March 2022

Alert readers (ARs) who are familiar with biblical history may recall that the Sumerian city of Ur, in what is now Iraq, was the birthplace of Abraham, who is recognized as the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Although Ur had been abandoned by the fifth century BC, its name survives today as a prefix meaning “original.”  In that context I’m pleased to recognize the Ur-AR, Nelwyn Landry, who attained this status in 1958, when she taught me in fifth grade.  Because all of my writings at the time were handwritten; and because I failed penmanship that year, it was a lot harder to be an AR back then than it is now.

Nelwyn, who had grown up in Louisiana, was a member of The Society of the Sacred Heart, the religious order that taught at Barat Hall, the elementary school I attended in the Central West End.  We lost contact for about a half century or more, during which time she had moved back to New Orleans and left The Society of the Sacred Heart. When I last communicated with her she was preparing to celebrate Mardi Gras.  She also needed to tell me about a grammatical error in the description on our website of one of our brewpubs.  In her words, although she had retired from the classroom, she still had “the teacher gene.”

When I started fifth grade at Barat Hall  the St. Louis Hawks were the incumbent champions of the National Basketball Association.  Pius XII was the Pope.  After his death on October 9, 1958, his successor John XXIII was elected on October 28, my tenth birthday.

We pledged allegiance to an American flag with 48 stars. Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state on January 3, 1959.  Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state the following summer, on August 21, 1959.  The map of the world that we studied in Geography class looked very different from the map today.  Most of the continent of Africa  consisted of European colonies, most of which had achieved independence by the time I started high school.  We took a class called Bible History, during which we learned about someone named Abraham from someplace called Mesopotamia.

I still recall watching TV coverage during Christmas vacation (in black and white of course) of two events that have been discussed extensively ever since.  One was the Cuban Revolution.  On January 1, 1959 President Fulgencio Batista resigned. Che Guevara’s troops arrived in Havana the following day, followed by Fidel Castro six days later on January 8th.  The other was the historic NFL Championship Game between The Baltimore Colts and The New York Giants on December 28, 1958.  Because we had studied fractions in Arithmetic class, I remember marveling that there could be a “fifth quarter” in the game.

Nelwyn Landry, the Ur-AR

Several weeks earlier a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago had killed 92 pupils and three religious sisters.  I  remember realizing that the students who died were the same age as my schoolmates; and that Our Lady of the Angels was in a building about the same age as Barat Hall.

Two months after the Our Lady of the Angels tragedy, disaster struck closer to home, when a tornado roared through the Central West End on February 10, 1959, leaving 21 dead and 345 injured.  Barat Hall was damaged and school was closed that day, but no one living in the convent was injured.  A large smokestack next door to the school was toppled, killing three people.  The front wall of a building across the street from the school was sheared off, leaving, the apartments inside exposed with furnishings intact, looking almost like a doll house.

The deadly tornado struck exactly one week after Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.  The incident was later immortalized in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died.”

It was during fifth grade that my mother and Nelwyn conspired to make me more of an AR.  They devised a strategy of encouraging me to read books about mischievous boys like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  They also steered me to Booth Tarkington’s novels about the misadventures of Penrod Schofield, an eleven-year old boy growing up in the Midwest before World War I.  On my own I discovered Mad Magazine, from which I learned an irreverent sense of humor.  In all honesty, I have to admit that I was probably influenced at least as much by Mad   as I was by much of the literary canon I studied as an English major in college.  In addition, reading Mad Magazine fostered an overall  skepticism towards authority and a willingness to defy convention.  I’m sure this attitude, nurtured when I was in elementary school, was in part responsible for my willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and start a brewery in the shadow of Anheuser-Busch three decades later.

In 1959 the world champion St. Louis Hawks finished in first place in the Western Division of the NBA, but lost in the playoffs.  In 63 subsequent years they have never won a second world championship. Nine years later, following the 1967-68 season, the Hawks relocated to Atlanta.  At the same time, after the 1967-68 academic year, Barat Hall closed its doors permanently.  The school was torn down and The West End Terrace Apartments were built on the site. The only reminder of what was once there is the name Barat Hall Drive. My elementary school is gone forever, like the ancient city of Ur.

Tom Schlafly
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery