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Town's Barbed Wire Choir Gives a Rap to Create a Stir

May 06, 1987|DEBORAH CHRISTENSEN

--With an unemployment rate surpassing 18%, the southern Illinois town of Flora wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to make its pitch as the site of a proposed $41-million, medium-security state prison, with 400 prospective jobs and a $10-million payroll. So the town fathers put their heads--and their voices--together and produced a rap-style album and video touting their quest. Mayor Charles Overstreet and Police Chief Willie Thompson were just two of the officials who formed the Barbed Wire Choir, rapping out "Is we is or is we isn't gonna get ourselves a prison?" The video was released nationwide, prompting a town-wide celebration that included a parade in which the Flora High School band marched in black-and-white-striped, prison-style uniforms. Producer Martin Lewis presented Overstreet with a platinum record of the song and said he hoped it would sell a million copies, "but if you don't, you've given America a million laughs." Michael Lane, director of the state Department of Corrections, has delayed a decision on a site for the prison pending action on Gov. James R. Thompson's proposed tax increase.

--Bellhop Simone (Sam) Cascio "looks like a pack mule" when he crosses the lobby of the Chicago Hilton with both hands full and bags strapped to his back. Guests and fellow employees have been admiring Cascio's energetic style for the last 60 years. And at 89, he says he's not ready to give up the job he's held since 1927, when the hotel opened as the Stevens. Cascio has carried the bags of the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Babe Ruth, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley--the list goes on. Says Bill Charnota, 60, who has worked alongside Cascio for 40 years: "He's still handling bags like a 25-year-old kid." His only concession to age has been to reduce his workweek to four days. "You don't retire as long as you can go," Cascio said. "You just keep on going."

--Paul Heffernen thinks he's got the championship in the bag--literally. Heffernen, 24, who took the top prize in last year's All-American Grocery Sack Pack-Off, is one of two finalists for this year's title. To qualify, he packed 39 pounds of groceries, including eggs, light bulbs, canned dog food and potato chips, in a record 36 seconds. Heffernen, who has been bagging groceries in Cresco, Iowa, for eight years, will square off against Peggy Weidner, 19, of Shippenville, Pa., a relative newcomer who said she has only been at it for a year. The final competition for the 1987 crown was to be aired today on NBC's "Today" show.

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