Black Ferguson vs nearby white people’s political issues causing strife in Missouri: Dead Teenagers and the fate of the World’s Biggest Catsup Bottle
By Nate Thayer
August 16, 2014
The national icon and role model of the perfect small town cop, Barney Fife of Mayberry (Google him if you are under 40 and not American), has had his reputation besmirched with this whole Ferguson-teenager-dead-by-cop kerfuffle.
Despite the Ferguson Police Department being under the apparent leadership of what appears to be Barney Fife’s evil twin, not a mention has been made of area’s more gentile attractions and national treasure.
I am talking, of course, about the nearby World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, the 170-foot-tall former water tower that overlooks Collinsville, 12 miles east of St Louis.
Ferguson is ten miles west of St Louis, Missouri,one of the most segregated cities in America.
The catsup bottle is on the National Register of Historic Places. They held a Catsup Bottle Festival only days before the kerfuffle erupted in Ferguson.
But efforts to promote the bottle as a tourist attraction are being undermined by the shenanigans in Feguson.
There are parallels between Collinsville and Ferguson.
Collinsville is notable for being the only location of a mob lynching of a white guy since WW1.
On April 5, 1918, a mob of hundreds kidnapped German immigrant Robert Prager from his home and wrapped him in an American flag and forced him to sing patriotic songs, the result of anti-German sentiment, before lynching him.
The local paper reacted to the lynching saying: “The city does not miss him. The lesson of his death has had a wholesome effect on the Germanists of Collinsville and the rest of the nation” and the “the whole city is glad” about the acquittal of his murderers and it was a message to those who “still harbor Germanic inclinations.”
And like the discord this week in nearby Ferguson, poor political leadership and acrimony within the community has stymied political harmony in Collinsville in recent weeks.
Five days before the killing of the Ferguson black youth, the fate of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was the topic of the Collinsville area community unrest.
The Catsup bottle issue vs the Dead Black Teenager issue seems to highlight the chasm between the nature of political strife faced by white and black folks in greater St Louis.
In Collinsville, the animal rights group, PETA, announced they wanted to rent space on the historic landmark and desecrate the existing artwork with their own message featuring a woman in a bikini made of lettuce promoting the PETA website for vegan recipes.
The community rancor began swiftly. “We love our animals. We love our veggies. But we would never advocate painting over the Catsup Bottle. I need a little more time to DIGEST all of this before I comment further,” responded Mike Gassmann, the “Big Tomato at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Inc.” to an inquiry by Fox News affiliate in St Louis KTVI TV.
PETA provided an example of their proposed artwork.
This followed last month’s offer, by hot dog giant Oscar Meyer to purchase the Catsup Bottle Tower, a national treasure.
The St Louis Riverfront Times reported on July 29–only days before separate community unrest began in nearby Ferguson—that “In what is probably the greatest giant catsup bottle news ever, Oscar Mayer announced today that it’s looking into buying the world’s largest catsup bottle.”
Oscar Mayer put out a press release saying they had “heard that the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was for sale, so we just had to send out the Wienermobile to check it out. With six large hot dogs on wheels traveling across the country all year, we could use a worthy condiment.”
Oscar Meyer then sent their Wienermobile to the Catsup tower.
The Brooks Ketchup factory is long closed and is now made in Canada, but the iconic bottle remains a priority to spark the economic engine of greater St Louis.
“Those of us on the ketchup bottle committee look at it as Collinsville’s Eiffel Tower,” said a Collinsville political activist. “There’s people from out of town who schedule their vacation around this festival. People love the ketchup tasting, the hot-dog eating contest, and it’s always fun to see who’s going to win the Little Princess Tomato and Sir Catsup contest.”
The catsup bottle began life as a water tower for the Brooks Catsup Co. It was built in 1949, originally used to supply water for catsup production and to run the factory fire sprinkler system. But in the early 1960s, the Collinsville plant was closed and operations moved to Indiana. The plant was turned into a warehouse. But the bottle-shaped water tower remained.
The tower fell into disrepair over the years before being restored in 1995, but the owners offer to donate the tower to the city was declined. “The administration at that time didn’t get it,” a spokesman for the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Fan Club said. “They didn’t want anything to do with it, so the offer was declined.”
“We’ve been brainstorming ideas for redevelopment of that block for years: a welcome center, a museum, a cafe, a park. There are all kinds of great ideas on what that property could turn into,” said a representative of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Fan Club.
“Due to the efforts of the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, this landmark roadside attraction was saved from demolition and beautifully restored to its original appearance. Recognized the world over as an excellent example of 20th century roadside Americana, the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle regularly garners national attention and attracts visitors and tourists every day,” said local community supporters of the federally recognized national treasure of the American way of life.
Regarding the earlier political strife sparked by racial and ethnic intolerance in Collinsville, about a century ago, the Collinsville police took the man into protective custody, but the mob overwhelmed the City Hall and local officials surrendered their authority, and let the mob. They found Prager hiding in the basement and took him out and lynched him.
Eleven men were charged with murder, but were acquitted.
The defense argued the murder was in conformance to “unwritten law.” After the trial, one member of the jury said “Well, I guess nobody can say we aren’t loyal now”.
The Washington Post wrote “In spite of excesses such as lynching, it is a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior of the country.” The New York Times said, “A fouler wrong could hardly be done America,” and the travesty of justice would be “denounced as a nation of odious hypocrites.”
The headlines of the St Louis Post News-Dispatch newspaper at the time included: “Hunt Started for Lynchers of Enemy Alien,”, “Coroner Says He Knows Five of Prager Lynchers,”, “Plea of Prager Defendants to be He Was Spy,” and “Jury Acquits Defendants in Prager Lynching.”
In St Louis, as things change, they remain the same.