Key to the City bridges peace gap between counties

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Guest Columnist

In 2018, I was awarded the KEY TO THE CITY.

It was an honor to receive the KEY TO THE CITY from the City of Jasper, my adopted hometown, but, ultimately, it has proven not to be that big of a deal.  

But still . . .

KEY TO THE CITY. Yes, I got one.

It was no big deal in the sense that, to this day, no personal perks have resulted. The city street department still refuses to remove a trash bag from my curb if I don’t affix a $1.50 sticker to it. On the first Thursday following the award, it was humbling to return home from work in the evening only to find the trash bag still in my front yard. From KEY TO THE CITY to trash pickup reject. Obviously, the street department did not read the mayor’s memo about my KEY TO THE CITY.

Only once have I experienced the KEY TO THE CITY’S power. At Siebert’s Clothing Store, Jim Siebert humbly dropped to one knee and said, “Your royal eminence.” Although he was likely joking, it felt good to have someone bow in my presence, and I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t fantasize about Jim remaining on his knee long enough for me to demand a cup of hot tea and place the cup’s saucer on his head while I slowly savored each sip. A free tie would’ve been nice. Just saying.

The KEY TO THE CITY was a surprise, mainly because then mayor Terry Seitz presented it to me despite him fully knowing I was, by birthright, a “river rat,” the nickname that Jasper people have long called Tell City people. Tell Citians, in turn, call Jasper people “krauts.” These nicknames are meant as insults; however, I take pride in my river rat moniker, my tie to the great Ohio River.

Historically, river rats and krauts weren’t supposed to get along. We were rivals. Some say it had to do with high school sports in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, even though the rivalry actually started long before the IHSAA existed. According to our fifth-grade text book, Southern Indiana History (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972): “ . . . during the great Battle of Fulda Shortcut (1820), during which opposing citizen militias representing the counties of Dubois and Perry, did square off midpoint of the shortcut (later renamed Spencer County Expressway) in a bitter dispute over the ownership of toll collections generated at each end of the great Perry County / Dubois County connector road. On the west side of the roadway stood Tell City-based militia donned in red and white. Directly across the road stood a contingent of Jasper-based militia wearing black and gold. Verbal volleys of “kraut” and “river rat” fractured the otherwise quietude of the Fulda wilderness. From the Tell City side, primitive sling shots were used to launch Tell City Pretzels, the hardest manmade substance of the time, at Jasper forces, who, in turn, returned fire with flaming bratwurst— so many cluster bratwurst bombs were shot from rudimentary-designed catapults that witnesses recalled the bluest of blue afternoon skies turning midnight dark. Three Jasper troops experienced pretzel concussions and there also occurred ample tooth loss. One Tell City patriot died when a flying, flaming bratwurst was lodged in his esophagus. By nightfall both armies passed out from excessive spirits intake, a commonality still plaguing these otherwise differing cities.” (Historical Footnote: Eventually, The Hague Conventions banned Tell City Pretzels as ammunition during battle. The resulting great pretzel stockpile was soon discovered to be the perfect partner for beer and is still considered by many to be a snack favorite.)

The bravest thing I did as a young man was to make a permanent move to Jasper when The Herald offered me a job (apparently the Tell City News was a stickler for journalistic integrity). The second bravest thing I did (and still do) was (is) return to Tell City. You have no idea how much razzing I still get from former classmates, family, and other acquaintances anytime the topic of my Jasper residency comes up, even though I have lived in Jasper for 30 years now. It makes me nervous to even turn the ignition in my car when in Tell City. I have considered asking my mom to start my car while I stand 100 yards away. You just never know.

Of course, my Tuesday night euchre buddies — most are krauts — never allow me to live down my geographical roots, despite my possession of the KEY TO their CITY, and despite my otherwise Tuesday night dominance due to what they disdainfully refer to as my “Perry County style” of euchre play (how they hate when, as a defensive move, I order trump when I don’t even have any trump in my hand just to possibly stop an opponent’s lone).

Obviously, I’m not the first person to receive Jasper’s KEY TO THE CITY, but I’m likely the first river rat. Perhaps then Mayor Seitz bestowed it to me as a symbolic bridge (or shortcut) designed to end “our troubles” and inspire peace between river rats and krauts. Maybe the KEY TO THE CITY will eventually unlock for me a Nobel Peace Prize. If not a street, maybe I’ll at least get an alleyway named after me. I’ll still likely have to pay for trash pickup though.

Contact Scott Saalman at

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