July 28, 2011
I did mention in the pages of Thumbs Up, ‘V’ for Victory, I Love You that I had a penchant for tunnels. This inclination also included secret passageways, which I had read about in books, but had never run across in real life.
While spending a delightful, although warm and humid summer weekend with my cousin Jacqueline in Washington, Missouri, I noticed something interesting in the upper floors of the 19th century home in which she and her family lived. As mentioned in the book, her stepfather was a physician, and shortly after marrying my aunt, they had taken up residence in an old home in downtown Washington that had been in his family for years.
Built much like today’s brownstones, it was at least three stories high, with the upper floors made up mostly of bedrooms. And since it already had some age on it, the mouldings, wallpaper and fixtures were to be admired for still looking so good.
In each of the smaller bedrooms upstairs there was a ‘washing sink’ – plugged right into the wall, with a small mirror above and little rack to hold the washcloths and towels, with no other kind of plumbing in sight.
Looking closely at the sink in one of those rooms, I became convinced there was a small but discernible vertical separation in the wall behind and slightly to the right of it, that ran up from the floor about five feet. This, I thought, could only mean one thing: there was a secret passageway behind this sink, and once opened, might lead me on an incredible adventure!
So without anyone around to deter me, I began tugging on the sink, thinking that it must be an actual portal that would spring open the hidden door in the wall, behind which might be a secret stairwell leading God knows where.
I continued to pull, but nothing happened. Then, aided by the age of the wall and sink which had occupied my total focus, I pulled the sink, along with a large chunk of plaster, about a foot out of the wall. Thankfully, no water pipes were broken, but my aunt and uncle were not very happy with me. My cousin just chalked it up to my being a stupid boy doing stupid boy things.
Sadly, there was no secret passageway to be found; but I had fun looking for it all the same.
Another adventure that missed making the book
July 12, 2011
I will always remember the first time I went to the magnificent Chicago Theatre, taken there by my maternal grandmother Graves.
Sitting there on the east side of State Street near the Randolph Street intersection, it reminded me of the Missouri Theatre in my home town. Both were built about the same time, with that French Baroque architectural influence and the soaring ceiling with large chandelier hanging down from its dome.
My first time in the theatre was sometime in 1946 I believe, when stage shows following presentation of the movie part of the price of your ticket. As Grandma and I settled into the plush seats among a sizeable Saturday afternoon audience, the film we saw was “State Fair,” the only musical Rogers and Hammerstein wrote directly for film. It starred Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine and a very docile Hampshire pig (who was also an excellent actor.) Still a classic, it includes songs like “It might as well be spring” and “It’s a grand night for singing.”
There were several acts as part of the stage show that followed, but the only one I remember was the ‘headliner’ for the day – Billy De Wolfe, already a well-known character actor and sometime stand-up comedian, well known for his smarmy ways, slick black hair and matching pencil-thin moustache. His presentation ventured from the subtle to the slapstick. I was too young to understand the former, but picked up on the sight gags.
I loved every minute.
Another segment that didn’t make it into the book:
By the time I was a senior in high school I had been to St. Louis many times, trips which more than likely were for one of two purposes: to see a Cardinal baseball game or to shop downtown for clothes.
At least once during this time I found myself in the heart of the city with Mom and my brother Jerry (I don’t think Dad was with us) for a day of shopping and sightseeing.
On the way down in the car I cautioned my 9-year old brother on the proper way to handle himself so St. Louisans he might pass on the street would not know he was from a smaller town. Included in what to say or the body language to employ, I cautioned him to “never look up” at the tall buildings dotting the downtown St. Louis area. “Gawking up at buildings makes you look like a hick from the sticks,” I said.
And although I’m sure he wanted to, my little brother heeded my advice, and during that day in the Gateway City, continued looking straight ahead.