Reader misses weathervane atop Hecht's store

Monday, October 17, 2005

Q: What happened to the "weathervane" that looked like a sailing ship that used to perch atop the roof of the beautiful old Hecht's store in downtown Cape?

--Elsie Miller, Cape Girardeau.

A: "We had a major windstorm back in the fall before we closed, and we had some slate that blew off the roof onto the sidewalk. The next day I noticed the vane was missing," said Dan Elkins, former president of Hecht's. "The assumption is that it blew off during the storm. I climbed up and looked for it on the lower roof line, thinking it might have fallen there, because it was heavy and not likely to go far. If it blew to the street, someone could have picked it up.

"I doubt someone stole it," Elkins said. "It was tall, a good 3-4 feet in height and solid. It's a relic, definitely, from when the building was built in 1927. It was original with the building, designed by architect Thomas P. Barnett."

Q: A patient with swimmer's ear recently asked me if I knew that the age of whales could be determined by the amount of built-up ear wax. Is that true?"

-- Dr. Michael Wulfers, Cape Girardeau

A: "In fact, observing the size of the ear wax plug is about the only way to determine age in baleen whales, which do not have teeth," Capt. Craig S. Nelson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained on his Web site, which a few years ago charted the travels of his ship, the Malcolm Baldridge, around the world. "Waxy deposits, or plugs of wax, build up inside the ears of whales (just as waxy deposits build up inside your ears or mine), and the size of these deposits generally corresponds to the age of the whale (i.e., the larger the wax deposit, the older the whale, generally speaking.

"Age determination in the toothed whales and dolphins is easier, because the teeth are built up in layers," explained the captain.

According to other Web sites, the ear wax thickens in distinct layers each year -- two layers for the fin whale, while the humpback whale appears to add four layers of ear wax per year. Unfortunately, the ear plug can't be extracted while the whale is alive, so study is limited.

Q: Is it true that you met your wife on an Internet dating service?

A: No. Not true, although you're not the first person to wonder. My wife, who is from Belarus, and I met at church here in Cape Girardeau. At the time, she was a student working on her American degree at Southeast Missouri State University. Active with the Methodist Wesley Center, she had been invited to serve as interpreter for two Russian ministers visiting Cape LaCroix Church. Because I had studied Russian as an undergraduate and lived and worked in Moscow years before, I was invited to be a host for the ministers during part of their visit. That's where we met.

To this day, my wife laughs at my pick-up line. Finishing the day with the ministers, I asked her if I could take Russian lessons to brush up on my language skills. She scrawled her number on the back of an envelope, and the rest is history.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian. If you have a question, e-mail factorfiction@semissourian.com or call Speak Out (334-5111) and identify your call as a question for "Fact or Fiction?"

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