Q. My recollection of the early days of the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds Exposition Building is that it had refrigeration pipes in the floor that allowed it to be turned into an ice-skating rink. My wife says I'm nuts. That may be, but am I right?
-- Jim Lougeay, of Belleville
A. Tell your better half that she's skating on dangerously thin ice in questioning your sanity (in this matter, at least).
Turns out your memory is as sharp as a pair of Wayne Gretzky's blades: The Expo Center, indeed, was built for ice-skating, but it didn't last very long, says Allen Wandling, the fairgrounds' general manager.
If you've been there, you know the hall is divided into two major rooms. According to Wandling's research, when the hall opened in 1963, one part was an ice rink with all tunneling and the underground pipes necessary to freeze the water.
But the rink failed to turn a profit and was shut down after a couple years, he said. Then, the hall's managers began booking various shows and exhibitions until it began renting out its space almost every weekend to craft fairs, gun shows, monthly flea markets, dog shows, etc.
Of course, Wandling came here less than a quarter-century ago, so he's just a newbie. For the real scoop, you have to talk to his wife, Robin, who can tell you what a frustrated skater she was back in the '60s.
"I do remember that they had a skating rink there, and I couldn't wait until I got old enough so I could skate there," said Robin, who was still in her early grade-school years when the ice rink was open.
"I remember because I grew up just a couple of blocks down the street. But by the time I got old enough to go, they closed it. So, I had to resort to the old lakes, you know?"
Yes, I think those were the days when we all listened to WIBV-1260 to see when the Parks and Recreation Department would deem city lakes and ponds safe for skating.
At any rate, the piping still is probably hooked up, "but who knows if it would work anymore?" Allen Wandling said. Meanwhile, have your wife bake you an extra batch of snickerdoodles as atonement for questioning your power of recall.
Q. After our church's recent Christmas musical, my sister-in-law was upset because the Roman soldiers wore red uniforms. She said they did not wear red but some other color. Would you be able to settle our dispute?
-- S.J., of O'Fallon
A. Good thing she didn't live in ancient times or else Caesar might have thrown her to the lions for such heresy. Now, admittedly, the proof is not overwhelming, but the best evidence seems to point to red as the color of choice, especially for battle.
"The debate in the world of Roman reconstructionists as to tunic color is considerable," according to the Legion Six Historical Foundation, which re-enacts the Roman Empire (www.legionsix.org). "Historians studying the scanty available evidence have tended to favor either red or the off-white of undyed wool as the standard color."
They say the most extensive study was made by Graham Sumner for his book "Roman Military Clothing Part I" (Osprey, 2002). His research suggests that the average Roman legionary had at least two tunics -- a red one to wear under his armor and an off-white version for all other occasions.
Using clothing fragments and paintings, other authors concur, including G.R. Watson in "The Roman Soldier" and Roy Davies in "Service in the Roman Army." Red cloth would not soil as quickly as white and it would help soldiers stand out on the battlefield so they wouldn't kill each other as they battled their foes. So your sister-in-law's face may be a little red from embarrassment the next time she sees you.
Who is the only playwright to win four Pulitzer Prizes?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: When a customer gave an accordion to Alex Stewart in payment for a debt, he gave it to his son Jimmy so it "didn't go to waste." Jimmy must have been attracted to the squeeze box because he wound up playing it in his prep school orchestra, according to the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pa. (www.jimmy.org). In fact, his first professional stage job was in about 1930 when he teamed up with a magician to play the accordion during "awkward" moments in their shows. Later, beloved actor Jimmy Stewart would play it in such movies as "Night Passage."
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org