Distilled History

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Archive for the ‘Alton, Illinois’ Category

October 22nd, 2013 by Cameron Collins

Haunted Alton & The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

Haunted Alton at Night

Writing a slightly popular blog has its benefits. Maybe I shouldn’t boast that Distilled History is popular, but my Rolodex has certainly bulked up in the past several months. I’ve met new friends involved in the St. Louis history scene, and others who are into drinking. Many are into history and drinking, and that means life is good.

One of them is a clever and entertaining woman named Ginger Justus. She’s the author of a terrific blog named Missouri History & Hauntings.  Like me, she’s deeply interested in the history of the St. Louis area. The difference is while I add drunkenness to my history, Ginger adds ghosts. Fans of what each of us are doing, we started emailing each other and talking about working together in some context. We’ll do that eventually, but in the meantime, Ginger asked me if I’d like to be a special guest on a haunted tour of Alton, Illinois.

Haunted Alton

I’m not a believer in the paranormal, but I do know that ghost stories always come with good history. With Halloween right around the corner, it seemed like a fun event in which to take part. At the very least, maybe someone else would see a ghost, freak out, and make a run for it.

Hearing someone yell “We got a runner!” would make for great reading.

The walking tour Ginger invited me to join is the Alton Hauntings Ghost Tour, created by a ghost guru named Troy Taylor. Founder of the American Ghost Society, Mr. Taylor has authored more than fifty books about ghosts and haunted things, including Haunted Alton, a book I read just last year.

Mr. Taylor wasn’t around that evening, so my tour was in the hands of an equally knowledgeable man named Len Adams. Mr. Adams is the Vice President of the American Ghost Society, a good friend of Troy Taylor’s, and someone who really knows how to tell a good story.

Before leading us into the eerie Alton night, Mr. Adams made it a point to explain that “psychics, Ouija boards, and crystal balls” are not a part of this tour. I was interested to hear him explain that he (and many others who share his interest in the field) believes many hauntings are simply lingering energy imprints left after a traumatic event. A term even exists for this type of occurrence. A “residual haunt” describes things like the inexplicable sound of footsteps in the hall, a door slamming, or a sudden drop in temperature. It could even be the reason why kitty suddenly bolts into another room.

"One of the most haunted small towns in America"

On the other hand, an “intelligent haunt” is the major league of haunts. This is the kind of haunt when you have a tangible and conscious spirit living in your bedroom closet. Intelligent haunts can move things around your house and even join you for a cocktail. According to Len and Ginger, if you encounter one, you could hear, record, and even photograph it.  When I started telling people what I was writing about for this post, I was surprised to find out that many of my close friends are steadfast believers. A few even insisted they had experienced encounters of their own.

I may be a non-believer, but maybe this explains why I found my car keys in the freezer last week.

My tour had many who truly hoped they’d see a ghost. Despite my hope someone would snap, Mr. Adams did his best to allay any fears. He insisted that no harm would come to anyone, and he delivered one of his best lines when informing us the tour even had a safe word:

Haunted Alton Safe Word

The tour lasted a full three hours that night. As it progressed, Mr. Adams wound us around the dark corners of Alton, offering unnerving tales and enlightening history at every turn. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing, you’ll get a fascinating history of the town and the people who lived there.  Len Adams is a ghost expert, but the man knows his Alton history from top to bottom. He accurately recalled topics I have previously written about in this blog, including the stories of Elijah P. Lovejoy and Sunflower Island.

Other topics I was less familiar with, such as the disturbing tale of Hop Hollow Road. This path, a former road between a Civil War prison and the Alton Cemetery, is where Union prison guards unceremoniously dumped the bodies of Confederate soldiers in the woods. Displeased with their improper mode of burial, many claim the ghosts of these men now wander the woods around Hop Hollow Road.

The Enos Sanatorium

A special aspect of this tour is that it will take you inside a few of the stops. Even if you are the most stoic of non-believers, try sitting inside a darkened church and hearing the story of a priest found hanging from the ceiling above you. Other creepy locations include tales of a ghost that smells of lavender and a night watchman who disappeared without a trace. You’ll also hear the story of Tom Boothby, a one-eyed Indian fighter whose demise became the first ghost story of record in Alton.

I enjoyed the entire tour, but it was the first stop that really hooked me. Sitting at the corner of East 3rd and George Streets in Alton is the Enos Sanatorium. Originally known as the Nathaniel Hanson Mansion, the original structure dates to 1857.

Nathaniel Hanson was an ardent abolitionist. With Alton situated across the river from slaveholding Missouri, the town was an active stop on the Underground Railroad in the years prior to the Civil War. Hanson built his home precisely to accommodate that cause. Built on a high bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River, the cupola atop it was visible from afar. Nighttime lanterns inside the cupola reportedly alerted slave runners across the river if the coast was clear or if threats prevented crossing. Additionally, Hanson had tunnels carved into the limestone beneath the house, allowing fleeing slaves a safe place to hide when arriving in Illinois.

There are no records of how many slaves hid in the tunnels beneath the mansion, but it is a documented and verified stop on the Underground Railroad.

In 1911, Dr. W.H. Enos purchased the mansion and converted the building into a tuberculosis sanatorium. Soon after, a fourth floor was added and an adjoining nurses home constructed, making the building look as it does today. Tuberculosis was an incurable disease at the time, and scores of suffering patients died in the mansion during the next several years.  Today, many believe a few of these unfortunate souls continue to roam the halls and make themselves at home.

Today, the house is an attractively restored apartment building. According to Troy Taylor and Len Adams, many apartment residents have reported strange odors, sounds of footsteps, flushing toilets, and even sounds of people screaming. Many others residents have decided to find a new apartment elsewhere for the same reasons.

The Tunnel Beneath Enos Sanatorium

On a dark and windy night, the home definitely has a mysterious feel to it. The highlight of this stop (at least for me), is when Mr. Adams informed us we’d be heading into the tunnels. This is when my heart skipped a beat and “Haunted Alton” became a priceless experience for me. The Underground Railroad happened, but very few physical examples of it still exist today. Getting to step inside a physical Underground Railroad location is a big deal for me. It is something I’ve never been able to do. When I did, I stood quietly and thought about people long ago who hid from evil in the exact same space. That’s a profound moment for a history nerd like me.

Of course, the real reason to get us down there was for Mr. Adams to scare the hell out of us. He did an admirable job, and the stories he tells are another reason to take this tour. He also informed us that if someone freaks and starts running, a dark tunnel fifteen feet underground is the worst place for it to happen. As much as I hoped I’d see someone lose it, I agreed this wasn’t the best place to see it.

First Unitarian Church

If there’s a “most haunted” stop, many claim it’s the First Unitarian Church, the final stop on the tour. It’s where the story of the hanging priest I mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s the highlight of the tour, so I won’t give anything else away. Instead, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for Ginger and Len allowing me to tag along that night. I had fun while hearing a few peculiar stories and good history. Anytime that happens, I’m good to go.

For more information about Alton Hauntings Tours, or to make reservations, click here. Tours fill up quickly during the Halloween season, so plan ahead.

Finally, before I move on to the delicious drink I selected for this post, I want to be clear that my intention here is in no way an attempt to demean any believers in ghosts and spirits. While I don’t personally believe in the paranormal, I completely respect the beliefs of anyone who does, like my new friends Len and Ginger. They have an interest in a subject they hold dear, and that’s good enough for me.

However, if you tell me that you should shake a Manhattan and serve it on the rocks, then you need to get your head examined.

The Drink

The Savoy Cocktail BookIf ghosts and spirits are being revived within the walls of Enos Sanatorium, then why not a corpse?  This is one of those Distilled History posts where I knew the drink well before putting a single word to paper. The Corpse Reviver (No. 2), a prohibition-era cocktail created by a man named Harry Craddock, is also one of my favorites.

Craddock was an American who (wisely) fled to England when Prohibition kicked in. As a barman at the Savoy Hotel in London, he became famous for inventing notable cocktails (like this one), popularizing the dry martini, and publishing The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930.

The Corpse Reviver #2 was named for exactly what it’s meant to do. After a night of heavy drinking, drinking one (or maybe two) is an effective way to “revive one’s corpse”.  However, Craddock is also quick to point out in his book that “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

I’m familiar with such experiences, so along with containing my beloved gin, this is a perfect drink for me. While Craddock recommends drinking the cocktail before 11:00am, I’ve had hangovers last much longer into the day. I mixed mine at 7:00 pm, and I can say it with certainty it worked very well at what it had to do.

The name suggests a “Corpse Reviver (No. 1)” also  exists, and that is correct. Craddock also created that recipe to cure hangovers, but it’s a completely different drink. I also don’t find it nearly as satisfying as the Corpse Reviver (No. 2).

I’ve always thought this cocktail can taste radically different based on the quality of the ingredients used. I won’t make it at home unless quality gin is at hand (Broker’s is my personal preference), and low-end triple sec can’t substitute the extra kick provided by Cointreau.

Don’t wait for a brunch with a pounding hangover to try a Corpse Reviver #2. While it is a great alternative to the ubiquitous Bloody Mary, it’s suitable for any time of the day (or evening). A well-made version is that good.

Corpse Reviver No. 2 Recipe

Finally, if you don’t want to make one on your own (the ingredients are not cheap), Demun Oyster Bar in Clayton makes an excellent version.

March 1st, 2013 by Cameron Collins

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Part II

Narrative of Riots at Alton by Edward Beecher

(Part I of the Elijah P. Lovejoy story can be found here)

Before I kick into the second half of Lovejoy’s story, I thought it’d be interesting to explain how this post came to be. A few weeks ago, a small package arrived on my porch. Inside, I found a copy of Edward Beecher’s book Narrative of Riots at Alton. Obviously, Someone was trying to tell me that Elijah P. Lovejoy would be a good topic for this blog.

To be honest, I can’t get enough of the positive feedback I get for Distilled History. It brightens my day. I keep waiting for someone to tell me that I’m a fraud, that I can’t write, or, that I’m mind-numbingly boring. It may happen after this post, but it hasn’t happened yet. Other than a pretty librarian telling me I should cite my sources better (which I should), I’ve had nothing but great feedback.

However, along with that feedback comes a flurry of suggestions for future posts. Although I appreciate them,  I’ll admit that I prefer to follow my own instincts. Read this blog and you’ll understand that part of the creative process is my stumbling upon something in St. Louis that piques my curiosity.

This blog post is an exception. I’ve always wanted to learn more about Lovejoy, but I didn’t really have a hook to bring it into Distilled History. That changed when the book by Edward Beecher arrived in my mailbox.

Although it came anonymously, I knew who sent it. Thirty-six years ago, on the first day of first grade in Mrs. Mitchell’s class at Arthur W. Booth School in Elmira, New York, I met a kid named Steve Wald. We spent the next twelve years navigating school together, and now we live at opposite ends of the state of Illinois. Thinking back, I believe there are only a handful of people in this world that I have known longer. Steve is also one of the most intelligent and talented people I’ve ever met. After thirty-six years, he’s earned the right to suggest a blog post.

We are oldSeveral months ago, Steve told me about Edward Beecher, the author of the book he sent. Beecher was a close friend of Lovejoy’s and one of his strongest supporters. An abolitionist himself, he became the first president of Illinois College in 1830. Even better, Beecher has strong ties to our hometown of Elmira, New York. He’s one of the siblings in the famous Beecher family. His brother was the pastor at Park Church in Elmira (a bit more about him here), and his sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Edward Beecher

As I read Beecher’s book, it became apparent that the impact Elijah P. Lovejoy had on American history went far beyond the issue of slavery. The real issue behind the Lovejoy conflict was freedom of speech. As Beecher eloquently details in his book, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was murdered as a result of his steadfast refusal to abandon that basic right.

With my reasons for this subject out of the way, let’s pick up Lovejoy’s story in Illinois.

After the fallout of the McIntosh lynching in St. Louis, Lovejoy decided to move his family and newspaper north to Alton, Illinois. Believing he’d gain more acceptance in a free state, it would take just a few hours for reality to set in. The salvaged pieces of his broken printing press were shipped to Alton and arrived on a Sunday in July 1836. Considering it a sin to work on the sabbath, Lovejoy allowed the press to sit idly in a warehouse until the next morning. That evening, a group of ruffians (reportedly from Missouri) broke into the warehouse, destroyed the press, and threw it into the river.

News of the events created quite a stir in Alton. With a reputation as a quiet, law-abiding town, city leaders gathered to discuss the sudden turmoil in their city. At the meeting, many expressed concerns about Lovejoy and his plan to print an antislavery newspaper in Alton. In response, Lovejoy addressed the group and stated that he was not an abolitionist. He argued that in the free state of Illinois, he didn’t see a need to devote much time to the issue of slavery. His priority was to print a newspaper that would bring men and women closer to God. The city leaders reacted favorably to this, but Lovejoy also made it clear that he would not tolerate any infringement on his right of free speech:

Elijah Lovejoy Quote

With the financial backing of a few prominent businessmen, Lovejoy had a new printing press up and running by September 1836. Although Lovejoy attacked slavery in his first issue, the first several months of publication were rather uneventful. Lovejoy focused on religious issues, he continued his assault on Roman Catholics, and campaigned against the evils of alcohol. It was during this time that he also became the first pastor of the College Avenue Presbyterian Church.

College Avenue Presbyterian Church

But as 1837 began, Lovejoy’s editorials again shifted towards the evils of slavery. In return, opposition to Lovejoy in Alton started to grow. His arguments became militant, and he stated that anyone not fighting against slavery is “fighting against God”. These accusations weren’t popular in Alton. While Lovejoy started gaining notoriety on a national level, he was alienating the citizens of his own town.

By July 1837, threats of violence against Lovejoy and his printing press could be overheard in the taverns along the riverfront. City leaders decided to meet again in an attempt to maintain peace. At this meeting, many argued that Lovejoy had broken his initial promise to avoid the issue of slavery in his newspaper. One man stated that to allow the paper to continue publication would be “cowardly”. Although he didn’t attend the meeting, Lovejoy was sent the minutes and asked to cease all discussion of slavery going forward.

True to form, Lovejoy responded defiantly. In an editorial published shortly after, Lovejoy finally declared himself an all-out abolitionist. Declaring slavery a “SIN” in capital letters, he refused to be silenced.

The population of Alton was becoming enraged as threats of violence mounted. One evening, a mob confronted Lovejoy as he walked through town.  Their plan was to capture him, tar and feather him, and put him on display. Knowing their motives, Lovejoy deftly talked his way out of conflict by telling the men he had to deliver medicine to his sickly wife. In a brief moment of compassion, the mob backed down and allowed Lovejoy to continue home.

Discouraged from causing physical harm, the mob decided a better result would be to destroy his printing press. On the evening of August 21, 1837, a mob broke into the Alton Observer printing plant. For the third time, Elijah P. Lovejoy’s printing press was broken apart and thrown into the river.

Printing Press #3 Destroyed

Although Lovejoy quickly asked for funds to be raised to replace the press, he began having serious doubts about his future in Alton. He had only a few supporters and financial backers left in town, and he asked them for a unanimous vote if he should resign. They couldn’t come to a decision, so Elijah Lovejoy remained as editor and continued his crusade. A new printing press was ordered.

Soon after, Lovejoy teamed up with his close friend and supporter from Illinois College, Edward Beecher. The two men called for a state antislavery convention to be held in Alton in October, 1837. Their plan was to create an Illinois Antislavery Society. But in the planning of the convention, the two men would make a tragic mistake. It was decided that in the spirit of free speech, the convention would have an open invitation. This meant that proslavery supporters would have a voice at the meeting just as antislavery supporters did.

The Lovejoy Monument at Alton National Cemetery

As Lovejoy and Beecher supporters from around the state travelled to Alton for the convention, proslavery forces mobilized. Notable among them was the Illinois Attorney General, Usher F. Linder. A crude and hard-drinking man, Linder was a powerful speaker who knew how to motivate followers. When the convention opened on October 26, 1837, Lovejoy was shocked at what he saw. His opponents, led by Linder, had taken full opportunity of the open invitation and packed the convention space.

As Lovejoy opened the meeting, proslavery supporters immediately began disrupting the proceedings. As tempers flared, it was decided to postpone the meeting until the next morning. As the meeting broke up, Linder climbed upon a woodpile outside the hall and openly ridiculed Lovejoy, much to the amusement of his followers. The next day didn’t go any better. Clearly outnumbered by proslavery supporters, the convention that intended to establish the Illinois Antislavery Society succeeded in voting for a list of proslavery resolutions. Among them was Linder’s resolution that slaves were property and the Constitution prohibited taking away one’s property.  The convention was a meaningless disaster. Adding to the drama, everyone was aware that a new printing press was scheduled to arrive at Alton within days.

Lovejoy Quote

Knowing that violence was likely, Alton was gripped with tension. Even Lovejoy and his supporters armed themselves in preparation for defending the new printing press. City leaders decided to hold another meeting in an effort to halt the “present excited state of public sentiment”. At the meeting, a committee was organized to consider and vote on any resolutions presented. Edward Beecher spoke and made an eloquent proposal for the establishment of free speech. The committee rejected his resolution. They responded by introducing substitute resolutions asking for Lovejoy to cease publication of the Observer and leave Alton.

In response, Elijah Lovejoy rose and addressed the crowd. For the next several minutes, Lovejoy gave one of the greatest speeches defending the freedom of speech in American history. It was so powerful that it brought men on both sides of the debate to tears. As he spoke, he made it clear that he knew violence was at hand. He refused to back down: “Why should I flee from Alton? Is this not a free state? When attacked by a mob at St. Louis, I came here to be at the home of freedom and of the laws. The mob has pursued me here, and why should I retreat again?”

Finishing his speech by declaring that he will make his final stand in Alton, Elijah P. Lovejoy turned and walked out of the building. While many wiped tears from their eyes, Usher Linder was overheard telling a colleague that Lovejoy would be “killed within two weeks”.

The Pro-Slavery Riots at Alton

In the early hours of November 7, 1837, the steamboat Fulton arrived at Alton. Aboard it was Elijah Lovejoy’s fourth printing press. Winthrop Gilman, a wealthy supporter of Lovejoy’s, volunteered to store the press at his warehouse on the riverfront. Despite threats that armed men were ready to attack as soon as it arrived, the night passed without incident. In the early dawn hours, a group of men, aided by Lovejoy and Edward Beecher, moved the press into Gilman’s warehouse without conflict.

Thinking the threat had passed, Lovejoy returned home that morning to check on his family. Edward Beecher left Alton and returned to Illinois College. But as the day went on, word spread throughout the town that the press had arrived safely. In the taverns, heavy drinking fueled the anger of Lovejoy’s opponents. By early evening, rioters had assembled and began marching towards the warehouse. They demanded that if Lovejoy didn’t give up the press, they’d blow it up.

Inside the warehouse were nineteen armed men, including Eljiah Lovejoy and Winthrop Gilman. The mayor, John Krum, attempted to intervene, but to no avail. Rocks soon broke through every window of the building. As the situation escalated, gunshots were fired. Others attempted to break down the door by charging at it with a log. From inside the warehouse, someone returned fire and killed a man in the crowd.

Printing Press at Alton Telegraph

News of the casualty enraged the mob further. A ladder was placed up against the building and a man attempted to climb up and set the wooden roof on fire. Two men, including Lovejoy, rushed out and pushed the ladder away. Unsuccessful at first, the mob regrouped and a few men with rifles moved around to an area behind a woodpile. They knew what to do during the next attempt to set fire to the roof.  When the ladder was positioned again, Lovejoy and another man quickly ran out again to push it away.  As they did, a series of gunshots rang out. Elijah Lovejoy was shot five times. Proclaiming “My God, I am shot!”, he died shortly after.

With Lovejoy dead, the men inside realized they had no choice but to abandon the warehouse. Despite assurances they could leave safely if they left the printing press, the men were fired upon as they fled. The mob overran the warehouse, broke up the printing press, and for the final time, threw it in the river.

The next day, on his thirty-fifth birthday, Elijah Lovejoy was unceremoniously buried in a field near his home.

The aftermath of the riot was farcical. Winthrop Gilman, the loyal supporter of Lovejoy who owned the warehouse, was charged and put on trial for inciting a riot. Eleven others were put on trial for resisting an attempt to destroy a printing press. One of the prosecuting attorneys was none other than Usher Linder, the Attorney General who heckled Lovejoy at the antislavery convention just weeks before. Fortunately, all men were acquitted.

Four men claimed the “honor” of having killed Lovejoy. Since he was shot five times, it’s possible they all played a role. Not one of them was charged with a crime. One of them even went on to become the mayor of Alton.

Biscuits & Lovejoy

The city of Alton suffered greatly in the wake of the Lovejoy killing. Once considered a boomtown that could even surpass St. Louis as the population center of the region, the city became the object of national scorn. Viewed as a lawless den of violence, newspapers around the country labeled it as a city of “blood and infamy”. The population of Alton dipped as people began moving away. Property values plummeted. The bad reputation ebbed over the years, but it was too late for Alton to regain a prominent position in the midwest.

On the other hand, the cause of abolition benefitted greatly from the tragedy. Around the country, membership in antislavery societies skyrocketed. Meetings, organizations, and groups were formed to protest Lovejoy’s death, bringing new voices to the antislavery cause.  Elijah Lovejoy had become a martyr for the abolition of slavery and for the freedom of speech. His impact would remain significant over the years as people like John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Lloyd Garrison advanced his cause.

The legacy of Elijah Lovejoy has even been revised in Alton. Years after his murder, a man named Thomas Dimmock located Lovejoy’s grave beneath a road in Alton’s city cemetery. He had his remains moved and Lovejoy was given a headstone that reads (in Latin): “Here lies Lovejoy. Spare him now that he is buried”. In 1897, the citizens of Alton realized recognition was in order, so a large suitable monument was constructed.

The Drink

For the drink section of this post, I had the same problem I had in Part I: Lovejoy didn’t drink. He really went after drinkers when he got to Alton, so I’m not sure if he and I would see eye to eye on this particular issue. Still, I found a place in Alton that oozes history. It has nothing to do with Elijah Lovejoy, but it’s located just a few hundred feet from where he met his fate in Gilman’s warehouse. Actually, I believe it’s the closest place to that spot where one can order a drink.


Located on State Street in Alton is the State Street Market. What’s significant about the building is what it used to be called, which was the Franklin House Hotel. This is the building that served as the headquarters for Abraham Lincoln in his final debate with Stephen Douglas on October 15, 1858. Although there is no mention of Elijah Lovejoy in the transcript of that debate, it’s hard to imagine that Lincoln did not at least think about the legacy of Lovejoy while he was there.

At the very least, I think Lovejoy would be pleased by the lack of alcohol at the Franklin House today. When I asked if I could get a beer, I was given an option between a Bud Select and a Bud Light. The legacy of Elijah Lovejoy lives on.

Finally, for my readers who tend to prefer the drinking aspect of my writing, I apologize for not going into more detail about a Bud Light. There isn’t much to say about that beer that hasn’t been said by us all. I do have big plans for drinking in my next post, so please stick with me.

(Update November 2015: A reader has kindly corrected a glaring error I made in the original version of this post. Initially, I stated that Lovejoy was the first pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church in Alton. In fact, he was the first pastor of College Avenue Presbyterian Church. I must admit that I had my churches mixed up (Lovejoy attended a service at 1st Presbyterian, but he never preached there). The post has been updated and a big thanks goes out to my fellow Lovejoy admirer.)

February 15th, 2013 by Cameron Collins

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Part I

American Experience

One of my favorite television programs is American Experience on PBS. Known for their well-produced and in-depth historical documentaries, American Experience has been simply killing it lately. “Death and the Civil War aired back in November, a film based on the fantastic book This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. Recently, they aired another exceptional film titled  “The Abolitionists. A student of Civil War history, I couldn’t wait to see it. I’ve always been fascinated by the abolitionists and the significant role they played in the conflict.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy

I was especially excited because the St. Louis area has ties to one of the earliest and most noteworthy abolitionists, Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Although familiar with his tragic murder in 1837, I didn’t know much about the rest of his life. I looked forward to learning more in the documentary.

I was disappointed to discover that he’s barely mentioned.  Actually, the film could have been titled “The John Brown and Frederick Douglass Show”, since those two eat up most of the airtime (with a bit of William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe sprinkled in). Primary contributors to the movement for sure, but I think Lovejoy deserved more attention. In three hours of programming, his name is mentioned just once.

I think that’s a significant oversight. One of the earliest voices in the abolitionist movement, it was Lovejoy’s murder in that compelled the then-unknown John Brown to stand up in an Ohio church and dedicate his life to the abolition of slavery.

In fact, I think Lovejoy had such an impact, his story is a too good for just one blog post. For that reason, I’m splitting it into two. This week, I’ll discuss Lovejoy’s early years and his life as a newspaper editor in St. Louis. Next week, I’ll pick up the story when he moves north and meets his ultimate fate in Alton, Illinois.


Elijah Parish Lovejoy was born in Albion, Maine on November 9, 1802. The eldest of nine children, he was simply called “Parish” by members of his family. His upbringing was profoundly religious. Well educated and a gifted student, Lovejoy graduated at the top of his class at Waterville College in Maine (now Colby College).

He began his career as a teacher in Maine, but didn’t find the occupation satisfying. The lure of the frontier appealed to him, and he decided to move west. He came to St. Louis in 1827 at the age of 25. Incorporated as a city just five years earlier, St. Louis at the time had a population of about 5,000 people. It was the wild west, and Lovejoy was about to become one of its most controversial residents.

While in St. Louis, he decided to try his hand at journalism. In 1830, he purchased one-half interest in a newspaper named the St. Louis Times. He spent the next two years working as its editor.

The Old Meeting House

At this stage of his life, there were few signs that Lovejoy would become a leading voice in the growing abolitionist movement. Letters home focus more on religion and his difficulty fully embracing the fervent doctrine espoused by his parents. His early editorials in the St. Louis Times seldom mention the institution of slavery. Privately, he thought the institution was evil, but he believed that emancipation should be gradual, not immediate.

That would change in 1832, when Lovejoy attended a service at the 1st Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. On that day, an abolitionist named Reverend David Nelson addressed the congregation. His words made a significant impact on Elijah Lovejoy.

Nelson openly condemned the institution of slavery as evil. He attacked the selling of human beings as a sin as great as adultery and murder. As a result of Nelson’s speech, Lovejoy found his religious awakening and was soon converted. Befriending the fiery speaker, Nelson recognized Lovejoy’s abilities and counseled him to enter the ministry. Lovejoy took his advice, heading east to attend the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Again finishing at the top of his class, Lovejoy returned to St. Louis and resumed his career as an editor, albeit with a far different voice.

He sold his stake in the St. Louis Times and started a new paper named the St. Louis Observer. It was to be a religious publication, dedicated to attacking frontier vices such as alcohol, tobacco, and “moral laxity”. In the early months of publication, only occasional references were made to slavery. Now a Presbyterian minister, he used the paper mainly as a platform for his religious beliefs. Displaying a defiant personality, Lovejoy was completely intolerant of any faith other than his own. He frequently attacked Baptists, Episcopalians, most of all, Roman Catholics. Referring to the faith as “Popery”, he condemned anyone remotely associated with the Roman Catholic Church.

The St. Louis Observer

In 1834, the language of Lovejoy’s editorials begins to shift. The discussion of slavery becomes more common and confrontational.  Although insisting that he was not an abolitionist, Lovejoy begins to demand for an immediate end to slavery. In an 1835 editorial, he writes: “The atmosphere of slavery is an unnatural one for Americans to live in. The institution is repugnant to the very first principles of liberty.”

Slavery Quote

In the slave state of Missouri, the majority of the population wanted nothing to do with any form of emancipation, gradual or immediate. With each editorial, Lovejoy was increasingly viewed as a troublemaker and a destabilizing force in the city. Threats of tar and feathering, physical harm, and destruction of his newspaper operation became common. One local paper even posted handbills around the city calling for mob action to destroy his printing press.

Increasingly worried for his safety, Lovejoy’s friends and colleagues pleaded with him to ease his rhetoric. Lovejoy would have none of it. He responded defiantly that his rights to free speech and free press were constitutionally protected. He also didn’t hesitate to respond to threats by being provocative in return. When pro-slavery voices accused him of favoring interracial marriage, he raised the taboo subject of sexual abuse in a slave society. Claiming the raping of slaves by their masters was even worse than the physical torture of whips and lashes, Lovejoy enraged his detractors even further. Up to that point, nobody had printed anything like that in St. Louis.

Elijah Lovejoy Quote

Despite his defiance, one dramatic event changed everything for Elijah Lovejoy.  In April 1836, a free black man named Francis McIntosh was involved in a scuffle on the St. Louis riverfront. It started when an unruly sailor was attempting to avoid arrest as McIntosh stood nearby. What happened next varies by account. Either McIntosh helped the man escape, or he ignored a request to assist in apprehending him. Either way, McIntosh was himself arrested and taken off to jail. Captured and charged with a crime in a slave state, McIntosh likely determined that his days of freedom were numbered. As two men led him to jail, McIntosh pulled a knife and lunged. One constable was killed and the other was seriously injured.


Captured again, McIntosh was locked up in jail. News of the event spread quickly through the city, and someone suggested McIntosh should be burned alive. A large mob soon gathered around the jailhouse, with over 2,000 enraged citizens clamoring for justice. Eventually, the mob broke through the door and pulled McIntosh from his cell. Dragged to the edge of town, McIntosh was chained him to a locust tree while wood was piled around him. The pyre was lit and McIntosh slowly started to burn. As the flames engulfed him, McIntosh pleaded for someone in the crowd to shoot him and put him out of his misery.

The Francis McIntosh Lynching

The fire burned for more than twenty minutes before McIntosh succumbed. With their task complete, the crowd quickly dispersed. With his charred remains left chained to the tree, a group of children began throwing rocks at his corpse in a game to see who could break the skull first.

Appalled by the event, Elijah Lovejoy went on the attack. In his next editorial, he harshly condemned the actions of the mob. Lamenting the lack of lawful society in St. Louis, he proclaimed it to be “savage barbarity”. He called for all who participated in the lynching to “seek forgiveness”.

A court was convened to investigate the lynching. Presiding over the grand jury was a judge named Luke Edward Lawless.  A slave-owner himself, Lawless had no problem with the rough culture of his city. He proceeded to make one of the most amazing speeches in the history of our nation’s courts.

As he addressed the grand jury, Lawless stated that the death of Francis McIntosh was unlawful and tragic. However, he instructed the grand jury not to hold anyone guilty of the crime. He stated that since thousands were involved, the case was “beyond the reach of human law”. Lawless then produced copies of the St. Louis Observer and handed them to the jury.  Reading specific anti-slavery quotes from the publication, he stated it was newspapers like the Observer that “fanaticize the negro and excite him against the white man”. By doing so, he laid blame squarely at the feet of Elijah P. Lovejoy. He then asked for action against Lovejoy, asking the grand jury to consider what could be done about press that causes “widespread mischief”.

Judge Lawless

Despite Lovejoy’s scathing rebuttal in the next Observer editorial, the speech by Lawless was welcomed by the people of St. Louis. After alienating almost everyone in town, and for fear of physical violence against his family, Elijah Lovejoy announced that the Observer would be moved across the river to Alton, Illinois. Believing he’d have more support on free soil while being able to maintain St. Louis subscriptions, Lovejoy decided it was time to go.

On the same night his final editorial was published, a group of men gathered in St. Louis. Banging a drum as they marched through the streets, the mob quickly grew to over 200 men. They arrived at the front door of Lovejoy’s newspaper operation just after midnight. The door was broken down and contents of the building were attacked. Lovejoy’s printing press was broken apart and thrown in the Mississippi.

It was the first of Elijah P. Lovejoy’s printing presses to be destroyed and thrown in a river. There would be three more.

The Drink

Paul Simon

In my research for this post, I was pleased to find a biography written by none other than the late bow-tied Senator of Illinois, Paul Simon. His book Freedom’s Champion was a great introduction Lovejoy’s life. Simon should know a thing or two about Lovejoy, since he also worked as a newspaper editor in southern Illinois before entering politics.

As for getting the drink, this was a tough one. Lovejoy didn’t drink, and he didn’t care for drinkers. I couldn’t really go by location, because the Gateway Arch now stands where Lovejoy’s home and newspaper operation existed. The “Old Meeting House” where he preached still stands in St. Louis County, but there isn’t a bar anywhere near it. That left me with the event that ended his time in St. Louis, the Francis McIntosh lynching.

I read several accounts of that tragic event for this post. One claimed it happened “in the center of town”, but the general consensus was that McIntosh was dragged to the western outskirts of the city. What’s remarkable to remember is that in 1836, the outskirts of the city was less than a mile from the riverfront. The exact location is unknown, but a few accounts placed the episode somewhere near the intersection of 7th and Chestnut.

Thinking there must be a place to get a drink around there, I was horrified to find a Hooters at that exact intersection. I could only imagine what kind of hell would arrive in my glass if I ordered a cocktail there.

Just for fun, I decided to see what would happen if I did.  At the very least, I figured it’d make for a good story.

I sat down at the bar and was greeted by the standard Hooters waitress. She was exceptionally friendly, squeezed into a shirt that was far too small, and absolutely clueless about how to make a Manhattan.  She actually called me “Baby”.

The Hooters Manhattan

She ran off to get instructions from her manager. When she returned, I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me if I’d like it up or on the rocks (a good start). I ordered it up with Jack Daniels and she ran off again to make it.

As I waited for her return, I couldn’t get over the environment. First of all, the lighting in Hooters is glaring. It’s so bright in there,  I felt like I was in a police lineup. Maybe that’s the point, but you certainly can’t drink in the shadows at a Hooters. Next to me at the bar was a guy who brought his girlfriend in for Valentines Day. I couldn’t help but smile as they exchanged kisses between bites of chicken wings.

My drink arrived in a rocks glass (cocktail glasses are not an option at Hooters). I think the ratio of whiskey to vermouth was at least five to one. In other words, I had a glass of whiskey. Surprisingly, no cherry was added. What’s weirder is that I watched the waitress shake it vigorously in ice, but the drink was lukewarm when I took a sip. I can offer no plausible explanation.

What a wretched drink snob I am, but I must say that the experience was really amusing. The staff was extremely friendly and fun about it. Even the manager came over and asked me if the drink was any good. I lied and said it was. Finally, he laughed and said “We don’t get that drink order in here very often”. Nope, I bet they sure don’t.

July 5th, 2012 by Cameron Collins

The Duel on Sunflower Island

View of Alton from Smallpox Island

This is a view of the city of Alton, Illinois from “Smallpox Island”. No longer an actual island, it’s now a recreation area on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. It’s located about nine miles north of the city of St. Louis.

Before the Civil War, it was called “Sunflower Island”. The name changed when a hospital was built there to quarantine prisoners from the Alton Confederate Prison Camp who had become afflicted with communicable disease.

But in 1842, a very interesting event happened on this island. At the time, a man by the name of James Shields was the Illinois State Auditor. He was also a political rival of a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. While living in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln crossed Shields by writing a letter to a Springfield newspaper called the Sagamon Journal. In the letter, Lincoln criticized and poked fun at Shields. This wasn’t an uncommon practice in politics back then. But Mary Todd, Lincoln’s future wife, complicated matters. Unbeknownst to Lincoln, Todd continued writing letters and articles to the paper under a phony name. Her letters openly ridiculed Shields. As a result, his reputation really began to suffer in political circles.


Thinking Abraham Lincoln was behind everything, Shields publicly accused him of having his future wife Mary Todd write the letters. Demanding “satisfaction”, he then challenged Lincoln to a duel. Thinking Lincoln would back down and apologize when confronted with such a decision, Lincoln surprisingly accepted. Since dueling was illegal in Illinois at the time, the two men agreed to cross the river and duel on Missouri’s Sunflower Island on September 22, 1842.

Abraham Lincoln & James Shields

James Shields was 5 feet 9 inches tall, which is tall man for 1842. But Lincoln towered over him at 6 feet 4 inches tall. Since the person challenged has the choice of weapon in a duel, Lincoln smartly exploited his wingspan advantage. Instead of choosing the standard pistol, he chose heavy cavalry sabers. These large swords were commonly referred to at the time as “wrist-breakers”. To emphasize his advantage, Lincoln demonstrated his skill on the day of the duel by hacking down a few tree branches down above Shields’ head. Seeing this demonstration, Shields quickly realized he was outmatched. Not only would he likely lose the duel, he’d look ridiculous while doing so.

Lincoln's Weapon of Choice

Fortunately, memories of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s ill-fated duel in 1804 still lingered. The seconds for Lincoln and Shields stepped in and convinced the men to avoid bloodshed. After tempers cooled, Lincoln took responsibility for the letters and issued an apology.

Instead of slicing up a political opponent, Lincoln would obviously go on to become the greatest President this country has ever known. But Shields’ career didn’t turn out too shabby, either. He fought in the Mexican War, the Civil War, and is the only American to have served as a United States Senator for three different states (Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri).

The Drink

Fast Eddie's Bon Air

The drink section of this post was a bit difficult. Since I travelled to Alton to research this post on the 4th of July holiday, I couldn’t find a cocktail bar that was open. But since it’s Alton, my St. Louis pals know there’s one place that won’t turn you away. And since it was 103 degrees outside, it wasn’t exactly martini drinking weather. That’s cheap lager drinking weather. With that, it’s a no-brainer to get a cold one at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air.

Fast Eddie’s has a good story of its own. It was originally owned by Anheuser-Busch. In 1921, the brewery decided to open a drinking establishment in the river town of Alton, Illinois (some St. Louisans may know this is how Bevo Mill in south St. Louis also got its start). It was originally named the “Bon-Air”. However, after owning the bar for ten years, a new statute prohibited brewing companies from owning drinking establishments. It was sold to two men who then operated the bar until 1981. That’s when a man named Eddie Sholar bought it and changed the name to “Fast Eddie’s Bon Air”.

Today, Fast Eddie’s claims to be one of the largest bars in the midwest. On busy nights, it’s packed with hundreds of people. According to their website, some people claim is the #1 volume bar in the world. That seems like a stretch to me, but the place is very big, and it’s very popular. It’s also known for its cheap food. All menu items are the exact same price as the day food started being served, nineteen years ago.

Bud Heavy

Since Fast Eddie’s was originally an A-B bar, drinking cold Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch, and the other AB products is the way to go. I don’t even know if you can get a cocktail at Fast Eddie’s. Honestly, I’ve been there a dozen times and the thought of ordering one there has never crossed my mind.

After walking around Alton, Illinois in 103 degree heat researching this and a few other future history posts, I had no problem drinking cold cheap beer. I don’t really need to go into detail about drinking Anheuser-Busch. We all know how it works. I had a couple of Bud heavies and headed back to St. Louis.

I can be a beer snob with the best of them, but not on this day.

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