The Answer

Well, it’s been several days and nobody has ventured a guess, so I’ll just offer the answer now. The most-written about news story in the Webster-Kirkwood Times from 1986 to 1988 was the shipping of radioactive waste from the Three Mile Island accident on trains through St. Louis County to points west where that waste was to be disposed of. Those shipments came through Webster Groves on the Missouri Pacific line.

Three Mile Island, a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, experienced a meltdown in March 1979, creating a lot of contaminated water, soil, and nuclear waste. The cleanup lasted until 1993, and it seems that nobody whose communities the waste passed through was happy about it. Residents in Webster Groves, as you may imagine, had a lot to say about it, and every local legislator worked to end the train shipments through town.

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Newspapers and History

I noted a while back that during the summer, Webster-Kirkwood Times publisher Dwight Bitikofer donated his personal archive of the paper to the library. Since then we have been working our way through them, indexing the stories they contain. Phil Graham, one time publisher of the Washington Post, once said that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history.’ It has been fun going through forty years of the rough draft of history for Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Des Peres, Rock Hill, Warson Woods, and other surrounding communities. We have just about finished the first ten years, from 1978 to 1988.

Many stories go on for a long time. From late 1987 to late 1988 there was the story of St. Joseph Hospital facing neighborhood opposition to its proposed heliport. (They got the heliport.) There were quite a few stories about the development of Bethesda Orchard Retirement Center, and the overall development of Old Orchard. Likewise there were many stories about a redevelopment of Old Webster. As late as 1988, that has not begun.

There were pretty many stories about St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary’s proposed reorganization of the county, a plan that would have combined many municipalities: Oakland and Glendale becoming part of Kirkwood, Rock Hill becoming part of Webster Groves. 1988 has not seen the end of that process, but it’s obvious that nothing ever became of the plan.

But there is one ongoing story, which begins in May 1986 and is still being discussed in December 1988, which has far and away more coverage than any other in these years. So far there are nearly 40 stories in the paper, and it shows little sign of letting up soon.

So here is a question to long-time Webster Groves residents: do you know what that story is? I’ll just float the question out there for a little while, and answer it soon. But I’m supposing someone will know . . .