Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date 7/31/21
Goodbye, George Bocklage – Teri Moore – Hannah Grey -the rats of Washington – ferrets and rat terriers – the first Missouri River Bridge to WashMO
Gentle readers of Augusta, until now, my written stories for Tell It Like It Was, have stayed on our side of the Missouri River, but today my mind travels to Washington, MO. I want to commemorate my friend George Bocklage who passed away February 27, 2021, in Washington. In case you haven’t already read it, here’s his obituary from emissourian: https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/emissourian/name/george-bocklage-obituary?pid=197939998
A couple weeks ago I was invited to attend a celebration of his life at the Old Dutch Hotel on Elm St. I was unable to attend, but instead I wrote a few words which I emailed to some friends in the hope they would read them aloud at the memorial. I haven’t heard whether anyone turned my musings into audible sound that day, but now, my friends, whether you knew George or not, it would please me if you read what I had to say.
Memories of George Bocklage
I grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri.
From the late 50s to mid-60s, I spent much of my time uptown selling newspapers, performing other jobs, and visiting my relatives who worked there. At an early age I developed an appreciation for Jeff City’s men’s clothing stores. I loved the atmosphere and the smell of new clothing and leather. Needless to say, those stores were the recipients of much of my hard-earned cash. But it was worth it.
Fast forward to the late 70s on through the 80s in Washington, Missouri. I was totally delighted to discover Bocklage Menswear in the downtown area. I loved that store. I could, and did, buy a conservative men’s suit that would stay in style forever. I could, and did, purchase a wool sport jacket that could withstand wadding up and not show a wrinkle. Downstairs, I could find staples like Levi jeans and Carhartt painters’ pants. The store was perfect, and so was the gentleman who owned and ran the store.
I can’t say that I got to know George well in those early years, but the foundation for a friendship was laid. In subsequent years I would see him riding his bicycle, or giving impromptu history lessons, or listening to music at festivals in Washington, and we would always talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company.
And that brings me to the point I want to make about George. Here’s a man listening to all kinds of music, much of it aimed at a youthful audience, and he was enjoying himself! Unlike most people, his musical taste didn’t ossify by age 30 or less. He might have been stubborn in some things, but he was truly open minded in the arts.
With the help of John Beuke, George attended many of my events: silent movies with live music, winery gigs, and he even added a cameo appearance in a Brazilian concert I c
reated. He was, in my mind, always the guest of honor when I saw him in the audience.
Thank you, John, for organizing this celebration of George Bocklage. And thank you too, to everyone here today. I’m sorry I can’t be physically present with you, but I am here in spirit.
That’s all I wrote at the time, but I have some more memories of George I wish to share. A few years ago, I dragged him into one of my hare-brained schemes. Or was it the other way around? I guess it was mutual. You see, Teri Moore, an outrageously creative artist, who used to live on our side of the river, had created a painting (with interchangeable parts) of a certain food and drink establishment in Washington with a certain historian sitting at the bar. Thus far, this sounds innocent enough, so why have I omitted names? It’s a long story; do you have time for this?
Well, at the time, I was satisfying my creative performance cravings by playing and singing live music to accompany silent movies made from 1910-1930. Singer Hannah Grey, artist Bryan Haynes (Washington’s New Regionalist painter), and later, Brazilian singer, Laura Werner, were my partners in crime. Besides gigging at wineries, movie music was foremost in my mind. So, when I first saw the above-mentioned painting of a certain bar, with a certain Washington historian sitting on a stool, I immediately leaped to the conclusion that I needed to produce a silent movie with a live soundtrack. The whole story and the choice of music would center around the painting, the bar and the historian.
Soon after, in the afore-mentioned bar, I sat with George and told him about my idea. He grew enthusiastic, no…beyond that. He insisted the story had to include the rats of Washington! He could have said no more, and I would have said ABSOLUTELY, even though I was clueless as to his logic. But he immediately gave me a history lesson from 1935. That was the year Washington decided to do something about their rat population. Apparently, when you have several grain mills in your downtown area, the pests will soon gather, grow fat, and multiply. But a man named William Armstrong from nearby Gerald, MO, had a solution: ferrets and rat terriers. BTW while this human vs. rat drama unfolded, the first Missouri River bridge at WashMO, (the one which was blown up a few years ago), was rapidly coming together.
A couple weeks later I met with curious George again and he bestowed upon me a stack of copies of historical photos of downtown Washington, mills in Franklin County, dictionary definitions and photos of ferrets, and a November 29, 1935, Washington Citizen newspaper article that pretty much told the whole story. Allow me to share a copy of a copy of a copy that will make you understand too why George connected rat extermination with a certain bar in Washington.
Quoting the Washington Citizen, "Mr. Armstrong says he expects to clean up the town and receives $3.00 to $5.00 for each job. He sold a pair of ferrets to E. L. Schroeder, and also a pair to the Dutch Tavern. They sell for $10 a pair. This year he raised 176, and receives orders from all parts of the United States.” George explained that some businesses didn’t wish to pay Armstrong’s labor fee, and instead chose to buy some of his ferrets to freely roam their basements.
Alright! This is perfect silent film material, and so I approached Tony Carosella, an artistic and accomplished videographer/photographer from New Haven. He liked the concept, but immediately insisted the rats could not appear too natural, but instead be clothed and animated. He went on to explain that no food and drink establishment would want to be associated with filthy rats, even if some 83 years had passed since the great slaughter. I guess he had a point.
Between George, Tony and me, a storyline emerged: an interspecies love interest developed between ferret and rat, which created a real problem. At some point the ferrets were dismissed from the story, only to be replaced by the Pied Piper of Hamelin. What? You don’t know that story? And you never heard that popular song from the 60s? Come on babe, can’t you see, I’m the Pied Piper, trust in me, I’m the Pied Piper and I’ll show you where it’s at.
I guess those lyrics don’t help much. Perhaps this link to Wikipedia would be more useful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin
Let me briefly explain that the Piper was hired to play his flute to lure the rats from the village of Hamelin in Germany in the Middle Ages. Mission accomplished, but the town reneged on payment, and in revenge, the Pied Piper uses his flute to lure all the town’s children away, never to be seen again. Of course, our storyline morphed some from there. George asked me to drive him to Hermann to retrieve his Washington-crafted zither that would replace the flute. (Check out this link to an article by George Bocklage about Franz Schwarzer and the zithers of WashMO.) https://www.zither.us/schwarzer.zither.king
George suggested I learn how to play a simple theme on the zither, an instrument with which I was totally unfamiliar. Whatev. At least our story didn’t contain all the treachery of the ancient tale. In fact, our zitherist got paid, and he/she successfully led the rats away from Washington and escorted them upriver to Jefferson City where they all found jobs in the state capitol building.
So why did our brainchild never see the light of day? It’s rare for me to walk away from a project. Truthfully, I think I felt resistance from the talented artist who created the painting, and from the bar owner. It was unspoken, but felt, nevertheless. And with a project of this scope, I knew I needed teammates and maybe even a cheering section! Ultimately, George began to see our little creation as too risky also; so there you have it. My insecurities took over and we all moved on. But I don’t particularly regret any of it. It was a real pleasure just to brainstorm with Tony and George.
Mr. Bocklage, I’ll never forget you.
That’s all folks. Stay curious.