This small city is my husband’s home town. Who would have known it would become so famous? Figuring what you must be seeing on television, let me tell you about his Ferguson, my Ferguson. Some of that information can be gained by contrast.
The next suburb north in St. Louis County is Florissant. This is where I grew up. Kids from Florissant and Ferguson merged together in 10th grade and attended the same high school, named McCluer High School. The school gained some fame in 1967 when a small airplane hit the old gym, just as modern dance students left it to change. The pilot was killed. The school was just beyond one of the major flight patterns for Lambert Airport. That would change. It was the middle of the boomer experience and kids were everywhere. Our school was the biggest high school in the state.
Ferguson and Florissant represented two different ways to live, and I noticed it immediately when we were looking for houses, just having come back from a stretch in Japan. Ferguson had little streets and trees everywhere. The houses on each street were mostly unique; periodically a builder would create two or three houses on one street. Glenn’s house was one of those. In that area it was hilly and there were many parks. The neighborhoods were heterogeneous looking but there were better neighborhoods, and lesser neighborhoods. There is a distinct downtown area that most could walk to. I still remember one two story house my family looked at; I was so impressed because it had an intercom system between the front door and the kitchen. There were two like it on this little street in Ferguson.
Unbelievably, Florissant was the higher end choice for those days. Acres and acres of farmland were scraped raw for the advent of subdivision houses rising from the mud. With each house you got two trees for the boulevard areas. One developer, Mayer Rasher Mayer (I think) developed most of the city. There was a downtown area which was more a cluster of strip stores. Not leafy like Ferguson. There was a small old part of Florissant that was older than any of the surroundings. That part of Florissant was like Ferguson.
Florissant in the summer was as hot as you could imagine with those two toddler trees and cement streets. The sounds of all the air-conditioners made it seem the houses would fairly take off! We rode bikes or walked to friend’s houses in all that heat, counting blocks and streets with names of horses. You would see the same “model” house over and over again. That interested me for some reason; I would never live in a place like that again, although I knew no different.
Florissant had a park and a public pool, tennis courts and an A and W root beer stand, but it was too far for us to walk there. Ferguson, on the other hand, had the magnificent January Wabash Park where there was a pool and a bandshell and the old red brick Ferguson High School, to be turned into the junior high for Ferguson when McCluer was built. It also had a little lake where people fished. In the winter, the little lake froze and we ice skated. Nothing like that in Florissant. At January Wabash lake we spent much time during the Brownie years learning about nature. I remember seeing my first coiled up frog eggs on the edge of the lake. I remember one winter in ninth grade in my cheerleading get-up, crowding around a fire for warmth and then scandalizing myself because I smelled like smoke after.
During the summer of the Watts riots–there were black suburbs near us, everyone stayed calm.
The father of my life-long friend was the superintendent of schools for the Ferguson-Florissant R-2 School District. He came here about three years ago, and we spoke of the integration of the school district. This happened just after we were off to college. Dr. Brown said to the board “Give me a year for this”, and the board did. The integration was accomplished without drama.
Last summer we went back for a fifty year celebration of the opening of McCluer High School. These two suburbs are majority black now, but in riding by the houses, all looked neat and clean. So did the park, the tennis courts where Glenn and I first met; sadly the A and W is not anymore.
My heart is broken with Ferguson being in the news like this. And Florissant has its own problems. Turns out all those space-age houses were built upon a cesspool of a creek called Coldwater. And we have ourselves a huge cancer cluster there.