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Scatter’s Funeral Etched Forever in Cleveland Memory

Written By: Ryan Miday

The funeral procession for Herman “Scatter” Stephens was a parade of friends, entertainers, sports figures, gentlemen of leisure, and admirers from all over the country. 12,000 people attended the wake on Tuesday, September 12, 1967. More than 3,000 attended the funeral Thursday. His casket cost $8,000 and weighed 1,850 pounds, reported Alvin Ward of the Call & Post. But it was the sight of the funeral procession that people most remember about Scatter’s funeral.

 

The church was filled to capacity. The traffic jam stretched from the East Mt. Zion Baptist Church at 9909 Euclid Ave. to E. 55th Street. Alexander “City” Bryant and his wife, who lived across street, barely got inside the church and decided to skip the procession because of the crowds. Thousands more lined the procession route which traveled down Euclid Ave. and then up Fairhill Rd. to Highland Park Cemetery.

 

Students exiting John Hay H.S. after school were stunned by the sight of the 350 cars driving slowly pass the corner of E. 107th St. and Fairhill Road. These were not normal cars. They were luxury, customized new Cadillacs, Lincolns, and sports cars. Sixty-three Eldorados led the procession.

 

Standing with classmate Belinda Crocket, 17-year-old John Hay student Ernest Turner remembered the Fleetwood Broughams and two-door Eldorados with two-tone tops. He recalled a royal blue Eldorado with orange interior and an orange and blue hound tooth top, and a brown Eldorado with black interior and a brown and black hound tooth top. James “Lucky” Jordan drove a two-door white 1967 Eldorado, which a small child had remarked to his mother that it was an airplane. The fancy cars kept coming; they never stopped.

 

The crowd in attendance—artists and hustlers—had always set the fashion trend, and it was a perfect day for them to be seen. It felt like late spring with the sun shining and temperatures reaching the 70s. The cars with retractable hardtops had them down. Many men displayed the status symbol of processed hair, and the ladies wore big hats. Two ladies riding in a customized Thunderbird wore hats so fabulously big that observers wondered how they did not blow away.

 

This same month Sammy Davis Jr. became the first black person to appear on the cover of GQ. He wore a slim-lined, double-breasted check suit with a matching overcoat. As expected, the men in the possession put their own twist on the current fashion styles. Billy Eckstine’s high-roll collars known as the “Mr. B. Collar” were popular, and, of course, many had tucked into their suits the Irish linen handkerchief. The ladies looked as glamorous in their Sunday best. Their classy, colorful dresses were striking. Yet the eye was drawn to the black fishnet and colored stockings. Despite the warm day, a few could not help but show up in their finest French chinchilla mink coats.

 

Hundreds of flower arrangements poured in. Notables like Count Basie, Sony Wilcox, Donald King, Attorney James Willis, Geech Bell, Willie Hoge, Isaac Higgins, the Ripley Road Street Club, Fulton Fish Co., and the Lucky Bar sent extravagant floral displays that filled the church. Family and close friends could be seen in the procession wearing special flowers provided by Scatter’s long-time friend James (Sonny) Stinson from Detroit. Boxing greats Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Luis were rumored to have been seen in the procession.

 

On his way walking home, Turner stopped in Big John’s pool room next to Womack’s Records on E. 105th St. and Cedar Ave. to report to the fellas what he had just witnessed. He learned that the funeral was for Scatter. Ernest didn’t know him, but he recognized that this was a special day – so many black people dressed in the finest of clothes and driving the fanciest of cars was really something, a once in a life-time event. Cleveland had never seen a more elaborate funeral service.

 

For another young man, the grandeur of the funeral didn’t matter. Chris Arnett was distraught; it was a sad occasion and he doesn’t remember details. He lost a friend and mentor, whom he had known since he was a little boy. Arnett’s parents went to school with Scatter. After boxing lessons in junior high,  Arnett would stop by Scatter’s famous BBQ restaurant. Scatter liked the young boy’s energy and took an interest in him.

 

He worked for Scatter’s cigarette and jukebox vending businesses and at the BBQ restaurant. Arnett also chaperoned Scatter’s endless out-of-town celebrities and jazz artists, many of whom were personal friends that stayed with Scatter, such as Sonny Stint, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and singer, Arthur Pryscock. “The man ‘Scatter’ is doing the booking now-a-days at the [Café] Tia Juana and he’s bringing in some of the really BIG names of show business,” reported John Fuster of the Call & Post, in August 1962.

 929 E. 105th St., 1954
Madame’s Beauty Shoppe, Twentieth Century Tavern,
Scatter’s Barbecue, Silk Top Barber Shop.
Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

 

Several years after Scatter’s death, Arnett was approached by Glenville H.S. classmate, Phillip Fenty. Phillip was an aspiring screenwriter and was involved with actor Ron O’Neal, another Glenville H. S. classmate. After Gordon Parks Sr. produced the Learning Tree (1969) and Shaft (1971), Phillip traveled to New York City and befriended Gordon Parks Jr., who wanted to make a movie of his own.

 

Phillip knew the one Clevelander whose life was rich enough to craft a script around and knew the right to person to call. Phillip sought out Arnett, who was Scatter’s protege. They sat down one day and talked about Cleveland’s most flamboyant resident.

 

Another Glenville H.S. alumnus, Nate Adams, was recruited to coordinate the fashion. Ron O’Neal played Youngblood Priest, a coke dealer trying to get out of the life, whose mentor was a character named Scatter. Arnett and Adams had parts in the movie, too.

 

Like Superman creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who met while attending Glenville HS, these four Glenville H.S. alumni left a major mark on our culture.  They helped create one of Cleveland’s biggest movies: Superfly. Directed by Parks Jr. and produced by Sig Shore, it was released in late summer of 1972.  Superfly cost less than $100,000 but would gross more than $30 million.*

 

Plain Dealer – September 20, 1972

 

Arnett, a mental health counselor, laments that Superfly turned into a promotion of street life. He has passionately pursued making what he describes as the antidote to Superfly. Arnett sees Superfly as representing an ideology, a social disease, of a way of life that is based upon a fantasy conveyed through movies and music. Arnett said, “Our kids are stuck believing in fantasies that are not real, and they are killing people trying to be the mythical characters of their imagination.”

 

Arnett was a pallbearer at Scatter’s funeral. Although he didn’t need carry the casket, Scatter’s family knew how important it was to Scatter to include Chris in the official funeral arrangements. Arnett drove to the funeral but doesn’t remember with whom. Still today, the emotion of losing his mentor is evident in talking about the funeral. Like with any big funeral, Arnett pointed out, there had to be a party. After the burial, close friends and family headed to the after-hours joint. “We knew that he would want us to have a good time, just as he did for many friends who passed before him,” said Arnett.

 

 References

*http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/25/obituaries/25shore.html?ref=jackcavanaugh

Notes

Photo Details of Scatter’s BBQ

Address: 929 E. 105th Street
Date: 1954
Madame’s Beauty Shoppe, Twentieth Century Tavern, Scatter’s Barbecue, Silk Top Barber Shop.
Scanned: 2011 for Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection

Street scenes of East 105th Street, taken from 1950-1968. They are part of a collection of more than 65,000 photographs donated to the Cleveland Public Library by the City of Cleveland’s Board of Zoning Appeals and Department of Community Development between 1991 and the late 1990s. The Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals photographs were taken between 1929 and the late 1990s to illustrate exceptions to the City’s Zoning Code.

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