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My St. Louis — the Gateway (and Cakeway) to the West

March 11, 2015

Amid all the news of civil unrest in the St. Louis area last year, the media lost track of the big positive story — St. Louis was in the midst of a year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary.

Kirkwood Train Station

Part of the celebration — which ran roughly from Feb. 14, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 — was a major community art project, the “Cakeway to the West.” Artists created 250 fiberglass birthday cakes to mark 250 historical (or other) points of interest in the St. Louis metro area. The cakes started at 250, but eventually grew to 252 official cakes. Rumor has it there were three or more rotating cakes that appeared in random locations at random times.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden

The birthday cakes appeared on lawns, sidewalks and plazas at the major cultural institutions, legendary businesses, government buildings, national monuments (e.g., Gateway Arch), schools, historic structures and sports stadiums. Most were decorated to celebrate the specific location. Some of the cakes were auctioned off on New Years Eve, some were still standing, as of March 2015, although the project wrapped up in mid-February. The cakes became the property of the site where they were placed. St. Louisans got behind the project in a big way, some making an effort to see as many cakes as possible in person. Did you miss them? If only there was a way to see all those cakes again. There is! Amateur photographer Matthew S. Nolan decided to take pictures of all the cakes and their locations and publish them in a book. At the request of his publisher, Bluebird Books, I wrote short profiles of each location and did production of the book. (Insert shameless self-promotion here.) 250 Cakes top cover252 Years — 252 Cakes: The Definitive St. Louis 250th Anniversary Cake Book is now available at local bookstores and institutions and, in limited quantities, on Amazon. The 12” x 12” softcover coffee-table book is in full color (of course) and makes a great gift.

Rigazzi's Restaurant

Rigazzi’s Restaurant


Eileen&Matt1 copy

DISCUSSION AND BOOKSIGNING: Matt Nolan and I gave a talk and signed books April 21 at the Maplewood Public Library.

SALE LOCATIONS: The Book House (Maplewood)

Christopher’s (Kirkwood)

Missouri History Museum Gift Shop

The Novel Neighbor

STL Style House (Cherokee Street)

Sweet Boutique (Clayton)

Webster Book Shop

World News (Clayton)

Architecture Institute of America

Women’s Exchange (Clayton)

— Eileen P. Duggan

Book photos by Matt Nolan

Say it ain’t so, Jo!

February 3, 2014

SPOILER ALERT ! Well, maybe not.

Author J.K. Rowling has admitted to Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione in the Harry Potter films, that maybe she shouldn’t have matched up Hermione and Ron in the end. Furthermore, she suggested that Hermione should have married Harry. Apparently, Ron and Hermione would have needed marriage counseling at some point.Prisoner of Azkaban crop

Well, who doesn’t? As long as Hermione gets to be Minister of Magic someday and Ron stays home with the kids, it could work splendidly.

But seriously, Ms. Rowling, don’t second-guess your masterpiece. You crafted the Ron and Hermione relationship well. From their first meeting on the Hogwarts Express, it was apparent that there was an Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy Pride and Prejudice thing going on. Underneath their nearly constant conflict, Ron and Hermione pined for each other, usually at different times. It was clear early on that Hermione and Harry were never going to be a romantic item, regardless of the fans’ desires.

And Ginny and Harry’s relationship also was destined from the first book, when 10-year-old Ginny was starstruck by Harry the first time he appeared on the Hogwarts Express platform. Like most boys at that age (or any age), Harry was oblivious. But Ginny never gave up. Although Hermione was certainly a gifted witch, Ginny grew into a fabulously talented one, too, with the skill and the heart to match Harry’s own gifts.

In real life, many of us make poor romantic choices. And even when we don’t, good relationships change over the years and some don’t last. The Harry Potter story was never going to be “happily ever after” for every character. Those who lived will grow up and they will live life with the same ups and downs everyone meets.

Leave it alone, Jo.

What if Margaret Mitchell decided later that Scarlett O’Hara should have married Ashley Wilkes after all?

Maybe the aforementioned Elizabeth Bennet should have slapped that sour Mr. Darcy into next week and settled for Mr. Collins.

Did Shakespeare have misgivings about Romeo and Juliet fulfilling their passions? Is there a secret sequel in which it was all a dream, with the pair deciding not to upset the feuding families and Juliet running off with the boy from the balcony next door?

Let it be, Jo.

Pianos For People

August 15, 2013

It happens when senior citizens downsize from the large homes where they raised their families into a small apartment, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. Or when adult children must clear out years of belongings from their deceased parents’ homes. Or when an up-and-coming businessperson relocates to a small apartment in another city. A piano is left behind.

Meanwhile, a young child shows great promise in music, but the family can’t afford a piano. A disadvantaged learning-disabled teenager could find therapeutic help with a piano.

If only there was a way to connect those pianos with these people. In St. Louis, now there is.

Read all about it under the Nonfiction section.

Richmond Heights Celebrates 100 Years

March 3, 2013

Originally published in the West End Word, Feb. 13, 2013

By Eileen P. Duggan

The city of Richmond Heights, Missouri, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but its history goes back much further than its incorporation on Dec. 29, 1913.

Architectural conservator Peter Wollenberg (from left); Ruth Keenoy, architectural preservationist with Landmarks Association of Saint Louis; preservation historian Esley Hamilton; and JoEllen McDonald, archivist with the Richmond Heights Historical Society, stand in front of one of Richmond Heights’ century homes on Silverton Place. The home is owned by Lisa and John Klorer.       Photo by Diana LinsleyLinsley

The St. Louis suburb is celebrating all year with a series of lectures, tours, concerts, exhibits and festivals highlighting the city’s past and present. The activities cover many aspects of the city’s history from homes, neighborhoods, architecture, trees, business, hospitals, arts, literature, food, weather, war and peace.

“It’s really exciting,” said Mayor James Beck. “It’s a great thing that the city has lasted 100 years.”

To read the full story, please see the Nonfiction Pages at right.

The Dead Lady’s Stuff — Mom Edition

October 17, 2012

“Wow, she played!” the piano technician/dealer exclaimed as he ran his fingers across the keyboard and peeked under the lid to watch the hammers do their work.

Indeed she did, and so did hundreds of her students over the decades. And now I was trying to figure out if I could possibly squeeze my recently departed mother’s grand piano into my small house or if I should trade it and my old spinet in on a nice upright, maybe a Yamaha or older Steinway, that would fit in the already allotted piano space.

“If I had a Knabe grand like this, I’d want to keep it,” he said.

It was one of many, many decisions that I, along with my four siblings, had to make about our Mom’s stuff.

My family and I have long appreciated the joys of acquiring and using items formerly belonging to deceased people. From foil wrap to spices to furniture to tools, we have benefited from the property of various Dead Ladies and Dead Guys. I wrote about it in “The Dead Lady’s Stuff,” an essay published two years ago in Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine and republished in this blog. Over the past few months, we’ve been in the reverse position of being the benefactors of such gems. This time the Dead Lady is our Mom. Since she died June 8, we’ve been distributing her stuff and spreading her essence far and wide.

Closing someone’s apartment is a strange operation. It’s like moving, but then it’s not moving, not to a different place. Even when you’re downsizing — as Mom did, twice before — a lot of stuff gets thrown away or given away, but your core stuff goes with you to the new place. If Mom had closed out her apartment and moved in with one of us, a lot of things would go elsewhere, but many things would go with her: clothing, toiletries, make up, some furniture, family pictures and heirlooms.

But in closing the home of someone for the very last time, everything has to go somewhere else. There is no new location. Every little thing must have a new home, whether it be inherited by a family member, given to a relative or friend, sold to an acquaintance or stranger, donated to charity, recycled or thrown in the trash. Every single little thing. A decision must be made about every item: from “Who wants the dining room set?” to “Does anybody need a desk lamp?” to “Should we leave the toilet paper?” By the last week of August, we had gotten to point of “Do you want this elbow macaroni or should we try to sell it?”

Our mother was neat and organized, possibly on the edge of obsessive-compulsive about things being in order, and she was not a hoarder by any means. But she was 90 and she had accumulated 90 years of memories, important papers and personal property. She had five children, a career as a piano teacher, and avocations as a kitchen band leader, community theatre performer and painter. As orderly as it was, there was still a lot of stuff. It took us from June 9 to Aug. 31 to get it all out of the apartment, then there was a yard sale a month later and there are still a few ship-outs to go.

Mom was frugal and believed in reusing, rigging and recycling things. All of us wore hand-me-down clothes growing up. Mom herself wore second-hand clothes she purchased from a shop in her senior center and from a charity resale shop next door to her last apartment. She enjoyed being able to use clothes and items that others no longer needed. So it was a no-brainer that we would donate her clothing to a worthy cause.

Because the summer was already shaping up to be one of record-breaking heat, we decided to go through her summer clothes first so they could be used right away by people who needed them. Mom and I both wore the same hard-to-find shoe size — 7 narrow — so most of the shoes had my name on them. My sister and I could wear some of her clothes, so we kept a few things. Everything else went to the Mary Ryder Home, a wonderful residential care/assisted living facility in St. Louis for poor women. We chose Mary Ryder Home because the clothes are not sold to middle-class suburban women looking for bargains but are given directly to the home’s residents. A week or so later, the winter clothes followed.

My sister took a sofa that she had helped Mom shop for just a few years ago. She had fallen asleep on it many a time as holiday gatherings at Mom’s place wound down. My brother who has lived in California for years remembers breakfast at the dining room table when he was in high school. He had the dining room furniture shipped to his home. Another brother, a professional musician, took bookcases and a ukulele we had plunked on when we were children. He knows how to tune it now.

At various times, we had all helped Mom load her paintings into her station wagon to take to art fairs and exhibits. So we all kept some of her paintings. We hope to sell the remainder of the artwork, to continue her own efforts to sell them and to ensure they are enjoyed by others, rather than being stored, covered by an old sheet, in a basement. We shipped two of them to Mom’s sister in California. She is taking the china that belonged to their mother, to be shared among her daughters and granddaughters. That monumental packing and shipping task is in progress.

After claiming all the furniture, personal effects and other items that we wanted to keep, the search was on for new owners for all the other stuff. A college theater major got the dresser with matching mirror and the vintage 1960s pole lamp that shone three beams of light onto the piano’s music rack. A co-worker of my sister bought a bookcase. Another co-worker was thrilled to buy the single bed (complete with several sheet sets and a comforter), the rocking chair and bedside table for her live-in grandchildren’s room. She couldn’t wait to rock her grandbabies in the chair, where Mom used to read and sew. A friend bought two bookcases where Mom had neatly stacked music in her studio, and Mom’s cousin took her favorite glider chair and a tea service table.

Some piano teacher friends of Mom’s took some of her music, some rhythm instruments she had used with students, and music-related pictures. One young teacher, who had never met Mom but had heard legends of her teaching, took the remainder: an entire banker’s box of Bach, Debussy, Clementi, Liszt and other wonderful piano music. Children at a nearby day care center are now enjoying her colored markers and crayons as well as tambourines, mini-drum, maracas and other rhythm instruments. A fellow alum of St. Louis Institute of Music was happy to have Mom’s extensive Progressive Series library of piano music.

Our goal was to not move any leftover furniture that wouldn’t fit into any of our cars (two compact cars and a Honda station wagon). Anything bigger that remained after the moving weekend would be picked up by Salvation Army. As the last weekend of August drew near, there was one such troublesome item left: an attractive but bulky two-shelf TV cabinet made by my brother years ago for our Dad. It was housing a 19-inch analog TV, and it was accordingly deep, 23 inches to be exact. Although it had the great selling point of castors, big-ass analog TVs are not so popular anymore, so the cabinet had limited appeal. As wonderful as this cabinet was, none of us had room for it in our homes, and it did not pass the car-fitting test to even get it to my house for the leftovers yard sale we were planning for early October. No one who came to the apartment to pick up other items was interested in it. An e-mail plea to family and friends and my sister’s 900-plus Facebook friends and her seemingly endless supply of worthy co-workers came to naught. We posted it on hoping it would be snapped up as fast as some other items. But after a few days of missed connections by just two interested parties, I scheduled a pickup by Salvation Army for the last week. At last, one of the Freecyclers came through and we rolled it out to her SUV just before moving weekend. She planned to use it to store her crafts supplies, so not only did it find a new home, but a new use. We found that a number of people are “repurposing” things.

The last difficult item was the aforementioned 19-inch analog TV, which worked except for about 3 inches of faint horizontal lines running across the screen at all times on all channels. We knew the TV was on its last legs and felt bad even trying to Freecycle it. But try we did, and alas, even Freecyclers had no interest. Plan C was to take it to an electronics recycling joint after the final cleaning night. But a last-ditch e-mail found another co-worker, whose soon-to-be-ex husband ran off with their TV. Now someone else is enjoying the TV on which Mom watched countless NCIS marathons and Tom Selleck movies while lounging in her glider.

As for me, I have Mom’s roll-top desk, where she figured all her accounts, kept track of her students and wrote cards and letters to friends and family. I have many other things of hers — clothes, shoes, jewelry, bookmarks, make-up (especially her Bonne Bell White White, which I had long been out of and which may be out of production). Yes, these are all just things, but they keep her alive, not only in our homes, but in us and in the homes and hearts of all the people who use the “stuff” she once cherished and enjoyed.

And I now have my mother’s grand piano, which is truly a symbol of her identity. My entire home office was displaced in order to fit the piano into the house, into its own room. But before the end of the first day of the piano’s arrival, it looked like it had always been there, always belonged there. Mom’s piano had found its new home.

—  Eileen P. Duggan

How to Get Hits on Your Blog: Mention a Celebrity

September 7, 2012

Having trouble getting anybody to visit your blog? Do you get more spam than actual page views? You’re posting well-crafted prose, beautiful poetry or scathingly brilliant ideas on your pages, yet nobody visits them but your sister. You send out e-mail notices of new posts to all your friends, relatives and colleagues (when appropriate), and you even have a few followers who’ve signed up for automatic notices of new posts. You comment on other blogs and dutifully add “tags” to your posts to “optimize” your search engine position, like the self-proclaimed experts tell you to do. But still, visitors are few and far between, and [legit] commenters even fewer.

Except for that one page. If it weren’t for Vickie Newton, my blog would have no visitors at all on most days. My most-visited page is my article about Vickie Newton [see]. That page — featuring a three-and-a-half-year-old story from the St. Louis Journalism Review — nets a minimum of one hit per day, usually more, sometimes much more. The visitors spike when she changes her hair, calls in sick or takes a week off. The search terms that lead readers to my blog reveal that people want to know if she’s married, if she’s divorced, why she got divorced, where she lives, does she have children, why isn’t she at work?

Who is Vickie Newton? She’s a celebrity. A local celebrity. Until three weeks ago, she was an evening news anchor on KMOV-TV Channel 4 in St. Louis. The day she announced she was leaving, I got 200 hits on my blog, almost all of them between 5:40 p.m. and midnight. The day she actually left, Thursday Aug. 16, it was 184. When she announced that Monday that it was her last week, my hits spiked from 10 the day before to 67, then increased steadily until Thursday. The next Monday, 91 viewers who had just noticed she was gone found my blog while searching for her.

Keep in mind, this is a blog that averages 3 to 4 hits per day, and it’s only that much because of Vickie. Now that she’s gone … But wait, I still have Jennifer Blome, another local TV anchor who generates regular interest.

Judging by search terms, there is a shocking number of people who are interested in the personal lives of even local news celebrities. Some people want to know when Kay Quinn and Art Holliday got married. Kay Quinn and Art Holliday are not married to each other — they just get along well on a 4 p.m. news show on KSDK-TV Channel 5 (St. Louis). Before last September, Art Holliday had been on the morning news with the aforementioned Jennifer Blome for 22 years. Yes, search terms reveal that some viewers thought THEY were married, because they got along so well on-air.

So, I’m thinking, a low-profile blogger like myself could crank up the page-view quotient by writing about more celebrities, bigger celebrities, national celebrities, worldwide celebrities. Not that I would have any reason at all to write about George Clooney or even Brad Pitt, although he IS from Missouri and so is Sheryl Crow (not to be confused with Russell Crowe). But if I wrote about Brad Pitt, I would also have to mention Angelina Jolie. And Sheryl Crow was once engaged to Lance Armstrong, who’s back in the news these days. And George Clooney used to date — well, everybody — but he starred opposite Julianna Margulies in “ER” and now she’s hit it big on her own show, “The Good Wife,” one of my favorites.

If I wanted hits from the younger set, I suppose I’d have to write about Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift or Taylor Lautner or Kristen Stewart or Rob Pattinson (although he was cute in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Come to think of it, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint would be a must, but then that leads to Alan Rickman (ooh-la-la), Emma Thompson and Maggie Smith (can’t wait for Season 3 of Downton Abbey, can you?) and of course J.K. Rowling.

As for literati, I’ve already expressed my lust for JR Moehringer and Nicholas Weinstock (although they are no Vickie Newton, I can tell you that) but I could mention Stephen King, who’s been known to sell a book or two. Stephenie Meyer has had phenomenal success with the Twilight series, although I haven’t read any of them.

You can’t go wrong by mentioning the celebrity-in-chief Barack Obama or his sidekick, Michelle Obama, or I-feel-your-pain Bill Clinton and his sidekick, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or any of their past or present opponents (no, I think not). Or the fabulous late speechifier Ted Kennedy or his brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

Speaking of which, some dead celebrities keep raking in the dough and the attention long after they’re gone, like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean, Heath Ledger, Steve Jobs, etc. etc. and so on.

Apropos of nothing, Will and Kate, Prince Harry, Pippa Middleton, Adele, Paul McCartney, Simon Baker, Bonnie Raitt, Kelly Clarkson, Robert Redford.

But if you turned your blog over to celebrity plugs, you’d have to deal with all the comments, both positive and hateful (but you could set comments to be subject to your approval). On the other hand, some of the celebrity-bound visitors might actually stay and read your regular posts and pages. No, probably not.

Maybe I’m better off with Vickie Newton. I’ll miss you Vickie, and your hits, too.

Keeping the Jewish Light Burning

July 8, 2012

Like all print news publications, the St. Louis Jewish Light, a 64-year-old weekly, has run into the reality of the 21st century: declining readership, declining revenue and online competition. To meet the challenges, the Jewish Light’s Board of Trustees and staff have made substantial changes to the paper’s content, distribution and revenue sources over the past few years.

The Jewish Light’s content runs the gamut of local, national and international news, op-ed, features, arts coverage, enterprise reporting, obituaries, columns, gossip, a calendar, crossword puzzles and social announcements. There are special sections and the quarterly Oy! magazine, each with a different focus and available in print only.

To read the rest of this story and other recent articles, see the Nonfiction Pages section at right.

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