The Sobbing Man

Dogtown is a strange St Louis neighborhood, the narrow streets are lined with cars and sidewalks disappear and reappear in random ways. Some say it’s called Dogtown because the Eskimos who stayed after the World’s Fair of 1904 used to eat dogs. Others say it was because after the diverse World’s Fair workers were given land parcels in the area, everyone used dogs as protection against “Others”. 

The official story has to do with the Miners of the 1800’s, when this town was the Wild West, and “a dogtown” is a nickname for the tiny shacks the Miners lived in. So very much like the history of Dogtown … myths and houses vary from style to style.   

In the fall of 2016, me and my son walked to Franz park which perches on the top of a huge hill in the heart of Dogtown, at a certain spot you can see all the way to the Arch. My vision however was on the dumpster in front of a two story ranch-style house with a unique porch. My son sat in the wagon as I sneaked a peek, pulling out a couple interesting items.

Quickly finding the backpack, a fur-lined Swiss-made hiking pack from the 1920’s in near perfect condition, some jewelry, books and glassware. Grabbing what caught my eye, me and my son moved on towards Franz Park.

I laid out my odd items on the leaf filled ground while my son played. These discoveries of books, “the black stake thingy”, newspapers, antiques and the vintage 1960’s era necklaces were examined as evidence. As I pondered them, an older woman whose son was playing with mine wandered over for show and tell. 

Her brow wrinkled and asked “the house with the Dumpster in front?”  She told me that a week before the dumpster appeared she heard sobbing coming from the open window. 

What was one to make of the Feminist Fix-it Handbook, Child Care books and jewelry.   With an obvious prejudice I assumed then that the Sobbing soul was a woman, yet the data was confusing and I was left with only that old dumpster psychic itch.

The next day, without my son and having a car, I was able to really dig into the dumpster.  I found no photos or personal letters, this discovery was all just “stuff”.  The more I dug the odder the story got.  This was an amazing haul of unique items, yet, it wasn’t quite a story.  I saw no name, but I got these certain psychic senses.

A strong feminine spirit was here in the dumpster with me,  a world traveler, a wild woman but also a man that loved her dearly.
She used to love to garden, and kept her husband’s old things but now both are gone.. Someone liked to fix up old electronics wearing old jeans, and someone was a photographer. Someone who lived here was independent. self-reliant, curious about the world and came from a small rural background. Western vibes were abundant in the trash and I could see the woman like a ghost, the man was harder to see as if he hid in her shadow.

After work the next day, I decided to do one more trip and try to find a name/story, I also had an idea of doing an interview and knocking on the door. As parked my car, I saw a man moving stuff from the side of the house to the dumpster.  

Approaching gently I asked if I could speak with him about the dumpster, telling him I was a local historian looking for historical items.  He ignored me at first and walked to the basement window and yelled down at a woman below.  

She pokes her head out and I repeated the question politely.   She said it was mostly junk but if I wanted to look through the house. “Everything is for sale“. Her eyes narrowed as she finished the thought with dollar signs, but this wasn’t really a money making deal, it was a death purge. 

I asked in a nice way about owner of the things and if they had “passed on”.   She laughed a bit and said  “No, it’s just my crazy uncle and in a way he is dead to us.” … the way she shrugged off a man’s life hit me deep in my gut.    “So you wanna look in the house?”  she asked.

I wanted no part of it, so I walked away. The things I found that day entered my life, and the story remained an unsolved mystery.  “The Sobbing Soul” was a man, mourning the loss of a strong independent woman. This remained ultimately a story about Dogtown and a few odd items without context, hiding their meaning in plain sight.

6 months later
  This post is the way this story unfolded and was written to reflect the actual way it happened, like Gonzo History.  A nameless sobbing man and the items found in that dumpster …. tell a certain story.  Everything changed the day I found an envelope accidentally in one of the art books.

 I looked up the name in print and sure enough he lived in Dogtown and had two addresses. For years he lived next to Franz park with his mother, and now he had a small one bedroom down the hill towards the industrial side of town. The man was in his 50’s and was far too young for some of the strange items.  It was the obituary of his mother that told the real story. 

The Sobbing Man was the youngest son, and the baby of the family.  His mother had passed on a couple years before the discovery in the dumpster and was bereaved by an older son who lived in another state, a sister who is married and was living in rural Missouri with a daughter the age of the basement cleaner.

Frank’s mother was the woman I felt in the trash, she was the matriarch of a family that had grown up and moved out.  My theory is Frank started caring for his mother when her health started to fade and moved in full time to the house.  After she passed, he must of spent many years living in the wake of her mess unable to move on, until forced too by his older sister.

The tragic twist was a sadder take on the information. This powerful woman, who collected the unusual items, and had a obsessive nature that is in good company with the Dumpster Archeology characters in our collective story, she was the one the Sobbing man cried for.

The niece who was just a tough small town country girl tasked with cleaning up a mess and her husband who was pissed to be there on a Sunday night with “the Game on”.  The Sobbing man’s sister needed to move her troublesome brother out of Their Mothers space into a manageable one he could afford.

This is a story about loss, and death, and the things/people we leave behind. Not all the stories in Dumpster Archeology are happy endings, but there is a reflection of our collective experience in these moments of trash drama.