Meet the Saugets
July 18, 2013 7:57 PM   Subscribe

"We were basically incorporated to be a sewer." The small village of Monsanto, Illinois was incorporated in 1926 to be a low-regulated tax haven for Monsanto Company's chemical plants. These days it's named Sauget, after the family which runs virtually every aspect of it—its real estate, its minor league baseball team (which plays on Sauget Field), and several of its nightclubs, of which there are so many that they are collectively known as the Sauget Ballet. The town's pollution has led to numerous lawsuits, and inspired the song Sauget Wind by alt-country group Uncle Tupelo.

"I don't ever think about it," says Richard's wife Judee Sauget, "Moviemaker, Patron, Saint", and inventor of the pepper spray necklace.
posted by Rory Marinich (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're completely taking that "I don't ever think about it" quote out of context, Rory. Judee Sauget was saying she "doesn't ever think about" the fact that the town is named after the family. Sure, she sounds a bit blithe there, but that quote is absolutely not responding to any kind of question about the town's pollution or lawsuits.

Full disclosure: I work for the magazine that ran that piece, and in fact copy-edited that piece. But that's why I can say, I'm very familiar with the piece and I know for a fact that you're taking that quote out of context.
posted by limeonaire at 8:20 PM on July 18, 2013 [19 favorites]

Oh, sorry! I didn't intend that to sound like a response to the pollution bit. I meant it to refer to the whole "this town is named after your family" thing. Dumb editing on my part.

(Actually, Judee's movies sounded pretty interesting.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:22 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

While the little towns around it are marked by crime, shuttered factories, burned-out buildings and trash-strewn streets, Sauget boasts clean parks, neat homes and beautifully maintained roads.... Sauget has no downtown to dress up, no chamber of commerce. It has done nothing to try to attract new housing or a Wal-Mart.

Not what one would expect from a sewer, but no Wal-Mart would seem to confirm that it is nothing like a waste dump.
posted by three blind mice at 8:35 PM on July 18, 2013

Beyond my initial thoughts: Obviously Sauget has some problems—but it's not like they're paving that over. The "We were basically incorporated to be a sewer" quote was spoken by none other than the village's president, Richard Sauget Jr., and you probably would have done well to attribute that, Rory—it certainly would've taken some of the sensationalism out of this post.

I mean, God, I never thought I'd find myself defending the town of Sauget, but this post definitely could've been more considered. For instance, I've lived in St. Louis all my life and never heard anyone refer to the string of nightclubs as the "Sauget Ballet," however notorious the East Side clubs might be. That feels like a one-off Urban Dictionary hit to me.

The interesting part of all of this, to me, isn't really the Sauget dynasty itself, though I guess that's fascinating in a look-at-this-small-town kind of way. (I do think Judee Sauget herself is an interesting person; I enjoyed reading that interview, beyond the fact that I edited it.) I just think the pollution is really the key item of interest, and the most timely thing about this, given the current worldwide protests against Monsanto. I can't find a citation right now, but I believe there are attics all over that area that have been tested and found to have polluted dust that's settled over the years.

Anyway, I think you would've done well, Rory, to focus this post a bit better. But it's interesting stuff, once you get beyond the framing.
posted by limeonaire at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

The "Sauget Ballet" bit was referenced in the original article as well, and found its way onto the Wikipedia page which was where I first encountered it.

I wasn't thinking much of this as a post-about-Monsanto, though I came across the town first as a mention in a book I was looking through about the problems East St. Louis faces, as one of a number of towns set up by corporations to house industrial plants. I was just fascinated by the town history, and by how much this one family controls within the town; I also loved the statistic that something like 1 in 16 people there are firefighters.

It was just an unusual town, that's all. I put in all the things I thought were interesting. Odds are I wouldn't have mentioned the pollution lawsuits if they weren't connected to that Uncle Tupelo song; my thought process was more "this is cool" than "this town is heavily polluted."
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:44 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a PDF of the results of that study of attic dust in that area containing PCBs and dioxins/furans, in case that's interesting. I don't remember how I found it to begin with, but...yeah. It's pretty depressing.
posted by limeonaire at 8:52 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked in a factory down there back in the late 80's while taking some time off college. It was, uh, interesting. The scary part was that I think that almost every operation down there had, as part of their business model, the notion that they could dump god knows what into the river and Monsanto would get blamed for it.

I especially liked that, after the EPA people showed up, they sent me a letter explaining their concern for the environment, as if I didn't spend 40 hours a week in their factory and have a pretty good idea of how horrible their compliance was.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:23 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

limeonaire, my father is a cop in the St. Louis suburbs, and a life-long resident of north STL county, and he has referred to the Sauget Ballet before. So it is a thing. But I didn't know that the town was so closely tied to Monsanto.
posted by honeybee413 at 9:25 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Hmmm, secondary copper facilities. That sounds vaguely familiar", he said, pretending to be coy.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:26 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I heard of the Sauget Ballet long before I moved to STL in 2005, so here's another piece of anecdotal evidence confirming the veracity of that term. In fact, I heard it in 1991 while in college, as I asked a friend of mine about a former associate of ours who dropped out after her freshman year to return to her hometown of Fairview Heights, IL. Said associate was rumored to have taken up dancing at PT's, a long-standing member of the "Ballet."

. o O {I wonder if the Windsor Ballet can sue Sauget for copyright infringement?}
posted by stannate at 9:40 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends did an internship at the chemical plant there in the late '70s and told me horror stories of the ground pollution surrounding it. Also, love the Uncle Tupelo. It might be worth pointing out for those unaware that Uncle Tupelo begat both Wilco and Son Volt.
posted by DaddyNewt at 10:51 PM on July 18, 2013

Somebody tell George Saunders about this town!
posted by mrhappy at 11:06 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed this quote from Judee Sauget: "I’ve killed most of the plants!"
posted by violette at 2:33 AM on July 19, 2013

This must be where Budweiser gets its water. I read about how August Busch IV used to party in the bars here since the laws were so lax people could do lines of coke and whatever openly and no one cared. In 1985, he was coming home across the bridge and got into a car chase with police and was accused of trying to run over two cops with his Mercedes. Busch claimed he thought they were attempting to kidnap him. He was acquitted by a St. Louis jury (of course).
posted by stbalbach at 7:18 AM on July 19, 2013

Sometimes I don't know what I'm breathing for...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2013

Thanks for the post. I grew up in the metro east but had never heard 'Sauget ballet.'

Also, just a few miles to the north of Sauget are the remains of the Chemtco plant, and now superfund site. And all of this right next to the largest archaeological site (and one of the 8 cultural World Heritage sites in the US) in the United States.
posted by Mr Mister at 2:17 PM on July 19, 2013

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