William “Old Bill” Chesterfield
Well, my name’s Bill Chesterfield, but everybody calls me Old Bill. I used to own that ice cream parlor.
Yeah, it’s a Starbucks now, but back in those days, back in ’76 when this whole ordeal happened, it was an ice cream parlor. Chesterfield’s, it was called.
I reckon every town’s got their place, you know, that one place where everybody goes, like the hub of the town. Don’t know what that place was over in Cowpens or down in Beaufort, but here in Rock Hill, at the time at least, that place was my place, Chesterfield’s. Might’ve been because of our famous Seven-Layer Banana Split Challenge—made us an institution, that challenge did. People’d come all the way from Charleston, some even from as far away as Atlanta, just to try that challenge. Even got on the local news a few times.
Lucinda Greene. Everybody at Chesterfield’s called me Greeney or Mamma Greeney (laughs). Used to love that, all them schoolchildren calling me Mamma Greeney. Never did have no kids of my own, so that was nice. I really liked that. Mamma Greeney (laughs).
Let me think on it for a minute. I was at Chesterfield’s from ’72 right up until the end in ‘79, I believe.
Oh, yes, I sure did. Real nice place. Real nice man, Old Bill.
Oh, sure I was, child. I was there six days a week. These bones weren’t so old and raggedy back then (laughs). So I was there when he came in, yes sir. I sure was. Matter of fact, I’m the one that took his order. Suppose that’s why y’all are talking to me, am I right?
Sheriff Rogers. Rock Hill PD. On the job from ’64-’94. It was a small town back then. Pretty quiet. We’d get a few calls now and then, sure, but nothing like it is now.
But to your question, yes. I was there at Chesterfield’s on the day of the incident. Hell, I was at Chesterfield’s most days. Half of the town was, so it made sense for me to hang around. I’ll tell you, though, that day caused a lot of stirring. Town people got all riled up. I think I broke up more bar fights in the two weeks after that day than I did in the two years before.
Why? People fighting over whether or not that man was actually the King.
Son, I don’t have an answer to that question.
William “Old Bill” Chesterfield
Well, that day changed everything. It sure did. It started out like any other, normal day at the parlor—a few folks hanging about, drinking coffee, and gossiping. Normal stuff, you see. Real unassuming.
Anyway, I was there, of course, and Greeney, she was working, waiting on tables and helping out behind the counter. Ole John Boy and Hank were there, too, along with some other folks, but I can’t remember all of them. Of course, after he walked in and word spread, that place was packed like sardines in a can, but I do remember John Boy and Hank were there, on account of all the trouble they caused.
Of course it was. The King, in the flesh.
I don’t want to talk about that day, you hear me? Get that camera out of my face. Why? Cause that man was my hero, that’s why, until he done what he done. Now get the hell out of here.
Yeah, I was there, but no, that man weren’t the King (laughs). You boys talk to Hank? Oh yeah, yeah, I know. He’s still sore about that whole thing. Shit, I been trying to tell him for damn near 30 years now that man weren’t the King, but he won’t listen. Stubborn as a mule, that Hank.
Honestly, child, I don’t remember seeing the man even walk in, but I looked up and there he was. Oh, he definitely stood out like a sore thumb.
Cause of the way he was dressed, that’s why. Not too many folks around here dressed in a suit like that (laughs).
Honey, I don’t know and I don’t care. There’s only one King, and that’s the Lord Jesus.
But, yessir, I took his order. I walked right over to his table and do you know he didn’t even say a word? Not one word, child. Didn’t even take off his sunglasses. I ask him how’s he doing and what can I get for him and he doesn’t say one word, not one word. He just points with his finger to the picture of the challenge and I says, I ask him, “You sure, baby? That’s a whole lot of ice cream,” and he just nods his head, so I says, “Alright, then.”
Well, sure I thought it was a little strange (laughs). But you know what the Good Book says, child. It says not to judge.
William “Old Bill” Chesterfield
Well, Greeney walks over and tells me we got ourselves a challenger, so naturally, I start getting all excited. I hit the challenge alarm, so’s to let everyone in the place know that, you know, someone’s taking on the split. Folks like to stick around when someone’s taking on the split, on account of there only being a handful of people that finished it in time.
It was a seven-layer banana split with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream. Each layer was separated with my own homemade pound cake. I topped it all off with a whole mess of fudge and brownie bits. On top of that, I put on sprinkles, nuts, cherries, and a mountain of whip-cream. It was a sight to see, I tell you. The damn thing was about a foot and a half long and at least a foot high.
Mighty proud of that thing. Mighty proud. Excuse me. I need a minute.
Hank seen him first. I come out of the bathroom and I can hear the alarm going off, the challenge alarm, so I know there’s going to be some sort of excitement, but I walk out and, boy, fucking Hank—shit, sorry. Can I say fucking? You sure? No, no, I understand. Talking to you boys like we’re at the bar (laughs). So I come out of the bathroom and Hank’s all excited, beside himself like, and he starts in, hitting me in the arm and telling me to look over at the table. “Look who it is,” he says. “Can you believe it?” And he can’t stop jumping up and down, like if he does, he’ll just up and die.
I take one look and I know that ain’t him. It ain’t the King; it just ain’t. I hated to do it, man. I hated to tell him, you know? But Hank’s always been, you know, kind of, I don’t know how to put it, not childish, but just Hank, so I tell him, I say, “Hank, that ain’t who you think it is, that ain’t the King,” and he says, “No, no, no. It’s him, John Boy. It’s fucking”—shit, sorry. “It’s him,” he says. And I say, “Hank, it ain’t him, it’s one of them imposters.” Say what? Oh, yeah. Impersonators. But Hank, he just, he ain’t having it. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the one and only King of Rock and Roll sitting right there in that booth.
So Hank strolls on over to the booth and starts talking to this guy, who sure as shit ain’t the King. Hank’s trying to shake his hand and get him to sign a napkin, but this guy, whoever he is, he ain’t having it, either. Doesn’t move a muscle, right, so eventually, Hank gives up and starts walking back to the counter, and I tell you, I ain’t never seen nothing looking so sad and dejected. Boy, Hank looked like a starving wet dog who just got caught pissing on the rug (laughs). You know what I mean?
Honey, I tell you, Old Bill sure did make some nice splits, but that one I brought over to that man that day—whoo-ee, child—that was one of the prettiest I’d ever seen, and the biggest (laughs). That thing was two feet high, if it was an inch.
Well, baby, I just walked it on over and sat it down. I told that man, I says, “Honey-child, here you go, the Chesterfield’s Seven-Layer Banana Split. You got thirty minutes to finish this here thing, so you better go on and start digging in.
And you know what this man does?
William “Old Bill” Chesterfield:
He just sat there! I couldn’t believe it.
About fifteen minutes in, that’s when things started to get a little tense. More people had arrived at Chesterfield’s and there was quite a crowd. There usually is whenever someone orders the challenge, but I guess Hank had called around and told people that the King was at the parlor.
I told you, son, I don’t have an answer for that question.
Oh, yeah, well, you see, this individual just sat at the booth and didn’t move, and the seven-layer split was starting to melt all on the table. People didn’t like that, especially Hank.
Shit hit the fan, that’s what happened. There was some crowd in there at this point, and this man, this impersonator, is just sitting there, staring straight ahead, and letting that split, one of Old Bill’s finest, by the way, just letting that split melt all over that table.
There was a lot of commotion, I can tell you that. Folks were yelling and shaking their heads. They couldn’t believe that shit. Some just up and walked out.
And Hank, boy, Hank was going from being disappointed to being mad-dog angry.
People were upset, honey. Up-set. I was starting to get a little afraid for that man, for his safety, so I ask Sheriff Rogers, I say, “Isn’t there something you can do?”
I was scared, child, and I thought there had to be something the Sheriff could do, like some kind of indecency law.
Do you know what Sheriff Rogers says to me? He says, “Greeney, it’s that man’s split, bought and paid for, and I reckon he can do whatever he wants with it, up to and including not eating it.”
I’ll never forget that. “Up to and including not eating it” (laughs).
I might have said that. I don’t remember.
William “Old Bill” Chesterfield
It was all just getting to be a little too much for me, watching one of my finest Seven-Layer Splits turn into a puddle on the table.
I had to walk outside.
Hank decided he’d had enough of that shit, enough of that man just sitting there, that man that he still believed, shit still believes, was the King.
He walks back on over to the table and starts yelling at him. I don’t remember exactly what all he said, but I can honestly say it was some nasty, harsh shit. Hank’s face is all red and the veins on his neck are just pumping, you know? Oh yeah, I remember (laughs). Hank’s so mad, he’s spitting all over this man’s face (laughs).
Nope. That man just sat there.
At that point, I had to do something in the interest of public safety. The situation was getting out of hand. Hank’s a good man. I didn’t want to arrest him on assault charges.
I ask John Boy to walk over to the table with me and we pull Hank away and try to calm him down a little. I tell them both that I think it’s time to leave. John Boy knew it was. Hank didn’t. We had to grab him by the arms and walk him out of there, still yelling and cursing and spitting on the floor.
Most people left after that, too. There was nothing else to see, it seemed. Just a man in a booth not eating.
Once his time was up, I walked over to the booth and told him as much. Baby, that table was covered in all seven layers of that split. It was dripping all on the floor and everything, even dripping on to that man, but he didn’t seem to mind. Just kept sitting there.
But, honey, I felt so bad for Old Bill. I knew it couldn’t have been easy on him to watch that, so I walked outside to go check on him and bring him back in. Oh, his face was so red, child, it looked like he’d been crying for days. Course, he would never say he was.
No, we walked back in and that man was gone.
At first, it seemed like that was that. It was over, but that wasn’t the case. People in the town kept on arguing and fighting over it.
I told you what I think.
Shit, that day ruined Hank and mine’s friendship. Ruined Chesterfield’s.
People couldn’t let that shit go. They’d come in to Chesterfield’s just to look at the booth or they’d just come in to get a coffee or a cone, but sure as shit, eventually somebody’d bring it up and then there’d be an argument and then there’d be a fight.
Eventually, people stopped coming in at all.
Oh, real sad, awful sad about what it did to Old Bill and Chesterfield’s. Real nice place. Real nice man, Old Bill. I loved them both. It’s a shame what people will fight about—a damn shame, child.
I spent a lot of time just walking around.
I seen a lot things since then, honey, a lot of people coming and going. Old buildings torn down; new buildings put up. I still go for walks, a lot. I don’t know why, and every time I pass by that Starbucks, honey, I tell you, I just think about that man and that booth and that banana split, and I shake my head and I just, I just start to tear up.
I don’t know why.
I guess it’s like he’s still here, in this town, or like that day is still here, just hanging about. Or maybe it’s just me, honey. Maybe I’m just an old woman stuck in the past.
I don’t know, child. I just don’t.
Shit, Old Bill will defend to the death that it was the King that was in his place that day. Hell, he tried as hard as he could to make that the reason to come to Chesterfield’s, tried to get the media to come and do interviews and shit. But, like I said, all it caused was more problems. Folks started thinking that he’d gone off, that he’d lost his damn mind, you know? To be honest with you, I don’t rightly blame them for thinking that. Old Bill never was the same.
Listen, I’ve seen a lot of things during my years on the force—strange things, brutal, horrible things that nobody should have to see. And what those things taught me, son, is that things are complex. Nasty and complex. They are never simple. What you folks are trying to do now is make a complex thing simple, but it’s not because that’s not the way things work.
And I know I don’t have an answer to the question you really want answered. All I can do is tell you the facts about that day. The fact is we simply don’t know.
Look, the town changed. The people changed. New people, new businesses. It happens. Maybe they just lost their taste for ice cream. I don’t know.
No, that’s not why Chesterfield’s closed down.
Oh, absolutely that’s why Chesterfield’s closed down in ’79. All because he couldn’t let that shit die. Cost him his reputation and his business. No question, all because of that day.
William “Old Bill” Chesterfield
I don’t want to say any more about it, other than to say that I was mighty proud of Chesterfield’s, of the Seven-Layer Split, and mighty proud of the fact, the goddamned fact, that the King himself came in to my place. Mighty proud.
Joseph Bodie is an MFA candidate at the University of San Francisco.