St. Louis Through the Eyes of Kids

I can’t believe it, but I’ve talked to 104 people so far from every age and background about their experiences growing up in St. Louis for my upcoming book, Growing up St. Louis. I’ll talk to two or three more, but I’m basically done. The stories I heard during those conversations will provide the basis for a rich look at how people grew up in St. Louis since 1900. I’m just starting with the writing itself. I love it.
Dorothy Hunter (left) with her sister Ida and her brother Jack at their home on Connecticut street, just some of Tower Grove Park.


Consider Dorothy Hunter, who was 109 when I talked to her last spring. She grew up on Connecticut Street and remembered walking north to Tower Grove Park to play tennis. My oldest interview subject, she saw silent movies on Grand Avenue, led the Ukulele Club at Cleveland High School and saw her uncle off at Union Station when he got on the train to fight in World War I. My youngest interviewee was 9-year-old Milo Marston who was born more than 100 years after Dorothy Hunter​. He loves math, attends the Mallinckrodt School off Hampton and plays the flute. He also lives on Connecticut – in the same block where Dorothy Hunter grew up, actually. How’s that for a coincidence?​

You might not call what they did coincidence, but what happened to others makes for terrific reading.​

– Vivian Zwick, who is 100, was invited to join a sorority at Clayton High School, and then rejected because she was Jewish.

– Gerald Schriedel and his six siblings were crestfallen when their parents put them into an orphanage in 1942

– When Paul Hartke uttered the “N” word as a youngster in the 1940s, his mother arranged for him to meet the African-American who picked up the family’s trash. He saw that he was just another person.

– Florida Cargill has pleasant memories of attending the segregated Douglass High School in North Webster for her first three years in the 1950s. But she didn’t find a warm welcome when she spent her senior year at the newly-integrated Webster Groves High School.

– Born in 1947, Darrell L. Fuse grew up on the Hill and delivered moonshine for his grandmother in the late 1950s.

– In the mid-1950s, little Jim Horne tagged along with his dad on a trip to fix his a refrigeration unit in a bar on The Hill. He encountered Yogi Berra, who apparently was in town to play in the 1957 All Star game.

– KSDK Sports Director Frank Cusumano fell in love with sports attending pro games with his dad, including the 1968 World Series game in which Bob Gibson struck out 17.

– Andrej Dzidic came from Bosnia when he was 2 in the mid-1990s. He recalls the frustration he had of constantly translating for his parents.

– Vindya Yanamadala is the daughter of two doctors whose marriage was arranged. But the high school senior, who lives in Chesterfield, is totally Americanized. When she marries, it’ll be for love.

Here’s the notes I took during my interviews. Oh, the stories they’d tell!

​I plan to stuff other stories about kids’ reactions when they learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. People who grew up at different times talk about their experiences at the first, second and third Busch Stadiums, Forest Park Highlands and the Gateway Arch. They are rich and poor, from every part of the St. Louis area. They’re not just anybody. They are a special group.

I believe this will be a significant book about the history of St. Louis from the point of view of children. When the book is released, I’ll give a program about it at the Central Library downtown. That’s where I found about a quarter of my interview subjects, in open houses at four branches in October. I can’t wait to get this book out.

 

 

 

 

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St. Louis Through the Eyes of Kids

I can’t believe it, but I’ve talked to 104 people so far from every age and background about their experiences growing up in St. Louis for my upcoming book, Growing up St. Louis. I’ll talk to two or three more, but I’m basically done. The stories I heard during those conversations will provide the basis for a rich look at how people grew up in St. Louis since 1900. I’m just starting with the writing itself. I love it.
Dorothy Hunter (left) with her sister Ida and her brother Jack at their home on Connecticut street, just some of Tower Grove Park.


Consider Dorothy Hunter, who was 109 when I talked to her last spring. She grew up on Connecticut Street and remembered walking north to Tower Grove Park to play tennis. My oldest interview subject, she saw silent movies on Grand Avenue, led the Ukulele Club at Cleveland High School and saw her uncle off at Union Station when he got on the train to fight in World War I. My youngest interviewee was 9-year-old Milo Marston who was born more than 100 years after Dorothy Hunter​. He loves math, attends the Mallinckrodt School off Hampton and plays the flute. He also lives on Connecticut – in the same block where Dorothy Hunter grew up, actually. How’s that for a coincidence?​

You might not call what they did coincidence, but what happened to others makes for terrific reading.​

– Vivian Zwick, who is 100, was invited to join a sorority at Clayton High School, and then rejected because she was Jewish.

– Gerald Schriedel and his six siblings were crestfallen when their parents put them into an orphanage in 1942

– When Paul Hartke uttered the “N” word as a youngster in the 1940s, his mother arranged for him to meet the African-American who picked up the family’s trash. He saw that he was just another person.

– Florida Cargill has pleasant memories of attending the segregated Douglass High School in North Webster for her first three years in the 1950s. But she didn’t find a warm welcome when she spent her senior year at the newly-integrated Webster Groves High School.

– Born in 1947, Darrell L. Fuse grew up on the Hill and delivered moonshine for his grandmother in the late 1950s.

– In the mid-1950s, little Jim Horne tagged along with his dad on a trip to fix his a refrigeration unit in a bar on The Hill. He encountered Yogi Berra, who apparently was in town to play in the 1957 All Star game.

– KSDK Sports Director Frank Cusumano fell in love with sports attending pro games with his dad, including the 1968 World Series game in which Bob Gibson struck out 17.

– Andrej Dzidic came from Bosnia when he was 2 in the mid-1990s. He recalls the frustration he had of constantly translating for his parents.

– Vindya Yanamadala is the daughter of two doctors whose marriage was arranged. But the high school senior, who lives in Chesterfield, is totally Americanized. When she marries, it’ll be for love.

Here’s the notes I took during my interviews. Oh, the stories they’d tell!

​I plan to stuff other stories about kids’ reactions when they learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. People who grew up at different times talk about their experiences at the first, second and third Busch Stadiums, Forest Park Highlands and the Gateway Arch. They are rich and poor, from every part of the St. Louis area. They’re not just anybody. They are a special group.

I believe this will be a significant book about the history of St. Louis from the point of view of children. When the book is released, I’ll give a program about it at the Central Library downtown. That’s where I found about a quarter of my interview subjects, in open houses at four branches in October. I can’t wait to get this book out.

 

 

 

 


 

A Second Look at the Gateway Arch

SONY DSCI was proud when The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch went press four years ago.  Here in one place, was the whole story of the Gateway Arch from the founding of St. Louis to the present. Others agreed, and made it the go-to book about the monument. The Post-Dispatch was impressed enough to put it on its list of the 50 best books of 2014.

I would have been happy to leave it as it was. But then came the fire in November that burned Reedy’s press’ whole inventory, including all the copies of my four books. Josh Stevens at Reedy could have chosen to bring out any of those four books to update and reprint, but he picked The Making of an Icon. So I got busy and turned in my retooled second edition yesterday, March 14.  It’s much better than the first book.

SONY DSC

I thought hard as I wrote a new chapter on how Eero Saarinen spent 14 years using math, art and his imagination to come up with the icon’s beautiful shape.  I talked to a man who rappelled down the Gateway Arch to examine the troublesome stains on its surface. I discovered the pros and cons of scrubbing them off. I considered all that’s new in the locally-funded $380 million makeover of the Arch grounds, museum and visitor center.

  Eero Saarinen at work on a model of the Gateway Arch

I pondered the new name for the federally-owned property that includes the Arch and surrounding land. The Gateway Arch National Park may correctly describe it, but may miss the intent of Luther Ely Smith, who envisioned it as a place to honor Thomas Jefferson and the westward expansion. Then I added dozens of new pictures from back in the day and now.

The finished product is the result of writing something, stewing on it for four years and then picking it up anew. It’ll be out in June, before the grand opening of the reworked Arch grounds on July 3.  Check back here for details. Then get ’em while they’re hot, and then enjoy this magnificent work of art.

51) Eero Saarinen's Amazing Weather Machine

All pictures except the black-and-white one are by Bryan Werner of the Metro East Park and Recreation District. The black-and-white one is courtesy Yale University.

 

Coming: The New Improved Gateway Arch Book!

1 ) Replace pic on viAmong other things, the fire in the Reedy Press warehouse in November destroyed all copies of my four books. It smarted, but is giving us a chance to make them even better. In late June, more or less, Reedy Press will issue The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch, 2nd Edition. It’ll come just in time for the rededication of the Arch and Arch grounds on July 3.

The Making of an Icon became the go-to book about the Gateway Arch after it came out in 2014. The revised book will be even more comprehensive than the first one. It will featurenew information about the renovated Arch grounds and new museum along with plans to tie the icon to St. Louis’s downtown. You can read about the people who rappelled down the Arch in 2014 to investigate the stains on the Arch. And you can peruse dozens of new pictures.

The updated book will make the perfect subject for presentations at clubs or another addition to your library. Check back to jimmerkelthewriter.com for complete information.

Meanwhile, I haven’t forgotten Growing Up St. Louis, about my interviews of 100 people who spent their early years in St. Louis. It still should come out in 2019. I’ll be busy writing.

A Look Back – And a Look Forward

2018

For our friends who didn’t get a copy of our Christmas letter by mail, here it is:

To our beloved friends and relatives, near and far, at Christmas 2017:

All kinds of things happened to us this year, but by far the best event was a doctor’s declaration that Lorraine suffered no damage from a heart attack in May 2015. During the attack, a major artery was completely blocked. Some of this good news is because she got to Barnes Jewish Hospital quickly and because of the top-of-the-line care she received there. We’re giving the glory to God for this unexpected blessing.  As Psalm 91:7 says,  “A thousand may fall at your side. . . .but it will not come near you.” Also, she hasn’t had an asthma attack since January. She’s had some arthritis pain, but is taking seniors pool classes at the YMCA which provide aerobic exercise without pain to her back or joints. Lorraine still does part-time home health care for two elderly men. She lost a three-year friend, Sam, who died in April 2017. Whatever the assignment, she makes friends, as she helps clients stay in their homes. Her duties range from playing checkers with a client to taking him on errands to doing light housework.  It’s the best job she’s ever had.

Meanwhile, Jim’s writing another book. Yawn. He’s finishing interviewing a hundred people, 9 to 109, rich and poor, black and white, about their experience growing up in St. Louis. The book about what he found, Growing Up St. Louis, is set for publication at the start of 2019. Jim was preparing for Christmas signings of his older books when a fire destroyed the warehouse of his publisher, Reedy Press. The loss of those book at an important time of the year was a financial hit at a time he should have been making money selling. Meanwhile, Jim dropped 30 pounds, as both he and Lorraine worked to keep weight off.

Several trips in August and the first half of September left us tired but nonetheless richly blessed for the experience.  After both of us traveled to Atlanta for his sister and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration, he went with his brother to Corpus Christi, Texas for their uncle’s 90th birthday party. After that, we headed north to spend a week in our favorite vacation place, Bayfield, Wisconsin and Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. We finished our whirlwind travels with a jaunt to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, where fellow church members Seth and Shannon Hein hosted us royally for the weekend. It all was wonderful but enough traveling for the year. We celebrated Thanksgiving at home with Jim’s brother Charles and plan to do that at Christmas.

Most importantly, we continued to grow closer to the Lord and Jubilee Church, which we’ve attended since 2014. The leadership and Bible teaching are excellent. We’re hosting a weekly community group, while Jim leads a group that cleans the parking lot before Sunday service. The community group helps us form family relationships within the church that help us follow Jesus more closely. Meanwhile, we are still leading a monthly church service at the Manor Grove Nursing Home. We decided not to bring a pet into our home this year.

We pray that this season you catch what it meant for Jesus to come to earth at Christmas. May you have the best year ever in 2018!.

Love at Christmas,

 

Jim and Lorraine Merkel

Last Call to Be in My New Book

AlisonVedova
I interview Alison Vedova for “Growing Up St. Louis”

Like a lot of youngsters, Alison Vedova helped her mom adjust the settings on her computer. The Webster Groves High School senior got a flip phone at 12 and a smart phone at 14, but only uses it in free time. “A lot of teachers will take your phone away if you have it out,” she told me in an interview at the Hartford Coffee Company in the city’s Tower Grove South neighborhood. The day she spoke about what it’s like to be a high school senior these days, she revealed some good news. That morning – Dec. 16 – she learned she’d received a $21,000 scholarship to attend Loyola University.

Alison will be one of at least 10 people who will represent those who were still growing  up after 2000 in my upcoming Reedy Press book Growing Up St. Louis. My friends, fans and regular readers will recall that I’m interviewing at least 100 people,  9 to 109, fortunate and unfortunate, black and white, about their unique experience of growing up in the Gateway City. I don’t want to leave anybody out of this sweeping look at the lives of kids or teenagers here since 1900.

I have less than 10 interviews to go, and I’m looking for your help to get them. If you’re younger than 32 or from 45 to 52, I may want to quiz you  for the book. Please e-mail me ASAP at southsidemerkel@gmail.com. I can’t wait to talk to you.

Your Chance to Help Reedy Press

jim-merkel-expression
Goodness Gracious, I’m on the Program, Too.

You’ll have to listen to me talk, but sometimes we must sacrifice.

The opportunity to reboot Reedy Press after the recent warehouse fire will be the “Reedy Press Reboot” — what else? – from 6-9 Monday night at the Duck Room of the legendary Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar Boulevard in the Delmar Loop,  For a $20 ticket,  which you can buy on the web,  you can eat some yummy hors d’oeuvres, preorder books when they’re reprinted and listen to some great entertainment.

Every penny raised will go for reprinting Reedy books. It’ll be great, and the only place to be on Monday. Maybe even Beatle Bob will show up.

The big item of the night will be STL Stories at 7, in which a dozen or so Reedy Press authors from the Gateway City share stories about these parts. Eleven will be great. I’m not sure how good the 12th will be, because it’s me.

I’ll more or less share the epilogue from my book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, “My Wasted Life as a Writer.” In it, I explain why I think Reedy Press Publisher Josh Stevens wanted me on the list of local colorful characters. Thankfully, there’s a cash bar, because you’ll want to run there after you hear me.