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Stan Kann: showman of showtunes and vacuum cleaners

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 30, 2008 - Stan Kann died yesterday afternoon (Sept. 29, 2008). I was, ironically, running the vacuum cleaner when my friend John called with the news. Honest!

There were many facets to Stan Kann. He was a showman, a raconteur, an organ virtuoso, an aficionado of vintage automobiles and a collector and historian of vintage vacuum cleaners. That's where I came in. It was through a shared enthusiasm for the last of those endeavors that I had the good fortune to come to know Stan a very little, but precious bit over the past several years.

As Stan was, I have been fascinated by vacuum cleaners since earliest childhood. I, as did Stan, have been slowly building a collection of careful restorations and original machines. But what began for me in the mid 1960s began for Stan in the early 1930s. His collection fully reflects both the depth of his love for vacuum cleaners and the singular breadth of the decades he devoted to their collection.

Dozens of cleaners with production dates ranging from circa 1910 to 1950 inhabit his South St. Louis basement. Upright vacuums by such manufacturers as Hoover, Kirby, Singer and Air-Way make up most of Stan's army. The screen-printed and embroidered graphics on their fabric bags are strikingly elegant. Their construction is substantial and refined. Their overall designs are innovative time capsules of an era filled with the promise of modernism. It is a collection that deserves to be preserved, intact, both to do honor to the man that created it and as a historical document.

Stan was not a tall fellow in physical stature, but his personality and wit lit up whatever room you were fortunate enough to share with him. An evening's banter would include tales on end of his antic career with Charlotte Peters of local television fame, his years in Los Angeles, and his love of music and playing the organ at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Grand Center.

One of his favorite stories was about a beknickered St. Louis boy taking a springtime stroll along his tree-lined street, listening to and correctly identifying the brand and model of a neighbor's vacuum as heard through open windows.

"Oh, and by the way, Mrs. Smith, I believe you will find that you need a new belt on your Hoover." And, sure enough, she did!

They really don't make 'em like that anymore - vacuums or their fanciers.

TUESDAY: Radio personality John Carney will devote his radio program to Stan Kann tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 30) from 8 to 11 p.m. on KMOX Radio (1120 AM). The show will features reminiscences by such celebrities as Fox Theatre impresario Mary Strauss, the legendary sound engineer Bob Heil, comedian Phyllis Diller, singer Marty Bronson, and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mike Peters, son of Kann's television co-star Charlotte Peters. John Carney will also play vintage interviews with Kann conducted by him and his late father, Jack Carney.

SUNDAY: A memorial service for Mr. Kann will be Sunday, at 2 p.m., at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.

Martin Kaplan is office manager of the St. Louis Beacon. He reported recently on the 100th anniversary of the Hoover Co., and on the annual convention of the Vacuum Cleaner Collectors' Club in North Canton, Ohio, the Hoover Co.'s home. 

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