a baedeker of sorts

by John Bellairs
May 8, 1959, Scholastic #22

In my callow (this is not a misprint of either sallow or tallow) youth, four years ago this month, I was waiting to be admitted to this Cathedral of Learning. In the months prior to my acceptance, my mail consisted mainly of Gilbert's blotters and browser cards (which entitle one to a free pluck at the material of an Ivy League suit). However, in the midst of this torrent of commercialism, I found a soothing oasis in the form of the "Facts for Freshmen" manual, which introduced me to campus life in a tone of carefree and mischievous humor usually found only in the pages of "The Hardy Boys at Miserly Old Mr. Crimp's Farm." The one fault I can find in this journalistic touchstone is its peripheral and sparse treatment of the metropolis which lies at our feet as an ermine-covered footstool rests at the feet of an enthroned empress-South Bend. I have decided, therefore, to call upon the Handmaid of the Muses (who comes in twice a week to clean the room) to give me the power to aptly present South Bend to the unwary freshman. Here, then, is the Official Bellairs Guide to South Bend and Environs with Appropriate Remarks and Snappy Dialogue.


History: In 1751, a deserter from the French and Indian Army named Beeg Pierre LeBourgeois wondered lost and hungry by the southernmost bend of the St. Joseph River (known to the local Indians as Ummeukkeblaha or Brown-Water-With-Smell-That-Kills). At this place he met a group of Indians who lived on the shores of the river as part of a three-year ordeal required by the tribe of all those who sought manhood. Pierre was taken in by the kindly (and by then somewhat demented) aborigines, on condition that he play a hand of chemin-de-fer with them to see who would get the land on which they were camped. Pierre lost, and when he found himself in possession of this vast tract of wooded marshland he decided to found South Bend out of sheer boredom. The human detritus of wagon trains and scalping parties gradually gathered at this rude frontier town, which slowly grew to be a rude Midwestern town of some size. In the 1850's this city was the storm center for a violent dispute between Illinois and Ohio over the possession of Indiana. Illinois said that if Ohio did not take Indiana it (Ohio) would not be allowed to be carved out of the Northwest Territory. Ohio kicked its foot petulantly (quite a sight in those days) and refused. Eventually the Hoosier State was forced to fend for itself since its sister states would not adopt it, but it got even by becoming the most thoroughly Midwestern state in the country-mainly due to South Bend's gem-like mediocrity.

General information: South Bend, pop. 115,900 (except during football week ends and pea-shucking bees) lies (sullenly, on might imagine) in the elbow-bend of the St. Joe River as undigested food lies at the bottom of one's stomach. It contains the Flimset Bundle Factory (their motto: When bigger bundles are bumb-bibber blubbers-oh well), the Collapsible Thumbtack Works, and the Adobe Land Flattening Works.


Many places have become known to students for their wide assortment of wares, courteous and prompt service, and all-around nice attitude. Among these are:

The Old Traditional Candy Shoppe, whose fine assortment of expensively-packaged jellybeans has delighted N.D. students from the time of the Gipper to the present. Students have long thrilled to the Old-World charm which is reflected in the attitude of the delightfully surly manager and the quaintly inefficient clerks. The high point of the year at this approved "hang-out" is the raffling off of a 634 pound brown sugar statue of Knute Rockne which glows in the dark (until eaten).

The Crotchety Notions Shop, operated by Miss Wenceslava Bozny, who has for years sold those little things which one would not expect to find in a store, among them being rug-hooking hooks, Balaclava helmets, and Victorian lampshades. In Miss Bozny's shop I marveled at my inability to buy anything worthwhile and at the sweet old lady's inability to speak anything but East Latvian. But that is part of the charm of a cosmopolitan city.

The Oat Room, a plush but popular restaurant, has been a favorite dining place for years. The red damask upholstery and crystal chandeliers are pleasantly set off by the overalls-clad patrons who staunchly refuse to shed their badge of honest toil. At an adjacent table, for instance, one may find Farmer Fodderbin munching a chaw of Mail Pouch while snapping his galluses in time with the music of the organist. These folks, with their air of soil-rooted sturdiness, give a homy quality to any fancy eating place.

It was at this very restaurant that I overheard a fascinating dialogue which brought home to me the steel-like discipline and unflinching morality of the city's restauranteurs. Allow me to reconstruct this scene.

Place: The Oat Room Cocktail Lounge

Time: 7 p.m.

(Enter a youngish salesman from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., carrying his briefcase. He sits at a table and a waitress demurely approaches. Her tone of voice is like that of a flophouse keeper turning out some deadbeats.)

Waitress: I-D, BUDDY!

Salesman (tremulously): Well, here's my draft card and my...

Waitress: (same tone, a little lower): I mean yer Noter Dame I-D, kid.

Salesman (flinching): But I'm not a student here. I...

Waitress (sarcastically): Just passing through? From New York? You gotta do better than that, kid, now either...

Salesman (on the point of tears): Please, Madam...

And so it went. But it is a comfort to know that youthful drinkers are being thwarted.


Myers notes that in this article John mentions a Beeg Pierre. "For a brief period that was his slightly condescending conversation shorthand for anything Canadian. For instance Beeg Pierre would be the author of the Great Canadian Novel. Or if a Canadian movie came under discussion, it would be made by the Beeg Pierre Movie Company. Nothing earthshaking here. As they say, you had to be there.

"It seems to me that John could have done a better job in slamming South Bend than he actually did, but that article is characteristic of our lack of affection for the place. Needless to say, Illinois and Ohio never had a dispute over who would have to take over Indiana. It is true, however, that in the early 19th Century Ohio & Michigan almost had a war over possession of Toledo (Ohio must have lost)."

The column was reprinted in the December 15, 1961, edition of the Scholastic.