No love for Cherry Sisters

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Yet again, there was no love for the Cherry Sisters.

More than a century ago, Marion’s hometown vaudeville act endured the jeers of its audiences, the poison pens of its newspaper critics and, usually, a hail of overripe produce during its performances. Now, its been flatly panned by the Marion City Council.

I doubt they’d be all that surprised. I wasn’t.

I figured as much a couple of weeks ago when I pitched the sisters as a namesake for Marion’s new art alley just off Seventh Avenue in the Uptown district. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson floated the idea and I jumped aboard. The county was the lead donor in the alley’s fundraising campaign, so Oleson had a voice in the naming process.

But four council members, Will Brandt, Kim Etzel, David Nicholson and Mayor Nick AbouAssaly expressed a preference for the bland moniker “Uptown Artway” at the group’s Tuesday evening meeting. Council members Paul Draper, Mary Lou Pazour and Joe Spinks backed Pazour’s bid for “Alley Katz,” a more inspired nomination in honor of Bert and Henry Katz, community pillars and famed philanthropists who got their start founding what became Marion Iron.

The Cherry Sisters received no votes.

“I’m definitely for Alley Katz, if only because of the things these brothers have given to Marion,” Pazour told the council.

“And mainly, Mr. Dorman, I just think the Cherry Sisters, after reading your article, and about the review that was in the (Des Moines) paper, it has to be the worst act that ever hit a stage and I think to name it after that, we better have more than one cannon pointed that way,” Pazour said.

Wait, a cannon? I’ve seen many, many of my ideas shot down over the years, but never with an actual cannon.

In my defense, as someone in my line of work, I simply saw the Cherry Sisters as a good story. There’s drama, fame, infamy, comedy, tragedy and history wrapped up in their tale. They may have been the worst ever, but it was sheer badness that led them to play a starring role in First Amendment history. Expressing journalistic disdain for the sisters prompted the Iowa Supreme Court to make constitutional space for broader free expression.

The alley, which celebrates artistic expression, could have been a place to tell that story.

The council, however, wasn’t having it. Uptown Artway, it was argued, is more straightforward. “I like the Uptown Artway, it describes what it is,” Etzel said.

It is, by the way, an alley.

The Cherry Sisters, it seemed, would be too tough to explain. Spinks said he’d support any name, unless it involved the Cherry Sisters.

“I’m not totally opposed, but I don’t love it, either,” said the always diplomatic AbouAssaly of the Cherry Sisters idea.

The Katz brothers should have their names on something in Marion, but perhaps something else, council members contended.

But, above all, there was a lack of enthusiasm among council members for expressing any preference at all.

“Whatever it is, we’ll learn to live with it,” AbouAssaly said.

So true.

And as for the Cherry Sisters, it’s still apparently too soon for a second act. Want love? Check back next century.

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