Thursday, July 12, 2012

Key's Cafe and Times Beach

Key's Cafe was a well known and popular eatery in our area visited by both the locals and those traveling the historic old Route 66. Unfortunate circumstances closed not only this well liked landmark but the entire town of Times Beach (where the cafe was located) in 1983.  Once home to more than two thousand people, the town was completely evacuated due to dioxin contamination that made national headlines. It was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in the country's history. What was Times Beach is now the Route 66 State Park. 

Read more about the ill fated town of Times Beach by clicking here. 

If you read the above link then you know all about a man named Russell Bliss who was accused of spraying dioxin contaminated oil on numerous locations in our area, one of them being the land surrounding his own home.  This dioxin contamination was responsible for the disruption of  many peoples lives, their future health issues and extreme taxpayer expense.   

Russell Bliss happened to be one of my neighbors for many years. The Bliss family lived just down the road from me.  The Bliss children went to the same school as my daughter. Trails surrounding their property were some of our neighborhood's regular places to go for hikes.  I must admit I have wondered if this contaminated soil had anything to do with my having Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  

Linking to:

POSTSCRIPT added 7-13-2012

Based on some of the comments received I feel I should add the following. 

 I agree this was a terrible legacy for both the town of Times Beach, this area and our nation as a whole. But, we have to remember that at the time Russell Bliss was spraying his oil on roads neither he nor the public knew the dangers of dioxin.  The chemical company from whom Bliss got the used oil may have known but I doubt they shared that information with Russell Bliss. You see, Mr Bliss used the oil on his own place, even around his own home. 

Once enough time and knowledge revealed the horror of this product ten years had pasted and Russell Bliss had long since quit doing this kind of work.  By that time Mr. Bliss and his son had a successful business together that had nothing to do with used oil or dust suppresion. It took yet another ten years for the relocation and clean up of these sites (there were many) to be completed.

 Russell Bliss was made the scapegoat for this tragic situation. His was the name ordinary people saw and he had the misfortune to have a easily remembered name. He didn't created the dioxin. The practice of spreading oil on dirt roads to suppress dust was done all over the country for decades.  Russell Bliss and his family were hurt more by this unforunite episode than the rest of the people involved.  Russell Bliss and his family lost everything they had which included a successful business and the property that had been in his family for generations.  All their savings and other resources went into fighting years of lawsuits. Even Bliss's son who was in high school at the time this dioxin was being sprayed around the area was sued by many of the relocated families simply because he became a partner in his father's business  that was unrelated to dioxin ten years later. 

This family became outcast in a community were they had lived all their lives and were forced to move out of the state.   Bliss did an interview after the clean up where he talked about how the government provided free medical testing to all those living in contaminated sites.  His own property was one of the most contaminated sites and his family were never offered that same testing.  They had to seek  medical help at their own expense. 

I have not been able to find any current information on what happened to the Bliss family.  The gossip I get from friends in my old neighborhood is that by the time all the lawsuits were settled Russell Bliss was a broken man and his family was separated and scattered as well.  

And this tragic situation is not yet finished. Read the latest on this saga by going to these links. 

 Last year it was announced that Strecker Woods (where all of our neighborhood hiked) has been found to contain dioxin and talks are still ongoing about cleaning it up.


  1. What a sad destiny for this town. and the residents.

  2. the sign is wonderful
    this man's legacy is a horror, how sad for all who are hurt by his actions

  3. What a terrible story. Sounds like something that would happen in another country, or in a movie, but not in the US.

  4. It is a horribly sad legacy for a town, and obviously for you too. The sign is fabulous, I am glad, at least that you have a photographic memory of it.

  5. Love the sign, but hate the things that that guy did. Terrible story. (great post though).

  6. Interesting post and good photos, but quite a disturbing story. Amazing how some people manage to cause so much distress and misery around them.

  7. Demented minds do awful things... and care not about the pain they cause others. Quite the story, Rita. I like the retro sign and nice it was preserved.

  8. This was a very, very sad story for all involved, Rita---the Bliss family and the people who all lived near his place. How awful for the entire town! I wonder too about your Lymphoma if it could be connected to this incident. I want to look up more about this, starting with your link. I really appreciate you posting about it. Love the key sign, though ! I am so glad they saved it even though the cafe is no longer there.

  9. Rita, just want to drop a note that I read your postscript and realize that I has misunderstood your post and my comment was misplaced. The story is all the more sad with the suffering of the Bliss family. For me, blame is deserved only when there is knowledge and malicious intent... both clearly lacking in this incident.

  10. From the info i gathered, it seems unlikely that Bliss knew anything about what was in what he was spraying. After all, the motor oil itself is a hazard, but certainly not what dioxin can do. It is sad to me that his family was destroyed, when the probable culprits were the ones who supplied the oil, of which they have paid millions of $$ for cleanup actions. Sad situation which could have been handled better. Sympathies to those hurt by these actions.


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