Harry Lieberman was little more than a twig on the tree of life when he took to the road back in 1910 in order to show off an impressive skill he had mastered by the age 15. Short in stature, patient and analytic by nature, Lieberman was billed as “the famous juvenile checker expert,” in 1911, having already toured East Coast checkers hot spots before being booked for a demonstration at the Rock Island, Iowa, YMCA in late November.
The Rock Island Argus in 1911 promoted Lieberman in its sports column:
“Lieberman, who has not yet attained his majority, has just returned from a triumphal invasion of the east where he put away some of the best talent known to the game. In Chicago a few days ago, he played 23 consecutive games at the South Side Club, not once meeting defeat.”
Lieberman’s rise to fame came in conjunction with this nation’s growing fascination with the game of checkers – also known as draughts. Lieberman’s subsequent skill at the game would keep him connected to the sport throughout his service in the first World War, long past his marriage to Mary McKay in Hannibal in the early 1920s, the arrival of his two sons, through career changes and ultimately relocations from the Midwest to Texas and finally Washington, D.C.
While his youth waned during his checkers career, his talent and love of the game didn’t fade.
In 1920 he held the standing as former amateur draughts champion of the world, and was the claimant of the world’s checker championship as well.
Lieberman won the Kansas Free Fair Tourney at Topeka in 1925.
In 1937, he challenged 10-year-old checker wizard Steven Fairchild of Detroit, and after a full day of play, the pair completed two games, both ending in draws.
Born of Russian emigrants who settled in Chicago in 1893 - the same year their son was born - Harry’s formal education was limited, but his life experience and accomplishments were vast.
After serving as a hospital sergeant for the U.S. Army during World War I, he settled in Parsons, Kan., where he took a job as special agent for the MK&T Railway. Most likely, he met Mary McKay of Hannibal while traveling the route, which included a stop at Hannibal, where they were married.
By 1930, Lieberman had left the employ of the railroad and had trained as a special agent for the U.S. government. He worked first as a US Treasury agent in San Antonio, Texas, and by 1940 he was working in Washington, D.C. He died Oct. 14, 1983, and is buried along with his wife at Gettysburg, Pa.
His mastery of the checkerboard is well documented in pamphlets and books on the subject.
Lieberman’s son, Herb Lieberman, and Herb’s cousin, Carol Abram, graciously shared some personal tidbits from Harry Lieberman’s life in order to help perpetuate the checker champion’s accomplishments.
“I remember Dad mentioning ‘Doc’ Greene whom he said was his mentor,” Herb Lieberman said.
Doc Greene a.k.a. Eugene H. Greene, lived in Hannibal between 1920 and 1930, boarding at the Hannibal YMCA, 418 Center St. An electrical inspector by trade, E.H. Greene was instrumental in the organization and promotion of checkers contests.
Born in 1856 in Huntington County, Pa., Doc Greene got an early start on his career, working as a teacher at the age of 16. He completed 3 ½ years of a four-year course at the State Normal at Shippensburg, Cumblerland County, Pa., but was unable to finish due to poor health. In the early 1880s, he was selling fire apparatus in Chicago, and by 1890 he was working with the Insurance Bureau of the Board of Underwriters. He later worked as an electrical inspector with the Missouri Inspection Bureau, a job which brought him to Hannibal from Kansas City, and he became an authority on fire hazards in the United States.
Greene was president of the American Checker Association and organizer of the Fourth American Tourney at Cedar Point, Ohio, Aug. 8-15, 1920, pulled together after the armistice which ended the first world war. Greene’s biography is included in a book published following the tournament. Harry Lieberman was editor-in-chief of the book, and Greene was the book’s publisher. The book, which was sold for $5, was printed by the Burnett-Poole Printing Company, located at 205 N. Main in Hannibal. The printing company was owned and operated by V.G. Burnett and E.B. Poole, who also printed the 1918 Hannibal city directory.
Ed O’Neill, sports editor of the Courier-Post in 1930, presumably wrote about the checker tournaments of these Hannibal men for the newspaper, as was typical for sports writers of the era. O’Neill and Greene were both boarders on the upper floors of the YMCA building, as recorded in the 1930 census. O’Neill would continue as sports editor of the Courier-Post until the late 1960s, long after checkers competitions waned in popularity.