Answer Man: How did Oktoberfest get started?

News-DemocratSeptember 20, 2013 

Q. As we celebrate another Oktoberfest this weekend, could you please refresh my memory as to who started it and when? -- T.S., of Belleville

A. It's now a continuing source of amusement for German revelers in Belleville.

"How in the world can they celebrate Oktoberfest in September?" I hear people ask every year.

But as every lederhosen lover knows, it wasn't that way originally. When the Belleville Jaycees held the very first brewhaha, then-Belleville Mayor Richard Brauer tapped the golden keg smack-dab in the middle of the month for which it is named -- Oct. 17, 1980.

The idea was to celebrate the reopening of the old Stag Brewery. It had been shuttered by Carling National Breweries in May 1980, but G. Heilemann Brewing Co. bought it and announced it would resume production in October. So what better way to toast the good news than to have thousands of good Chermans flock downtown and raise a stein or two of their hometown drink?

"We are promoting Belleville and its biggest industry," said Tom Schrag of the Jaycees, which planned to use the proceeds from the event to help the city develop a community park. "We want to show off Stag Beer to the community."

And show it off they did with a two-day gala of bratwurst, oom-pah and suds that immediately exceeded expectations. The very first year, the Jaycees thought they had bought too much wurst but wound up having to buy more. In 1992, the group apologized for being too successful and said they would be better ready for bigger crowds the following year.

There was a bit of sadness in 1988 when Brauer tapped the final keg of Belleville-brewed Stag, but the festival continued unabated. During its early days, it even brought in big-name acts like Eddie Rabbitt as it began transitioning in the late 1980s to a September start to take advantage of better weather.

So today more crowds are expected to enjoy the gemutlichkeit of the 34th annual affair, which is now sponsored by the Belleville Exchange Club, Belleville Sister Cities and Belleville Shrine Club. Final activities include a car show all day and dancing to Sh-Boom from 2-6 followed by Super Jam from 7-11. Prost.

GOT CAPS?: Seems to always happen. As soon as I flatly state that plastic caps are about as valuable as a $3 bill, someone pops up to prove me wrong. Here's the latest:

To celebrate its 75th anniversary in business, Prairie Farms Dairy Inc. currently is running an Our Caps, Your Cause promotion that gives area organizations 5 cents for every Prairie Farms cap redeemed.

You don't even have to save the cap itself. Just look for a code number under the cap label on specially marked milk jugs and juice containers. Then, go to www.prairiefarms.com, pick your charity from the drop-down menu and enter the codes. The nickels will be posted to the participating nonprofit account.

I'm also told that within just the past few weeks, St. Luke's Parish in Belleville has, like Roosevelt School a couple of years ago, begun collecting all kinds of plastic caps to turn into a bench.

CHECKER-MATE?: Not surprisingly, several people again confused me with columnist Wally Spiers after his recent columns on whether the St. Louis Arena/Checkerdome had a checkered past -- at least, as far as the roof was concerned. Thanks to B. Stephan Urban for the Highlands Amusement Park memories and Jim Filanda for all the old Arena photos.

They inspired me to do my own investigation as to whether Ralston-Puritan ever put its trademark checkerboard pattern on the roof. This was the closest I came to a definitive answer:

"Ralston-Purina, which took over the team and building when the Blues were in the red, added a sophisticated sound system and, the clincher, air conditioning," Bob Broeg, a late dean of St. Louis sportswriters, wrote once. "They also briefly rechristened her the Checkerdome, a name that, thankfully, was never immortalized by red and white squares facing skyward."

A 'VEAL' FIND: Sandy Gansmann tells me that Tony D., of Belleville, can find calf's (veal) liver at Dierberg's in Shiloh, although it is frozen. Another caller suggested Eckert's, but they told me they do not handle it.

IMUS WATCH: I recently was so intent on telling Judith Farrow, of Collinsville, how to hear Don Imus on the radio, I forgot to mention that he can be watched on the Fox Business channel every morning if she has cable or satellite.

Today's trivia

What was the first event held at the St. Louis Arena?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: Although perhaps best known for her decade on "The View," Star Jones became the first black to host a syndicated TV courtroom show when the lawyer and journalist presided over "Jones & Jury." It lasted only one season, but Jones quickly hooked up with "Inside Edition," for whom she led the coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder case.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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