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.







Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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