Q. I remember a Belleville man in the 1940s who made homemade soup and sold it door to door from his trunk. I think his name was Jack and he lived on West Main Street. My friends don't believe me. I know you can help.
-- N.M., of Belleville
A. When the Republican Party fell out of favor in St. Clair County in the 1930s, Jack Flach found himself out of a job as a custodian. So, to make a few bucks until something better came along, the Belleville man decided to make soup and sell it to area taverns.
It was supposed to be just a brief gig he could add to an already interesting resume. After leaving the Army in 1919, Flach went off to study voice culture in Chicago, according to a Belleville Daily Advocate story. Just weeks later, the paper reported he had taken a job at a music publishing company. He sang professionally and was looking to get into vaudeville.
By the 1930s, though, he had returned to Belleville and was cleaning City Hall. He may have found his true calling when he put on his chef's hat. Tavern owners told him his soups were so mmm, mmm, good that he should consider getting into the business full time. In 1965, a quarter-century later, Flach, then in his early 70s, closed the lid on his traveling soup kitchen/trunk for the last time.
His son Jack, a long-time writer and political editor for the Belleville Daily Advocate and St. Louis Globe-Democrat -- remembered those years well. At 5 every morning, the smell of the soups d'jour from Flach's 40-gallon kettle would waft through the Flach household at 3818 W. Main St., which Belleville city directories began to list as "Flach's Homemade Soup." Then, he was off on his rounds, selling his delicious concoctions for 20 cents a quart -- 35 cents a half-gallon.
Unfortunately, the recipes were lost when Flach died in 1973. He'd simply start out with a basic beef stock and then add a cup of this and a pinch of that, depending on the variety. But, Flach's son said, his dad always made sure his soups were thick and hearty, not thinning them out with water to make them go further.
Q. On his radio show, comedian-singer Jimmy Durante became famous for his closing line, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Who was Mrs. Calabash?
-- Paul Thole, of Breese
A. That, my friend, is a secret the man known for his bulbous schnoz and gravelly voice may have taken to the grave with him when he died in 1980.
In 1966, he supposedly revealed all during an appearance before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. As a young, traveling entertainer, he and his first wife, Jeanne, would crisscross the country and she fell in love with the "beautiful little town" of Calabash.
"Every time we got home, I used to call her Mrs. Calabash," he said. "I (told her), 'As soon as I get rich, I'll buy the town.'"
Then on one of his shows with Garry Moore, he suddenly felt moved to close by saying, "Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash." The remark drew so much interest and so many questions that he kept doing it.
"At the end of that season, they said, 'Well, let's say it's a horse or let's say it's something.' And I said, 'Nah.' So, then I added 'Wherever you are.' So, gentlemen, the Mrs. Calabash that I referred to all the time was Mrs. Jeanne Durante."
Just one problem: According to Durante's explanation, Calabash was a small town or suburb somewhere "west of Chicago." According to "Illinois Place Names," there has never been an Illinois town named Calabash.
To find a Calabash, you have to go to North Carolina, where you'll find a radically different explanation for Durante's signature line.
According to Brusnwick County historian Susie Carson, Durante was passing through Calabash, N.C., in the 1940s and made friends with young restaurant owner Lucy Coleman. He loved her food so much, he promised to make her famous. Since he either never learned or forgot her name, she became his Mrs. Calabash, they claim.
But comic Sonny King, who worked with Durante, always said that story was a lot of inka dinka doo-doo. According to King, Mrs. Calabash was indeed Durante's first wife, who died of a chronic heart ailment on Valentine's Day 1943 at age 46. In her final years, the couple lived in Calabasas, Calif., the pronunciation of which she reportedly mangled as "Calabash." He then turned it into Mrs. Calabash.
Perhaps that story was just too difficult for Durante to tell publicly. In any case, good night, Mr. and Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.
What musical instrument can trace its primary origin to Avedis Zildjian in 1618?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: Midway between the United States and South America lies the Republica de El Salvador, which translates as the Republic of The Savior. With more than 6 million people living on just over 8,000 square miles, it is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com or call 239-2465.