This Bud’s for You – Nauvoo’s Budweiser Sign

If you travel Mulholland Street in Nauvoo, you will see a large Budweiser sign near the Mormon temple.

At the 2018 Untold Stories Symposium, I was delighted to learn more about this surprising landmark.

The sign dates to the early 1950s, as can be determined by the early form of the red bow, the distinctive font, and the title “King of Beers” rather than “King of Bottled Beers.”

Locals tell that the sign came about from a deal cut by Nauvoo’s Mayor. Each fall Nauvoo hosts a Grape Festival, a fantastic event which brings people from all over the region. The mayor asked Budweiser to send the iconic Clydesdales to participate in the Grape Festival Parade for a certain number of years. In exchange, the Mayor arranged for a large brick wall to host the painted sign. Budweiser’s artists traveled to Nauvoo to create the sign according to exacting standards.

For over sixty years the sign has greeted Nauvoo’s predominantly Catholic and German residents. It has become a core element of Nauvoo’s identity.

Enter the Mormon return to Nauvoo, culminating in the reconstruction of the Nauvoo temple. Teetotaling Mormons walked Mulholland Street and were jarred by the historic sign. “Why doesn’t someone get rid of that thing!” is no doubt a sentence that has been thought or said more than once.

But this isn’t just a painted sign in a small town. This Budweiser sign is the only remaining painted sign in all America that isn’t on Budweiser property. The Budweiser sign honors Nauvoo’s German heritage and the culture that has characterized Nauvoo since 1846.

Dottie’s Gets Auctioned

A while ago the store where the sign lives went up for auction. Mormon Matt Kennedy, owner of Nauvoo businesses including the Woodruff Hotel, pointed out the auction to his wife.

“You’re not thinking of buying Dottie’s!” Dena exclaimed.

“No, Matt replied. “But I do want to attend the auction.”

The Kennedy’s entered the hall where the auction was being held. The auctioneer cleared his throat and said, “Let’s start the bidding. Do I hear $25,000?”

The silence was painful. No one spoke as time stretched.

Matt looked at Dena, and she nodded. He raised his hand, and without ever planning it, Dottie’s was his.

Reaction

Shortly after the auction, Matt was in Duck’s to buy something. A woman came up to Matt.

“Are you the one who bought Dottie’s?”

When Matt nodded, the woman pled, “Please don’t paint over the Budweiser sign!”

As the days passed, Matt would overhear others in the city who didn’t know he was the new owner. “You heard about Dottie’s? Bought by a Mormon. Hear he’s going to paint over the sign.” Anger was clear.

As owners of the Woodruff Hotel, the Kennedys also heard from the Mormon tourists. “Who owns that shop? They should paint over that sign. It’s a disgrace!”

Some intrepid souls found out who owned the shop. Some of these came forward with offers to pay for all supplies and labor. Please, they pled, paint over that Budweiser sign.

But Matt couldn’t forget the woman in Duck’s. So he politely declined their offers.

The Phone Call 
[edited 2/12/18 per feedback from Matt Kennedy]

Then Dena answered the phone. “Matt,” she said, her voice strange. “It’s Church Headquarters.”

Matt took the phone.

“Is this Brother Kennedy?”

Matt said he was.

“This is the Church PR Department. We understand you own a bar.”

“Uh, no…”

Papers rustled. Matt offered, “I do own a store that used to be a bar. But that was years before I bought the place.”

“Ah. Is there a Budweiser sign on the side of your store?”

Matt thought about the woman in Duck’s. He thought about the men angrily speculating the sign would be overpainted by the new Mormon owner. The PR folks didn’t know what they were asking. He was going to refuse. But he cleared his throat and admitted he owned the store with the sign.

“We don’t want to give you the impression that we’re trying to influence you or that we’re trying to make a suggestion.  We are just wondering, of all the things you’re considering doing with that Budweiser sign could we kindly add one more thing for you to possibly consider?”

Matt braced himself.

They then said: “Would you consider not painting over the sign?”

Matt was surprised, and wondered for a brief moment if this was a friend joking with him.

They went on to explain:  “The church’s effort is to be good neighbors by blending into our communities wherever we are and to become a part of our communities…not to change or take over the community. In researching surrounding areas, Nauvoo is more and more getting the reputation of being a ‘Mormon’ town… and few things in Nauvoo can help beguile people of the impression that Nauvoo is only a Mormon town better than that big Budweiser sign right in the middle of town.”

Matt thanked the PR folks for calling and hung up.

Old Mortar

Alas, the bricks of that building are old. They are held together by mortar, rather than cement. The mortar is crumbling and will soon need to be redone.

But I’m hoping that when that day comes we’ll all be able to come together to help the Kennedy’s so they can restore the Budweiser sign when it comes time to fix the wall.

In the meantime, I’ll forever in future look at that sign with fondness. I’ll remember that Budweiser used to sell hot chocolate when beer was prohibited. I’ll remember the high-stepping Clydesdales clopping down Mulholland Street. I’ll remember a company created by Germans 1 that became so American that Americans don’t even think Budweiser is a German name anymore. And I’ll think of the German forebears of my future Nauvoo neighbors, their English a bit stilted since they’d grown up speaking German in Nauvoo, the most German-speaking town in all of Illinois before World War I. And I’ll remember Matt, prepared to defy Church headquarters only to find out they wanted the same thing he did, to preserve a heritage that Nauvoo holds dear.

Notes:

  1. Budweiser is produced by Anheuser-Busch. Both Everhard Anheuser and sin-in-law Adolphus Busch were born in Germany. However Anheuser was naturalized in 1848 before he got involved in the beer business and Busch was naturalized in 1867, after marrying Anheuser’s daughter and getting involved in the beer business.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

27 thoughts on “This Bud’s for You – Nauvoo’s Budweiser Sign

  1. Meg,
    I doubt the Church would have become involved in this, if they’d not had complaints/pleadings from Nauvooites to save this little bit of history in their town.

    During the 70’s, an old red brick building wall in our city came down in an earthquake. It was a delightful bit of history, with the quote ‘ “My people are the people of the dessert” said T.E. Lawrence, picking up his fork.’ written in large letters for all to see.
    I was so disappointed when the repaired wall was white, stucco, and boring.

    I like this sweet story with its happy ending. Thank you for posting.

  2. Hi Quiltstack,

    I’m not sure how the reported Church PR folks got their rustling stack of papers. That would be a story known to the PR folks, and they weren’t the ones giving the presentation. I could as easily see it coming from a busy body who was trying to get the Church to pressure the wall to get painted.

    Meanwhile, my presentation at Untold Stories explains how the Mormons may be why Nauvoo subsequently became so German. But more on that later.

  3. Fantastic post, Meg.
    At the time of the 2002 Olympics in SLC, Church HQ sent senior missionaries to my stake in Provo to counsel the members on how to interact with the non-members who would soon be arriving for the games, and they recommended that we all learn where alcohol was served in Provo/Orem in case someone asked us where they could go to get a drink. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that level of visible shock in a congregation before.

  4. Possibly Brother Kennedy could contact Budweiser and offer to let them restore the sign. They might be willing to foot the bill to re-mortar and repaint the wall.

  5. “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.”

    What evils have been wrought from the promotion, sale, and consumption of alcohol?
    Lives ruined, brains damaged, children cripled, women raped, abused. Violence. Destruction of families. Degredation of society. Damage across generations.

    Oh but it’s good as long as you don’t over indulge, we hear. It’s just cultural, social drinking responsibly.

    Here’s some wisdom for you. As a society, we are not even close to adapting our consumption of alcohol to the capacity of the weakest among us. And the fact that we’re marketing it’s sale means we’re targeting consumers to increase spending on it.

    There is no amount of social drinking, enjoyable times with friends, cultural iconography, or financial benefit that can ever outweigh the damage done when people get intoxicated.

    Telling me that they have a right and ought to drink responsibly is outrageous. The very act of consuming alcohol promotes more consumption, lower inhibitions among all and inevitably irresponsible, reckless and evil behavior in some significant percentage.

    That percentage is high enough that we ought not to become comfortable with the fact that so many children have been abused as a result of their loved ones turning over their agency to the drink.

    The promotion of alcohol is one of the great evils spoken of. Too bad (apparently) the members of church PR have spent more time in the world than in following Nephi’s example to shake at the very presence of sin.

    I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes and will yet make them. But I don’t encourage others to call that which it’s evil good.

  6. I was talking to a grandmother recently whose 7-year-old grandchild was raped and had been many times been brutally beaten by the mother’s boyfriend. The mother was high on drugs at that time and many other times. That is one of many instances of evil I personally aware of.

    But I feel your rage is out of proportion in this instance.

  7. Personal perspective can make a real difference in the outrage someone feels about an issue. I have known some people who would like to eliminate all mentions of wine from the Bible or who pretend that what is called wine was only fresh grape juice or some other fruit juice. Anyone who has lived in a relatively warm place without refrigeration knows that any juice becomes a mildly alcoholic drink within a day or so. Some active Mormons choose to believe that the reference to mild drinks found in the Word of Wisdom refers to mild beer and cider.
    I have read that there are those in Nauvoo who use distrust and suspicion of Mormons for their own political purposes. Many of the ancestors of current ‘gentile’ residents have lived in Nauvoo for as long as my ancestors have lived in Utah, and all of my ancestors arrived before the railroad. For many in the region Nauvoo is known for its vineyards and wineries. Even before the Nauvoo temple was restored the area had become a magnet for Mormons. Although it is nowhere near as dramatic as the return of the Jews to Israel and the backlash by the Palestininans, there are mild similarities. I would not be surprised if the leaders of the Church are willing to distinguish between an advertisement and a landmark. Building bridges between neighbors instread of nourishing the fears of nervous natives seems a worthy goal. From what Meg has written, it seems she wants to be a part of reconciliation, and some of her ancestors suffered in Nauvoo at the hands of those who might be the forebears of current residents.

  8. Luke 16:6-12.

    This may be along the lines of advertising in the Book of Mormon Musical’s playbill, like making lemonade out of lemons. Something greater may result.

    “The book is always better” line in the church’s BoMM playbill ad was genius… sheer genius.

  9. What if the 1950’s sign on the red brick wall in Nauvoo had been a cigarette advertisement? I’m sure it would have been painted over many years ago, without complaint, even though alcohol causes far more harm to society that cigarettes. Why the double standard?

  10. Interesting thought, as I was just at a viewing from someone who died of cancer, where the suspected caused it was her parents smoking.

    You are putting forth a hypothetical, then supposing that as a result of this hypothetical there is some double standard.

    Perhaps if Nauvoo was famous for its tobacco fields, a cigarette sign would be a treasured landmark. But Nauvoo is known for her grapes, not for her tobacco fields.

  11. Hi Gary,

    Next time you are in Nauvoo, you can chat with Matt Kennedy. Perhaps it was just a buddy pulling Matt’s chain. But I doubt it.

  12. What evils have been wrought from the *legal prohibition of* the promotion, sale, and consumption of alcohol?
    Lives ruined, *skyrocketing crime*, children crippled, women raped, abused. Violence. Destruction of families. Degradation of society. Damage across generations.

    There you go, ABaltie. I fixed that for you. And before you start walking it back with how you never said it should be illegal, I’ll just quote you here, too:

    “Telling me that they have a right and ought to drink responsibly is outrageous.”

    Are you sure?

  13. I have found the foregoing article and associated comments quite interesting. Thank you for your respective insights and perspectives. As I read the article and comments I couldn’t help but think about what is happening in our country right now with Confederate landmarks being torn down in the name of political correctness or as a statement against a certain past. At least this is my understanding and it may be incorrect.

    Everyone knows that slavery was a horrible crime against humanity. The Southern or Confederate icons do serve as a reminder of this past, as well as many other aspects of Southern culture. Certainly the concentration camps of Germany serve as a reminder of another horrible crime against humanity, the Holocaust.

    In my opinion, based on limited knowledge of the areas cultural past, it seems the Budweiser sign is a reminder of the areas historical past and preserving it is not a support of promotion of the product, but rather a gesture of tolerance for one’s ancestral past.

  14. Sometimes, it is no longer an advertisement, but a bit of heritage and history. Muslims blowing up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan because it was against their views of God, is the same problem. Tourists often do not appreciate local heritage. Every small town has a museum across the USA. For many, these are full of boring artifacts that have nothing to do with them. But for the locals, it is the story of their grandfathers and grandmothers.
    Imagine Mormon grief when the original Nauvoo Temple was desecrated and torn down by people who indignantly hated Mormonism, and did their actions out of belief in traditional Christianity.
    I agree with the thought that Budweiser should be invited to restore the landmark, and perhaps put up a historic heritage sign next to it, explaining it is the last Budweiser sign of its kind on private property.
    While there is alcohol abuse that occurs, it is not Budweiser’s fault. People were drinking heavily during Prohibition, when Budweiser made hot chocolate.

  15. Ummmm, Budweiser began as an American company, in America: St. Louis, Missouri. It was not a German company that became American.

  16. Christian, you are correct that Americans began the company but there was a time in America when people with names like Budweiser changed their names to avoid unwelcome attention particularly during WWI.

  17. I understand what you are both saying, but the author makes this statement in the last paragraph, and I’m pointing out that it is an incorrect statement:

    “I’ll remember a German company that became so American that Americans don’t even think Budweiser is a German name anymore.”

  18. Modified wording slightly and added a footnote. Budweiser beer (beer of Budweis) has been brewed since 1245 since the town Budweis was so-named by King Ottokar II of Bohemia.

    Adolphus Busch and his partner developed the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser in 1876 after visiting the region around Budweis. It is true that Busch was a naturalized US citizen by that point.

  19. But you’re not a stripper, like the lady who is Gospel Essentials teacher in her ward,

    It means God and His church love you.

  20. I served in the mission field with a companion whose father worked as a legal counsel for AB. Besides the awkwardness of disposing of Christmas gift-cases of beer, it appeared to affect his church membership not one whit.

    One of the areas of my mission was a Nevada casino bordertown, in which one of the casinos was the multi-generational family business of the 2nd counselor in the branch presidency.

    Man, it’s almost like God loves us or something.

    Wait. Paul, your last name isn’t Munsen, is it?

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