Answer Man

Answer Man: Belleville rooftop statue continues to draw questions

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Q. When I am walking upstairs at the downtown YMCA, I see a mummylike white statue on top of a building on Lincoln Street. It’s two doors down from the Belleville News-Democrat building. I am wondering what it is, why it’s there and if it can be become dislodged and fall on someone below.

— Carolyn, of Belleville

A. What you’ve spied is a statue of a Spanish conquistador that conquered Fred Kern’s heart for art at an auction roughly 20 years ago.

It’s not a replica of any famous work, but a piece Kern simply thought would look interesting on his South High Street home. So he toted it up to his roof and pointed its face south toward Mexico.

“I think it’s a little better than a concrete statue,” Kern, whose family once owned the Belleville News-Democrat for 80 years, told me a few years ago. “It’s a casting, but it’s a special formula where they ground up cement and special stone and make that into a pour and poured it into a mold.

“I guess it’s maybe at the maximum 50 years old, so it’s nothing antique. But I’ve never seen another one in that military style. So I just carried it up there to have a little decoration on the building.”

We’ve had plenty of nasty storms since its placement and it hasn’t budged, so his assurances that the statue is firmly seated are apparently well-founded. I doubt he would want to take a chance of having it fall on his grandkids below.

Never Fails Dept.: In the interest of space, I decided in a recent answer not to list the ways William Shakespeare deviated from actual events when he wrote about the assassination of Julius Caesar. Naturally, several readers said they were curious about any major changes, so here they are.

The most interesting comes from my college roommate, John Turner, who is now a literature instructor at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa — and who played the great Caesar in a recent production of the play in Davenport, Iowa. (He will have lasting memories of lying on stage in a pool of Karo syrup, red dye, a bit of water and — Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite —Hershey’s chocolate syrup.)

You may remember that in Act 3, Scene 1, Julius refuses to change his mind about his banishment of Publius Climber, saying, “I am constant as the northern star ...” As Turner, who is also an amateur astronomer, points out, there really was no northern star in Caesar’s time. Where the Earth’s North Pole points to in space slowly changes over time, so we were in the process of shifting from Thuban to Polaris, which took over in about the year 500. (Caesar died in 44 B.C.)

Other changes were much less dramatic, made merely to compress time or location. For example, Shakespeare had the funeral, Antony’s oration, the reading of the will and the arrival of Octavius all occur on the same day. In reality, Caesar was killed on March 15, the funeral was on March 20 and Octavius didn’t make it until May. Similarly, Shakespeare merged the two battles of Phillipi (which actually occurred about 20 days apart) and has the Triumvirs meet in Rome instead of near Bononia. For added dramatic effect, the Bard had the killing take place at the Capitol instead of the Curia of Pompey.

A better way?: I was happy to see I struck a nerve with reader David Weidler when I recently complained about the archaic method we use to pay restaurant wait staff. Currently, employers only have to pay such workers a minimum of just over $2 an hour in hopes they make up the rest of the guaranteed minimum wage in tips.

“The state and federal government should (show some courage), stand up to the restaurant owners’ association and make all restaurant employees be covered by minimum wage laws,” Weidler wrote.

“The association hides behind the false idea that the cost of dining out would be unaffordable. That’s bunk. I’ve spent plenty of time in Europe. Wait staff there is paid a ‘normal’ wage. There is very little tipping, the staff is paid a reasonable living wage, and there is no underground, non-taxed income system. It’s really time to reassess this whole insane notion of tipping in the U.S.”

Holiday present: In case you haven’t noticed, Prairie Farms is again delighting those who love egg nog year-round with its Eastertime version of the treat that normally is found only at Christmas. Not only that, but those with a sweet tooth also might enjoy the dairy’s Peeps Marshmallow- and Chocolate Marshmallow-flavored reduced fat milk products as well.

I may have to load my basket with a gallon or two.

Today’s trivia

What was Zeppo Marx’s patented wristwatch designed to do?

Answer to Thursday’s trivia: A Winter Banana a day keeps the doctor away. Although it may sound a bit odd, that’s what David Flory could have started saying in about 1875 when he developed a new variety of apple on his farm in Cass County, Ind.

Also known as the Flory, the Winter Banana is reportedly a tasty, fresh-eating apple with a mild, sweet flavor and is best enjoyed as a dessert apple. according to Ron Joyner at Big Horse Creek Farm in Lansing, N.C.

“Not everyone can detect the aroma of bananas and only the highest-quality, well-ripened fruits will have this fragrance,” Joyner noted. “But (I) do recall a time in 1990 ... I was walking up to the orchard on a warm day in early October and well before I could actually see the tree, I detected the heavy, sweet perfume of fresh bananas permeating the entire orchard.”

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