I get letters! And I’m always happy to see them. In fact, when I started putting my email address at the end of my columns I wondered who, if anyone, would actually take the time to write.
Well, I’ve received a few complaints believe it or not. Not many, but there were two that really stick out: One guy told me I was “ragingly incompetent” (about a Star Wars column, for crying out loud), and someone who knew, or claimed to have known, Clint Walker (The Actor) really talked to me like I was a whippersnapper who needed his ears boxed. I never write back to such things, but I did think about recommending they actually go back and…you know…read the whole column.
I certainly don’t mean to give the impression that I linger on complaints. So let’s move on to the best kinds of letters: the numerous suggestions, tips, and hints as to what I might like to cover in future Throwback columns. I mean, with helpful readers like that, you’d think coming up with ideas each week would be easy, right? Well, the problem I run into is that I’m often limited by what I have enough nostalgic memories of to write 1,000 words about each week, and folks, if you send me something that requires me to actually do research? Then you’re going to get a lot of me staring at a blinking cursor on a white page. But a skilled writer should be able to write about any subject when prompted, so in that spirit I’ll be bringing to you three such reader submissions that I’ve been holding onto for the last few months or so.
First up, I’ve had a piece of paper on my typing stand for the last month brought to me by Robin Bennett in response to my Toys R Us bankruptcy column, cluing me into the existence of a business called “ToyTown,” previously located at 1212 Broadway Ave., as proof that Mattoon at one time did actually have a dedicated toy store. These slim classified ads were the only archival proof I could find, although I did learn that address was also home to “Blackwell’s Music Shop,” which also only seemed to advertise in classifieds. Upon realizing that I had no idea where that address was, I looked it up on Google Maps and realized that 1212 Broadway is currently either a vacant lot or a vacant storefront. You might be wondering why in the world I didn’t just drive over there and check myself, but I don’t go west of the Long John Silver’s on Charleston Avenue unless I have to. I mean, who needs to see another weedy vacant lot.
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Coming up next is an item brought to my attention by Allan Keith about Maxene Andrews of the famous Andrews Sisters visiting the Mattoon area to oversee the opening of the “International BraVo” factory in Neoga, a company that according to the article was previously known as “Neoga Manufacturing Company”, and that apparently had quite an interesting history which involved previous shareholders dying in a plane accident before Maxene stepped in to purchase their shares to get things going again. And before you start cracking wise, yes, they did manufacture bras there. And given that it was the early ‘70s, I’m sure these were bras made out of asbestos thick enough to stop a bullet. And I’m left wondering just what in the world made them “International” unless you needed International Harvesting equipment to try to get them off. But hey, I’m clearly no expert on either bras, local factories, or The Andrews Sisters, which is what I meant to talk about in the first place until I realized I don’t know a thing about the Andrews Sisters, other than I thought they were in an episode of M*A*S*H until I looked it up to realize that was actually a fictional group called “The Miller Sisters.” Also, how have I never devoted an entire column to M*A*S*H?
And finally, Rick Wiley tipped me off via email to a state-owned fish hatchery that used to be located at Lake Paradise. This was going to be the toughest one for me to write about because other than the fact that I have been fishing (although not in well over 20 years or more) and that I have been to Lake Paradise, back in those days when you’d while away those hot boring teenage summer nights by getting Taco Bell with your buddies and driving around the lake endlessly, I don’t know much about fish hatcheries. Although a quick spin through the archives provided me with this great photo from the 1934 Journal of the two-story brick house at the hatchery, which supposedly, still stands to this day. Now this I can get down with, because you can never underestimate a man’s innate fascination with old buildings where he could live in quiet isolation while still getting to operate or preside over something important, like say, a lighthouse, a campground, or even a fish hatchery. Heck, you might even have an old cat and a desk with a typewriter.
And then my heart sank when I realized just before press time that this photo said “Lake Mattoon” and not “Lake Paradise”, although the photo does mention the Lake Paradise area, and the information in the cutline does match what Wiley sent me. But with what little time I had left to finish this column, and after hurriedly flipping through a lot of papers of the era, I still was not quite able to determine if this was the correct photo or not. Still, it’s a pretty cool house though, right?
So Rick if you’re reading this and I got it wrong, hey, you know how to get hold of me, as do you all out there now that you know I am reading. So keep ‘em coming, although if you’ve got complaints, please keep them brief; I clearly take such things real personal.