J. Edgar Hoover, holding the bag

Baltimore Glimpses

October 22, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

ONE AFTERNOON in the 1960s, two men were having lunch in the old clubhouse at Pimlico Race Course. One of them would have been familiar only to a few in the racing fraternity; he was an agent for jockeys. The other had one of the most familiar faces on Earth. He was J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. The name was synonymous with power, visible and invisible.

As recent studies of his career now make clear, Hoover had a file on anybody who was anybody. Where he saw wrongdoing -- espionage, racketeering, drugs -- he'd pounce on it. He also kept files on Martin Luther King Jr. and others whom he saw as enemies of the state. But at Pimlico (for more than 30 years) he was better known as a guy who loved to see the nags run -- and who loved to bet on them, too.

Each year Hoover could be seen at the winners' circle, presenting the trophy for the Dixie Handicap. He had a favorite table in the corner of the old dining room where two or three times a week he enjoyed handicapping.

On this day, the agent lunching with Hoover had agreed to keep a close watch on a cigar box-shaped package, wrapped and sealed in brown paper and entrusted to him by a jockey client of his. But the agent had to run a number of errands in the course of his day's work and didn't want to be burdened by the box.

Annoyed at the inconvenience, he complained to Hoover, who offered to hold the package until his companion returned.

After the final race, the agent came back, thanked Hoover for watching over the box and relieved him of it. A few minutes later the agent happened upon the jockey, who asked for the box. "You got it," the agent said, "but what the hell is in it that it had to be guarded all afternoon?"

The jockey responded, "Why, you want some?"

Puzzled, the agent asked, "Some of what?"

"Marijuana," said the jockey.

"Do you know who's been holding this stuff all afternoon?"

"Who?" the worried jockey asked.

"Only J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI . . ."

A true story.

Wouldn't the flower children of that era have loved it?

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