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Sam Chilton


Lawyer and raconteur Samuel Blackwell Chilton (August 26, 1885-October 4, 1977) was born in St. Albans, the nephew of U.S. Sen. W. E. Chilton. He attended Swarthmore College and Washington and Lee University, as well as West Virginia University, from which he received a law degree. He was a football player and baseball pitcher and Charleston High School’s first football coach.

Chilton entered the family law firm but apparently never practiced seriously. He was an avid baseball fan and an authority on horse racing. He lobbied the legislature for the passage of the bill permitting horse racing in West Virginia, and was recalled in his obituary as the father of the state’s racing industry. He was a renowned storyteller and humorist. His cousin, storyteller Riley Wilson, specialized in humorous monologues, but Chilton’s stories were short with a funny punch line.

Chilton knew many important political figures. He once told presidential candidate George McGovern, campaigning in Charleston, that McGovern was his second choice. McGovern inquired of his first choice and Chilton replied, ‘‘Anyone else who runs.’’ He quickly told McGovern that was an old political joke and then charmed the candidate for the rest of the evening. Chilton himself ran for West Virginia secretary of state eight times, all unsuccessfully. ‘‘The secretary of state does nothing and I do nothing, so I figure I would be eminently qualified for the job,’’ he explained.

Sam Chilton was welcomed throughout his hometown. When a prominent downtown Charleston bar changed ownership, it was done on the condition that the storyteller’s drinks would be free as long as he lived.

Written by George Daugherty