Brushes With Fame Come to Life at St. Louis’ Blueberry Hill

Stars on the Walk of Fame line the sidewalk at the Blueberry Hill nightclub, which has been visited by a plethora of musicians and other celebrities. Chuck Berry performed here for many years. Four U.S. presidents dropped by.

I pointed to the star imbedded in the sidewalk along Delmar Boulevard, home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

“I know that guy.”

Sue and I had stopped for a visit the other day on our way to the east coast. She had heard the story about how I knew the guy, so I kept my reminiscing to myself.

It was the summer of 1970. I was 18, loving another visit to Dodger Stadium. Before I began my college years, I yearned for more memorable events that marked my three years as a sports journalist.

Bill Clark, my Oxnard Press-Courier newspaper colleague, sat next to me in the Dodger Stadium press box. In the row in front of us, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner baseball writer Bob Hunter, a former colleague of Bill’s, took his usual place at Dodger home games. After the game, Bill drove us to Hunter’s bar near the stadium. My 21st birthday was a lifetime away, so I waited in Bill’s white Chrysler Imperial while Bill went in for “a drink.”

An hour ticked by. A knock on the car window jolted me awake. Bill peered in.

“Bob said you can come in.”

In a world of grownups, I sat at the bar next to Bill. I sipped a Coke, wishing it was spiked with a couple shots of rum. I downed several Coke refills while Bill drank a few more of his drinks. We talked baseball with Bob as he worked behind the bar. At first, I hardly noticed the middle-aged guy who pulled himself onto the barstool to my right. The auburn-haired man and I exchanged friendly words; I shared that I had just seen the Cardinals beat my Dodgers. He asked me all about how I got into sports journalism.

It was well after midnight when Bill and I walked toward his car.

“Here.” He handed me his keys. “You’d better drive.”

The V-8 engine roared to life. I pushed the “D” button next to the steering wheel and the car lurched forward a bit faster than I intended. Bill didn’t seem to notice. He said he was not looking forward to his sports desk shift that would begin at 6 a.m.

“Now, Reg, you know who was sitting next to you in the bar, don’t you?”

“Nah. Kinda dark in there.”

Bill shook his head. “Jeez! That was Red Schoendienst! You do know who that is, I hope.”

I had to think quick. “Just kidding.” I chuckled. “Of course I knew who he was.”

As I steered the huge car toward the freeway, I wondered if I had disguised the fact that I had not recognized the man who would be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. He wore a major league uniform for 74 years as a player, coach, or manager. On the night we chatted, he was the winning manager.

I was the kid without a clue.

A Tragic Tale of a Gifted President, a Gunman, and Bad Medicine

James Garfield came out of nowhere to win the Republican nomination and become the 20th president of the United States in 1881.

If not for a bullet and questionable medical care, he could have been one of the greatest leaders in American history.

Candice Millard, in Destiny Republic, has created a riveting presidential biography about a brilliant man and one of the most gifted White House residents.

Millard, author of River of Doubt, my favorite book about Teddy Roosevelt, tells Garfield’s tragic story as if she lived during his time. A passionate civil rights advocate and Civil War hero, Garfield was struck down by deranged gunman Charles Guiteau. The president’s life lingered for more than two months and he died when European medical advances likely would have saved him.

He served just six months and died despite desperate attempts by inventor Alexander Graham Bell to prevent his death. Garfield’s doctor, Willard Bliss, rejected European medical advances that most likely would have allowed him to live, leading some to say “ignorance is Bliss.”

Less than two decades after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Garfield walked the streets of Washington D.C. without guards, thinking lightning wouldn’t strike down another president. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, secretary of war, was present when Garfield was shot.

There are enough twists in Destiny Republic that Millard’s book may lead you to say, “Indeed, life is stranger than fiction.”