A Third of the Way There

Elizabeth June Harper looked like this around the winter of 1928-29, when she was 2.

That’s right. So far, I’ve interviewed 34 people who started their lives here, for my upcoming book Growing Up St. Louis. When I get to 100, I’ll be done, except for a little matter of writing the book.  Meanwhile, I’m having a blast, interviewing every kind of St. Louisan about their experiences as youngsters.

The girl in the picture above is Elizabeth June Harper, who lived her formative years a short walk from Kingshighway Boulevard and Oakland Avenue. She told me about sleeping in Forest Park on sweltering nights in the summer and how she met her future husband when she worked at the Woolworths at Olive Street and Grand Boulevard.

I thought Elizabeth’s expression was priceless and wonderful. My wife thought she looked sad and cold. Lindbergh School District Communications Director Beth Johnston, who is Elizabeth’s granddaughter, e-mailed me that she looks a lot like her 3-year-old daughter Julie.

Frank Cusumano

Most of the people I’ve interviewed aren’t particularly well known. One exception is Frank Cusumano, the sports director at KSDK. He told me about watching Game 1 of the 1968 World Series with his dad, the owner of Kemoll’s Italian Restaurant. That was the one where Bob Gibson struck out 17, a World Series record. “I sensed that we were watching something that we would never forget,”  Cusumano told me.  “That moment was the moment that made me fall in love with sports.”

Betty (Emery) Hannibal is much less well known than a TV station sports director, but has a rich stock of memories of growing up in a four-family flat on Ethel Avenue in Richmond Heights. Born in 1940, she recalled how her father kept the family Christmas tree fresh past New Year’s Day 1946 so a neighbor who was returning from World War II could celebrate the holiday, too.

I still have a way to go before I’m finished with my interviews. If you’d like to be in the book, e-mail me at southsidemerkel@gmail.com and tell me some of your childhood memories.

Also, this fall, the St. Louis Public Library will offer four of its branches for preinterviews of people who wish to be included in Growing Up in St. Louis. From those I’ll call back a group for final 85-minute interviews. The preinterviews will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on four Saturdays in October at these branches:

  • Buder, 4401 Hampton Ave., Oct. 7.
  • Schlafly, 225 N. Euclid Ave.,  Oct. 14
  • Carpenter, 3309 S. Grand Blvd., Oct. 21.
  • Julia Davis, 4415 Natural Bridge Ave. Oct. 28.

It’ll be an exciting opportunity to hear the childhood memories of a truly diverse group of St. Louisans. Come join me.






Why Busch Built the Bevo Mill

An early newspaper ad for the Bevo Mill.

With the reopening of the Bevo Mill as Das Bevo, many have repeated a story that August Busch Sr. built it as a place to stop during for his 10-mile jaunt between the family estate at Grant’s Farm and the Anheuser-Busch brewery at Arsenal Street and South Broadway.   The fact is, it’s not true. August Busch Sr. might have stopped off every once in a while on the way home. But that wasn’t its reason for being.

It was actually a way to fight off the rising tide of Prohibition, by demonstrating that it was possible to have a proper meal and maybe a beer or drink or two in a pleasant atmosphere.

I discovered this while I was doing research on the Bevo Mill for my book Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side. I found more evidence of this fact recently, when I came across an article in which August Busch, Sr. discussed the reasons he built the Bevo Mill. The article, published in the Post-Dispatch seven months before the German restaurant opened in late June 1917, spells out his reasons. An excerpt is below.

An excerpt from an article in the Nov. 22, 1916 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with the headline, BUSCH OUTLINES PLAN TO RESIST DRY MOVEMENT. “Deusche wirtschaft” means “German Saloon.”

The words in a newspaper article printed more than 100 years ago make it clear why the beer baron erected the strange restaurant with a fan at Morganford and Gravois. Busch’s actual reason is more intriguing than the one that said he spent a fortune to build a place to get out and stop.