The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
St. Louis and London both have histories of relegating unsavory activities to the opposite sides of the rivers that sustain them (east of the Mississippi and south of the Thames, respectively). Consider, for example, what The Wall Street Journal wrote about Sauget, Illinois in 2006: “Sauget has embraced some of the less-popular remnants of the industrial Midwest as well as the seamier side of the U.S. service economy. Along with companies that smelt zinc, treat sewage and incinerate toxic waste are a brace of strip clubs, two nightclubs and a 24-hour liquor store that doubles as an off-track betting parlor and the largest lottery outlet in Illinois.”
The same article goes on to quote Richard Sauget, the eponymous president of the village, as saying, “We were basically incorporated as a sewer.” Richard Karl, the director of the EPA’s Superfund Division, Region 5, is quoted as describing Sauget as “a soup of different chemicals,” including PCB’s, benzene, toluene, dioxin and organic solvents in addition to heavy-metal pollutants such as cadmium, silver, selenium and zinc. As for the renowned Sauget Ballet, some anonymous sources have told me that the parking lots around the village’s various centers for the performing arts—like the parking lots at similar entertainment venues in Brooklyn, Centerville and elsewhere—are full of vehicles with Missouri license plates.
While the patrons of the Sauget Ballet may come primarily from Missouri, the judicial system in St. Clair County (the home of Sauget, Brooklyn and Centerville) is entirely home-grown. Unlike the judges in St. Louis and St. Louis County, the judges in St. Clair County are elected directly by the voters in the county. Earlier this year the duly elected circuit judges of St. Clair County chose county prosecutor Joseph Christ to fill a vacancy as an associate judge. Judge Christ, who had prosecuted drug cases and who presided over the county’s drug court, died shortly after being sworn in… reportedly from a drug overdose.
One of the circuit judges who helped elect Judge Christ was Judge Michael Cook, who has been charged with possession of heroin and having a firearm while being an illegal user of controlled substances. Judge Christ met his demise at Judge Cook’s cabin in Pike County, Illinois, where they were apparently enjoying a judges’ night out. The recreational drugs for the judicial outing were allegedly provided by St. Clair County probation officer James Fogarty.
Long before European settlers brought the glories of western civilization to St. Clair County, Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, was the home of industries and entertainment that were unwelcome in the City of London. By 1700 it was the center of the leather tanning trade that had been banned across the river. Hat makers there flourished while discharging huge amounts of poisonous mercury into streams that fed into the Thames. Glass-making became another major industry on the south bank of the river after coal-fired furnaces were outlawed in the City.
Just as Missourians now venture into Illinois for the Sauget Ballet, Londoners helped sustain Southwark’s thriving red-light district. They also came across London Bridge to enjoy pastimes such as cock-fighting and bear-baiting. As was noted by the renowned historian Thomas B. Macaulay, the Puritans who controlled London hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
The Puritans also disapproved of theatre, which is why the Globe Theatre opened in Southwark, beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London, in 1599. The Globe, which has been reconstructed within the past 20 years, is best remembered as the venue in which many of the plays of William Shakespeare were first performed.
The Bard of Avon isn’t the only literary great to be associated with Southwark. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales the pilgrims began their journey at The Tabard in Southwark, an actual inn established in 1307. More than five centuries later Charles Dickens lived in Southwark and set parts of Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers in the borough. Southwark also inspired the artist William Hogarth to paint Southwark Fair in 1733.
The fair had been established in 1462 and was originally called “Our Lady Fair” to honor the birth of the Virgin Mary on September 8th. It later evolved into the drunken carnival depicted by Hogarth. After 300 riotous years, the fair was finally banned in 1763 as “an affront to the dignity of London.”
The 250th anniversary of the demise of Southwark Fair happens to coincide with the 10th Art Outside at Schlafly Bottleworks. As in the past, this is a juried art fair featuring the work of artists who live within 125 miles of St. Louis, meaning that William Hogarth wouldn’t be allowed to exhibit his work even if he were still alive. The criteria of the fair call for art that’s “edgy, imaginative and outside the general realm of other mainstream art fairs,” but not so edgy and outside the mainstream that it needs to be relegated to Sauget.