St. Joseph is a city that takes pride in its famous and historic figures. It's a city that boasts the birth of the Pony Express and the death of Jesse James. It's a place Walter Cronkite and Jane Wyman once called home. Coleman Hawkins has been immortalized with a bronze statue on Felix Street. Heck, some football fans would even argue that Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder is the most notable person from our fair town.
Um, what about Eminem?
Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born in St. Joseph in 1972, yet there's no Slim Shady Museum downtown. He lived in public housing and attended middle school in Savannah, Mo., as a child, but there are no records of it. The time Mathers spent in the area may be one of St. Joseph's greatest mysteries.
Andy Standley had heard that Mathers once lived at Cedar Tree Apartments in Savannah, where Standley grew up and graduated from high school, but he was still stupefied when Mathers stopped at Miller's General Store on Highway 71 in June. Standley was working at the cash register when two bodyguards stepped out of a black Cadillac Escalade with Michigan plates. The men asked Standley if there was a bathroom in the store and then signaled for Mathers to enter. Standley knew who it was the second he stepped in the door.
"It's pretty cool to see someone whose music you've listened to your whole life when you're working. It just blew my mind," Standley recalls.
Standley says Mathers bought some chips and drinks and asked him where the "old middle school" was. After Mathers returned to his car, an assistant gave Standley a signed photo that read: "Andy - Nice meetin' ya! Appreciate the love homie!"
Standley immediately called the other Miller's General Store location and spread the news. He was so excited that he told every customer that came in afterward. Only later did he discover Mathers was born in St. Joseph. He can't believe Eminem's St. Joseph roots aren't publicized more.
"I think he should get more respect here. I honestly think he deserves it," Standley says.
Many Joetowners, however, would argue that Eminem's image is nothing for the city to take pride in. After all, we're talking about a rapper who created an entire song about brutally killing his ex-wife. Several Eminem songs demean women, and he has verbally attacked his own mother and the homosexual community as well.
Yet St. Joseph embraces Jesse James, a largely immoral and dangerous outlaw who married his cousin. Sure, James lived in a different time, but many of his actions were more despicable than Eminem's foul-mouthed lyrics.
"People here who don't prefer Eminem's persona could ask, 'Why are we glorifying a bank robber who killed people?'" says Tina Phillips, manager of Record Wear House in St. Joseph.
Beth Conway, communications director for the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it's not an image issue. The Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn't publicize the fact that St. Joseph is Eminem's birthplace because Mathers didn't leave any kind of significant impact on the area.
"From what I understand, he didn't spend a lot of time here and there's really nothing to promote," Conway says.
Mathers shuffled back and forth between St. Joseph, Savannah, Kansas City and Detroit before making his permanent home in Warren, Mich., just before attending high school. Admittedly, he was only a child when he lived here.
But so was Walter Cronkite. His family left St. Joseph when he was a young boy. Cronkite lived in Kansas City until he was 10, before moving to Houston, where he attended middle school and high school prior to enrolling at the University of Texas in Austin.
And Coleman Hawkins left St. Joseph before attending high school in Chicago and, by his own account, attending Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.
Jesse James lived in St. Joseph for only a few months before his death. Neither James, Cronkite or Hawkins earned any kind of fame or widespread recognition while living in St. Joseph, so it's difficult to understand why anyone would hold it against Mathers.
Eminem has won nine Grammy Awards, sold more albums than any other artist this decade (more than 75 million worldwide) and established himself as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Why wouldn't St. Joseph want to claim him?
"If you go around the world and tell people 'I'm from Eminem's hometown,' they'll assume you're from Detroit," Phillips says.
Maybe St. Joe has never proudly claimed Slim Shady because he hasn't claimed St. Joe. Mathers has always considered Detroit his home. That's where he entered the world of rap as he participated in freestyle battles. And let's be honest, coming from 8 Mile Road in a criminal's Utopia gave him more career cred than boasting about mean streets like Messanie, Sylvanie and Lover's Lane.
"I understand why he hasn't owned up to St. Joe. For a rapper, it's 'cooler' to come from Detroit," Conway says.
Phillips says that if Mathers extended the olive branch to St. Joseph, the city would kindly return the favor. "I think if he donated money and time to organizations locally, if he was doing things for us, I think we would promote him more."
Then again, we could do our part. Mathers' recent visit to Savannah clearly indicates that he still feels some kind of connection to the area. Maybe his childhood home can't be transformed into a landmark, but if he saw a billboard that read "St. Joseph: Birthplace of Eminem" or caught wind of another Eminem look-alike contest at the Mardi Gras Parade on his next visit, he might give St. Joe a little love.
Besides, Mathers lived in a $4.8 million home a few years ago. He's probably not too worried about his street cred anymore.