This week, hundreds gathered in Louisville’s Schnitzelburg neighborhood for the annual Dainty Contest. The game is in its 47th year, marking a tradition in Germantown’s otherwise changing landscape.
Germantown residents ate bologna sandwiches and drank cheap beer as they watched participants line up to take a swing. They sat and stood behind neon-orange mesh — in case the dainty went flying out of bounds — waiting to see who would hit the dainty the farthest.
Kenny Klein took the lead.
“That could change at any time,” Klein said, as it was still early in the evening.
The dainty is a wooden peg sharpened at both ends like a pencil. With a broomstick in hand, participants try to hit the dainty just right, so that it flies up from the ground. Once the dainty is in mid-air, you bat it like a baseball.
Klein whacked the dainty 106 feet down Hoertz Street. He said there’s no real technique to it.
“You’re not allowed to practice,” Klein said. “That’s illegal. You just show up and do it.”
Germantown legend George Hauck started the contest 47 years ago. He played the game as a kid during the Depression. He brought it back years later, with one change: In order to participate in the modern-day Schnitzelburg Dainty, you have to be 45 or older to play.
Hauck’s daughter, Lynn Hite, said her dad must have wanted to put a cap on how many people could play, so the game wouldn’t last so long.
“This is just a hitting contest and I’m so happy that I brought it back,” said the 97-year-old Hauck. “Just look at all the happiness it has brought to people.”
Hauck’s legacy in the Germantown neighborhood extends beyond the dainty contest. Hoertz Avenue is also known as “George Hauck Way.” Hauck has operated a convenience store on the corner of Hoertz and Goss Avenues for decades.
He got a reputation for giving out food for cheap, or on credit, so folks wouldn’t have to go without.
“I used to come to this store when I was five years old,” Kenny Klein said. “So I’ve been coming to [The Dainty] since it started. My grandpa used to play in it.”
In With the New
The Dainty’s tradition paired with Hauck’s legacy gives the game its character, but Germantown seems to be changing by the day.
Kenny Klein was born and raised in Germantown. Now he sees younger folks moving in and drinking at his own neighborhood bars, like Old Hickory.
“If they move in and take care of their properties, it just makes the neighborhood better,” Klein said. “It was dead for a while, but now it’s coming back.”
One of the biggest changes happened just a block away from the Hauck’s Handy Store and the Dainty Contest. The Goss Avenue Antique Mall, a former mill-turned-antique-mall, was sold and renovated. Now it houses the Germantown Mill Lofts apartments. Renting a studio apartment there can cost up to $1,165 a month.
Germantown is slowly becoming a mecca for millennial hipsters looking to buy or rent in the area. Plenty of new restaurants and bars cater to or employ that crowd.
“A lot of the older people aren’t going to pay $7 for a beer,” said Germantown resident Joe Mayfield. “It’s kind of like the new Highlands, I think.”
Mayfield used to rent a house from George Hauck, which sits catty-corner to Hauck’s handy store. Back in the early 1980s, Mayfield paid $80 a month to live there. Now, Germantown real estate has become more sought after, which has raised property values.
“When I bought my house it was valued at $50,000, now it’s $200,000,” Mayfield said.
That means higher property taxes, but also big bucks for willing sellers.
“You get as old as me, you don’t want to sell,” Mayfield said. “At [a younger age] you might want to sell and make some money.”
Mayfield wouldn’t want to leave Germantown. He has too much history there.
These longtime Germantown residents, along with a newer generation, say they’re committed to carrying on the neighborhood traditions…including the Dainty Contest.