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.

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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.”

Vintage Market Days: Everything Old is New Again

Now in its third year, Vintage Market Days has become a favorite bi-annual event for thousands of area residents. Held each Spring and Fall in Chesterfield, this “upscale vintage-inspired indoor/outdoor market” features original artwork, antiques and vintage furniture, clothing, jewelry, crafts, home décor, outdoor furnishings, live music, a food court, plants and much more.

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This franchised pop-up market originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2011, and in six years has expanded to a staggering 60 cities across the U.S. The traveling bazaar of vendors, who are chosen for their shared affinity of nostalgia, offer a large selection of vintage inspired styles, ranging from steampunk to shabby-chic.

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A portion of the proceeds will benefit Tri-SAR, a search and rescue volunteer group dedicated to finding lost or injured persons.

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The festival runs October 20-22, with gates opening at 10 a.m. and closing Friday and Saturday at 5 p.m., and on Sunday at 4 p.m. Early-bird admission for Friday is $10, with Saturday and Sunday admissions at $5; children under 12 are free. Purchased tickets are good for the entire weekend.

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The event will be held at Chesterfield Mall near Sears. For more information, visit vintagemarketdays.com/market/st.-louis.

Rx to relieve stress: Pet a cat at Mauhaus

DSC00678.JPGThere are any number of ways to reduce stress in your life. Yoga, meditation and exercise are just a few.

Or you can pet a cat.

The New York Times, Social Work Today and WebMD.com have all reported in the past about the benefits of interacting with felines. Stroking a cat’s back will chill you out since the act produces oxytocin, a hormone that reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The cat enjoys it, too.

So what to do if you’re full of stress but don’t own a cat? Maybe you’re a flight attendant or a CIA operative and thus away from home for days or weeks on end. After all, spies presumably face stress.

DSC00673.JPGMy advice is to head to Maplewood and Mauhaus Cat Cafe and Lounge at 3101 Sutton Boulevard. It’s basically a coffee shop—with cats. There are two staff cats, Lorelai and Taylor, and another dozen who are available for adoption. The cost to enjoy the company of the Mauhaus cats is reasonable, and far less than therapy.

The reservation fee is $10 per person for one hour in the lounge. It helps Mauhaus cover the cost of maintaining the cat lounge and caring for the cats. That fee also entitles you to a free drink and 20% off any food or additional beverages purchased.

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Mauhaus Cat Cafe owners Ben Triola and Dana Huth.

Mauhaus requires visitors to sign a release form, and they have a few rules. Most are geared toward protecting the cats. You may not pick up a cat or chase one. It’s ok to pet a cat, sleeping or awake, but it’s not cool to wake a cat up to engage it in play. And climbing on the walls is forbidden. To clarify, that rule is only for humans.

When I visited Mauhaus, about half the cats were napping, the others doing normal cat activities, like preening and stretching. Cheech, a skinny beige tabby, stretched out in the front window on his back and allowed a visitor to stroke his head. He seemed pretty relaxed, as did the gentleman doing the petting.

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Cheech.

Such is the attraction of a cat café. Being around self-confident animals seems to chill out the visitors. The space is a bit small, so Mauhaus limits the number of people in the café to 20 at any given time. You can reserve an hour visit in advance. Mauhaus also is available for parties or special events—again limited to 20 people.

And if you are smitten with one of the visiting cats from Stray Haven Rescue, they are all available for adoption. They are current on shots, and have been spayed or neutered, and microchipped.

For more information, visit mauhauscafe.com.

Eureka’s Invasion of the Scarecrows

For the fourth October in a row the city of Eureka presents their annual Scarecrow Festival, featuring hundreds of whimsical creations made from reclaimed materials and displayed throughout the town. Each scarecrow has its own unique personality and its own story.

The festival is the brainchild of local resident Barb Scheer, who recalls, “in 2013 I went on a girl’s trip to California and we went to Cambria, near Hearst Castle. As we went into this little town, they had over 300 of these types of scarecrows, all artistically done, and I just went nuts. I thought, ‘I have to bring this back to Eureka.’”

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She continues, “I came home and did research and there was nothing like it around. I put a presentation together and went to the Board of Alderman with it. It took us a while to convince them, but about 6 to 8 meetings later we finally got them on board and they gave us a grant.”

The first year of the festival featured 107 scarecrows on the streets of Eureka, with Barb personally crafting 54 of them. The program was an instant hit with residents and, as hoped, people throughout the region began visiting Eureka to see the parade of characters.

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For the last three years the entire festival was organized by Barb, who handled all of the marketing and administration, the registrations, monitored the website and the Facebook page, plus created most of the scarecrows with the help of several fellow artists. The tasks became too numerous, so she went to the Mayor of Eureka and said “I’m going to have to give it up, I only have a handful of women and I can’t do all of this myself.” The Mayor and Chamber agreed to take on the marketing and administration in 2017, leaving Barb and her team to focus on the construction and maintenance of the scarecrows.

Barb admits that she never had an art lesson in her life, but she loves the visual arts. As a mother of small children she took on the hobby of painting wall murals and managed to develop very admirable and capable skills. Barb worked in sales, marketing and event planning for many years and for the last ten years handled all of the major events for Belden Incorporated. Her work background made her a natural when it came to managing this immense project.

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Barb Scheer & Friend

The Farmers and Merchants Bank in Eureka provides a basement workspace and storage area for the scarecrows, where they are created, cleaned, dressed, restored and housed for most of the year. The artists work year round on this project, and a visit to the workspace reveals an army of scarecrows in various stages of construction. Almost all of the materials come from local garage sales and donations, and any item that needs to be purchased is usually found online at the lowest possible price.

Older scarecrows from past years are cleaned, redressed and sometimes re-fashioned into new characters for the coming year. Other favorites, like “The Ugly Bride,” will return for another year of service.

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Any business, organization or school in Eureka has the option of creating their own scarecrow, renting a scarecrow, or having a custom scarecrow created by Barb’s team of volunteer artists. Participants can also opt to rent a scarecrow for $100 and, as Barb explains, “it has their business name and information on it. (Renters) don’t have to put it up, they don’t have to take it down, they don’t have to maintain it, and it goes away at the end (of October).”

A custom scarecrow will cost $200, which includes a planning meeting with the commissioner, creation, installation and maintenance. This year Barb advises that there will be close to 200 scarecrows on display and hopes that each year the number will continue to rise. She is constantly thinking up new ideas, or seeking inspiration online.

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The public will have a chance to vote for their favorite Scarecrow on the festival’s website. The City of Eureka has several events planned around this year’s festival, with a Photo Scavenger Hunt October 6-8, a Witches and Warlocks Walk October 13 and an Artisan Fair on October 14.

Full details can be found at eurekascarecrowfestival.com.

Zombie Road – Hauntings on the Meramec

As fall comes to our land and temperatures drop and leaves unmask their true colors, previously hidden by that green bully chlorophyll; as thoughts turn to hayrides and pumpkins; as fire becomes a warming friend; as we bring in our bountiful harvest; as we crack out the flannel and those undergarments that have a purpose; as we cool down from summer’s fever, there is but one burning issue on our collective minds.

Terror.

Frightening, paralyzing, debilitating terror.

It’s fun!

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Take the kids out to a haunted house so they can wet themselves!

Dress them up as specters in the night!

Accrue thousands of dollars of future psychiatric needs!

But whatever you do, don’t go to Zombie Road.

Or do. We at STLCountyArts aren’t judgy about stuff like that. Just be warned.

Here’s the skinny: Zombie Road might be that place where the guy with the hook for a hand scrapes it across the top of your car while you’re, as Chuck Berry used to say, trying to unfasten that “safety belt.”

Zombie Road might feature an old lady screaming at you from the porch of her dilapidated house. (Though, it is Missouri and that could happen almost anywhere.)

Zombie Road might hold the ghost of a man killed by a train, or Confederate soldier hauntings, or the ectoplasmic residuals of a person who committed suicide from a bridge there. But, curiously, there appear to be no Zombies. Or maybe there are but they just have a poor press agent.

We don’t know!

Here’s what we do know: Zombie Road, or Lawler Ford Road, is about two miles long, winding through a dense valley of oak-wooded hills. It ends near the Meramec River in the Glencoe area where it meets St. Louis County’s decidedly non-haunted (so they say) Al Foster Memorial Trail.

The Rue de Zombie has a long history, starting as a Native American path through the area. As civilization encroached, the path became a road, and was picketed by St. Louis militia supporting the Union as Confederate forces tried to sneak through. Though accurate records fail us, we are told death came to many! Also bringing death: the railroad that pressed through the area, the quarries that drove the necessity of the railroad, and the Meramec River itself!

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Spooky!

Death!

Ghosts!

The road has garnered national attention from paranormal investigators and phantom chasers of all types and is regarded as one of the spookiest places in Missouri , impressive as we also have the Lemp Mansion, Pythian Castle and the hipster hauntings of Cherokee Street! But, aside from haints sporting mustache wax, Zombie Road is listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Haunted Places in Missouri” and has been featured in the paranormal documentary “Children of the Grave.”

Against her vigorous protests, we sent Valerie Tichacek to take photos of the area for your viewing pleasure. From her room at the local “rest home” and the comfort of her arm-strapping garment, she has assured us that “it wasn’t that spooky.” At least that’s what we think she said as it’s very difficult to talk with that “Silence of the Lambs” face mask thing on.

This is normally the part where we tell you how to get there, but our crack law team at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe have advised toward discretion. Look for Glencoe (wink) and Al Foster Trailhead (wink wink) and if you get wet, you’ve gone too far.

Disclaimer: the only presence we know for sure you will encounter is police and park rangers, especially if you venture out past closing time, which is 30 minutes after sunset.

Boo!

Photos by Valerie Tichacek

Chesterfield Valley Pumpkin Patch opens for first season

Each weekend in October, the Chesterfield Valley Pumpkin Patch celebrates the onset of autumn with a wonderland of activities for the whole family. The grounds feature a large display of mums, pumpkins and gourds, with sizes ranging from tiny to gargantuan.

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Since the early 1950s, Chesterfield Valley has been known as the go-to place for Fall and Halloween weekend activities. The renowned Rombach Farms hosted a large pumpkin patch each October for decades and became a yearly tradition for several generations of school children and their families. This past July, the owners announced that the farm would be shutting down and that there would be no pumpkin patch this year. In a Facebook posting, the owners expressed, “We want to thank everyone for all of these years of fun…. lots of great memories!”

Having been one of Rombach’s activity contractors for the past 20 years, Betty Miller was approached and asked to manage a new pumpkin patch, hosted by the City of Chesterfield.

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For $18 kids can get a wristband which entitles them to all activities for the day. Attractions include hayrides, pony rides, train rides, a duck pond and dozens of large, colorful Halloween inflatables. The fun doesn’t stop there however, as youngsters can participate in face and pumpkin painting, sand art, visit the petting zoo or play in a pit filled with corn kernels.

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Admission is free for adults, for whom the facility provides a wine and beer garden with craft beers and live music. Fall foods are available for everyone and will include favorites like caramel apples, kettle corn, funnel cakes, nachos, turkey legs, chili, apple cider, hot chocolate and much more.

The Pumpkin Patch is located on 9 acres next to the St. Louis Premium Outlet Mall on Olive Street Road. They are open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. thru October 31, but please note that activities are only scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays. There is plenty of free parking and free shuttle service available. Special packages are available for birthday parties and corporate events.

For more information, visit: chesterfieldvalleypumpkinpatch.com.

Exhibit Honors 20th Anniversary of St. Louis Artist’s Death

A 20th Anniversary Memorial exhibition honoring local artist Nate McClain will be displayed September 8th and 9th at St. Louis ArtWorks on 5959 Delmar Boulevard in the Loop East. Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain features over 50 works by McClain including his award-winning Arnolfini Pasta Portrait, original paintings, vibrant portraits, and engaging still lifes. In addition, the exhibition will be supported by archival material including smaller works, Kodak National Honors photographs, and his first published piece at age 4.

Arnolfini Pasta Portrait
Arnolfini Pasta Portrait

Nate McClain was an emerging artist who tragically passed away at age 24 from a Mississippi River drowning accident in 1997. Born in Granite City IL, Nate was an only child and became a published artist at age 4 when his Happy Birthday Card was sold nationally by Hello Studio’s. He pursued art with a passion winning student contests and earning a Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State). His mother passed away from cancer in 1993 which had a profound impact on him as she was also an artist and his biggest advocate. After college, he lived in the Washington Avenue ArtLofts in St. Louis as a freelancer being commissioned for a 9-foot mural of Ozzie Smith for his retirement from baseball. Nate was offered a Head Art Director position around the time of his passing.

Ozzie Smith Retires
Ozzie Smith Retires

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain is the first major retrospective to broadly examine McClain’s legacy in honor of the 20th Anniversary of his tragic passing. The exhibit was crowdfunded via the Arts and Education Council’s stARTup-StL Crowdfunding platform and organized by the Nate McClain Gallery in association with over twenty private collectors from the St. Louis area, Kansas City, Charleston S.C., Portland, Chicago, and New York City.

Painting the Town
Painting the Town

“This rare event celebrates the life of our dear friend and encourages rediscovery by viewing his works up close and in person, not online,” said Kristopher Barks, curator of the digital Nate McClain Gallery. “Nate was my best friend since preschool and his sudden passing shocked everyone who knew him. For the past twenty years, his loyal friends and family have kept his memory alive thru his online gallery and even saved one of his 16-foot murals from demolition. These passionate fans made this exhibit possible so a wider audience can share in Nate’s legacy.”

Self Portrait by Nate McClain
Self Portrait by Nate McClain

Painting The Town: Legacy of Nate McClain opening reception is Friday, September 8th at 7 p.m. followed by an exhibition on Saturday, September 9th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Reception and exhibit are free and open to the public at St. Louis ArtWorks, 5959 Delmar.

Article by Kristopher Barks, Curator

WF&P Steam Railway Just Keeps Chugging Along

Each Sunday from May to October, the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Association operates a 12 inch gauge steam locomotive passenger train thru the forest of Glencoe, Missouri. Don’t be fooled, these are no little “toy” trains by any means, these locomotives are actual fuel burning engines that are powered by steam.

Mike Lorance grew up in the area and, like so many other locals, never paid much attention to the “WF&P RR” signs that would appear at Highway 109 and Old State Road on Sunday mornings. Years later he ended up buying a home on Old State Road and, in 1989 at the request of his son, the pair went to check out the mystery railroad.

engine

Lorance had always had a fascination with steam engines, and on his first visit to the club quickly became captivated by these mechanical curiosities. He says, “the steam engines are the reason that most of the guys join.” His son’s interest waned after a month or so, but 28 years later Mike is still a member. He serves on the Board of Governors, is the group’s Treasurer, handles public relations, and holds a handful of other unofficial titles with a variety of responsibilities.

The WF&P was originally established in 1939 at Brown Road and Natural Bridge near Lambert Field. With one steam locomotive, 30 acres of land and one mile of track, the railway operated for a couple of decades until airport expansion compelled the group to move out to Glencoe. The current site has been in operation since 1961.

RRcrossing

The railroad is stationed near the western end of the Al Foster Memorial Trail, part of the Meramec Greenway project in Wildwood. A large parking area directly adjoins the train depot and ticket station, where riders can embark on a two mile, 30 minute journey along the Meramec River. Following the call of “All aboard!,” passengers take a short ride through the train yard and quickly plunge into a lush canopy of greenery and natural beauty.

The group currently owns ten steam locomotives and three diesels, with several in the yard being machined completely on site by members. Everyone who works on the railroad is a volunteer, from the ticket attendant to the engineer, to the mechanics who meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays to do service and maintenance on the engines, train cars and tracks. There are currently 24 active volunteers working as engineers, signalmen and linemen for the railway.

conductor

The trains carry between 13,000 and 14,000 passengers a year, with visitors coming as far away as India, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. While children ride free, a small donation of $4 per adult is requested for each ticket and provides funding to preserve and expand the railway. Lorance points out that “funding is obtained purely through the ticket booth. We don’t get any grants or anything, it’s completely supported by the people that ride the train.”

Recent floods in 2015 and 2017 hit record levels in West County and put the railway and depot under approximately 12 feet of water. According to Lorance there was “no track damage, but lots of clean up.” Realizing that the Meramec will undoubtedly rise again in future, the group continually seeks new ways to upgrade and protect their buildings and electrical systems. In addition to protecting the existing line, the group is currently laying new track up to Rock Hollow and the infamous Zombie Hill. The new track will provide an escape route for the locomotives when the waters rise again.

trackThe railway is open on Sundays, May thru October, from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with trains leaving approximately every 30 minutes. Sodas, water, snacks and souvenirs are available for purchase at the station. The train is available for special bookings on Wednesdays and Saturdays by calling 314-401-1687.

When asked what message he’d like to relay to the public about the WF&P, Lorance says, “Come out and ride us and support us, help keep us going, that’s the biggest thing. We think we have something unique.”

Indeed they do.