Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a troubled child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent in his adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.
As with cartoonist Charles M Shulz, those who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”. Some say the nickname was due to a resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket, from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip. Rubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that quick temper, that made the name stick.
Rubinstein spent the early 40s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, Rubenstein returned to Chicago, before moving to Dallas the following year.
Rubenstein managed a series of Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring ladies like “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”. Somewhere along the line, he shortened his name to “Ruby”.
Ruby was involved in typical underworld activities, such as gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante. The less-than-honest part of the Dallas police force knew that Ruby was always good for free booze, prostitutes, and other favors. This was one unsavory guy.
Today, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians who went on the road with Bob Dylan in 1965, later morphing into “The Band”, and performing such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, and “The Weight”.
In earlier days, the joints these guys played were so rough, that they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats. In 1963, they played a week in a Fort Worth nightclub. It was a huge venue, but no one was there that first night, save for two couples, a couple of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer. The band wasn’t through with their first set before a fight broke out, and someone was tear-gassed. The band played on, coughing and choking, with teargas wafting across the stage, their faces wet with tears.
Part of the roof had either blown off this joint, or burned off, depending on which version you read. Jack, the owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money, calling it the “Skyline Lounge”. There was no need to pay for security, even without the roof. Jack said “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall to steal their equipment. Problem solved.
Months later, the country was stunned at the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5½ at the time, I remember it to this day. An hour after the shooting, former marine and defector to the Soviet Union Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.
By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters, where an armored car waited to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. The scene was crowded with press and police.
Half the country watched on live TV, as a man came out of the crowd, firing a single bullet from his .38 into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald. Four musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for months earlier, at that burned out dive bar. Jack Ruby.
Oswald was taken unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where John F. Kennedy died, two days earlier. He was dead within two hours.
Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, on March 14, 1964. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Ruby’s conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county than that in which his high profile crime had taken place. Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial.
The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President. What became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s fine establishment, is unknown to this writer.
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