss. A little prison simple; I’ll set here and get lazy and you’ll see me rockin a little like this, just exercisin’ – don’t even know I’m doin’ it. That’s called prison simple. Yeah, I’m happy. I’ve had a good time in my life, yeah.


Stoney: Goddamn, I’m ashaned of myself. Ain’t got a goddamn machine working.

Ed: This one feels all right to me.

Stoney: Oh, it feels all right.

Ed.: Puttin the ink in – looks good and feels all right, so what more can you ask for? . . . You’ve got a light touch, Stoney.

Pacho: Why’d you pick that one?

Ed: I don’t know, I’ve always liked cartoon rats, you know, and it used to be a nickname of mine when I was a kid at the beach and all that… I really like the looks of that on the wall. It’s like any of them, you know; it just seems like something that’s necessary to have…

This is great. This is the highpoint of my weekend here. I never thought I’d get to go home with something to show for the trip… I like Stoney’s sense of humor about his work and his ability to get his drawing has really got a real good feeling to me – I wanted to get something that had a happy feeling to it, you know.

Pacho: That’s it up there on the wall.

Mr. Hartman: That’s a Columbus rat. They don’t have them kind of rats in San Francisco.

Ed: I wanted to bring something back that’s a little unusual, you know…

Stoney: That rat’s right there.

Ed: If I were to send you over some colors…

Stoney: I’ll use every goddamn one of them – I’ll set mine aside and try ‘em, that’s what I’ll do.

Ed: Would you prefer if I sent it mixed up or do you want me to send it over dry?

Stoney: No, dry; ’cause I’m using just Listerine , but at one time I used grain alcohol, distilled water, glycerine, and gum camphor. Oh, that was a conglameration, I haven’t used it in years. I’m using pure Listerine now.

Ed: Sure like the way you blend colors in. That’s really – I mean, I know you’re the Old School style, but it’s rare that I’ve seen anybody – I haven’t really seen anybody work in the Old School style – the tradition you came out of – and using color and that the way you’ve been doing…

I think that’11 do me until the next one, won’t it?

Stoney: We got it solid enough, hoss. Yeah. You got a little souvenir of Stoney’s anyway. Yeah, Looks like some of my relatives.

Ed: Some of mine, too…


Pacho: How come you don’t retire to those green benches?

Stoney: Who, me?

Ed: He meant, why don’t you retire to…

Stoney: Oh, and go to ‘em, go to ‘em. No, no, that’11 kill you buddy. Long as a fox has got his tail up, he’s in front of the hounds. But if he droops it, they won’t be long then. No the hounds will catch him. I’m just goin to stay here and crum arm, just as long as I can, and bullshit with the people, and talk to ‘em, and get them to talk to me. That’s part of the damn game. Yeah…

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