Reader’s Delight! Jewish Book Festival Kicks Off November 5

Adreon-2 copyCool fall weather is a clear signal to go indoors and do indoorsy stuff—like reading a good book. If you’re looking for a great read, and some insight from the author him or herself, the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival will start on November 5.

The annual event has been introducing readers to noted Jewish authors for nearly forty years. All lectures by participating authors will be held in the heart of St. Louis County at the Jewish Community Center at 2 Millstone Campus Drive.

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Senator Barbara Boxer.

This year’s festival kicks off with Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Sen. Boxer will talk about her new memoir, The Art of Tough, which details her career.

On Monday, Nov. 6, local authors will be featured, including Korean War veteran Leonard Adreon. As a Marine corpsman, Adreon bore witness to the brutal horrors of war, detailed in his new book Hilltop Doc.

Another local author, Ron Kaplan, will discuss his book on “Hammerin” Hank Greenberg, one of three Jewish sluggers who have hit home runs in a World Series game. Trivia buffs—can you name the other three? See the end of this article to find out if you were correct.

Sepinwall-2 copy.jpgOn Sunday, Nov. 11, it’s TV Time with critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoiller Seitz, who will discuss their book entitled simply TV, chronicling vintage classics to modern masterpieces.

Jeff Rossen from The Today Show will appear on Saturday, Nov. 18 to discuss his new book Rossen to the Rescue.

Tickets to the festival and a complete schedule are available online at the Jewish Book Festival website. You can purchase tickets for individual lectures (most are about $20) or a complete festival Premier Pass for $99.

And for the sports trivia experts–the answer to the World Series home run derby, the names of the other three Jewish major leaguers to hit home runs in the series are:

  • Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros
  • Joc Pederson of the L.A. Dodgers
  • (St. Louisan) Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics

Bregman and Pederson hit their first homers in the first two games of the 2017 World Series, followed up by one each in game four (both hit in the 9th inning).

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Perfect Harmony: The River Blenders Chorus

Since 1978 the River Blenders Chorus has performed for audiences far and wide. The group sings barbershop harmony and has been a member of Sweet Adelines International since their inception. Although that may sound a little “old-timey,” let me assure you that the River Blenders have taken the art of barbershop harmony to a whole new level. The group’s next performance, entitled “The Bedrock Road Show,” will be held on November 4 and is inspired by everyone’s favorite stone-age family, the Flintstones.

Each year this company of women concocts a fantastic new theme show for the chorus, complete with a script, choreography, outrageous costumes and heaps of hilarity. Past performance highlights have featured themes taken from “Laugh-In,” “Psycho/Bates Motel” and “Orange is the New Black.”

The vocal quality of the group is quite superb as well, and the Blenders have proven their mastery of song by winning a number of prestigious awards, including First Place in the Harmony Classic Division AA Chorus Competition in 2015 and the Regional Chorus Competition Division AA Midsize Chorus Award in 2014. They are also the current Region 5 Sweet Adelines International Champions.

The barbershop style of singing originated in America in the 1830s when local neighborhood barbershops became a common gathering place for men. Often a barber would sing to entertain his customers while he worked, and customers would add their harmonies and use “call and response” types of songs as their repertoire. Around 1890 the advent of printed sheet music helped to propel the style to the top of “Gay 90s” culture. When vaudeville houses began using Barbershop Quartets to entertain audiences between acts, the traditional costume evolved to include oversized mustaches, red and white striped vests and straw hats.

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So, what is Barbershop Harmony anyway? According to Wikipedia, it is “a style of a cappella close harmony, or unaccompanied vocal music, characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note.” Each quartet will have a leader who sings the melody, a tenor who sings harmony above the melody, a bass who provides the bottom of the chord and a baritone who provides another harmonic note to complete the chord. The Barbershop Chorus is simply a larger group singing in the traditional four part manner described above.

Diane Huber, a self-described “homemaker and domestic engineer,” originally joined the group as a member of the chorus, but in 1989 assumed the position of Musical Director, a position that she still holds today. When asked about her background, Diane advises “I served on the Sweet Adeline International Board of Directors for 12 years, was the International President from 2004-2006 and I’ve coached choruses and quartets all over the world. I was also in a championship quartet called Ambiance and we traveled extensively to teach and perform for 10 years.”

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Musical Director Diane Huber

Sweet Adelines International, born in 1945, is an organization dedicated to the preservation of Barbershop Harmony and providing competitive opportunities for female barbershop quartets. Today the Adelines hold an international competition that hosts over 8,000 participants annually.

Diane discloses that over the years the River Blenders have had as many as 110 members, with approximately 85 currently participating. The youngest member is 19 and the oldest may possibly be around 90, although no one is brave enough to ask. Diane says that the group is a “great mix of women from all walks of life, including doctors, educators, stay-at-home moms, students and a variety of others.”

The group has had many notable performances over the years, including several opportunities to sing the National Anthem at Busch Stadium, providing vocal backup for both Kenny Rogers and Andy Williams at the Fox Theatre, and even singing for then President Ronald Reagan at an event under the Gateway Arch.

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Most of the arrangements performed by the chorus are obtained from Sweet Adelines International, however the River Blenders are lucky to have Kevin Keller, a choir member’s husband who is also a musical arranger, and Holly McKee, a member of the chorus, who write and contribute special arrangements for the group. Kevin and Holly have crafted many of the specialty numbers used by the group and, according to Diane, have been a god-send for the chorus. It is often these specialty numbers that give the chorus a leg up in competitions.

When asked what she would like the public to know about the River Blenders, Diane conveyed “I would love for people to know who we are and what we’re all about; about the education and empowerment that these women gain by being members. The group currently performs in public about six times a year, but we would love to perform more!”

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In 2018 the International Convention and Competition of Sweet Adelines will be held in St. Louis at the America’s Center, where the River Blenders will be competing in the International Chorus Competition. Stiff competition from Europe, Asia, Australia and, of course, from all over North America will be there, but there is little doubt that the Blenders will bring home another trophy.

The River Blenders Chorus rehearses each Monday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville. Rehearsals are open to anyone who is curious or might be interested in joining the group. Diane relays, “The doors are always open, come to any rehearsal. We’d love to have the company!”

“The Bedrock Road Show” performance is on Saturday, November 4 at 8 p.m. at the Purser Center at Logan University in Chesterfield. For more information visit www.riverblenders.org.

Fair Trade Market: Holiday Shopping for a Cause

The Manchester United Methodist Church (UMC) will host its 15th Annual Fair Trade Market, the largest of its kind in the nation, over two weekends in November. The event will feature globally-crafted items, holiday gifts and international foods.

Fair Trade is a movement that provides farmers and artisans, most often from Third World countries, with a “living wage” for their products. To be considered for Fair Trade inclusion, products cannot be harmful to the environment and manufacturers cannot use child or forced labor, must promote gender equality and enforce safe working conditions.

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Edana Huse is a church member who has been heavily involved in the coordination of the event since 2002. When asked how the idea for the annual market was conceived, Edana relays “Kellie Sikes, who was a member of our church years ago, was very much into social justice. She knew the people at Plowsharing and talked to them about doing something. When it (the market) first started, it was just a table or two.”

Edana continues, “Then Kellie left, so I stepped up and co-chaired with Kimi Butler.” Edana has since relinquished her co-chair position, but still works as a liaison between the church and the market vendors. According to Edana, “quite a few thousand people come in for the two weekends.”

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Rich Howard-Willms, Executive Director of Plowsharing Crafts, has been involved with the market since its inception. Plowsharing Crafts was established in 1985 and for years operated out of a single shop on Delmar in the University City Loop. More recently, Rich has opened two volunteer-operated satellite stores in the heart of Kirkwood and in Town & Country. The organization is associated with the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. Many of the products that they sell are made with sustainable and recycled materials.

Other vendors participating in this year’s market include Partners for Just Trade, selling items from Peru, and Roots-n-Streams, whose products come from Uganda and Cambodia.

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In addition, Heifer International will be onsite selling items and raising funds to send livestock to villages in Third World countries. The group maintains a global effort that works to end poverty and hunger through sustainable community development. They distribute cows, goats, bees, water buffalo and other animals to poverty-stricken nations.  Heifer is well known for going the extra mile in its efforts, as Edana confirms by pointing out “If they send a cow, they send one that is pregnant.”

The types of items offered at the market will feature over 3,500 square feet of handbags, baskets, jewelry, clothing, toys, musical instruments, textiles, coffee, chocolate and much, much more. All proceeds collected from this operation will help to supply food, education, clothing and medicine to orphans in Africa.

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Approximately 330 volunteers will be required to prepare and manage the market. Phil Wiseman, Director of Strategic Communications at Manchester UMC, advises that there are all kinds of activities to be completed, from unboxing items and cashiering to teardown. Anyone interested in volunteering is more than welcome and interested parties can sign up easily online.

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The Fair Trade Market will be held on the weekends before and after Thanksgiving, November 18-19 & November 24-26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The Music Makers, a 4th and 5th grade music group from the church, will open the market with a performance at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 18.

For more information visit www.manchesterumc.org/fair_trade_market.

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Jelly Roll Hogan: Eureka’s Most Notorious Gangster

Italian gangs, more specifically the Mafia, get all the underworld glory. So do the cities of New York and Chicago. Who hasn’t heard of Don Vito Corleone, or Al Capone? Of the Gambinos or the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun shot from a car hurtling down, fittingly, Wacker Drive? Or the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

But did you know that the famous massacre on Cupid’s day was, purportedly the Italian response to territory encroachment in Chicago by the St. Louis-based Egan’s Rats? Did you know that St. Louis had a ferocious history in gang violence, rivaling that of cities much larger? And did you know that one of those gangsters not only had a home in the city, but built a mansion near Eureka?

The Irish Mob is the oldest organized gang in U.S. history, reaching back a hundred years or more before they had any real competition from Italian or Jewish gangs formed in the late 1800s. Remember “The Gangs of New York” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s dodgy Irish accent? (Sure, and he was a right eejit, as useless as a chocolate tea kettle, he was!)

Well, St. Louis was a hotbed of organized gang activity, especially during that failed moral experiment called Prohibition. And a key character was one Edward J. Hogan, Jr., or Jelly Roll Hogan, though I wouldn’t go calling him that because he didn’t like the moniker and was a persnickety type that once beat up a man on the Missouri Capitol steps in broad daylight. Why was Jelly Roll Hogan on the Missouri Capitol steps in broad daylight? Well, he was a multi-term Missouri State Representative and Senator as well!

Cool.

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Mr. Hogan (hey, I ain’t calling him that other name…I mean, he’s dead, but why take chances?), the son of a St. Louis police chief, went into saloon keeping, as you do if you’re the son of a police chief. But, with the passage of the 18th Amendment and only 1,500 nationwide agents to enforce it, well, what is a poor boy to do? Hogan and some of his ne’er-do-well buddies started running beer and liquor. And they found, as did like-minded peers in most major cities, the passage of something called an “Amendment to the Constitution” did little to quench the thirst of the people and so their scale of bootlegging increased mightily.

Hogan, born in 1886, was involved early in St. Louis city politics and was elected to the state legislature, as a Representative, in 1916. He left that post in the spring of 1920, taking the Prohibition years off for escapades slightly more profitable and slightly more illegal. Running his gang and enterprises from his headquarters at Jefferson and Cass Streets in the city, Hogan got himself named as Deputy Inspector for the State Beverage Department of Missouri, also in 1920. In that capacity, Hogan’s duty was to be sure that all beverages produced in Missouri were of the non-alcoholic variety and were produced safely and legally.

Uh huh.

So, just hypothetically, if someone was making soda pop in St. Louis, and that someone had a bit of cash to slip under the table and Mr. Hogan was, hypothetically, on the other side of that table, then inspections of said soda pop factory might be delayed. Who knows what might have been bottled during the delay? (We all do.)

All well and good, right?

Nope.

Gangsters are greedy. You’ve seen the movies!

Hogan, though identified as an Irish gangster, was ahead of his time in that he embraced thugs from many ethnicities. (Well, I’m not sure he embraced them, you know, per se, because, enlightened as he was, that kind of thing was frowned upon.) Hogan’s Gang included Humbert Costello, Charles Mercurio, Leo Casey, Abe Goldfeder, John “Kink” Connell, and Patrick Scanlon.

Diversity!

 

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But his gang did most decidedly not include William Egan. In fact, Egan’s Rats, from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre mentioned before, were his bitter enemies. Not content on dividing up the riches of St. Louis and surrounding counties, Hogan and Egan entered into one of the most deadly, bloody turf wars of the Roaring Twenties right here on the streets of our fair city.

The Hogan-Egan war reached its peak during the years 1921-23 and seemed to be started by an Egan employee, Max Greenberg, who took umbrage at being the target of an Egan assassination attempt over a stolen whiskey shipment. Greenberg joined the Hogan gang and paid three members of his new gang $10,000 each to kill Willie Egan in front of his saloon, located at Fourteenth and Franklin on Halloween night, 1921. Egan’s buddy, “Dint” Colbeck, reached Egan’s side just in time to see the action and fingered the three assassins as James Hogan (brother), Luke Kennedy and John Doyle.

Well, that did it.

For the next two years, both sides took every opportunity to hurl bullets (and cars and who knows what else) at each other, not caring much for where said bullets were hurled, or whom might be standing around, all innocent like. Accounts too numerous for this article abound and, for further research and jaw dropping, I recommend the book “The Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect,” by Daniel Waugh. However, here are a few just to whet your appetite.

On December 30, 1921, a carload of Egan shooters opened fire on several Hogan men as they left the police station in downtown St. Louis. Luke Kennedy was severely wounded in the leg and Hogan Gang attorney, Jacob Mackler, had his derby removed via shotgun blast, though he was, miraculously not hurt. A week later, in the dawn of 1922, one of Willie Egan’s fingered killers, John Doyle, was shot and killed in a high-speed chase with St. Louis police. In April of that year, Kennedy, still nursing his leg, was cornered and, according to a witness, taunted and then killed by Egan gunmen.

Retaliation came from Hogan by shooting up Dint Colbeck’s plumbing store. Egan gunmen countered the next day with a drive-by shooting of the Boss Hogan’s home at 3035 Cass Avenue, where Hogan’s parents were staying and they spent some time diving for cover. The open gang war was disturbing some, including Monsignor Timothy Dempsey, who met with the gang members individually and persuaded a truce. Of sorts.

Max Greenberg, one of the catalysts of the war, was placed on a train to New York. But the treaty left the Egan Gang with the lion’s share of power and they were not ones to be good winners. The dominant gang antagonized at every opportunity.

It has not been mentioned that, in addition to bootlegging and basically having a license to print money, the greedy gangs also dabbled in bank robbing.  After an Egan bank job, Egan gangster Chippy Robinson called the police to pin the robbery on the Hogan Gang. Hogan himself, and some of his men, were arrested for the deed but the charges failed to stick.

On September 2, 1922, Dint Colbeck (he sure got around), and three of his men, ran across Hogan men Abe Goldfeder and Max Gordon and chased them down Locust Street in a hail of gunfire, Gordon losing an eye in the exchange. But it wasn’t until February 1923 that the war again reached a fever pitch.

Jacob Mackler, he of shot-off derby fame, was shot and killed by Colbeck and his men in Old North St. Louis on February 21 and the city erupted once again. Hogan’s Cass Avenue home was again shot up in March and after that Hogan and an associate traded shots with a carload of Egans while traveling at a high rate of speed up North Grand, Egan’s car eventually striking and critically injuring a 12 year old boy.

The city had enough and Monsignor Timothy Dempsey, along with police officials and the press, sought a truce once and for all. Both Colbeck and Hogan wrote letters to the city stating that the Egan-Hogan war was over and that peace would reign.

After all of this, after the charges for bank robbery, after the known bootlegging, after the violence and infamous notoriety in a city caught in a web of terror, Edward Hogan returned to the legislature. Hogan served as a Missouri state representative from 1934-1940 and then as a Missouri state senator from 1944-1956.

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If someone wants to make an observation about the parallel of Hogan’s two lives, here would be the place.

Hogan, in his quieter years, built a mansion on 140 acres of land in Jefferson County, on the outskirts of Eureka. That home and its barn, currently being converted into a rentable party space and owned by Brookdale Farms, was built in 1933 and served as a place of refuge for Hogan. This home, shown in accompanying photographs, stands in stark contrast to a time and a place not as gentle and quiet.

Edward “Jelly Roll” Hogan was given a gift not extended to his peers, like Al Capone and Bugs Malone and Willie Egan: he lived past his wild days. And he was an example contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s assertion that “There are no second acts in American lives.”