Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lafayette Riffle – Champion Eater

by David Parmer

Uncle Zeke* liked to meet and write about interesting people, whether it be about champion groundhog hunters, ginseng seekers, fox chasers, moonshiners, or champion eaters.

Uncle Zeke was a thin man, and if you could believe what he wrote, lived on very little in the way of food. Uncle Zeke in one column advised his readers that he was up to 142 pounds and was feeling ‘mighty heavy.’

From time to time, Uncle Zeke would write in amazement how much food some people could eat. In one column, Uncle Zeke wrote in astonished terms that Bee Heater from Clover Fork could eat three pounds of honey. Uncle Zeke also told how Reuben Blake bragged that if he could eat all the mush and milk he could get, the whole world couldn’t hold him down. Uncle Zeke, in one column, laughingly told how one of his neighbors ate a whole pound cake, thinking it was corn bread. Uncle Zeke, with tongue in cheek, admonished another neighbor for eating a gallon of strawberries “when a quart would have been enough.”

Uncle Zeke paid a visit to Orlando one day and overheard a stranger in Dick Skinner’s restaurant boasting that he could eat three dozen eggs and three pounds of bacon for breakfast. In his next Buzzardtown News column, Uncle Zeke mentioned the event and warned his readers for no one to mention this to Lafayette Riffle, the champion eater.

Uncle Zeke mentioned in a 1927 column that the apple crop in this community would be so small as to not make Lafayette Riffle a good mess of apple dumplings.

Lafayette Riffle was born around 1877, the son of John A. and Lucinda (Harris) Riffle. Lafayette was a farmer in the Red Lick area and while he was young developed a prodigious appetite. His doting mother fueled Lafayette ’s appetite with generous second helpings and all of the milk he could drink. Instead of midnight snacks, it seemed Lafayette developed the habit of “all day snacks.”

Fellows like Lafayette invariably came to the attention of Uncle Zeke as poem fodder.
In a 1925 news column, Uncle Zeke crowned Lafayette as the champion eater of the Orlando area.

There is a man named Lafayette,
Who never cares for this or that.
It seems that eating is his delight,
He eats from morning till the night.

One day he ate four pounds of cheese,
Three pounds of beef with perfect ease.
Then offered to bet his old straw hat
That he could eat a Thomas cat.

He bet a dollar, when he was out of luck,
Six dozen eggs he could suck;
He tackled the job mid cheers and yells,
Then sucked the eggs and ate the shells.

When Lafayette was full of booze,
He’d always bet and never lose.
He ate three gallons of kraut one day,
Then bet he could eat a bale of hay.

He went to a restaurant some time ago,
And the waiter - he seemed kind of slow.
So to satisfy Lafe’s appetite,
He swallowed the waiter out of sight.

Dale Barnett recalls Lafayette Riffle’s reputation as a champion eater but remembers that old Lafe was not beyond a little trickery. Dale called to mind that the “bale of hay” Lafe would bet that he could eat was a tiny, bundled bit of grass Lafe carried in his pocket. Dale also remembers that Lafe was practiced in the art of regurgitation. After a phenomenal feat of eating, and after picking up his bets, Lafe would go outside and regurgitate by running his finger down his throat.

Helen Jeffries also recalls that children at dinner tables in Orlando during the 1930s were chastised for taking too much on their plates for “eating like Lafe Riffle.”

Lafayette was also known for a little truth stretching, as Uncle Zeke would term it. Uncle Zeke mused in a 1926 column that “Lafayette Riffle is a champion walker as well as a champion eater. He claims that while hunting for a lost dog the past five or six days that he walked every inch of three hundred miles.”

Sylvia Godfrey, Lafayette’s niece, grew up on the O’Hara farm at Jacksonville. Sylvia, who now lives at Jessie’s Run, near Jane Lew, recalls getting visits from her uncle Lafayette when she was young and remembers him as being a “very large man,” who would “make funny faces and growl like an animal,” scaring the wits and all out of Sylvia and her siblings.

Uncle Zeke lived at Posey Run in a small house which sat on the bank above the B & O Railroad right of way on the east bank of Oil Creek. Uncle Zeke could sit on his porch and watch the comings and goings of travelers on the Oil Creek Road. Whenever he saw Lafayette on the road, Uncle Zeke would write in his column that “Lafayette Riffle – Champion Eater, passed through our town today.”

Lafayette Riffle, another of Orlando ’s colorful characters, died in 1949 at the age of 73 years.
. . . . . . .

For more on the humor of personal foibles see the Nov '06 entry Telling Tales

* Numerous entries in this 'blog include comments by the ever-observant "Uncle Zeke" Read about newspaper columnist and B & O Trackman P.N. Blake of Posey Run in the Oct '06 entry Uncle Zeke From Buzzard Town and Dec '06 entry Trouble At Uncle Zeek's House.

comment 1 Donna Gloff
To the right is my great uncle Bee Heater, eater of three pounds of honey, per Uncle Zeke. He is with his great niece Nancy (Stutler) Temple on the tracks below the Methodist Church in the 1950s.

comment 2 Donna Gloff
Datails on Lafe Riffle
His death certificate says Lafe's parents were John A & Lucinda (Harris) Riffle and his date of birth is unknown.
Russ Schmidt in his RootsWeb tree "datalink" claims
Birth: 10 Aug 1875 in Lewis County, WV. and his father is John Ellis (s/oJLR) Riffle

Russ Schmidt says Lafe married (multiple cousin) Clara Belle Curtis and his death certificate states that Lafe was divorced.

1 comment:

  1. Dottie CollinsFriday, June 25, 2010

    I am looking for information on the family of Lafayette Riffle. I would like to know about the family of his wife Lucinda Harris. She was related to my grand-father Martin ( M. L. Harris ). I would be grateful for any information I can get.