Mabel sings a tune

She was a remarkable woman. Her whole story is compelling and I only have bits and pieces. It’s a narrative I discovered one beautiful rainy night. Like a song bird, singing a tune, she called to me and it begins with a shortcut.

Driving up Hampton can be a challenge during rush hour as the left-hand turn to our street had no turn signal. So if the traffic has a break, boom… the street before it, is a quick way home. It was raining that night, as it had been for a week straight. Me and my son played in the puddles because we needed fresh air and adventure. I was already wet when I saw the dumpster sitting in the roadway. 

The house sat above the street almost a floor up on a hill and the lights were on, reflecting a house that was emptying. This was a death purge, I could sense it in my pores. The neat dumpster had a carefulness to it. It was a rehab too, as an old closet was tucked away on one side. A matress lay between me and the trash, 6 big black bags. Common sense and my dumpster diving skills would tell me there was nothing to find. This was Rehab junk and there was nothing of interest but my curiosity was strong. Compelling even to open that first bag. 

Sadly, it was just broken wood and tile, yet the second bag had promise. It was in fact glassware, old antique stuff, barely broken. I put it aside to open a bag of old clothes. Curious stuff, so I put them in my trunk. Two bags, but not a story. I knew the story was still there and three bags to go. Two were also just trash, nothing curious.

The sounds of the men caught my ear. Across the road the old Union men of____smoked cigarettes under an awning and looked out into the rain. There I was on top of a pile of debris under a lamplight digging inti neighbor hood trash. This had been a working class hood and the danger rose on my senses. I knew I could be seen at any second and who knows the results. The final bag must be something important. 

Tearing a careful hole with a careful beam of light from my headlamp, I saw the old papers that dates back to thd 1920s and I knew I had my story. With an athletic leap i was into the street and driving home with 3 bags of mystery.

Imagine Christmas morning and been pumped full of adrenaline. This was how my night progressed. Pushing aside the coffeetable and making space, with a pot of tea boiling away, I descended into the world of Mabel Fitzwater. 

I often describe it as if someone took a closet, that had been locked up for 4 decades and just tossed the whole thing. The clothes were all dated back to the 1960s. Nothing older than 1980. All owned by one woman. Some still had tags on them. A pair of slippers, belts, ascots and two pairs of sunglasses were in the first black bag with pant suits, dresses and slacks. A rare historical look at a woman’s personal style.

The second bag was mostly glassware. Crystal, coffee cups, wine glasses, display pieces and hardware odd knick-knacks. Kitchen utensils, vintage sewing stuff, dog collars and many other odd items. The majority was unbroken, as if carefully placed in a bag and put into the dumpster rather than thrown. It however wasn’t the story. That is final act.

Viewing old paperwork is putting together a puzzle piece. Names appear over and over, like George Gittens, St____ Jennings, Norman Fitzwater and Mabel. She bore many names too, as a Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Fitzwater and Mabel Gittens. I knew she was the owner of the collection, and these were her memories. Her prized artifacts from the past. 

  • Jennings Knights of Columbus card
  • George Gittens Real Estates holdings
  • Norman’s Union stuff
  • Postcards from her son and Grand daughter
  • Two photographs, one of Mabel as a young woman.
  • The lawyer paperwork from multiple lawsuits and efforts.

Mabel flowed forth as a story. It took research to fill in the blanks. The Gitten family history was compelling as one of the first in Dogtown. The owners of the land bought for the zoo. They owned the saloon, hotel and grocery story. Mabel grew up in a tough town, as the princess of the richest people in town. Which wasn’t a lot and so she was a bartender and bar owner. A woman who took a punch from a thief to save payroll. A woman whose 2nd husband shot a man late night after trouble at the bar. She was married to a business partner first, but he died young and she remained in the family business despite it. 

Mabel was a remarkable woman who stayed in the same neighborhood her whole life and outlived all the men whose names grace her files. I connected to her spirit and in prose, I dubbed her Mabel, the glamorous Queen of Dogtown. 

The Collection is one of the finest Dumpster Archeology has that tells a most compelling story in complete sentences. We have the artifacts she loved, the dresses she wore and the life she lived. All pulled from Trash Oblivion on a rainy night. I like to say, that I am attracted to the obsessive people, but in this case, it was simply beauty and her objects spoke more of love than obsession.

The essence of something unique was found by Dumpster Archeology in the absolute “normalness” of this discovery. Mabel was an average America woman, who lived an extraordinary life. I desired that her legacy to be the unique history of her family and her role as a central figure in it’s St Louis imprint. Just a song, sung by a woman one rainy night on the floor of my living room, into the hearts of all Americans who just existed as average citizens and then disappeared into a dumpster to be forgotten by time. Unless of course an odd man decides to turn it into historical art.