Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
September 11th, 2014 by Cameron

#drinkuptweetupSTL

Please Join Us!

Here’s an interesting (and perhaps horrifying) fact that merges history and drinking: In ancient Rome, a popular remedy for curing a hangover was to fry and eat… (wait for it…) birds.

Beauty Lives On

And I’m not talking about chickens and turkeys. After a night of authentic toga parties and too much wine, hungover Romans chewed on fried canaries. 

Fortunately, this practice fell out of favor long before the Campbell family began their run in St. Louis. If it hadn’t, it’s possible that Beauty, the handsome finch that fluttered around the Campbell aviary over one-hundred years ago, may have suffered a grizzly fate after one of Ginny’s late-night house parties.

Beauty is actually one of my favorite stops on the Campbell House scene. I don’t think I’ve ever given a tour when I didn’t point out Hazlett Campbell’s pet bird that was stuffed, bottled, and placed on a mantle long ago. There’s no doubt about it—visitors always get a kick out of Beauty.

Campbell House Museum

I also can’t think of a more appropriate Campbell family member than Beauty to represent the fun event going down at the Campbell House later this month. Beauty was a tweeter, and she’ll be on hand when Distilled History teams up with the Campbell House to host another #drinkuptweetupSTL.

What’s a “#drinkuptweetupSTL” you ask? Well, it’s the hashtag we are using to describe a special invitation we are extending to the many friends of the Campbell House Museum and Distilled History: Come over and have a drink with us.

Distilled History T-Shirts

No joke. On the evening of Friday September 26th, we’ll have the Campbell House open, we’ll have the garden set up with tables of food and booze, and we’ll even have a great band, Typhoon Jackson, jamming in the background.

Please stop by, bring a friend or two, get a glimpse of one of the most remarkable historic homes in the United States, learn a bit of drinking history (that’s where I come in), and most importantly, have a drink with us.

The best part is that it’s all free. Food will be provided courtesy of the Maya Cafe in Maplewood and beer will be provided by our Lucas Place neighbors, Schlafly. Along with other refreshments, we’ll also have a big bowl of Virginia Campbell’s Roman punch.  It’s Ginny’s own recipe from her cookbook written in the mid-1800’s (and it mentions nothing about canaries). The only catch is that since we’ll be drinking alcohol, our under-21 friends will have to sit this one out (sorry, kiddos).

Grant's Cup

And to sweeten the pot even further, we’ll be raffling off several prizes throughout the evening. We have plenty of Campbell House, Urban Chestnut, and Distilled History swag to give away, but the ultimate raffle prize is one I think is pretty special.

Other than Beauty, one of my favorite pieces in the Campbell House collection is a silver julep cup once owned by Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant is not only the logo of Distilled History, he was good pals with Rob and Ginny, and he visited the family often during his Presidency. His cup is normally locked away for safekeeping, but one lucky raffle winner will be able to hold it and drink their choice of booze from it.

For anyone who’s a fan of drinking and history (like me), it doesn’t get much better than that.

That’s the skinny on the 2014 #drinkuptweetupSTL. For more information, head over to the Campbell House blog.  They are the folks to contact if you have any questions. I’ll also leave it to them to tell you about another special raffle prize: A special batch of Campbell beer.

See you on Friday, September 26th!

Ginny's House Party Irish Ale

September 3rd, 2014 by Cameron

And Finally, the Bridge (The Summer of Eads, Part IV)

Note: This is the final post in a four-part series I have written about the life and work of James B. Eads. Previous entries can be found here:  Part IPart II, and Part III
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James B. EadsFrom a distance, the Eads Bridge doesn’t really look like a big deal. It is, but its physical appearance doesn’t exactly tell the story. It doesn’t tower like the Brooklyn Bridge, it doesn’t stretch like the Golden Gate, and it doesn’t sparkle and look all space-agey like the new Stan Musial Veterans Bridge that now stands to the north.

Once the iconic structure of St. Louis, the Eads Bridge even had that distinction wrested away by the Gateway Arch nearly fifty years ago.  Everyone knows the Eads Bridge exists, but these facts can explain why many St. Louisans don’t realize what a landmark structure it is.

To help realize it, imagine what a radical change that bridge must have brought to St. Louis in 1874. Before the Eads Bridge existed, a booming city of 300,000 people was difficult to get to. Most of America lay to the east, and those wanting to come to St. Louis (or anyplace west of it) had no simple way to cross the biggest, nastiest river on the continent.

On a humid day in July 1874, all of that changed. Suddenly, a St. Louisan could walk, drive a carriage, or trot a horse over that big river in just a few minutes. Trains, no longer required to stop and load cargo onto ferry boats,  could chug right through on the bridge’s lower level. Ice, floods, and congested river traffic suddenly became afterthoughts to travelers wishing to cross. Even for the average family taking a Sunday stroll on the upper deck, the Eads Bridge provided an entirely new way to look at the city they lived in.

Eads Bridge Construction

And it was built by a man who had absolutely no experience building bridges. James Eads, nationally known for his work on or under water, had never built anything that stood above water. This may explain why Eads’s bridge design, unveiled to the public in 1867, was unlike anything that had been seen. When it was completed seven years later, it would stand as one of the most remarkable structures constructed in the 19th century. In its construction, James Eads would repeatedly make civil engineering history.

James Eads was undoubtedly a genius, but his story isn’t complete without also emphasizing the drive and determination the man possessed. As Robert W. Jackson details in his book Rails Across the Mississippi, Eads was simply relentless. His ability to garner support, financially and technically, for his vision of the bridge equals his ability to design one that wouldn’t fall down. In the years after Eads’s death, Emerson W. Gould, the captain of the Knickerbocker when Eads was a mudclerk, echoes this sentiment:

Emerson Gould Quote

Ingenuity and business acumen aside, Eads was also looking out for the future of his city. Already losing ground to Chicago in the race to tie the nation together with railroad tracks, the pieces finally came together for a St. Louis bridge in 1867. It’s a long story (read Jackson’s Rails Across the Mississippi for the extended version), but as contracts and bridge companies started bubbling to the surface, Eads became convinced that outside interests, primarily Chicago, were in control. He was probably right, but more importantly, Eads believed the competing bridge designs were vastly inferior to his. James Eads knew the Mississippi, and James Eads knew what it could do to a poorly designed bridge.

Biplane Flying Under Eads BridgeSoon surrounded by loyal business associates and hand-picked allies, James Eads pried his way into the discussion. In May of 1867, he was named Director of the St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company. Shortly after, he was named Chief Engineer. As rival bridge companies began to lose ground, Eads unveiled his preliminary bridge design to the public in the summer of 1867. The plans were a hit. The St. Louis Democrat declared Eads’s design to be a “triumph for St. Louis!”

Despite his reputation and overwhelming public support, many had serious doubts about the feasibility of Eads’s design. After being urged to have an expert review his plans, Eads showed the initial design to Jacob Linville, a respected bridge engineer of the time.  His review was anything but glowing.

Jacob Linville Quote

Eads brushed off such criticism and continued finalizing his design. Inspired by the Koblenz Railroad Bridge in Germany, Eads settled on a ribbed arched design. Eads explained that it offered a “beauty and economy” over the standard truss bridge employed frequently at that time.

The Koblenz Railroad Bridge

It was just one way in which Eads was pushing the boundaries of bridge construction, but he was actually required by law to do so. Before Congress authorized the construction of several bridges over western rivers, the steamboat industry had lobbied extensively to limit or prevent railroad bridges from being built. As a result, several restrictions were put in place, making the construction of a railroad extremely difficult.

  • It couldn’t be made of wood
  • It couldn’t be a draw bridge or suspension bridge
  • It had to carry rail and vehicular traffic
  • The lowest part of the superstructure had to be at least fifty feet above the water
  • The bridge must have one span of at least 500 feet or two spans of at least 250 feet

James Eads embraced the challenge and then took it to another level. Up to that time in history, no arched bridge had ever been built with a span of more than 500 feet. Eads designed his bridge to have three. When complete, all three of the spans utilized in the Eads bridge would be longer than any ever built. To hold them up (as detailed in the Summer of Eads Part I), two massive pneumatic caissons would be sunk to bedrock. Each of them would also be the largest ever built and each would be sunk to an unprecedented depth.

Andrew CarnegieFinally, James Eads made his most daring decision yet. He opted to build the superstructure out of steel, a material that had never been used before on such a massive scale.

It was a landmark decision in the history of civil engineering. As Howard S. Miller points out, “In 1867, structural steel was a novelty.” In the age of iron, it was a “new and virtually unknown structural material.”

It was also expensive and difficult to make. However, advances in mass steel production, such as the Bessemer process, made steel a viable option. After studying its use in Europe on smaller projects, Eads decided to build a steel bridge. It would be the first time in history the material would be used on such a scale.

In 1867, many believed Eads mad to insist on using steel. Even Andrew Carnegie, a man who would one day become the richest man in America because of steel, repeatedly urged Eads to use iron. Carnegie was a director of the Keystone Bridge Company, which had won the contract to supply metal to the project.  The two men clashed repeatedly, especially over Eads’s insistence that the steel be of unprecedented quality.

Henry Flad

It must be noted that James Eads wasn’t a one man show. Aware of his own inexperience in the field, and looking to comfort cautious investors, Eads recruited several brilliant and experienced engineers to work at his side. Men such as Henry Flad, Charles Pfeiffer, and Benjamin Singleton would play pivotal roles in the design and construction of the bridge.

With much of the construction work in the capable hands, Eads was able to focus on bridge finances and improving his own health. Exhausted, overworked, and teetering on collapse, Eads even tried to resign in 1868. His resignation was refused, but Eads required extended periods of leave throughout the life of the project. During these periods of recuperation, bridge construction often ground to a halt.

Despite opposition to his design, poor health, and clashes with subcontractors, bridge construction commenced. On a cold and drizzled day In February, 1868, James Eads stood on the bank of the Mississippi River, gave a short speech, and watched the first limestone block settle into place. Bridge construction had finally begun.

Two years later, the massive stone piers that would support the bridge rose out of the water (as detailed in Part I). Construction could now begin on the steel superstructure. It would mark another moment in engineering history. The superstructure of the bridge was built using a cantilever method of support. Soon, arches of steel tubing stretched out from each pier without any support from below. Again, this method of bridge construction had never been done before on such a scale.

Cantilver Bridge Construction, 1873

Despite progress on all fronts, James Eads continued to be challenged by adversaries. As late as 1873, the steamboat industry hurled one final legal challenge.  Claiming the bridge would present a “serious obstacle to river navigation”, the bridge was deemed illegal by the Army Corps of Engineers. But since the bridge was nearly complete, they demanded Eads dig a channel on the Illinois side so river traffic could circumvent the bridge. Furious at the suggestion, Eads reached out to a friend that owed him a favor. As detailed previously in the Summer of Eads, Part III, Ulysses S. Grant, now President of the United States, had benefited greatly from Eads’s ironclad gunboats in the Civil War. When Eads asked Grant to weigh in on the matter, Grant bluntly overruled the Army engineers. Bridge construction could now proceed as James Eads wished.

Eads Bridge from Below

Bridge construction continued over the next three years. Supervised by Eads’s first assistant Henry Flad, the steel arches stretching out from each pier inched closer together. On September 15, 1783, the final steel tube was lifted from below and squeezed into place. Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel poked through. With the two largest construction hurdles cleared (the sinking of the piers and the successful spanning of the first arch), the structural integrity of Eads’s bridge was assured. Detractors of Eads’s vision were silenced, the last financial hurdles were cleared, and the road over the river unfurled.

In July 1874, the bridge was set to open. To prove it would hold, an elephant was marched across. After William Tecumseh Sherman drove in the final railroad stake, trains crossed for the first time. Finally, on July 4, 1874, on the day of the country’s 98th birthday, the city officially opened the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge.

Eads Bridge Entrance in the 1920's

Despite a sweltering 102 degrees, the city teemed with joy and celebration to mark the occasion. With visitors in town from near and far, over 300,000 people turned out to see a parade that stretched over fourteen miles. Rows of cannon were placed on each side of the river. As the cannon fired salutes, trains carried revelers across the river and dignitaries gave speeches. James Eads was at the center of it all.

His role in the project wasn’t lost on anyone. The St. Louis Republican proclaimed in print “James B. Eads stands today the foremost man of his time.” When James Eads was asked to weigh in on his creation, his response is one that only a man of supreme confidence could offer.

James B. Eads Quote

Eads Bridge

The Drink
Walt Whitman

My idea for an Eads Bridge drink goes all the way back to my friend that I introduced in The Summer of Eads, Part I. Amanda Clark, who runs Renegade Tours STL, is the guilty party in getting me to think non-stop about James Eads and his bridge.

She also gave me the idea of how to drink to them both. It’s this quote, written by Walt Whitman when he visited St. Louis in 1879. The bridge was only five years old a the time, and it mesmerized the famous poet.

“I have haunted the river every night lately, where I could get a look at the bridge by moonlight. It is indeed a structure of perfection and beauty unsurpassable, and I never tire of it.”

Whitman’s quote about the Eads Bridge is actually pretty well-known among St. Louis history nerds. It comes from Specimen Days, Whitman’s collection of daily observations published in 1882. Along with his description of the bridge, the reader  is treated to this description of St. Louis in the late 19th Century:

“The water of the west, in some places, is not very good, but they make it up here by plenty of fair wine, and inexhaustible quantities of the best beer in the world”

He’s got that right. With InBev (Budweiser) and the recent explosion of craft breweries here, St. Louis is undoubtedly a great beer town. Even better, the house where Whitman stayed during his visit (belonging to his brother Thomas), was located on Pine Street. If it stood today, it’d be a stone’s throw from Schlafly’s Tap Room.

Dry Hopped APA at Schlafly's Tap Room

It took Walt Whitman’s love for Eads’s masterwork to find a drink, but that’s good enough for me. Besides, I’ve always been a big fan of Schlafly. The first of the microbreweries in St. Louis, I have probably spent thousands of dollars over the years at their Tap Room and Bottleworks facilities. I know I’ll be back to both locations often to drink their good beer.

As for James Eads, I’m not done with him either. He has plenty of additional stories to tell, but it’s time to bring the Summer of Eads to a close. And as I’ve mentioned in the other posts in this series, Eads wasn’t exactly the easiest guy to drink with. With that in mind, it’s time to mix a cocktail and find some good St. Louis history.

July 29th, 2014 by Cameron

Blood and Sand and Steam (The Summer of Eads, Part III)

Note: This is Part III in a series of Distilled History posts I am writing about one of the most remarkable St. Louisans to ever live, James Buchanan Eads. Part One, which details caisson disease during the building of Eads Bridge, can be found here. Part II, which gives a brief introduction to his life, can be found here.

Also, Distilled History now has a Facebook page. Please give it a “Like” to see the stuff that doesn’t make the blog, random St. Louis history tidbits, and of course, my own musings on drinking good cocktails.

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Eads Gravesite in Bellefontaine Cemetery

My delightful “Summer of Eads” rolls on.

Without a doubt, I have had a good ‘ol time getting to really know James Eads over the past few months. But I’ll also confess that he’s put me in one hell of a pickle. He’s an overwhelming subject to write about. Try as I might, I have struggled mightily trying to cram all of his accomplishments into a few boozy blog posts.

Furthermore, he’s a tough guy to drink with. I’ve scoured the streets near his bridge, where his glass factory stood, where his gunboats were built, and where his mansion sat. No bar or cocktail idea was born from any of these searches. Unless I devised my own “Eads Cocktail” (which would probably need to include river water), I was out of luck.

But I can always find a reason to drink. It’s just that I’ve never stumbled into one like I did for this post. It happened after picking up (several more) books about  bridges, gunboats, and diving bells at the St. Louis Central Library. I then settled in at one of my favorite barrooms to read about what else James Eads had his hands in. As I ordered my drink, I flipped open a book titled Guns on the Western Waters by H. Allen Gosnell. I searched the index to find out where James Eads shows up, and it directed me to a chapter that made me do a double-take. The title of the chapter was nearly identical to the name of the bar I was sitting in at that exact moment. Blood and Sand and SteamWhat a tasty coincidence that I found myself reading Blood and Sand and Steam while drinking a delicious cocktail in Blood and Sand. And there ya go, my drink problem was solved.

As I sipped my delicious cocktail (the “You in Your Were”), I dove into the next remarkable chapter of Eads’s life. I was excited, because before I became a big St. Louis history nerd, I was a big Civil War history nerd (just two of many reasons). I’m also solidly pro-Union. I have no patience for any of that pro-Confederate nonsense people spout these days, so I was thrilled to learn that James Eads felt the same way in his time that I do in mine.

At the outbreak of the war, James Eads was only forty-one years old. He was retired, extremely wealthy, and a well-respected man in St. Louis. He was done with salvage work, but innovation and the Mississippi were never far from his mind. From his stately Compton Hill mansion, he found himself free to brew up a few ideas in order to help the good guys win the Civil War.

Scott's Great Snake

James Eads knew the western rivers would play an important strategic role in the upcoming conflict. Notably, control of the Mississippi River was a key component of Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan, a naval strategy devised to blockade and squeeze the Confederacy like a coiled snake. Like General Scott, Eads believed that if the Union controlled the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Louis, it would ultimately control the western theater of the war. If it succeeded, the Confederacy would be effectively severed in two.

Abraham Lincoln realized this as well, referring to the Mississippi as the “backbone of the rebellion” and the “key to the whole situation”. Just days after Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861, James Eads received a letter from Edward Bates. A former Missouri Congressman and friend of Eads, Bates had recently been named as Attorney General in Lincoln’s cabinet.

Letter from Edward Bates to James EadsIt was the letter he’d been waiting for. Prior to the war, Eads had already been lobbying politicians and war strategists to let him help. His reputation as a river man preceded him, so it wasn’t long before Eads found himself in Washington D.C. reviewing river strategy with Lincoln’s cabinet. While there, he enthusiastically backed a proposal to build a fleet of gunboats that could help conquer the lower Mississippi. Soon after, the plan evolved into building a flotilla of ironclad gunboats, a type of military vessel never before seen in the western hemisphere.

The Attack on Fort Donelson

Eads took full advantage of the opportunity. As bids for the project opened on August 5, 1861, Eads submitted a bold proposal, easily winning the government contract.  Two days later, he signed a contract stipulating that he’d deliver seven ironclad gunboats at a cost of only $89,600 each. Remarkably, he promised they’d ready to go in only sixty-five days. He was so confident in his plan that he even agreed to pay a hefty fine of $250 per boat for each day it was late.

With a due date of October 10, 1861, Eads went right to work. He contracted with foundries, sawmills, and forges in several states, instantly putting thousands of men to work around the clock. His primary base of operation was the Union Iron Works, a shipyard Eads leased to the south of St. Louis in the village of Carondelet. It was here, near the point where the River Des Peres flows into the Mississippi, that the first ironclad warships ever constructed in the United States came to be.

Union Iron Works in Harper's Weekly

The ships were built, but not designed by James Eads. Although Eads would make significant design improvements to ironclad construction as the war progressed, the first seven were designed by an engineer named Samuel Pook. Named “Pook’s Turtles” because of the resemblance they took in the water, the first ironclads were like nothing that had been seen before. At 175 feet long and 51 feet wide, the boats squatted low in the water. Each was armed with thirteen cannon poking out of sloped wooden sides covered with 2-1/2 inch iron plate. A crew of 175 manned each gunboat.

Due to financial delays and design issues, Eads didn’t meet his self-imposed deadline of October 10. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Using his own wealth to finance the project, he nearly bankrupted himself while government financing lagged behind. Fortunately, financing was resolved, all late fees were repaid, and the seven “City-class” gunboats, as they were known, were delivered by mid-November. Each was commissioned into the War Department’s Western Gunboat Flotilla in January 1862.

The Attack on Fort Henry

The first was the Carondelet, which slid into the Mississippi River on October 12, 1861. It was the first ironclad built in American history, completed three months before the Monitor, it’s more famous cousin in the east. The St. Louis rolled off just a few days later, and it would plant its own stake in history. After engaging Confederate timberclad gunboats at the Battle of Lucas Bend in January 1862, James Eads boasted about the event in a letter he sent to Abraham Lincoln:

James Eads Letter to Abraham LincolnThe Carondelet and St. Louis were soon followed by the Louisville and the Pittsburg. To maximize production, Eads had the other three built at a second shipyard in Mound City, Illinois, located about 150 miles south of St. Louis. There, the Cincinnati, the Mound City, and the Cairo rounded out the fleet.

The Original Seven GunboatsIn addition to City-class gunboats, Eads contracted with the government to have several of his own salvage boats converted to ironclads. The Benton, previously known as Salvage Boat No. 7, was commissioned into the Western Gunboat Flotilla in February 1862. Weighing over 1,000 tons and armored with thicker 3-1/2 inch iron plate, the Benton was much larger than the original seven. It would become the most powerful boat in the western theater of the Civil War.

Each of the gunboats would make a significant impact in the western theater of war. Tough and reliable, the ironclads could fire away at close-range while the thick iron plating protected them from returning fire. Although the gunboats were slow and susceptible to mines, shells from Confederate shore batteries dealt minimal damage. The plating caused cannon fire to bounce harmlessly off the angled sides. Even before the boats were launched, Eads had the durability of iron siding tested at his shipyard in Carondelet. Successfully deflecting cannon fire from as close as 200 yards, Eads must have known that he was building the navy of the future.

Current Site of Union Iron WorksThe military success of Eads’s gunboats would be immediate, and they would help launch the career of the Union’s greatest general. At the Battle of Fort Henry in February 1862, the ironclads played a major role in the first significant Union victory under Ulysses S. Grant. Deemed “a victory exclusively for the gunboats” the bombardment from the Cairo, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Essex (another converted Eads salvage ship) was so effective that the Confederate garrison surrendered before Grant’s land force  even arrived on the scene.

Soon after, the St. Louis, Carondelet, Louisville and Pittsburg aided Grant in taking Fort Donelson. With his famous demand for “Unconditional Surrender” in the aftermath of this battle, Grant’s reputation as a fighter soared. Furthermore, with the help of Eads’s gunboats, two major tributaries of the Mississippi (the Cumberland and the Tennessee) were now open to the Union.

It wouldn’t stop there. As the war progressed, Eads relentlessly worked at improving ironclad design. With his shipyards working around the clock building more ironclads, he included turrets like those found on the Monitor, built boats that drew less water, and continued to improve the effectiveness of iron armor. He also built lighter boats, including a series of “tinclads” that were faster and more maneuverable, but could still withstand musket fire. By the end of the war, his Union Marine Works in Carondelet would produce more armored warships than any other shipyard during the Civil War.

Finally, on July 4, 1863, the Anaconda Plan became a harsh reality for the south. Again aided by Union ironclads, the final Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi surrendered to Union forces. Vicksburg’s fall came just one day after victory at Gettysburg in the east. The war for the river had been won in the west.

The Confederacy was cut in half, and it was made possible by the gunboats James Eads built.

Eads's Drawing for the Milwaukee
The Drink
Blood and Sand CocktailsI’ve already mentioned the drink I found for this post, so there isn’t much else to say other than Blood & Sand is (again) one of the best places to drink great cocktails in St. Louis.

However, I want to mention a menu theme that I particularly enjoy.  They name their cocktails after songs. Even better, most of them seem to be named after bands and musicians I listen to often.

I may need to ask TJ and Adam at Blood and Sand (two of the friendliest guys around) to help me out if I ever write about the rich musical history of St. Louis. I’m sure a “Maple Leaf Rag” or a “Birth of the Cool” cocktail would fit nicely on their menu.

But before I get to thinking about Scott Joplin or Miles Davis, I need to close out my Summer of Eads. There’s a particular bridge that needs a closer look.

quote_lineSources invaluable to this post (other key sources also listed in Part I and Part II of the Summer of Eads):

  • Civil War St. Louis by Louis S. Gerteis
  • James B. Eads The Civil War Ironclads and His Mississippi by Rex T. Jackson
  • Guns on the Western Waters by H. Allen Gosnell
July 7th, 2014 by Cameron

The Summer of Eads, Part II

Note: This is part two in a series I have titled “The Summer of Eads”. Dealing with a subject (James B. Eads) that is impossible to fit into a single Distilled History post, I’ve decided to write a few. Part one can be found here.

James Eads on the St. Louis Walk of Fame

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time strolling through the Loop and taking note of the numerous stars and plaques embedded in the sidewalk as part of the notable “St. Louis Walk of Fame” exhibit.

The 137 names on the Walk of Fame, each signified by a brass star and descriptive plaque, stretch for several blocks on each side of Delmar Boulevard. These stars are actually a significant source of nostalgia for me. I don’t get to the Loop much these days, but when I first moved to St. Louis in 1995, I worked in a bookstore just a couple of miles away. The few measly dollars found in my paychecks were usually spent in bars that had one of these stars in front of it.

The Walk of Fame was established in 1988 by Joe Edwards. He’s also the guy behind the famous Blueberry Hill, a bar those stars have led me to more than any other. I’m sure that stopping to read the various plaques while heading into (or stumbling out of) Blueberry Hill is one of the many reasons I became interested in the history of this town.

I found the star for the subject of my summer, James B. Eads, outside a tattoo parlor on the north side of Delmar. One of the first names selected for Walk of Fame induction back in 1989, Eads deservedly went in alongside notable St. Louis names such as Chuck Berry and T.S. Eliot.

Dan Zettwoch PrintAs I took a long look at his plaque, I thought about how little I knew about the man before I began this project several weeks ago. I think most of St. Louis is in the same boat. We all know his bridge, but the story behind the guy who built it is largely unknown. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to tell the story of James Eads before he became an internationally renowned engineer. Turns out it’s a darn good story.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find much about his early life. Plenty of sources provide detail of his engineering prowess, but few provide more than a brief overview of his early years. Many of them rely on one source, a short biography written in 1900 by Louis How, Eads’ own grandson. It may have been fun to find to find some dirt on this guy, but I don’t think there’s any to find. As I gradually learned, James Eads was a indeed a special guy. He had it figured out from the start.

James Buchanan Eads

James Buchanan Eads was born on May 23, 1820 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He was the youngest of three children to Thomas Clark Eads and Ann Buchanan. Regarding Thomas Eads, Louis How asserts he was never “very prosperous”. So he moved his family to find stable income, first to Cincinnati in 1822 and then to Louisville in 1829. In 1833, Thomas Eads decided to uproot his family again, this time to St. Louis. At the age of thirteen, young James Eads boarded the steamboat Carolton. Along with his mother and two sisters (his father stayed behind to gather supplies for a store he planned to open), James Eads started his journey west, to the city where he’d make his mark.

Traveling on a steamboat was surely a wonder for the young, curious Eads. Fascinated by machinery and mechanics from an early age, his father supported his interest by building James a small workshop in Louisville. Four hours on end, he tinkered away in it, taking apart the family clock, building scale models of steamboats, and even constructing a functional steam engine. As Louis How recounts in his biography, a particularly boyish (and ingenious) moment during this childhood occurred when he produced a small wagon that mysteriously moved about the room. As his mother and sisters gaped in awe, it was soon revealed that the motive power was produced by a live rat hidden underneath.

Upon arriving in St. Louis, Eads would need every bit of ingenuity he had. As the Carolton approached the St. Louis riverfront on September 6, 1833, a chimney flue toppled over. A deadly fire broke out, killing eight people and severely injuring many more. Ann Eads and her three children emerged on the riverfront unharmed, but all of their possessions were lost. Save for the clothes on their backs, the Eads family suddenly found themselves alone and penniless in a mysterious new city.Sub Marine No. 7

James Eads responded to this adversity with the same hard work and determination that would be indicative of his later career. Discontinuing his formal education in order to help support his family, he started by selling apples on the street. Soon after, he caught the eye of a boarder in a house his mother rented, a mercantile owner named Barret Williams. After recognizing the talent of the young man, Williams offered Eads a job as a clerk in his store, a position that would ultimately provide far more than an income.

It’s during this time when the genius of James Eads really begins to take root. Along with a job, Williams gave James Eads access to his personal library. With no formal schooling past the age of thirteen, it was in this library where James Eads continued his education – on his own.Martha Dillon Eads

In the late hours after the mercantile closed, he poured through the classics, became a fan of poetry, read books about science and history, and most significantly, taught himself engineering and mathematics.

Eads began to apply his self-education in 1839, when he took a job as a mud clerk on the steamboat Knickerbocker. His family had moved again, this time to Iowa, but Eads opted to stay back and pursue opportunity in St. Louis. Among other responsibilities, a mud clerk was responsible for wading through the muck, clearing away obstacles, and securing a boat to shore. It was arduous work, but it offered the hands-on riverboat experience he wanted. And most importantly, it’s where he’d start to become fully acquainted with the river that would shape his brilliant career – the Mississippi.

James Eads would come to understand, as much as anyone in his time, the sheer power of the Mississippi. He lived it aboard the Carolton 1833, and he’d live it again when the Knickerbocker was ripped apart by a snag in 1839. For the second time in six years, Eads found himself shivering on shore and watching the boat that just carried him sink to the bottom of the river. But this time, James Eads had an idea.

The Mississippi, with its unpredictable currents, heavy sediment movements, and countless snags, sank boats on a daily basis. James Eads realized a profit could be made from the cargo that sank with them. In the 19th century, “wreckers” were paid handsomely by ship owners and insurance companies to salvage valuable materials from sunken boats. Additionally, laws of the time stipulated that anything sitting at the bottom of the river five years after it settled there became the property of anyone who could get it.

The Eads Mansion on Compton HillBut it was extremely dangerous work. Salvage boat and diving technology at that time was rudimentary, causing even the bravest of souls to pass on such work. But James Eads, already confident in his own ability, went to work designing a new salvage vessel of his own. After months of revisions and improvements, Eads presented his design to two St. Louis businessmen. Surely amazed by what the 22-year old had proposed, the two men agreed to provide financial backing. Before long, Salvage Boat No. 1 was under construction. James Eads was about to start the next chapter of his life at the bottom of a river.

The venture was an instant success. HisSub Marine found ample reward as it raced around western rivers raising lost cargo before competitors could get to it. At the same time, Eads invented a diving bell, weighted with lead, rigged to air pumps, and equipped with a small seat inside. Inside and submerged, a wrecker could move around the bottom of the river while withstanding fast river currents.

eads_glassfactory

As brave as he was ingenious, Eads did much of the diving bell work on his own. Henceforth known as “Captain” James Eads since he piloted his own boats and worked alongside his men, Eads displayed a remarkable personal commitment to his work. As Louis How writes, Eads boasted later in life that a stretch of fifty miles didn’t exist between St. Louis and New Orleans in which he hadn’t stood under his diving bell on the riverbed.

Eunice Hagerman Eads

This is indicative of the kind of man James Eads was becoming. As he grew into an adult, James Eads developed into a brilliant and profoundly thoughtful man. According to sources, he was inquisitive, generous, and supportive of those close to him. He loved nature, read poetry, and was a very skilled chess player. He enjoyed riddles and humor, but he was tactful and when necessary. Some viewed his confidence as arrogance, but even his detractors considered him an exceptional man.

A successful and respected man by his mid-twenties, Eads now turned his attention to family life. In 1845, he married his cousin, Martha Dillon, after a tenuous courtship (remarkably, Martha’s father didn’t approve of the young inventor). His love for Martha was profound; so much so that he looked to find work closer to home. To do this, he decided to sell his interest in the salvage business and find work where he could stand on solid ground.

The decision would mark the beginning of a difficult chapter in his life. After leasing a large building in St. Louis, Eads invested heavily to transform it into a glass factory. It was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi, but the business struggled from the start. Within two years, sales remained stagnant and his fellow investors pulled out. Suddenly, James Eads found himself with a warehouse full of glass and $25,000 of debt.

To pay off his creditors, James Eads had no choice but return to salvage work. Fortunately, the financial turnaround was immediate, but tragedy continued to darken his personal life. In 1849, James and Martha’s only son James died in infancy. Then in 1852, James Eads lost his mother. In a final devastating blow, he lost his beloved wife just a few months later to cholera.

The Eads MansionIn a letter to Martha before she died, James Eads wrote “‘Drive on’ is my motto”. Drive on he did, and despite personal adversity, his professional life flourished. The salvage business continued to boom during his absence, and he found no shortage of work when he returned to it. Any remaining financial questions were answered in 1849, when a devastating fire on the St. Louis riverfront sunk over twenty riverboats. Eads was contracted to salvage nearly all of them, and the profits put him over the top for good.

As his wealth multiplied, James Eads also discovered that life at the bottom of a river can catch up to a man. Battling various health issues, he decided to give up diving in 1853. After re-marrying in 1854, he purchased a mansion on Compton Hill just west of Lafayette Square. Then in 1857, with a fortune of $500,000 in the bank (about 12 million in 2014), James Eads retired from salvage work for the last time.

He was just thirty-seven years old. And he was just getting started.

Stay tuned for the Summer of Eads Part III, in which James Eads goes to work for the Union in the American Civil War.

The Drink

Eads in a Barrel

Once again, I found myself at the end of a post coming up a drink to connect to the life of a subject that died long ago. This seems to happen often with what I call “the biography posts” (other examples include Homer G. Phillips, Elijah P. Lovejoy, and T.S. Eliot). Not able to find a bar or drink that I could connect Eads to, I almost copped out and simply drank from a flask in front of his bridge again.

But at the last-minute, I remembered a great story I read about James Eads when he was first getting started in the salvage business.

It happened in his first year as a wrecker, when his first salvage boat was still under construction. Offered a contract to raise 100 tons from a sunken barge in Iowa, Eads didn’t want to pass on the opportunity. To do the job, he rigged a barge with derricks and hired a Great Lakes diver from Chicago to come down and do the work.

Diving BellWhen the diver descended into the river, it became apparent the diver’s armor wasn’t suitable for river work. Used to calmer lake water, the fast Mississippi River currents thrashed the man about on each descent. After several attempts with no success, the frustrated (and likely terrified) diver threatened to quit and head home.

Thinking quickly, Eads had an idea. He rushed into town and purchased a 40-gallon whiskey barrel. Bringing it back to the wrecking barge, he knocked one end out, fastened several pigs of lead to the opening, and connected air horses to the other. He then instructed the diver to get inside and be lowered into the river.

The diver adamantly refused to get inside such a contraption, so Eads was forced to do it himself. Remarkably, the diving bell worked. After several descents, Eads had brought up much of the sunken cargo himself.  The diver, realizing the bell was safe and effective, took over and finished the job.

I’d like to think Eads purchased a full whiskey barrel and helped empty it, but that’s probably not the case. But at least I know he bought one. And that’s good enough for me to tie this post to whiskey.

Even better, I was able to purchase my own (much smaller) whiskey barrel at a local liquor store. It’s the perfect size to make a diving bell for my cat, but it’s probably better used  in toasting the accomplishments of a great St. Louisan.

To drink a toast to James Eads, I filled it with a bottle of J.J. Neukomm, a hand-crafted single malt whiskey made right here in St. Louis. It’s even aged oak barrels, just like a guy who spent much of his life inside one.

The Drink

quote_lineSources invaluable to this post:

  • Zettwoch’s Suitcase – A blog by artist Dan Zettwoch
  • Road to the Sea by Florence Dorsey, 1947
  • Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. 41 No 1, 1944
  • Rails across the Mississippi by Robert W. Jackson, 2001
  • The Eads Bridge by Howard Miller and Quinta Scott, 1999
  • A History of the St. Louis Bridge by C.M. Woodward, 1881
June 3rd, 2014 by Cameron

The Summer of Eads, Part I

Eads BridgeOnce again, despite this blog never making me a single dime, my life continues to become richer as a result of it. This time, it’s in the form of a new friend that recently crossed my path.

Her name is Amanda Clark, and she owns and operates Renegade STL, an architecture and history tour company here in St. Louis. Like me, she’s all about telling the story of this city to people who are looking to hear it. Not only do Amanda and I share a common interest in the subject matter, we share a common interest in how we do it. We can both be a bit offbeat, we can each be a bit colorful (perhaps profane), and we don’t mind throwing a few drinks back when we do it.

Amanda may not know it, but she gave me one hell of a problem. On the day I met her, I listened to Amanda discuss one of her favorite St. Louis history topics, James Buchanan Eads. That guy, and the bridge that bears his name, are both very dear to her heart. A bit of this bridge love must have rubbed off on me, because I now find myself thinking about it all the time.

Fast forward to this exact moment and I find myself staring at stacks of notes, books, photographs, and drawings of this city’s landmark bridge. In the past few weeks, I’ve stared at it, biked over it, sketched it, toasted to it, and even joked that I am awesome enough to survive jumping off it. What it all means is that I have way too much information to shove into a single blog entry. My dear mother chides me because my posts are too long as it is, but how can I keep that bridge, the man who designed it, and the drink to celebrate them both under 2,000 words?

Bike-a-Sketch: Eads BridgeI can’t, so I came up with a plan. Like my Elijah P. Lovejoy posts last year, I think certain St. Louis history topics simply require a bit more love than others. For James Eads and his bridge, I’m going to write a couple, or maybe a few, and I’m going to post them all in a row. The good news is that most of my research is done (the biggest time consumer), so all I have to do is write, edit, and of course, drink.

Before I jump in (figuratively), I have to take a moment to clear something up. In discussing the Illinois & St. Louis Bridge (its original name), I often hear fellow St. Louisans confidently make a completely incorrect claim:

Eads Bridge QuoteThe Eads Bridge was definitely not the first bridge to span the Mississippi. It was the first one at St. Louis, and it contained several notable firsts in its design and construction, but it definitely wasn’t the first to span the river.

Perhaps people wouldn’t look to attribute unfounded facts to what the Eads Bridge is above the water if they only knew how special it is under the water. For that reason, I’m going to start my Summer of Eads with the story of the two massive limestone piers that hold it up. Specifically, I’m going to start with the story of the men who suffered building them. It’s a tragic story that I found particularly fascinating while researching every aspect of the structure. It’s also an unusual place to begin this bit of history, but like my new pal Amanda, I do tend to follow the unbeaten path.

Eads Bridge

Although he had never built a bridge before, James Eads knew the river better than anyone. His full story will come later, but it’s that point that must be noted here. The Mississippi is big and cranky. While it made many a riverboat pilot rich in the 19th century, it swallowed up just as many with its unpredictable currents and flows. As a young man, James Eads made his fortune walking around the bottom of it, salvaging wreckage in a diving bell of his own design. He knew first-hand how quickly the Mississippi could move something, and he had to be certain his bridge didn’t move. Sitting two massive bridge supports on silt and mud deposited by river currents wouldn’t cut it. They had to sit on bedrock.

James Buchanan EadsDuring a trip to Europe in 1868, he witnessed first-hand a relatively new technology that he decided to employ in his own bridge, the pneumatic caisson.

Caissons are watertight retaining structures. To work in depths of water, pneumatic caissons are sealed at the top and filled with compressed air. Sealed workspaces created by caissons allowed laborers (referred to as “submarines”) to work at the base of a bridge pier, on the riverbed, by digging up silt and sending it to the surface through pneumatic tubes. As the men dug towards bedrock, huge limestone blocks were piled on top of the caisson, thus building the pier at the same time the caisson pushed deeper into the riverbed. When it hit bedrock, the structure was leveled and the air chambers were filled with concrete. The concrete-filled caisson then became the base of the finished pier.

Pneumatic caissons offered an unprecedented level of efficiency, but at the time, only two bridges in the United States had been built using the technology. Neither came close to the size and depth required in Eads’ bridge design. Even today, the pneumatic caissons used in constructing the Eads Bridge are among the largest ever built.

When the east caisson was launched and sunk to the sandy river bed in October 1869, two engines on the surface went to work pumping compressed air into the chamber far below. This pressurized air compensated for leaks and provided a breathable workspace for laborers below. To get into the chambers, workers descended through a candle-lit spiral staircase and entered an airlock. When the airlock was sealed, an alternate door leading to the chamber was opened. The men could then climb out and begin work at the riverbed.

Dr. Alphonse Jaminet

As workers dug through the sandy riverbed and the caisson sank deeper, air pressure increased to compensate for the higher water pressure outside. When the east caisson hit bedrock in February 1870, the air pressure inside the chamber measured fifty pounds per square inch. That’s over three times the “normal” air pressure a person experiences at sea level.

At first, these pressurized compartments were a source of wonder. Eads himself frequently led friends, politicians, and curious St. Louisans down through the spiral staircase and into the air chambers at the bottom of the river. While there, visitors experienced an eerie atmosphere, water dripping from above, the hissing of escaping air, and a nearly intolerable odor. While many found the experience wholly terrifying, others found amusement. The increased air pressure caused voices to sound nasal and high-pitched, it was impossible to whistle, and blown-out candles seemed to re-light themselves as if by magic.

Soon, the physical effects of working such environments took a darker turn. Foremen started hearing complaints from workmen experiencing severe stomach, head, and joint pains when they emerged from the stairwell. Others suffered temporary paralysis in legs and arms, causing several to be admitted to a local hospital.

The situation became deadly on March 19, 1870, when a man named James Riley emerged from the center access shaft, informed a friend that he was feeling well, and promptly keeled over. He died fifteen minutes later. A few hours later, James Moran, an Irishman who worked in the east pier caisson, died at City Hospital. Three days later, a 22 year-old German named G.S. Alt died after two weeks of hospitalization. The next day, 27 year-old Henry Krausman and 21 year-old Theodor Baum both expired.

Eads Bridge Diagram

The lack of consistency in visible symptoms was confounding. Nearly every case involved stomach and joint pain, but similarities seemed to end there. While several men died, others experienced full recovery within a few hours. An Irishman named Mike McCoole became ill for the first time after three weeks of caisson work while an American named Hugh Devel collapsed on his very first day. An Irishman named Michael Herwin starting spitting blood while a co-worker named James Galloway was found to have pus in his urine. A 20 year-old German named Hansep Miller was hospitalized for nearly two months. Legs fully paralyzed, Miller had no control of his bowels and required frequent catheterization. Another man, a 30 year-old German named William Saylor worked three months in the west pier with no issue. After being transferred to the east pier, he died shortly after his first shift.

On March 31, Eads assigned his family physician, a man named Alphonse Jaminet, to figure it all out. Already familiar with the problem, Jaminet was the obvious choice for the task. Several weeks earlier, on February 28, 1870, he suffered a near-fatal encounter himself. After spending two hours in the east caisson, Jaminet emerged from the stairwell and discovered that he could barely walk. Racked with pain, he somehow made his way home and spent several hours expecting death to come at any moment. Fortunately it didn’t, and his recovery enabled him to spend the next several weeks doing everything he could to assist those afflicted. His detailed transcript, published in 1871, is the first record in history of what we now know as “decompression sickness”.

The Grecian Bend

Jaminet was faced with quite a dilemma. As John L. Phillips explains in his book The Bends: Compressed Air in the History of Science, Diving, and Engineering, it was unlike anything that had been seen before. It was a disease unique to the Industrial Revolution, and Alphonse Jaminet had no medical or scientific basis to work from.

Named “caisson disease” when it reappeared during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge two years later, it was jokingly referred to as “the bends” by workmen in St. Louis. According to Robert W. Jackson in his book, Rails Across the Mississippi, this epithet evolved from a popular fashion of the time. Men who suffered through the severe stomach and joint pain often walked about with a bent over posture. In the late 1800’s, it looked similar to the “Grecian bend”, a pose many women in Victorian society used to show off their bustles.

Today, we know that decompression sickness happens as a result of leaving a pressurized environment (such as a caisson) too quickly. The increased nitrogen produced in the bloodstream in such an environment requires sufficient time to dissolve when leaving it. If the nitrogen doesn’t dissolve, it may form bubbles in the blood and tissues of the body. These bubbles can lodge in the head, abdomen, or joints, producing symptoms experienced by the men working in the caissons.

Jaminet recorded the details of every case presented to him. He attempted to isolate it by recording each worker’s age, nationality, amount of time worked, their body type, and even their daily behavior. His biggest frustration came from the unruly behavior of the men who paid little heed to his warnings. Mostly Irish and German, many of these men were young, strong, and not the type willing to lay down for a spell. With four dollars of pay in their pocket, many rushed out of the caissons and headed straight for the beer and whiskey offered at saloons and taverns along the riverfront.

Caisson & Pier Diagram

Jaminet knew the problem was related to changes in air pressure, but his efforts to remedy the problem never provided the proper level of decompression we know today. Despite this fact, his work must be commended. With the support of James Eads (who also believed frequent saloon visits had a hand in the matter), shift times were reduced, the time between shifts was increased, and men were compelled to rest and eat before going ashore. He even ordered a “floating hospital” built next to the east pier. Many men received overnight care in this facility on the river before being sent home or to the hospital. According to John Phillips, this clinic was the first of its kind to provide on-site care for workers injured on the job.

Perhaps most importantly, he insisted the men working the airlocks, the men essentially controlling the rate of decompression, follow strict guidelines. Prior to this, veteran workers often initiated “greens” to caisson work by opening airlocks as quickly as possible and letting air rush in.

Sinking the East PierHowever, a few methods implemented by Jaminet also display the basic lack of understanding of decompression. Along with his belief that drinking alcohol accelerated symptoms, he also believed taking a hot bath would hasten paralysis. Drinking water was forbidden, and men who complained of thirst were given ice cubes or beef tea. He wasn’t alone. Home remedies circled around the workmen themselves, including various elixirs and useless “magneto-electricity” amulets made of silver and copper.

Despite fifteen deaths, two permanently disabled men, over 100 caisson workers severely afflicted (not counting the men who simply walked off the job when they became ill) caisson and pier work didn’t miss a beat. In fact, the only time caisson work cease was when workers attempted to strike for higher pay. Knowing that St. Louis provided no shortage of men looking for work, Eads and the bridge company simply waited them out. After a few days without pay, the men shuffled back into the caissons.

East Caisson Detail

By late May 1870, work at the riverbed was complete. James Eads was filled with pride in observing the two the two largest and deepest bridge piers ever constructed rise out of the water. As Howard Miller explains in his benchmark essay about the bridge, he had ample reasoning to admire his masterpiece. His accomplished marked a new chapter in the annals of civil engineering. In discussing his accomplishment, Eads wrote:

“When I left it to-day, I could not help being impressed with the feeling that I had never undertaken any mechanical or engineering performance before with such full assurance that failure was absolutely impossible as in the case of this, the greatest work of my life…”

This sentiment is remarkable for a man whose life was filled with wondrous accomplishment. That story comes next in the Summer of Eads.

The Drink

Selecting a drink to celebrate the Eads Bridge was difficult. I can’t drink on the bridge, and the rows of saloons and taverns that once welcomed caisson workers between shifts are all long gone. But I wanted to find something I could tie to the men who did a job I’d never sign up for.

Despite Jaminet’s warnings about drinking alcohol, one can’t blame these guys for ignoring him completely. As I spend my days sitting in a cubicle for too much money, these guys spent their days shoveling mud for not enough. If they didn’t drink for the taste, they certainly drank to celebrate surviving another shift.

A final anecdote found in my research further illustrate the dangerous changes in air pressure these men experienced. In Rails Across the Mississippi, Robert W. Jackson tells the story of a caisson worker who inadvertently carried a flask of brandy in his pocket down into an air chamber. Or perhaps it was intentional, and this man thought a few nips far below would help prevent the joint pain he suffered after work. Either way, it must have been a shock when he emerged at the surface and the flask exploded in his pocket. If he hadn’t already determined his job was dangerous, he surely must have realized it at that moment.

Personally, I wouldn’t climb down into a caisson if the reincarnation of James Eads came back to life and offered to lead me down into one himself. Instead, I decided to simply go stare at it again, just as I did after my new friend Amanda told me her version of its story.

But this time, I brought a flask of brandy with me. With no risk of it exploding in my hand, I raised it and drank to the men who worked and died building our famous bridge.

quote_line

Sources invaluable to this post:

  • Rails across the Mississippi by Robert W. Jackson, 2001
  • The Eads Bridge by Howard Miller and Quinta Scott, 1999
  • A History of the St. Louis Bridge by C.M. Woodward, 1881
  • The Bends: Compressed air in the History of Science, Diving, and Engineering by John L. Phillips, 1998
  • Physical Effects of Compressed Air, and of the Causes of Pathological Symptoms Produced on Man, By Increased Atmospheric Pressure Employed for the Sinking of Piers, in the Construction of the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis Missouri by Alphonse Jaminet, M.D., 1871
May 7th, 2014 by Cameron

More Love for Rob & Ginny

Rob & Ginny's Crib

A few months ago, I started my third year as a volunteer docent at the Campbell House Museum in downtown St. Louis. I’ve said it many times before in this blog, but I just have to say it again: I love this place. There are so many reasons why it’s special, so I decided it was time for Distilled History to highlight a couple more of them for people to come down and see it in person.

When people take my tour of Robert and Virginia Campbell’s house, most visitors will recognize right away that I tend to focus on the history of the family and the house they inhabited. I do love all the stuff that’s inside the house, and I’ll always point it out, but I’ll admit that china sets and chamber pots are not my strong suit. If Ulysses S. Grant drank out of a silver cup that’s now on display in the butler’s pantry, knowing why he drank (and of course what he drank) is far more interesting to me than the cup itself.

My preference for the “how did it happen” instead of the “how pretty it is” could be why the history of the city of St. Louis gets a prime seat at the table during one of my tours. To me, the history of the Campbell House and the family is far more vivid when accompanied by the story of the city that rapidly grew around them. The two are irrevocably linked together.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When Robert Campbell stepped onto the St. Louis riverfront for the first time in 1824, he stood before a town containing around 4,000 people. St. Louis was young, and it didn’t extend very far from the river that had initiated its creation. Lewis and Clark had set off just from the same point just twenty years earlier, and one of the city’s co-founders, Auguste Chouteau, was still alive.Rococo Revival Furniture

When Robert died just fifty-five years later in 1879, that small town had grown into an enormous beast of 350,000 people. He’d watch his house, built in 1851 on farmland beyond city limits, become enveloped by buildings, commerce, and a city that wasn’t taking it slow. The story of how all of that happened, and all of the accompanying subplots (Civil War, cholera, cyclones, and beer, to name just a few) makes for a fascinating Campbell House tour. Hear it, and one will understand that Rob and his family were on board for on one hell of a ride.

Anyway, one of the great things about being a visitor to the Campbell House is that every tour is different. While my tour may focus on how Rob and his family  moved through St. Louis, another docent may provide amazing facts about Rococo Revival furniture, Virginia’s intricate needlework on display in the formal parlor, or the $40,000 spent on one massive shopping trip in 1855 (for those wondering, that’s like dropping 1.5 million in today’s dollars).

Weekend Manager ExtraordinaireOne person in particular has a fun project going that’s helping me further appreciate these inanimate aspects of Campbell life. David Newman, the weekend manager, posts a daily photograph on social media as part of a project he calls “Campbell House Photo-a-Day”.

David is one of my favorite people at Campbell House. He’s barely over twenty (I think), and his energy level is really kind of disgusting. Along with his weekend responsibilities of keeping me and a few others in line, he’s in graduate school, he’s a Park Ranger at White Haven, and he’s frequently marching off to Civil War reenactments playing the role of a Union private. When all of that isn’t happening, he’s playing gigs or jamming with his band mates until the wee hours of the morning in his apartment in the Campbell Carriage House. Watching this guy go makes me feel very old.

But David knows his stuff, and talking Campbell history with him is fun. If we aren’t leading people around the house, we can usually be found seated around the break room table checking each other’s facts, comparing notes, and making sure our tours are solid.

He’s also got a great eye and is an accomplished photographer. I love this project he has going on, so I decided to take a break from the usual burden of research-heavy Distilled History and show off what David is up to. The following slide show highlights forty or so of my favorite images he has taken in recent weeks. Hopefully, they’ll convince a few Distilled History readers to take his tour and see these things for themselves.

After that, I hope people will come back and hear my side of the story.

(To see more of David’s fun project, search for #chmphotoaday on Instagram)

The Drink

Beer in the Garden

Another (new) aspect of my tour at the Campbell House is one that I’m pretty excited about. Since I started volunteering there, I’ve always thought it would be great if I could offer a cold beverage to people while they listened to me throw down some good history. I mean, my two favorite subjects are history and booze, so why not try to add a drink to my favorite history in St. Louis?

However, I knew without asking that serving beer inside the Campbell House was not an option.  Spilling PBR on a 165 year-old sofa would put me in some hot water. Even worse, it would certainly be me that spilled it. That can’t happen, but the idea kept nagging at me. But then it hit me: There are no sofas in the garden.

Suddenly, I had it all figured out! If I offered a cold beer to museum visitors outside, it would make for a fitting conclusion to the tour. It could also be an opportunity for visitors to take a seat under the gazebo and we’d continue the conversation from one of the best viewpoints of the house. We could even talk about Campbell family alcohol preferences (another topic I’ve included in recent tours).

Remarkably, when I reluctantly asked the museum brass if I could do this, their response was immediate.

Great idea! But the beer must be free.

Woah! Not only did they like the idea and support it, but the lack of a liquor license means I can’t charge a dime for it. My plan was to give it away all along, so everything has fit neatly into place. Come for a tour at the Campbell House, ask for the Distilled History guy, and you’ll get free beer on your tour. If you’re lucky, I’ll even have some homebrew on hand that I’m brewing specifically for this endeavor.

So, there you go. Plenty of reasons, including cold beer in your hand, to get down to the Campbell House Museum. You’re out of excuses.

April 9th, 2014 by Cameron

The Suffragette

Virginia L. Minor

On a brisk autumn morning in October 1872, an elegant and determined woman opened the door to the Board of Election offices in downtown St. Louis and gracefully stepped inside. Beside her walked her husband of twenty-nine years, a respected attorney in St. Louis who supported his wife on all counts in what she had set out to do that morning.

The Presidential election of 1872 between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was just three weeks away, and the office the couple entered that morning was bustling with activity. And in the thick of that bustle sat the 6th Ward of St. Louis Registrar of Voters, a fifty-two year old man named Reese Happersett.

When Reese Happersett looked up and identified the two people who had just entered his office that morning, it’s very possible that he thought to himself:

“Oh shit. Here we go.”

In all likelihood, Happersett recognized Virginia Louisa Minor and her husband Francis right away. Well-known in St. Louis political circles, the two had been vocal leaders in the women’s suffrage movement locally and nationally for several years. He must have also realized immediately why Virginia Minor had entered his office that morning. She had plans to vote in the upcoming Presidential election.

What caused that brief moment of foreboding to float through Happersett’s mind is that it was his job to tell Virginia Minor that she wouldn’t be able to. Virginia Minor was a female, and Missouri law in 1872 explicitly stated that only males could vote.

After the dust settled that morning, newspaper accounts reported that Reese Happersett politely declined Virginia Minor’s request to have her name added to the list of registered voters. Minor did pushed back at Mr. Happersett’s rejection to a degree, but she had no plans to play the role of someone “creating a sensation” that day. In fact, not only did Virginia Minor know her request would be denied, she hoped it would be. If Reese Happersett denied her right to vote, the first step in her grand plan would be initiated.

The second step would be to take Reese Happersett to court.

The Old CourthousePerhaps more than any extant structure in St. Louis, the Old Courthouse embodies the deep and rich history of St. Louis.

The Old Courthouse is locally renowned as the building where Dred and Harriett Scott began their legal quest for freedom in 1846. Not nearly as well-known, but nearly as significant, Virginia Minor’s battle for women’s equality was initiated in the same building. Virginia Minor’s story played out on the same floors, within the same walls, and under the same dome as Dred Scott’s.

The Old Courthouse as it looks todayAs they’d be known in the annals of the United States Supreme Court, Dred Scott v. Sanford and Minor v. Happersett share striking similarities. Both cases were first argued at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. Both cases dealt with the issues of civil rights and equality. Both cases questioned the Constitutional definition of the “citizen”. Both cases were lost and appealed until they stood before the United States Supreme Court. And in both cases, that court would hand down decisions ruling against the plaintiff.

However, despite the judgements against Dred Scott and Virginia Minor, their respective movements both enjoyed booming support and increased activism in the wake of defeat. Both movements also eventually succeeded, but in one final and unfortunate similarity, both Dred Scott and Virginia Minor would not live to see it with their own eyes.

Virginia Minor was born on March 27, 1824 in Goochland County, Virginia. As a young woman, Virginia was educated at home and briefly attended an academy for young ladies in Charlottesville. She was beautiful, intelligent, known for having “ladylike manners” and possessing an “old-fashioned charm”. At the age of nineteen, she married her distant cousin Francis, which fortuitously enabled her to keep her maiden name. After a brief residence in Mississippi, the couple moved to St. Louis in 1845 and purchased a farm on land that is now the Central West End.

St. Louis Ladies' Union Aid Society Lithograph

Despite her southern upbringing, Virginia Minor was committed to the abolition of slavery and an unflinching supporter of the Union during the Civil War. In late 1861, she was one of the first women to join the newly formed St. Louis Ladies’ Union Aid Society. This group, along with the Western Sanitary Commission, worked tirelessly to support wounded Union soldiers and their families during the war. Virginia Minor volunteered her own time and resources caring for patients at local hospitals, donating produce grown at the Minor farm, and even delivering jars of cherry preserves to men stationed at Jefferson Barracks.

A significant side-effect of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society was that it enabled women such as Virginia Minor to showcase leadership qualities. As a result, the role of women in society suddenly expanded as women became more involved in causes outside of the home. Not surprisingly, many women involved in the Ladies’ Union Aid Society became leaders in the women’s suffrage movement. This was the path taken by Virginia Minor, and by the end of the war, she had committed her life’s work to the political enfranchisement of women.

Virginia Minor’s strong leadership skills would be rewarded in 1867 when she was named President of the newly formed Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri. This organization holds the distinction of being the first organization in history dedicated solely to the political enfranchisement of women. It wasn’t until two years later when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.

The Mercantile Library BuildingIn the aftermath of the Civil War, the “Reconstruction Amendments” proposed to Congress generated a significant amount of protest from many leaders in the women’s suffrage movement. They demanded that these amendments, authored to grant former slaves rights under the United States Constitution, should be expanded to grant the same rights to women. Virginia Minor petitioned the Missouri State Legislature to do just that, but her proposal was barely considered. Her motion to add the word “women” to wording that gave blacks the right to vote in the 15th Amendment was soundly defeated by a vote of 89-5. Yet despite this another other setbacks, it was Virginia Minor’s husband who recognized a unique opportunity in the wording of the 14th Amendment. Without mentioning gender specifically, he theorized the amendment was written in such a manner than it legally granted women the right to vote.

In 1869, a national convention for women’s suffrage met in St. Louis at the Mercantile Library Building. It was at this convention where Francis Minor laid out this new legal theory. Backed by an impassioned speech from his wife, the convention formally adopted the principles of Francis Minor’s argument. Three years later, the theory would be put to the test when Virginia Minor attempted to register to vote in Reese Happersett’s office.

Laura Staley, in an article written for Gateway Heritage Magazine published in 1983, concisely illustrates the three key points Francis Minor used in his argument. The basis of it was that women already had the right to vote. All they had to do was exercise it.

Francis Minor's Legal TheoryThe Minor’s plan all along was to legally test the theory in court. To do so, Francis Minor filed a civil lawsuit against Reese Happersett in December 1872. Since women were not allowed to file suit on their own behalf, Virginia was named as co-plaintiff. The suit demanded that Reese Happersett be ordered to register Virginia Minor to vote and pay damages in the sum of $10,000.

The Minors contended that Happersett was depriving Virginia Minor of a privilege of United States citizenship, and that his action was condemning her to a “position of involuntary servitude”. In response, Reese Happersett and his attorney simply claimed that he had simply enacted a provision of the Missouri State Constitution that included one definitive word: male.

Missouri State Constitution Excerpt

Happersett’s attorney bolstered the defense by arguing the amendment was written for the purpose of granting blacks, and only blacks, the right to vote. The trial was not by jury, and both sides presented their arguments in written statements. Judge Horatio M. Jones took little time delivering a verdict in favor of Reese Happersett.

Chief Justice Morrison WaiteImmediately, Francis Minor appealed the ruling. Three months later in May 1873, the case was presented before the Missouri Supreme Court, again at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. The result would be the same, and Francis Minor then filed a final appeal to bring the case before highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court.

The case was argued in Washington D.C. two years later in February 1875. Unlike the previous cases that essentially ruled in favor of the Missouri Constitution and its use of the word “male”, the Supreme Court’s ruling was more definitive. With a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that neither the Constitution nor the 14th Amendment granted any citizen the right to vote as Francis Minor theorized.

In the court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice Morrison Waite, the point is clearly made:

Chief Justice Morrison Waite Quote

Despite defeat, Virginia and Francis Minor continued the fight for the remainder of their lives. In 1879, Virginia Minor was elected President of the Missouri branch of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She refused to pay her taxes, argued for equality in newspapers, testified before the United States Senate, and on the one-hundred year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; she joined her fellow suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and several others in signing the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States.

Minor Gravesite

Virginia Minor died in St. Louis on August 14, 1894. Because she found the clergy hostile to her cause, her funeral was held at the Minor home without religious service or religious figures present. She willed $1,000 to her friend and colleague Susan B. Anthony in gratitude for the time and money she had expended towards their common cause. Peculiarly, she also willed two nieces $500 each on the provision that they never marry. Furthermore, if one of them did decide to wed, her share would transfer to the other.

Virginia Louisa Minor is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery next to her husband and their only child. Coincidentally, in a unmarked grave just across the cemetery road, less than two-hundred feet away, sits the grave of her adversary Reese Happersett.

On August 18, 1920, sixteen years and four days after Virginia Minor died, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The amendment prohibited any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex, and it effectively overruled the decision handed down in Minor v. Happersett.

The Drink

The Suffragette Cocktail

As a history nerd, the women’s suffrage movement is one that has always fascinated me. It’s a perfect vehicle to explain why I love history. Since I wasn’t alive during the time to see it with my own two eyes, I yearn to study and understand why something as completely unthinkable to me as denying a woman the right to vote was acceptable as recently as one-hundred years ago.

Another aspect of women’s suffrage that’s interesting is its close relation to alcohol and the temperance movement that occurred at the same time. That’s a subject for another post, but it’s an interesting conversation I’ve had more than once since I started researching and writing this one. Just a few weeks ago, I sipped a Manhattan cocktail and listen to a brilliant woman explain to me that “a major reason why the 19th Amendment passed is because of the same women who had already effectively organized and campaigned to help push through the 18th Amendment.”

In other words, women became very good at politics since the days of the St. Louis Ladies’ Union Aid Society. Before achieving the right to vote, they honed their craft by organizing into a political force and making Prohibition a reality in the United States.

I should hold a grudge about that, but I don’t. Prohibition was a complete failure, but something had to be done about the crazy drunkenness going on in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But again, that’s a story for another post.

Virginia Minor's Panel at the MHM

However, I found no record of Virginia Minor being involved with the temperance movement, so I’m going to assume that she wouldn’t mind sitting down with me to throw back a glass of wine, a cup of punch, or maybe even a sip of whiskey.

And remarkably, I stumbled upon a drink created by a St. Louis bartender that fits the theme of this post. A recipe for a concoction named the “The Suffragette” appears in the May 9, 1909 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was invented by a local bartender named “Pop” Harris. Simple to make and containing several ingredients I had on hand, I set out to make it myself and drink a couple on the front porch.

Although the name of the drink is perfect (this is the first time one term has adequately defined both the history and drink subject for one of my posts), I had two problems that I couldn’t shake from my mind as I sipped.

First if all, I kept thinking how pissed Virginia Minor would be at how it was advertised in the Post-Dispatch: “One suffragette cocktail will convert man and four will make him wash dishes”.  The second issue is that it just doesn’t have enough alcohol. When I take the time to mix a fancy cocktail, I want to be hit on that first sip. Rittenhouse Rye (my choice for the main ingredient in a Manhattan) is 100 proof. The cheap sloe gin I had on hand to make the occasional sloe gin fizz is only 30 proof. Sweet and dry vermouth (which are simply fortified wines) are great compliments to base spirits, but they certainly aren’t going to help knock you off your chair. I believe I’m going to try to improve this drink on my own, perhaps making my own sloe gin, or by adding a bit of Hayman’s Old Tom, which helped a bit with my second pour.

In its current state, I doubt even four suffragettes could get me drunk, and that’s just fine. I was already on board with Virginia Minor before I drank the first one. And I’ll leave the dishes for tomorrow.

The Suffragette Cocktail

March 9th, 2014 by Cameron

The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874

My Favorite Drinking BuddyOne of the joys in my life is that my dear mother can take a joke.

My mother is brilliant, effusive, hilarious, (and in a very lovely way), kinda nuts. She’s easy to make fun of, and badgering her about one of her many quirks (such as her inclination to chitchat with everyone who crosses her path) is always good fun. But Mom can also dish it back, and this sort of back-and-forth banter always makes for an amusing evening when we’re visiting. While we’re at it, the scene is usually accompanied by gin, colorful language, and laughter as we make fun of each other and (of course) others.

Frequent topics include how one should never willingly ride in a car my sister is driving, accounts of my misbehavior during high school/college/last week, or even the time Mom sprayed eyeglass cleaner in her mouth because she thought the little spray canister was a breath refresher.

I’ll also go to work on her with an annoying little game I call “That’s from St. Louis”. It’s a simple game, especially for a guy who knows thousands of useless facts about St. Louis. Here’s how it works:

During our fun chats, all I do is wait for my mother to say something that I can relate to the city of St. Louis. I’ll usually start with something trivial that everyone knows:

Mom & Cameron BanterIn the beginning of the game, Mom will usually respond with something simple like “That’s nice, dear”. But the key is to keep it going. The more random the fact, the better:

Mom & Cameron BanterAfter five or six of these, it’ll start to get to her. I’ll hear a “sigh” in return, or maybe I’ll get one of her “looks”. My mother adores the city of St. Louis, but the button pushing is getting to her. This is when I go in for the kill:

Mom & Cameron Banter(Snap)

Mom's Fed UpI actually have a good reason for telling the story about how I mildly torment my mother. It’s a good lead-in to this post, which is a first in the life of Distilled History. Instead of promoting something that did happen in St. Louis, I’m going to promote something that didn’t.

The Hot Dog: Not a World's Fair Creation

My dumb little game not only led me to learn that I had one of my facts wrong, but it also led me to the fun story behind a classic drink. It’s not exactly St. Louis history, but it’s drinking history. That’s one-half of this blog, so it’s good enough for me.

On the evening when I informed my (somewhat exasperated) mother that the gin-based Tom Collins cocktail was invented in St. Louis, I remember suddenly wondering if it was actually true. Although I’ve been told by a few reliable sources the Tom Collins was born here, I’ve fallen for more than a few myths of St. Louis before.

How to Mix Drinks

Others have as well, and that’s why we sometimes hear people incorrectly boast that the hamburger, the hot dog, and peanut butter were all invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. They weren’t, and minimal research will provide evidence that the three foods were around well before 1904. But all is not lost, dear St. Louis. Our magnificent fair 110 years ago can still claim the waffle ice cream cone and cotton candy.

With a bit of research, I also learned the Tom Collins cocktail also belongs in the same “Not-from-St. Louis” category as peanut butter. It turns out the classic libation of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda was almost certainly first poured in New York City.

Many claim the drink is a St. Louis creation because of a famous bartender named Jerry Thomas, the “presiding deity” of the bar at the famous Planter’s House Hotel that once stood downtown. One of the most famous hotels west of the Mississippi in the 19th Century, it’s possible that during his tenure, Jerry Thomas served drinks to notable guests including Charles Dickens, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jefferson Davis.

The claim does have merit on the surface, because “Professor” Jerry Thomas (as he would come to be known), was in fact there. He did work as the head bartender at the Planter’s House at some point in the mid-19th Century. But it’s a flimsy claim to say he invented the Tom Collins cocktail during his tenure. Not a single shred of evidence exists to support it. In fact, there is no record of how long he was at the Planter’s House, what he did (other than tend bar), or why he eventually left.

What can’t be argued is that in the years after he left St. Louis, Jerry Thomas would become the most famous bartender in American history. This happened in part because of a benchmark book he published, The Bar-Tender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. Published in 1862, it is considered the first book of cocktail recipes ever published in the United States.

"The Professor" Jerry Thomas

A significant clue that the Tom Collins cocktail is not a St. Louis creation is that the recipe doesn’t appear in the that book. The Collins doesn’t appear (for the first time in print) until the second edition, published fourteen years later in 1876. By that time, Jerry Thomas had been for years firmly rooted in his own bar on Broadway in New York City.

A second (and most convincing) clue is remarkably, a simple practical joke.

In 1874, some random fellow in the saloon-filled streets of New York City came up with an idea to provoke one of his drinking companions. It worked, and the success of the joke caused it to become a popular form of entertainment in the city. It didn’t stop there. As fast as news could travel, folks in Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and any town that could claim a bar and a guy looking to rile up his pal became a place where the prank was rehashed. It was known as The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, and it’s one of the more amusing (and well-documented) stories in the history of drinking and mixology.

An article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 13, 1874, details how the prank worked:

How the Hoax WorkedWith his friend sufficiently riled up, the two men would set forth to locate Tom Collins. Entering the crowded saloon he was directed to, the joke’s pawn would angrily demand of the bartender “Where is Tom Collins?” Already in on the prank, the bartender would direct the man towards some unsuspecting patron about to deny being familiar with anyone named Tom Collins. In the resulting confusion, tempers would flair, the joke would eventually be realized, and the crowded bar (most certainly in on the act) would erupt with laughter.

Tom Collins Ad

Of course, this sort of scene would require a round of drinks to get everyone to simmer down and heal egos.

The prank became so popular that even newspapers became participants. False sightings of the notorious “Tom Collins” were reported, advertisements promoted his preferences in hats and cigars, and articles with titles such as “That Infernal Tom Collins!” appeared frequently when the joke succeeded. People even wrote songs to memorialize the good times had with the prank.

In one humorous account, the joke caused conflict even when the victim knew what was happening. In June 1874, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed an account of a hotel patron who became quite angry when he was handed a card that said “Tom Collins wants to see you after dinner”. Already victimized by the joke two or three times previously, the man became “wrathful”. This led to “hard words” with the identified prankster, and a “first class scrimmage hung in the balance”. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

As 1874 wound down, so did the joke. The more it was staged, the more difficult it became to find someone who’d be an unknowing patsy. But the hoax has a lasting legacy that lives on today. According to cocktail historian David Wondrich (and several other sources), it’s this joke that gave us the name of the famous Tom Collins cocktail we know today. In his book Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, Wondrich asserts that the ancestor of the Tom Collins is a gin-based punch with the similar name of “John Collins”. Popular in England, the recipe was likely transported across the Atlantic by British sailors visiting New York City. However, Americans have a tendency to put their own spin on things, and before long the “John Collins” became known as the “Tom Collins”.

And it’s delicious gin that gives us the answer why.

Tom Collins Quote

In 1874, the London dry version of gin (think Bombay Sapphire, for example) that many prefer today was practically unheard of. Order a gin drink in 1874 and you’d either get Dutch Jenever or British Old Tom gin. Both are sweeter and maltier versions of the London dry everyone is familiar with today. These (delicious) versions are still around today, but London dry is now the standard (due in large part to the popularity of the martini cocktail).

Anyway, when angry guys started storming into saloons in and demanding to see a “Mr. Collins”, bartenders started putting their own spin on the joke. A “Collins” was also a drink, so holding one up and bellowing back “Here’s your Mr. Collins!” became an amusing way to enhance the prank.

Title Page of Jerry Thomas's Book

The final piece of the puzzle occurred when an unknown bartender or patron decided to refer to the drink as a “Tom Collins” instead of a “John Collins”. This likely made more sense at the time, because it was very probably that Old Tom gin (or just “Old Tom”) was used to make it.

Like the hoax that had spread from bar to saloon, and town to city, so did the freshly named drink. Then, two years after the joke took the country by storm,  Jerry Thomas sat down to write the second edition of his popular cocktail recipe book. Surely recalling his own experiences from the hoax the Tom Collins recipe was included. It would be the first time the recipe appears in print. The rest, as they say, is drinking history.

Tom Collins Recipe

The Drink

The Planter's House

The location of the drink for this post is one I have been saving for few months. The Planter’s House, named after the famous St. Louis hotel, recently opened on the on the corner of Mississippi and Chouteau just north of Lafayette Square. Frequent readers of this blog will likely become very familiar with Planter’s House, because it’s going to be featured in this blog for years to come. The first time I walked in the door, I instantly recognized that St. Louis had been blessed with another place at which I could satisfy my cocktail fix.

I knew it would be good even before that because a guy named Ted Kilgore is one of the proprietors. I don’t know Mr. Kilgore personally, but his name carries weight among cocktail connoisseurs in this town. I’ve been telling people for years that the best Manhattan in St. Louis is the one he served when he ran the show at Taste. Now it’s at Planter’s House, and I’m giddy that it’s actually possible to order a pitcher of them from the cocktail menu.

The Planter's House Tom Collins

Another aspect of the (new) Planter’s House that I appreciate is the attention to St. Louis drinking history. Not only is the name of the establishment a nod to Jerry Thomas and the original Planter’s House, but the accompanying “Bullock Room” is named after a notable African-American bartender who worked in St. Louis in the early 20th Century. That’s a guy who will be getting attention in this blog sooner or later.

I’ll be back often for the Manhattans, but the purpose of my visit was to get a Tom Collins. It’s listed as one of the “House Favorites” on the Planter’s House cocktail menu, and I’ve never had a better version. My only complaint is that this brutal 2014 winter continues. Accompanied by fresh lemon juice and orange peel, I believe a Tom Collins is most enjoyable during warmer weather.

To add to my excitement, I was elated to learn that Bol’s Genever, not London dry gin, is used in the Planter’s House Tom Collins. That’s how Jerry Thomas would have prepared it.

Served in a tall Collins glass over perfectly clear ice, the drink is ideally made at Planter’s House.

Now all I have to do is get Mom, my favorite drinking buddy, back to St. Louis so I can take her to the Planter’s House for another.

February 11th, 2014 by Cameron

The Big Two-Five-O

Chouteau's Journal

St. Louis has a big day coming up! Our fair city is about to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the day it became a dot on the map. I’m excited about it, and I think celebrations are in order. I am making plans to spend February 15, 2014 reading about St. Louis history, listening to other people talk about St. Louis history, and of course… drinking.

Well, that’s how I spend most of my days, but I’m at least gonna bust out the good gin for this one.

I know the story of how St. Louis came to be, but I decided to take an even closer look before popping the cork. And I better write about it now, because writing won’t be happening on the fifteenth. Since starting this blog, I’ve found I can’t write a single sentence after the first sip of a sip a tasty cocktail. How sad is that? I write a blog about history and drinking and I can’t do both at the same time. Sigh.

To help tell the tale, St. Louis is fortunate to have an amazing resource that many American cities don’t. A primary source detailing how and when the city came to be exists. Auguste Chouteau, the co-founder and “First Citizen” of St. Louis, wrote it all down for us to read whenever we want to (well, only if you can read French). And by the way, I’d like to use this post to promote the proper pronunciation of his name. It should be pronounced “SHOOtoe”, not the “SHOWtoe” we are all used to hearing.

Sadly, most of Chouteau’s “journal”, which he wrote later in life, was lost in a 19th century fire. However, the sixteen pages that tell us how St. Louis was founded survived and are tucked away for safekeeping at the Mercantile Library in St. Louis.

It all started in November 1763, two-hundred and fifty-one years ago. That’s when our soon-to-be co-founders were paddling north on the Mississippi River looking for something. Their journey originated in New Orleans, and after dropping off men and supplies at a French garrison (Fort de Chartes) along the way, the two men continued on their own. Upon reaching the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, they turned around and headed back downstream. About eighteen miles later, they pulled their boat up to a gently sloping shore on the western bank of the Mississippi. In front of them stood a two-mile stretch of limestone bluffs that reached forty feet into the air. Nearby, a break in the bluffs created a natural pathway that allowed the two men to walk up and investigate the wooded land stretching to the west.

Today, those limestone bluffs are long gone. But the path still remains. It’s now called Market Street.

The Founding of St. Louis

 The older gentleman who stepped from the boat was our other co-founder, the Frenchman Pierre Laclède (“LaCLED” not “LaCLEED”). He was likely in a good mood because their boat was now parked in front of exactly what he was looking for. To make sure they didn’t lose it, Laclède pulled out an axe and notched a few trees to mark the location. With that out of the way, he turned to his young companion and gave him clear instruction. The young man taking notes was the previously mentioned Auguste Chouteau, Laclède’s stepson. Chouteau was only thirteen (maybe fourteen) at the time, but the responsibility Laclède then heaped on him is astounding. When weather improved, Chouteau was to lead several boats filled with men, supplies, and building materials back to the piece of land they were standing on. Barely a teenager, he was about to take the lead in founding a new city.

Auguste Chouteau Arrives

Three months later, on February 15, 1764, Auguste Chouteau pulled to shore at the head of his charge. As he instructed some of his men to begin clearing land the next morning, he instructed others to build necessary storehouses and living structures. Auguste Chouteau then began to plot out Laclede’s proposed street grid on the same land that now sits beneath the Gateway Arch. That day, February 15, 1764, is the moment the city of St. Louis came to be.

When Pierre Laclède showed up several weeks later, he named the new settlement after King Louis IX and joined in the fun of building a city from scratch. During the time Chouteau was sent north to get things started, Laclède had remained at Fort de Chartes to acquire additional supplies, recruit settlers, and boast that he had found the ideal location from which a great city might rise. Chouteau corroborates this fact in his own narrative of the event:

Auguste Chouteau's QuoteDespite what could come to be (and did), a bustling city of the future is not what Pierre Laclède had in mind. Commerce is the reason St. Louis was founded. Several years earlier, Laclède and his business partner in New Orleans, Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxtent, were given exclusive rights to trade with Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. Laclède’s primary mission was to build outposts on the west side of the river in order to do just that. This was necessary, because the Treaty of Paris signed the previous year (ending the Seven Years’ War), meant that every French settlement on the east side of the river (like Cahokia and Kaskaskia) were now the property of Great Britain.

Auguste Chouteau

Interestingly, Laclède had no idea his new settlement on the western bank of the river wasn’t French either. Two years earlier, in 1762, France secretly ceded all territory west of the Mississippi River to Spain. Word hadn’t reached Upper Louisiana yet, so this created a very interesting situation. In early 1764, about thirty French-speaking men went about building a new city on Spanish soil, across the river from the British Empire, and surrounded by several Indian tribes.

Actually, the Indian situation was probably the least of their worries. Unlike the British, who strutted around the continent like conquerors, the French took a chummier approach to Native American relations. Being a friendly neighbor meant having a profitable trade partner right next door. As a result, Laclède was happy to set up shop near plenty of Osage, Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Peoria, and Tamaroa that lived and hunted in the area. It’s also worth noting that St. Louis is one of the few major American cities that did not displace Native American people when it was founded.

In fact, shortly after St. Louis came to be, about 150 Missouri Indians showed up at the front door asking if they could move in. Laclède realized St. Louis wasn’t ready for such a population explosion, so he smoothly convinced the tribe it wasn’t the best idea at that time. An interesting fact about this event is that Missouri Indian labor was used to help build St. Louis while Laclède and the Missouri Chiefs were busy negotiating living arrangements.

Map of western New France in 1688

St. Louis was founded in a part of North American known as Upper Louisiana. It was wilderness, but it wasn’t off the map. Shortly after Marquette and Joliet became the first Europeans to set eyes on the future site of St. Louis in 1673, French explorers like LaSalle started cruising up and down the Mississippi looking for trade routes to China and ways to expand an empire. Settlers soon followed, taking advantage of a vast and fertile land that could grow tobacco, corn (maize), and wheat. The extensive availability of such land can also explain why Pierre Laclède found his ideal location completely unoccupied. The high bluffs overlooking the river prevented easy access to water. It wasn’t perfect land for farming. But Laclede wasn’t looking to grow plants. He needed a spot from which to barter.

Map of St. Louis in 1780Pierre LaclèdeGarrisons like Fortes de Chartes followed, villages like Cahokia and Ste. Genevieve were founded, and boats cruised up and down the river to bring trade goods to all of them. Jesuit missionaries roamed the woods looking for native souls to save. In one noteworthy example, a priest named Father Gabriel Marest helped establish a short-lived Indian-European settlement in 1700 on a piece of land that is now in south St. Louis city. It contained a church, fort, and several Indian cabins, but was abandoned just three years later. A few even claim Laclède and Chouteau shouldn’t be considered the first. Professor Carl Ekberg believes he found three maps that prove an established settlement already existed very near where Laclède and Chouteau notched their trees.

Regardless, the scene at this important place, at this specific time, is a remarkable moment in American history. Imagine Laclède and Chouteau standing on top of that bluff and taking it all in for the first time. When St. Louis was founded three months later, the population was about only about 35 people. In just 100 years, more than 350,000 called St. Louis home. As Laclede hoped, his fur-trading outpost would become (and remain) one of the greatest cities in America.

The Drink

February 14th or 15th?

On which day should I raise my glass and toast Pierre Laclède and August Chouteau? A minor (and quite interesting) debate exists regarding this question. Generally, the date many believe Pierre and Auguste pulled to shore is February 14th, 1764. Even the countdown clock over at STL250, an organization lining up all sorts of fun events to celebrate the day, will hit zero on Valentine’s Day.

Not so fast.

In his book Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West, Frederick Fausz asserts (rather emphatically) that St. Louis was founded on the fifteenth of February, not the fourteenth. He makes the point that Chouteau wrote “15” in his journal, and that fact settles the argument. It is the only record from someone who was there. I completely agree with Mr. Fausz, and this is why my celebrations will be a bit well, livelier on the fifteenth.

Auguste Chouteau's Grave

Interestingly (and somewhat amusingly), people clinging to the fourteenth aren’t necessarily out of their minds. As some have pointed out, Chouteau wrote his narrative decades after the event happened. Maybe his memory was a bit hazy? His son Pierre claimed his father told him was the fourteenth. Inspect the writing, and one could say the “5” does kinda looks like a “4” (it’s definitely a “5”). Adding to the fun, “Fevrier” (the narrative is written in French) is crossed out and “Mars” is written over it. We know for a fact that they didn’t land in March, so what happened there? This is the sort of trivial quandary that can keep a history buff up like me at night. Maybe someone intentionally changed it, like the folks who put the new tombstone up for him in Calvary Cemetery with the (very) wrong birth year.

That’s another good story, and one I need to look into.

In the meantime, I need to find a drink to celebrate these two fantastic guys. Fortunately, figuring this one out was pretty easy. Drinking alcohol was a fact of life in colonial (and frontier) America. The average person drank far more on a daily basis than people do today. It was a fact of life for just about everyone. Since it was often safer (and of course, tastier), colonists and frontiersmen regularly chose whiskey, rum, or ale over water.

Founding of St. Louis, 1764 by Edgar S. Cameron

The sixteen pages of Chouteau’s journal tell us nothing about our co-founder’s preference in booze. Actually, not much is known about Laclède’s preference in anything (little was written about him). But if you ask me, I say they had some whiskey with them on that boat. I also say that after walking around their new find, they had a few nips to celebrate their good fortune.

Today, the general area where this may have likely to have happened is where the southern leg of the Gateway Arch now meets the earth. It’s also the location where Pierre Laclede chose to have his own house built (the same house Missouri Indians helped build). This is where it started, so this where is the place I went to have my drink. On a cold winter day, I trudged towards the southern leg and snuck a few sips of whiskey out of a flask and toasted to our co-founders.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Laclede and Chouteau had to deal with National Park Rangers who don’t want people openly drinking near a national monument. Let’s just say my stay was very brief and taking photographs was out of the question.

It was bitter cold, so I had no problem saving it for another day. Actually, I’ll save it for the real birthday, coming up on February 15th.

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 Finally, I want to take a moment to point out a few of the many ways to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of St. Louis. Check out the schedule of events at STL250. The Missouri History Museum has a new exhibit opening to go along with a yearlong celebration they have planned. Even my beloved Campbell House Museum will be open the weekend of February 15 (a time that is usually off-season). To commemorate the 250th, tours are free.

Further reading (and the sources that helped me put this post together):

 

January 28th, 2014 by Cameron

Adding a Bit of Color to St. Louis History

Union General Ambrose Burnside

In recent months, I’ve noticed a trend in the world of digital photography that I think is pretty neat. In various blogs, social media feeds, and Internet articles, folks have been posting colorized versions of historic black and white photographs. Try googling something like “Civil War in color”, and you’ll find scores of Rebs in butternut, Yanks in blue, and battlefields scattered with dead versions of each. All of them are decked out in a full spectrum of color.

I know some people are opposed to the practice, but I’m a fan. Detractors suggest colorizing black and white photography destroys the artist’s original vision, and there is merit to that argument. Tell me a colorized version of Identical Twins by Diane Arbus is better than the original, and we’ll go a few rounds. But on the other hand, I think Civil War photographers like Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner would have used color photography if it was available during their time. Either way, the original will always be there to look at (and prefer) if one chooses to do so.

Actually, I think the entire argument is a waste of time. Most of the colorized historic photographs I’ve seen online don’t look sufficiently realistic to begin with (the image of Burnside by Mads Madsen being a notable exception). Few get the flesh tones right, vegetation is often overwhelmingly monotone, and finer details get largely ignored. It still doesn’t bother me in the least, because I think it’s all just good fun. For me, it’s simply entertaining to look at a color version of a moment in time that I’ve never seen in color before.

Imagination is fun, and that’s as far as it goes in my book.

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 by Diane Arbus

When I was a photography student in college, one of my favorite classes was a techniques class in which colorizing our own black and white photography was at the heart of several assignments. This was back in 1992 (yikes), and Photoshop was a long way off. Instead, we colorized by hand using Marshall Photo Oils, tinting agents, and a variety of chemicals. Of the several photographs I colored, maybe one or two at were good enough to put on a wall. Maybe the others weren’t, but I still had fun seeing what I could do.

Anyway, in continuing my streak of unfortunate months of January, I recently emerged from a three-week trip to the gates of Hell. Others may know this experience as having a bad case of the flu. Unfortunately, this was no minor case of sniffles and mild coughing. I thought I was a tough guy and didn’t need a flu shot this year. Instead, I missed two weeks of work, lost ten pounds, and nearly landed in the hospital. I even vomited on my cat.

Kitty survived the ordeal, but I spent weeks without an ounce of the energy needed to come near this blog. Even the thought of drinking one of my beloved Manhattans made my stomach turn (which is also the reason a drink doesn’t accompany this post). In order to preserve my sanity while I waited for various drugs to kick in, I surprisingly found working with Photoshop to be a good way to pass the time. Turns out pushing pixels around a computer screen is the perfect low-impact flu activity. It also didn’t require any deep thought, providing a welcome respite for my perpetually aching head.

With that in hand, I went about trying to figure out how to add a bit of color to St. Louis’ past.

Before I display my initial attempts at this new hobby, I can’t resist taking the opportunity to show off one of the more… amusing reasons I first chose to dabble in Photoshop many years ago. My good pal Hopkins knows this all too well. The experience certainly helped me in this new endeavor.

Musical Hopkins!

When I got down to it, I found that colorizing photographs is not difficult, but it’s extremely time-consuming. This post probably required more hours of work than any other in the life of this blog, and looking at the result, I’m not sure it was worth it. I also think that if I didn’t have a 102 temperature, coloring leaves for eight hours straight would have sent me off completely off the edge. But in the end, I think I produced a few examples worthy enough to display here. Most importantly, I had fun. And now that I’m nearly healed up, I promise to put this new hobby aside and get back to a the historic, long-winded, and drunken Distilled History posts that many of you are used to.

While I took a stab at this with a few images from previous Distilled History posts, I also found a few new images that helped me figure this out the necessary techniques (in other words, portraits with sharp focus are ideal). Notably, I was delighted to find numerous photographs by the legendary Lewis Wickes Hine in the photo archives of the Library of Congress. Hines became famous for using photography as a tool to promote social reform, most notably as a means to get child labor regulations implemented. In the early 20th century, he photographed many truant children on the streets of St. Louis working long hours at various street jobs.

This photograph shows three young “newsies” on Jefferson Avenue. It was taken on May 9th, 1910.

Newsies at Skeeter's Branch by Lewis Hine

Colorization of Newsies at Skeeter's Branch

I tried colorizing an image from the 1904 World’s Fair, but I was quickly overwhelmed. However, many images from the 1904 Olympics are perfect for colorizing. This photograph shows American Fred Winters competing in the weightlifting competition. He went on to win the silver medal.

Read more about the 1904 Olympics in this post and this post, both published in the summer of 2012.

Weightlifter Fred Winters at the 1904 Olympics

Historic photographs of daily life are by far my favorite. I often wish I could just leap into an image such as the one below and ask the subjects what their lives are like. In this case, I want to ask these two kids why they didn’t choose a spot away from the public toilet to play a game of marbles.

Boys Playing Marbles in an Alley

Colorized version of Boys Playing Marbles in an Alley

In May 1896, one of the deadliest and costliest tornados in American history ripped through the heart of south St. Louis. The aftermath was photographed extensively, and several remarkable images are available online. While the tornado made short work of a bandstand in Lafayette Square Park, the statue of Thomas Hart Benton (that still stands today) survived unharmed.

Read more about the 1896 Cyclone in this Distilled History post published in November 2012.

Aftermath of the 1896 Cyclone in Lafayette Square Park

Colorization of 1896 Cycle Aftermath

James “Cool Papa” Bell led the Negro League St. Louis Stars to two World Championships in 1928 and 1930. One of the greatest ballplayers to ever call St. Louis home, many believe the speedy center fielder was one of the fastest men to ever play the game.

Read more about St. Louis baseball history in this Distilled History post published in April 2013.

James

On May 5, 1910, Lewis Hine photographed a boy named “Gurley” selling newspapers at the corner of Washington and 18th in downtown St. Louis.

Gurley on 18th & Washington

Gurley on 18th & Washington Colorized

Water sports at the 1904 Olympics were contested in a man-made lake located at the present-day corner of Skinker and Wydown. Unfortunately, livestock from nearby World’s Fair agricultural exhibits used the same lake to bathe and defecate in. As a result, many competitors became severely ill. Four water polo players died of typhus within a year.

Read more about the 1904 Olympics in this post and this post, both published in the summer of 2012.

1904 Olympic Swimmers

When I first thought of this project, I knew colorizing one or more of the St. Louis Motordrome images taken by J.R.Eike in the early 20th Century was a must. Men like the two guys below risked death by racing motorcycles at speeds over 100mph on steep track embankments. The St. Louis Motordrome that once stood at Grand and Meramec in south city had a 62 degree embankment, which was one of the steepest tracks ever built.

Use of J.R. Eike’s photographs are courtesy of Thomas Kempland. Read more about the St. Louis Motordrome in this Distilled History post published in September 2012.

St. Louis Motodrome

St. Louis Motordrome Colorized

This photograph shows the main entrance to Schnaider’s Beer Garden, which thrived at the intersection of Mississippi and Chouteau in the late 19th century. Located across the street from his brewery, up to 10,000 people at a time could pack Schnaider’s and fill their bellies with beer. Another fun fact about Schnaider’s is the band that played nightly at Schnaider’s would eventually evolve into the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Read more about Schnaider’s Beer Garden in this Distilled History post published in October 2012.

Schnaider's Beer Garden

Colorization of Schnaider's Beer Garden Photograph

 

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