I never saw the Schmidt Brewery that Patricia Hampl presents here, alive with its reverie-enhancing, rhythmic, red neon sign. But the first time I discovered the hulk of the brewery’s abandoned buildings sprawled out along West Seventh Street in the fall of 2004, I recognized immediately what I was looking at; its vacant structures flooded me with the memory of reading about that flashing sign in Hampl’s acclaimed 1981 memoir, A Romantic Education. Soon the Schmidt site will take on a different look as “developers” trick it out to new purposes—a welcome change.
The year was 1933: FDR had just succeeded Herbert Hoover in the White House, the first episode of The Lone Ranger aired on the radio, Fay Wray co-starred with a giant mechanical gorilla in King Kong, and the chocolate chip cookie had just been invented. The young boy hurried alone through the freezing darkness on his way to Assumption, the old German church on West Seventh Street, where he served daily Mass. It was still very early, barely five o’clock.