by Michael R. Allen
On Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis stands a forlorn billboard amid many forlorn buildings. The west face of the ancient-looking, rusty and crusty two-sided board bears the numbers “1843.” The 3 is a bit crooked, and there is only the faintest outline of explanatory clues. A name plaque at the base of the sign reads “Peter Hauptmann Company,” the defunct owner of the sign.
Some people think that the numbers are the declaration of a year, which they are, but not of any year particularly momentous in the life of the city of East St. Louis. The sign, after all is an advertisement for David Nicholson 1843 Bonded Whiskey. I am amazed that a billboard would go unused anywhere. Missouri Avenue is not a slow street, since it co-exists as Illinois State Highway 15, a major path between Belleville and St. Louis. The billboard advertisement is the lowest form of commercial activity that often co-exists peacefully with prostitution and drug dealing as the last-ditch attempt to make money in a place. Why didn’t a cell phone ad replace the old whiskey sign years ago?