Distilled History

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Archive for the ‘Famous St. Louisans’ Category

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
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

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

 

December 16th, 2013 by Cameron

87,000 Stories to Tell

Bellefontaine Cemetery in 1900Since I started this blog, I have purposely avoided writing about certain St. Louis history topics. In the past eighteen months, people have suggested I write about various things like the InBev buyout of Anhueser-Busch, the Pope’s visit in 1999, and even the Edward Jones Dome (seriously?). Honestly, these are topics that just don’t interest me. They make me yawn. Other suggestions, like the 1904 World’s Fair and the Gateway Arch, are so familiar in St. Louis that I’m not sure I could make them interesting. I worry writing about them would make others yawn.

The category “I’d Rather Be Burned Alive” includes a topic someone suggested just a few weeks ago. On that day, I was asked to research why everyone in St. Louis always asks everyone else in St. Louis “Where did you go to high school?”

After informing my well-meaning and idea-challenged friend that I attended Elmira Free Academy (located about 900 miles to the east), and then asking where she went to high school, I rolled my eyes and politely declined.

(Damn! I succumbed to that tedious St. Louis high school inquiry after all.)

Anyway, there’s another category of St. Louis history topics that I’m saving for a rainy day. These are the big kahunas; the topics that I believe are very special in this city. I want to space these gems out over the next several years (or as long as I continue to beat myself up trying to write this blog). Examples include the Cahokia Mounds, the Lemp Caves (if I can ever get down there), Forest Park, Pruitt-Igoe, and the Camp Jackson Affair. Dozens more exist, which means I plan to force this blog down people’s throats for years to come.

Well, I think it’s about time to dust off one of the good ones. A few weeks ago, I was the lucky recipient of a special tour of Bellefontaine Cemetery, the wonderful 314 acres in north St. Louis that holds as much history (literally) as any patch of ground in the Midwest. Over 87,000 people are buried there, and each one has a tale to tell. If you like Distilled History, get used to Bellefontaine. I plan to pluck stories out of this place for years to come.

Entrance to Bellefontaine Cemetery

Let’s kick this off by admitting that I adore cemeteries. I love to drive through them, bike through them, and tour them. I enjoy locating graves of notable people, as I’ve done for the Homer Phillips, Elijah P. Lovejoy, and Irma Rombauer posts in this blog. I sometimes go to cemeteries just to sit and read a book, admire the foliage, or even take a nap. I think they are big, wonderful parks of history.

A park-like type of cemetery such as Bellefontaine (and Woodlawn, the Elmira, New York cemetery that my fellow high school graduates should know), is considered a “rural cemetery”. These are cemeteries that primarily honor the dead, but are also designed to provide a welcoming and comfortable place for people to visit. That’s certainly the case at Bellefontaine. It is a peaceful and beautiful place to see. Containing more than 4,000 trees and over 180 species of trees and shrubs, Bellefontaine is not just a cemetery. It is also an accredited Level II arboretum.

The Rural Cemetery

The “rural cemetery” movement started in the mid-19th Century. Following a model set forth in Paris, the first rural cemetery in the United States was established in 1831 (Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Eighteen years later, Bellefontaine in St. Louis was established as the first rural cemetery west of the Mississippi River. Prior to Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis buried their dead in plots around churches and in smaller, overcrowded cemeteries in and around town (many were located along current-day Jefferson Avenue).

St. Louis in the mid-19th century was growing rapidly. Along with overcrowding, many believed that air, water, and soil could become infected with disease if people were buried near population centers. Both concerns were further intensified in the summer of 1849 when a deadly cholera epidemic killed nearly 10% of the city’s population (note: future blog post). Suddenly, burying people farther away became a priority.

Bellefontaine Cemetery in Autumn

As a result, city leaders formed an association for the purpose of founding a large rural cemetery outside city limits. It was named after Fort Bellefontaine, a military garrison located about five miles northwest of St. Louis. Along the road to that fort sat the Hempstead farm. This 138 acre farm was purchased by the foundation, and the land became the first of three parcels that together now make up Bellefontaine Cemetery as we know it today.

Bellefontaine Cemetery Map

The next significant step in the shaping of Bellefontaine Cemetery was the hiring of a renowned landscape architect named Almerin Hotchkiss. It was this man who created the master plan for the cemetery and gave it the look we still see today. He oversaw the building of the roads, landscaping, and overall maintenance of the grounds. Upon completing the overall plan, he remained in St. Louis as superintendent of the cemetery for the next forty-six years.

Perhaps the most significant monument in the entire cemetery (along with one of the better stories), is the Charlotte Dickson Wainwright Tomb. Universally regarded as an architectural masterpiece, the tomb was constructed in 1892 for the wife of millionaire and philanthropist Ellis Wainwright. Referred to in local press as “the most beautiful woman in St. Louis”, Charlotte Wainwright died suddenly of peritonitis at the young age of thirty-four. Her husband Ellis was emotionally devastated by her passing. In order to preserve her memory, Ellis Wainwright reached out to a particularly famous architect for a unique and exceptional design.

The Charlotte Dickson Wainwright Tomb

The result is one of the most significant designs from of one of history’s most important architects, Louis Henry Sullivan. Known as the “father of the skyscraper”, Sullivan was at the height of his fame when he was commissioned to design Charlotte Wainwright’s tomb.

Key to Wainwright Tomb

When Charlotte Wainwright died, Louis Sullivan was already in St. Louis finishing another project for Ellis Wainwright. That building, which also bears Wainwright’s name and stands today at the corner of Chestnut and 7th in downtown St. Louis, is another topic I better be careful with if I choose to write about it. Considered by many to be the first skyscraper ever built, the 10 story Wainwright Building is a masterpiece. It was even featured in recent a PBS documentary as one of 10 Buildings That Changed America.

When Wainwright asked Sullivan for a preliminary design, he provided a sketch of a tomb that combines two classic forms, a half-sphere resting upon a cube. Inspired by the tomb of a Muslim Saint in Algeria, the form appears solidly Byzantine. Assisting Louis Sullivan with the design (particularly the interior) was his head draftsman, a promising young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright.

The simple cube and dome design is accented by a border of richly carved motifs and bronze grill doors. Windows adorn each side of the tomb, each surrounded by additional stone carvings. Interestingly, the name “Wainwright” appears nowhere on the exterior of the tomb. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, it is often referred to as the “Taj Mahal of St. Louis”. The New York Times referred to it as a “major American architectural triumph”, and “a model for ecclesiastical architecture”.

Hugh Morrison, in his book Louis Sullivan, Prophet of Modern Architecture, writes:

…it is the most sensitive and the most graceful of Sullivan’s tombs, distinguished alike in its architectural form and its decorative enrichment. In the writers opinion, at least, it is unmatched in quality by any other known tomb.”

Wainwright Tomb Interior

While the exterior is unassuming, the interior (that I was delighted to be able to see on my special tour) surges with subtle color, swirled marble, and flecks of gold. The walls and ceiling are covered with a beautiful patterned mosaic. Look above, and small angels dispersed among small mosaics seem to come and go depending on the point of view. Below, two burial slabs are inlayed in the floor to mark the final resting place for Ellis Wainwright and his wife Charlotte. Each is chiseled with a poem, Lord Tennyson for the husband and Anna Laetitia Barbauld for his wife:

A Poem for Charlotte

Despite having two architectural masterpieces named after him, things didn’t go very smoothly for Ellis Wainwright during his later years. While in New York in 1902, Wainwright learned he was being indicted for attempting to bribe several politicians as part of a business deal. Instead of heading home to face the charges, he fled to Europe. Although he lived lavishly in Paris for several years, his self-imposed exile took a toll on his health. He didn’t return to St. Louis until 1911 when the prosecuting attorney in his case had retired. He paid a bond upon arrival and proclaimed to the press that he was happy to be back. Ultimately, the charges didn’t stick and Wainwright was able to resume life as he wished.

Soon after, Wainwright moved to New York to be close to other business investments. In 1922, he shocked friends and associates by “adopting” a twenty-two year old woman named Rosalind Kendall (he was seventy-two). She took his name, called him “Daddy”, and became his constant companion. She lived in the apartment adjoining his on Park Avenue.

Not surprisingly, The arrangement didn’t last. When Wainwright’s efforts to make Rosalind a movie star proved unsuccessful, Rosalind moved on. She supposedly accepted a sum of money in return for relinquishing any claims to Wainwright’s estate. Upon Wainwright’s death, this arrangement was legally overturned, making Rosalind Kendall very wealthy.

In declining health, Ellis Wainwright returned to St. Louis in 1924. He turned his attention back toward his departed wife Charlotte, setting up an endowment at Bellefontaine to repair her tomb in the event of vandalism or earthquake. His behavior also became increasingly peculiar. During his final days at the Buckingham Hotel, servants were required to physically move him from room to room in order to avoid being seen by hotel maids.

Ellis Wainwright

Ellis Wainwright died on November 6, 1924 at the age of seventy-four. He was laid to rest next to his wife in the remarkable monument to them both in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

The Drink

Homebrew

The reason why Ellis Wainwright had the means to build one of the first skyscrapers and the “Taj Mahal of St. Louis” is a good one. Like the familiar names in 19th Century St. Louis such as Busch and Lemp, Wainwright became rich as a result of beer.

When Wainwright was just twenty-four years old, he inherited his father’s Wainwright Brewery. Displaying a keen business sense, he secured his path to wealth by doubling profits within two years. He became even wealthier when he sold his brewery to a syndicate named The St. Louis Brewing Association (SLBA). Wainwright was named president and became responsible for managing day-to-day operations. The famous building that bears his name in downtown St. Louis today was initially built as a headquarters for the syndicate he managed.

With that in mind, it’s only appropriate to drink beer in honor of Ellis Wainwright, his lovely wife, and his epic tomb. Even better, I thought this post would provide a perfect opportunity to brew up a batch of my own.

 Homebrew Labels

First of all, I must admit that I am not an accomplished homebrewer. People who are familiar with the hobby know that it’s really nothing more than simple cooking. Well, I’m not a very good cook. But I can follow a recipe, and homebrew kits always come with recipes. I still brew from extract kits, and despite people insisting I move up to the world of “all grain” brewing, I haven’t done it yet. That day will likely come, because with each homebrew batch, I seem to add some additional piece of homebrew equipment that makes the process more fun. For those in the know, I introduced a stir plate and an outdoor burner for this batch. The result was an active primary fermentation that two days later had me scrambling for a blow-off hose.

Until I get to the next level, I’ll keep going with the real reason I started home brewing in the first place: Beer labels. Drinking the beer you make is fun, but naming the beer and designing the beer label is really fun. It’s probably why I’ll never keg it. As much as I hate washing and sanitizing forty-eight individual beer bottles, it makes my day to drink out of a bottle labeled as my own.

My beer may not taste as good as others, but I think my labels are top-notch.. This includes a new one featuring the exquisite tomb found in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Charlotte's Tomb IPA

Sources:

  1. Movers and Shakers, Scalawags and Suffragettes: Tales from Bellefontaine Cemetery by Carol Ferring Shepley
  2. St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009 by Henry Herbst, Don Roussin, and Kevin Kious
  3. St. Louis: Landmarks and Historic Districts by Carolyn Hewes Toft and Lynn Josse
  4. Louis Sullivan, Prophet of Modern Architecture by Hugh Morrison
  5. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form – National Park Service
  6. Woo, William F., “Story Behind the Wainwright Building,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1966 p. 3J
November 7th, 2013 by Cameron

The Joy of Irma (and a Sidecar)

Mom's Cookbook

Several years ago, my mother presented me with a cookbook titled Mom’s Cookbook: A Culinary Memoir of Family, Food, and Friends. I cherish it, perhaps more than any gift she has ever given me.

On the pages inside, my Mother dumped out her entire culinary mind. It filled up over eighty-five pages lined with hundreds of recipes. It was organized and formatted into book form for her children, family, and friends to enjoy.  Sounds like a simple and common idea, but she added an additional component that made her cookbook priceless to me. My mother presented each recipe, from the simple plate of hors d’oeuvres to the intimidating cheese soufflé, with its own unique story. In her own voice, often in a humorous and chatty tone, she explains where each recipe originated, when and where she served them, and how people reacted to them.

Her goal was to guide her children towards more success in the kitchen, and she does it in a loving and motherly way. As I read it, I can hear her voice in my head giving me direction such as “avoid any vegetable that comes in a can”, “you must own a good chef’s knife”, and “grow your own herbs, if possible”. She urges us to eat meals together as a family, say grace (prayer provided), and even to drink our milk.

Irma Rombauer in 1943

It includes her mother’s fried chicken recipe (my favorite) and the simple bean salad she made for my father when they young and broke. She includes the cheese puffs served by her mother-in-law at my Christening, the Beef Stroganoff she served to my hungover housemates at the University of Dayton, and even a pumpkin bisque recipe she found last year in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The family history tales are my personal favorite. I learned my parents clashed over gravy, that her two children refused to eat certain foods like mushrooms (my sister) and squash (me). She explains her difficulty getting recipes out of my late father, a brilliant cook, but one who refused to write anything down. Even the recipe names are amusing, such as the unappetizing sound of “Aunt Ethel’s Yams” (that I will never attempt to cook).

My favorite line could even be when she uses the “Cold Salads” chapter to scold my sister:

Alex Can't Make Tuna Salad

I don’t know if my mother realized it (maybe she did), but her cookbook isn’t much different from the famous one written by a notable St. Louisan over eighty years ago. The Joy of Cooking, a compilation of recipes published by Irma Louise von Starkloff in 1931, revolutionized cookbook writing. Widely regarded for its conversational tone, simplicity, and sentiment that cooking should be fun, The Joy of Cooking is now a staple in nearly every American kitchen. In that book, as in my mother’s cookbook, it’s implied that a cook should not take oneself too seriously. I believe the simple goal of both books is to feed the people around you with love and good food.

Mom & Irma

What’s enjoyable about researching Irma Rombauer is that she left quite a trail in St. Louis. Except for a few years during her youth, she lived in this city her entire life. Several of the homes she lived in still stand. To add to the fun, I made plans to find all of them during a lengthy visit from my Mother. If Mom wasn’t reorganizing my kitchen, making meatloaf, or drinking gin and tonics with me, I was able to throw her in the car so we could find Irma Rombauer together.

Irma Rombauer's Life in St. Louis

Irma Louise von Starkloff was born on October 30, 1877 in Carondelet.  Her parents raised her in the St. Louis Deutschtum, or “Germanness” that permeated south St. Louis at the time. Her father, Maximilian von Starkloff, was a “Forty-Eighter”, a man who believed in German unification and came to America when it didn’t happen. A successful physician, his medical practice on Main Street (now Broadway) provided his family a comfortable existence.

Starkloff Home 1883-1877

In 1889, Max Starkloff accepted a post as Consul of Bremen in the Harrison administration. The family moved abroad for five years, and this would be the only time Irma Starkloff did not live in St. Louis. When the family returned to America in 1894, a stately new mansion awaited them at the corner of Compton and Longfellow in the affluent Compton Heights neighborhood.

According to her biographer Anne Mendelson, in her book Stand Facing the Stove, Irma Starkloff was strong-willed, intelligent, forthright, and artistic. She was also volatile, and especially later in life, family members often had to endure her fits of irritability. She fully enjoyed the admiration others heaped upon her, especially men. She played piano, enjoyed theater, and acted in amateur stage productions. It was during one of these productions when a young cast mate named Edgar Rombauer began courting her.

Starkloff Home at Compton & Longfellow

Later in life, Irma Rombauer described Edgar, the man she married in 1899, as “exuberant”. The couple had three children together and spent many years of their marriage in loving companionship. However, Edgar suffered from episodes of nervous breakdown that arose during challenging times, such as the death of their first child in 1901.  Over the years, Irma Rombauer worked diligently to care for her husband during his bouts with stability. Lengthy vacations were often required to bring her husband back to a place of tranquility. Sadly, despite efforts from his family, Edgar succumbed to his disease and committed suicide in 1930.

The death of her husband left Irma Rombauer shell-shocked. At the age of fifty-two, and faced with supporting a family with no means of income, she searched for a direction. Inspired by a successful cookbook published to support a St. Louis children’s home, Rombauer picked up the pieces and went to work. With no reservations about her lack of experience, and equipped with an unrivaled determination, she began compiling, testing, and tinkering with nearly 400 pages of recipes gathered from her family, friends, and neighbors. The result became one of the best-selling cookbooks in history.

What’s remarkable about this feat is that Irma Rombauer had no formal culinary education. Even her family seemed puzzled by the endeavor, since cooking had never been her primary talent. A member of her late husband’s family (a group Irma shared a prickly relationship with), even exclaimed:

Irma's a TERRIBLE cook

Her unwitting approach to publishing a cookbook could explain why Irma Rombauer’s project achieved such widespread success. The art of cooking and recipe writing in the early 20th century was more scientific than imaginative. Recipes read like formulas, and not at all like the casual tone found in future editions of The Joy of Cooking. During a time when cookbooks angled towards experienced gourmets of means, her cookbook represented a practical approach for all levels of income and ability.

The 1931 Edition of The Joy of Cooking

The first edition of The Joy of Cooking was self-published in 1931. Irma Rombauer used half of her life savings (about $3,000) to pay a local shoebox label printer to print 3,000 copies. Among other specifics, She insisted it have a cover that could wash easily with a moist cloth. Her daughter Marion, an art teacher, provided the cover and chapter heading designs. When the printed books arrived at her apartment on Cabanne Avenue, she quickly set to work selling them door to door for $3.00 each.

The first edition of The Joy of Cooking frequently echoes her German heritage. Included are recipes for Hassenpfeffer (rabbit stew), Spatzen (German egg dumplings), as well as several pages devoted to brain, liver, and kidney recipes. In introducing Leberkloesse (liver dumplings), Rombauer writes:

“Being the child of a south German, I cannot well compile a cook book without including a dish that is typical of that neck of the woods”

Despite positive reviews and brisk sales, efforts to obtain interest from major publishing houses were unsuccessful. It was during this time that Irma Rombauer started re-thinking how she presented recipes in her cookbook. She developed a format now known as the “Action Method”, in which ingredients are not listed in a separate table. Instead, each ingredient is introduced (in bold text) at the point when it is used in the cooking process.

This casual, flowing method of cooking is what appealed to an Indianapolis publisher looking to take cookbook publication in a new direction. In 1936, the Bobbs-Merrill Company signed Rombauer and published the second edition of The Joy of Cooking. This edition introduced the new recipe format and added “A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat” to the title. The book retained Rombauer’s unpretentious dialog, which appealed to readers and helped build a solid fan base. It sold over fifty-thousand copies, making The Joy of Cooking a modest success.

1931 vs 1964 Recipes

The third edition, published in 1943, added a section featuring “Quick Cooking”.  Another innovation, it included recipes that used canned goods, frozen foods, and new cooking implements designed to speed preparation. Ingredients such as condensed soups and Jell-O became mainstays due to their convenience. While many cooks haughtily rejected these short cuts, Irma Rombauer fully embraced them. This further endeared her to a larger audience, and helped make the third edition of The Joy of Cooking a national bestseller. The 1943 edition sold well over 600,000 copies, and Irma Rombauer hit her stride.

Irma Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker in 1950

The Joy of Cooking, 4th Edition

The success of The Joy of Cooking would pay off eventually, but the first contract signed with Bobbs-Merrill was decidedly one-sided. Inexperienced and acting against the advice of lawyers, Rombauer signed the copyright of the first two editions of The Joy of Cooking over to the publisher.  Without full control of her creation going forward, the relationship between author and publisher quickly became acrimonious. It wouldn’t improve in the years ahead, and the inequity often set Irma Rombauer into fits of rage.  By the end of the 1940’s, and her health in decline, she made a move to protect her creation. Starting with the fourth edition published in 1951, her daughter Marion officially became co-author of The Joy of Cooking.

Marion Rombauer Becker had previously contributed artwork and recipe tasting, but her contribution going forward would now become much more significant. Marion was a proponent of healthy eating. With her contribution, The Joy of Cooking began to emphasize the use of fresh produce and organic gardening.  She insisted on removing several canned food recipes, brown rice was favored over white rice, and for the first time, the cookbook instructed readers to avoid things like “the modern processing of grain”.

As co-author, Marion also assumed the unenviable position of becoming the key negotiator with the publisher. Irma Rombauer could now turn her attention to basking in the glow of being America’s cook, a position she embraced with open arms. Irma Rombauer wanted her cookbook to become America’s kitchen bible, and the continued success of the Joy of Cooking in the years following her death would undoubtedly please her.

Irma Purrs Like a Cat

Irma Rombauer died at a nursing home in St. Louis on October 14, 1962 at the age of eighty-four. Marion Rombauer Becker died in Cincinnati in 1976. Marion’s son, Ethan Becker, now carries on the legacy of The Joy of Cooking. Currently in its eighth edition, the Joy of Cooking has sold more than 26 million copies worldwide since 1931.

The Starkloff Grave

The Drink

The Sidecar Recipe

In the first edition of The Joy of Cooking, the very first recipe listed in the book is a “Gin Cocktail”. Even better, Irma Rombauer writes the very first sentence as such:

“Most cocktails containing liquor are made today with gin and ingenuity. In brief, take an ample supply of the former and use your imagination.”

Call me crazy, but that’s an opening on par with “Call me Ishmael”.

Since the first edition contains only a few cocktail recipes, I decided to venture into the 1963 edition to get a drink idea from my latest subject of interest.  As I did, I was happy to discover that she directs her readers to stir (and not shake) a Manhattan or a Martini. This only confirms my opinion that Irma Rombauer certainly knew what she was doing.

Irma Rombauer’s Manhattan recipe isn’t extraordinary, so I decided to go with a cocktail that I haven’t featured before in Distilled History. I settled on the Sidecar, a cocktail that traces its origin back to the years around World War I. It’s considered a classic, but one I rarely order in a bar (the only one I can currently recall was at Sanctuaria in the Grove).  Bars in London and Paris dispute who first created it, but it became an instant hit during a time when sour drinks were popular.

The Sidecar

Irma Rombauer wasn’t a heavy drinker. She didn’t enjoy throwing a few back until she was in her later years. Either way, I like to imagine her sampling cocktails with her daughter in their apartment on Cabanne Avenue and figuring out what each of them preferred. Her Sidecar uses more lemon juice than I prefer, but she’s earned the right to make a solid opinion. The only change I made to her recipe was to rim the glass with sugar (which is how the drink is commonly served), and I did that only to impress my mother.

Since Mom had to put up with me writing this post during one of her rare visits, she certainly earned something a little extra.

NOTES: As mentioned earlier, this post would not have been possible without the book Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America The Joy of Cooking, by Anne Mendelson. Rarely have I read a biography written as beautifully written and readable as that one. A hearty thanks to Harold Karabell for giving me the idea to write about Mrs. Rombauer when he showed me the Starkloff house on Michigan Avenue. Finally, an enormous thank you to the wonderful people at Bellefontaine Cemetery who personally showed me Irma Rombauer’s final resting place.

September 18th, 2013 by Cameron

Homer G. Phillips and His Hospital

Homer G. Phillips

One of my favorite moments that I’ve experienced during the time I’ve spent writing this blog happened just last week. With a new topic in mind, I visited the Central Library in downtown St. Louis. Heading up to the (magnificent) “St. Louis Room”, I asked a librarian to help me locate a file that contained an article about Homer G. Phillips Hospital. She seemed amused by the question, and asked me in response “Okay, well… there’s more than just one. Would you like to see all of them?” Naively, I responded “Sure, why not?”

A few minutes later, I found myself sitting at a table overflowing with dozens of large manila envelopes stuffed with newspaper clippings, articles, photographs, and book excerpts. It became almost comical as she kept piling more stuff in front of me. To add the chaos of the moment, I opened the first envelope and promptly dumped the entire contents on the floor. Sigh.

It was overwhelming at first, but I quickly realized that I had an opportunity to study history in a unique way. Instead of focusing on books, research papers, and journals, I could learn about a topic through hundreds of small, faded, and brittle newspaper reports in their original form. That was a first for me.

Additionally, I knew very little about Homer G. Phillips before that day in the library. A friend suggested the topic, but I confessed that I didn’t know anything other than where the building stood. After I stuffed everything back into place, I let it all sink in for a few minutes. I felt as if I had just read about the rise and fall of a national figure. It was somewhat of a profound feeling. I found myself frustrated by how little I knew about it before that day.

Newspaper Clippings

In 1920, St. Louis had a black population of about 70,000 people. A segregated city, access to medical and hospital care for the city’s black population was severely limited. Only one medical center, with 177 beds and located far from black population centers, was available to provide medical services. An attorney named Homer G. Phillips made it his dream to correct that problem. Already well-known for his community leadership and opposition to segregation, Phillips led the effort to get a new hospital built to serve St. Louis’s black population.

His efforts centered on an eighty-three million dollar bond issue introduced in 1923. Along with providing funds for a municipal opera house and soldier’s memorial, the bond designated one million dollars for the purpose of building a state-of-the art hospital for blacks.

The Dedication of Homer G. Phillips Hospital

The bond faced intense opposition, but it passed due to the efforts of Homer Phillips and several other community leaders. However, the debate would continue for years. Attempts to begin construction halted when opponents argued the bond didn’t actually specify a separate structure. In response, a “colored annex” connected to the existing City Hospital #1 located in south city was considered. Opponents also continued to argue the additional $60,000 a year needed to operate a separate medical facility was too much of a burden for St. Louis taxpayers.

Accosted by 2 Men and Shot

Finally, nearly ten years after the bond originally passed, the city’s Board of Aldermen green lit construction of a state-of-the-art hospital for blacks. The decision also dictated the hospital be built on a six-acre site in The Ville, a predominately black neighborhood in North St. Louis. On September 15, 1932, ground was finally broken. The facility came to be as the “Homer G. Phillips Hospital for Colored”, named in honor of the man who tirelessly fought for its creation.

Tragically, Homer Phillips wouldn’t live to see his dream come true. On June 18, 1931, two men approached him at the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Aubert Avenue as Phillips was waiting for a trolley. One of the men suddenly struck Phillips, pulled out a gun, and fired several times. Homer Phillips died instantly from gunshot wounds to the head and back. He was fifty-one years old. Newspaper reports immediately speculated the killers were hired assassins. Despite eyewitness testimony, the two men accused of the murder were acquitted. To this day, the murder of Homer Phillips is unsolved and considered an open case.

Homer Phillips undoubtedly had no shortage of enemies during a time when many believed segregation to be just and necessary. He first made a name for himself in 1916, when he led opposition to a proposed law that made the segregation of St. Louis neighborhoods mandatory. He also co-founded the Citizen’s Liberty League, a group that worked to oppose Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and mob violence in the form of lynching. The League worked to remove job restrictions for blacks, improve the quality of life, and improve access to medical care.

Aerial View of Phillips Hospital Construction

Ultimately, those efforts led to the special day of February 22, 1937 when Homer G. Phillips Hospital was dedicated. Parades, speeches, and a crowd of over 4,000 people gathered to celebrate the grand opening. The mayor of St. Louis at the time, Bernard Dickmann (a strong supporter of Phillips) called the event “one of the happiest moments in my administration”.

Designed by architect Albert A. Osburg, Homer G. Phillips hospital was built at a final cost of 3.16 million dollars. It consisted of a main central administration building with four radiant wings. It contained 685 patient beds and required 800 employees to keep it running. Along with an additional service building, a separate nurse’s home was constructed to provide dormitories for 147 nurses and 24 interns. Homer G. Phillips would instantly become the largest, best equipped, and most technically advanced hospital in the world committed solely to the medical care of a city’s black population.

Medical Training at Homer G. Phillips Hospital

By 1941, it became the philosophy of the hospital to become a premier training ground for black medical professionals. Just seven years after it opened, the hospital was training one-third of the graduates from the two black medical schools in the country. Within twenty years, the hospital could claim the distinction of having trained the largest number of black doctors and nurses in the world. In addition to providing a fully accredited training program for black interns, residents, and nurses, Phillips had established schools for x-ray technicians, laboratory technicians, and medical record librarians. Douglas Connor, in his book A Black Physician’s Story, describes a remarkable scene during his time spent as an intern at Homer Phillips.

Doctor's Account

By 1945, Phillips ranked in the top five largest general hospitals in the country, but it faced problems known to every medical institution. Especially in the early years, the hospital suffered from a reputation of being consistently underfunded and understaffed. Employees often complained of low pay and long hours. However, the hospital always remained an enormous source of pride for the community.

The year 1955 brought a major change to St. Louis and the hospital. By order of the mayor, the practice of segregation came to end at city hospitals. Homer Phillips Hospital suddenly became a place that treated patients based on where they lived and not by the color of their skin. Sadly, this step forward for humanity may have likely initiated the hospital’s eventual closing. With a falling city population and eroding tax base, the debate started all over again. Many began to question the need to publicly fund two separate medical facilities. Soon after, reports surfaced of plans to consolidate medical services in St. Louis. In the late 1960’s, the first steps towards consolidation happened when the psychiatric and neurological departments at Phillips moved south to City Hospital #1.

Medical Training at Homer G. Phillips

For the next fifteen years, supporters of the two city hospitals debated which one should remain open. Despite two independent audits recommending City Hospital #1 should close, few outside of the black community supported that plan. Support eroded further when Washington University and St. Louis University ceased making staff available to Phillips. The two major medical schools in St. Louis claimed City Hospital #1 was more convenient and offered salaries that were more competitive.

Despite vocal objections and dozens of large-scale public protests, the end for Homer Phillips Hospital sadly became a reality. On August 17, 1979, the city ordered all patients and departments transferred to City Hospital #1. Until the facility closed entirely in 1985, Phillips operated only as an outpatient and emergency care facility.

Homer G. Phillips HospitalDespite its closing, the memory of Homer G. Phillips and its significance remains an important chapter in St. Louis history. I’m glad to learn I’m not the only one that thinks so. In 1980, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen designated the building a city landmark. In 1982, the Department of the Interior added it to the National Register of Historic Places. While the building’s purpose has since changed, it still stands impressively in The Ville. Following a multi-million dollar renovation completed in 2003, Homer G. Phillips Hospital now thrives as a senior living facility.

Homer G. Phillips Hospital Today

The Drink

The Corner of Aubert Avenue & Delmar Boulevard

In the past, I've claimed to be able to associate a drink to any history topic. But I have to admit, this one was tough. I had no idea how to tie a drink to a hospital. First of all, there aren’t many cocktails named after a hospital setting. I briefly considered a Bloody Mary, but that seemed tacky and well, somewhat disgusting. Through Google, I found a drink named the “See You at the Hospital”, which must be named for where it would put me if I had more than one. I then tried physical locations. I found the empty lot where Homer Phillips lived on Aubert Avenue. A few blocks away, I found the corner where he was shot and killed. Both locations offered nothing. I drove around the hospital a few times for a bar, but I nothing looked promising. Lastly, I found no record of what Homer Phillips himself drank. I had no idea if he drank beer, wine, or maybe he didn’t drink at all. I simply couldn’t determine where to get a drink.

A Toast to Homer G. Phillips

Then it hit me. If I can’t find a drink associated to Homer, I’ll bring my own drink to Homer. After his murder, Homer G. Phillips was laid to rest in St. Peters Cemetery in Normandy. So, I decided to mix up a thermos of martini and hop in the car. Most of my Distilled History topics don't focus on a single individual. With this idea, not only would I be able to pay my respects to a great man, I could even toast him while I did so.

St. Peters is a beautiful cemetery located just west of the city. While I visited, I stopped to visit the grave of the legendary James “Cool Papa” Bell, who is also buried there. I drove around and took it all in until I found Mr. Phillips' grave. As I studied his marker, I learned his wife Ida was an artist and followed him to the grave just three years after his death. It was nice to see them both with honored with an impressive tombstone.

Then I sat down, poured myself a drink, and thought again about that day in the library when I learned all about the man.

Finally, I lifted my glass and toasted Homer Phillips and the important place he helped build.

 

May 8th, 2013 by Cameron

Which Louis is Saint Louis?

Statue of St. Louis

I played an interesting game with several St. Louis friends over the past couple of weeks. I asked about thirty of them a basic history question about our city. Most of the people I quizzed are native to the area, but I also asked a few people (like myself) who came to this city later in life. Either way, I was surprised to discover that very few people could correctly answer this basic question:

After whom is the city of St. Louis, Missouri named?

The simple (and smart-ass) answer to that question is obviously “Saint Louis”. But I wasn’t letting anyone off that easy. “The guy on the horse in front of the Art Museum” didn’t cut it, either. The Louis I wanted to know about was canonized as “Saint Louis” twenty-seven years after his death. I wanted to find out if people knew who, what, and where the namesake of our city was before that.

The idea for this post came from a book I recently read titled Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West by Frederick Fausz. In his book, Fausz vents his frustration over the fact that much of St. Louis history prior to Lewis and Clark is significantly overlooked. It started me thinking about St. Louis history prior to the Louisiana Purchase, and I think I agree with him. We don’t hear much about the periods St. Louis spent as a French and Spanish colony.

The Founding of St. Louis

Don’t get me wrong, Lewis and Clark and their remarkable journey are a big deal. But St. Louis was founded forty years before they set foot on this side of the Mississippi River. The two men who actually founded the city, Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, are well-known, but it could be argued they deserve even more recognition. They have some streets, buildings, and businesses named for them, but St. Louisans today don’t even pronounce their names correctly (Pierre and Auguste wouldn’t answer to “Lacleed” and “Showtoe”).

I’ll revisit Pierre and Auguste in a future post since it is a vast and fascinating story. For now, its back to quizzing people Saint Louis. Some of my responders were able to tell me Saint Louis was a king. A few were able to correctly tell me he was a king of France. Others suggested Louis was a “religious figure of some sort” (which isn’t a bad guess). Three people tried to get specific and guessed the French king Louis XIV. Another guessed Louis XVI. About ten people didn’t didn’t even hesitate to admit they had no idea who Saint Louis was.

This, my dear friends, is how Distilled History blog posts come about.

Louis Louis, We Gotta Go Now

Only two people were able to tell me the correct answer. In April, 1764, Pierre Laclède travelled to the site he and his stepson August Chouteau had recently selected for a new trading outpost. He announced the new village under construction was to be named “Saint Louis”. He named it after the legendary French king Louis IX. According to Chouteau’s own journal of the event, it’s even a bit more detailed than that. Laclède named it after Louis IX and in honor of Louis XV, the current French king (for those keeping count, that makes four different French kings named Louis mentioned in this blog post).

Louis IX

Louis IX was as well-known to 18th century French colonials as George Washington is to 21st century Americans. To this day, he is the only French king to have been canonized (thus the name “St. Louis” instead of something like “Louisville”, which was used to honor Louis XVI in the neighboring state of Kentucky). Laclède’s choice wouldn’t have surprised anyone in 1764. At the time, Louis IX was widely regarded as a model ruler and was considered one of the greatest monarchs in French history. Most significantly, Louis IX was revered as the most religiously devout king in French history.

I did quite a bit of research for this post, and I couldn’t find much to disparage the character of Louis IX. He was a good husband. He was generous to the poor and needy. He was a patron of the arts. He founded a theology college that would eventually become the Sorbonne. He railed against government corruption. He promoted peace in Europe. According to his closest advisor and confidant, Jean de Joinville, the man didn’t even swear. And throughout his reign, France was the most prosperous country in all of Europe. Add it all up and you get a Middle Ages rarity: An absolute monarch universally adored by his subjects.

He did have one fatal flaw, though. Although it’d be considered a magnificent character trait in the 13th century, Louis IX was obsessed with crusading. He believed that his purpose on Earth was to rid the Holy Land from the evil scourge of heathens and infidels that infested it. Despite the few crazies around today who still think this may be a good idea, it isn’t. Louis IX was not tolerant of anyone who didn’t subscribe to his faith. That fact would ultimately bring him down.

Saint Louis by Jacques LeGoff

As part of my research for this post, I sat down and read an eight-hundred page biography titled Saint Louis by Jacques LeGoff. Although I adore biographies about historical figures, this one was tough to get through. Biographies are better with a bit of drama and scandal. Saint Louis and his pious ways certainly didn’t provide much of that. In fact, It’s a safe bet that Louis and I wouldn’t get along very well if we hung out. I drink too much, I swear too much, and I’m certainly no Catholic. I haven’t stepped into a church for a reason other than a wedding or funeral in twenty years. Louis would probably consider me one of the heathen infidels he was obsessed with booting from Jerusalem. I also take the Lord’s name in vain several times a day, so I’m sure I’d find myself uniquely punished. In the late 13th century, Louis IX demanded that blasphemers get branded on the lips.

Differences aside, Louis IX lived a fascinating life. He was born on April 25, 1214 in Poissy, just north of Paris. His father, King Louis VIII, died when he was only twelve. Crowned at a young age, his mother Blanche of Castille would act as regent until he was of age to rule on his own. It was Blanche that instilled in the young king that he live his life as a devout “Lieutenant of God on Earth”. Her efforts took root. Louis IX developed into a pious and devout ruler. He surrounded himself with Catholic doctrine. He routinely heard sermons and attended mass twice a day. He wore hair shirts and surrounded himself with chanting priests. Most importantly, he pined for the opportunity to crusade and free the Holy Land.

Louis IX on Crusade

Louis IX announced his long-cherished intention of taking the cross in 1244. After four years of preparation, he left Paris with an army on 1248. The immediate objective was Egypt, led by Sultan Melek Selah. When Louis and his forces arrived there, success was immediate. Louis IX’s forces easily took the city of Damietta, located at the mouth of a Nile tributary.

The good fortune didn’t last long. The summer heat and rising Nile waters prevented Louis from following up on his victory. His army became bogged down and were routed by the Saracens at the battle of Mansourah. As a result, Louis and much of his army were captured. Louis was thrown in prison, and a staggering sum of gold was required to procure his release. Sources say it took two full days to count the gold paid in order to free him.

Young Louis

Louis eventually made it back to Paris, But he was severely humiliated by his failure. In the wake of his defeat, he even considered stepping down as king and becoming a monk. Instead, he focused on eliminating sin in his realm. He started eating and dressing simpler. He also began to work for peace on the international stage, settling long-standing territory disputes with England and other realms. These actions enhanced his image at home and abroad.

But it didn’t help Louis deal with his internal struggle. He continued to believe his purpose for living was to free the Holy Land from the grasp of the Saracens. Despite pleas from his advisors and subjects (his confidant Jean de Joinville flat out refused to go on a second crusade), Louis again announced in 1267 that he would take up the cross. With far less support this time around, Louis left for the Holy Land in 1270.

The result was a disaster. Along the way, he made a rash decision to alter his plans and sail for Tunisia. He had learned the Emir was ready to convert to Christianity and join the Crusade. Upon arrival, Louis learned the rumor about the Emir was false. While camped in Tunisia waiting for reinforcements to arrive, disease broke out in camp. Louis was stricken with dysentery and died on August 25, 1270.

Louis IX on a Bed of Ashes

In the years following his death, the legacy of Louis IX grew to a cult-like status. He was widely praised throughout all of Europe and especially in his kingdom of France. Considered “the most Christian King”, the process to have him sainted began almost immediately. He was canonized as “Saint Louis” by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, just twenty-seven years after his death.

His legacy would last for centuries and spread around the world. It isn’t just St. Louis, Missouri that is named after Louis IX. He’s the main reason nine more French kings named Louis followed him. Other cities named after him are scattered around the globe in places like Mexico, Brazil, Senegal, Canada, Michigan, and obviously, Europe. Along with cities, it would be a daunting task to count the number of cathedrals, churches, missions, lakes, hospitals, bridges, and streets that use his name today.

In St. Louis, Missouri, it’s likely that people look upon tributes to him even when they don’t know it. In Forest Park, the Apotheosis of St. Louis in front of the Art Museum is perhaps the most well-known statue in the city. This image of Saint Louis on horseback was actually the de facto symbol of the city until they built the big shiny thing on the riverfront. It may also surprise some that the “Old Cathedral” near the Gateway Arch is in fact named after Louis IX (the official name is the “Basilica of St. Louis, King of France”). The image of St. Louis also used to be on the St. Louis flag, but Theodore Sizer took it off when he redesigned the flag in 1964 (and he was right to do so, as I detailed in this blog post).

Even history buffs who write blog posts about the man stumble upon hidden tributes. Just yesterday, I was driving down Olive Boulevard and noticed a small statue of him in a median near St. Louis University. I was stunned. I had driven or bicycled by that location hundreds of times and never noticed it.

The Apotheosis of St. Louis

The Drink

Brasserie in the Central West End

Since Louis IX died long before the discovery of the new world, he wasn’t even aware of the hemisphere where I was attempting to find a drink in which to honor him. At first, this seems like an easy post to tie a drink to. I could simply go anywhere in the city of St. Louis and claim it was sufficient.

Since I wouldn’t let the people I quizzed about St. Louis off easy, I couldn’t let myself off easy, either. I decided to find a French restaurant at which I could order a true French cocktail in honor of King Louis IX. Located in the Central West End, Brasserie by Niche is an excellent place to fulfill that requirement. I know the place well, and I can also report the fine people behind the bar at Brasserie know how to make a great Manhattan.

Interestingly, the French seem to have an affinity for this location. Prior to housing Brasserie, it was the home of Chez Leon, a wonderful restaurant that has since moved on to well, I don’t know where. I know Chez Leon well because it’s the place where I once watched my father mercilessly berate a server for no sufficient reason. St. Louis severs may owe a small debt of gratitude to my late father for that horrific display. Since that evening over five years ago, I don’t think I’ve tipped less than twenty percent since… even if they shake my Manhattan.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that at Brasserie. The server (I didn’t get his name) who made my drinks was knowledgeable and helpful. I didn’t know much about purely French cocktails, but the bartender gave me some good suggestions. I started with an offshoot of the French 75 (which I was familiar with) called the Orchard 75. It’s Calvados Brandy, lemon, simple syrup, and champagne served in a champagne flute. It’s a delicious cocktail, and one to come back for when the weather warms up. It is exceptionally refreshing.

The Parisian at Brasserie

The next drink is the one I ordered for Louis, though. While weighing my options, I was told the Parisian is the one cocktail on Brasserie’s menu that is there to stay. It’s been there since the day the place opened, and it’s been on every iteration of the menu since. St. Louis isn’t going anywhere either, so this one is a good fit. The Parisian contains champagne and two aperitifs, Lillet Blanc and Aperol. It was also delicious and I’m happy to have selected Brasserie for my homage to Louis IX.

This is a good thing, because I have some drinking to do for Pierre and Auguste in the very near future.

March 1st, 2013 by Cameron

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 minister of a new church, First Presbyterian, in Upper Alton.

First 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.

lovejoy_bar

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.

February 15th, 2013 by Cameron

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.

lovejoy_bplace

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.

lovejoy_lynching

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.

September 21st, 2012 by Cameron

Gin and Drugs, My Dear, Gin and Drugs

T.S. Eliot

In his masterpiece The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot begins with the famous line “April is the Cruellest Month”. What follows is generally regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th Century. When T.S. Eliot published his influential work, it was 1922 and he had been living in London for several years. He was far removed from his youth growing up in the  gritty neighborhood on the western edge of downtown St. Louis.

For that reason, I’ll forgive him for overlooking August in St. Louis, which to me is far crueller.

But T.S. Eliot wasn’t writing about humidity and how ridiculously hot it gets in this town. He may have been alluding to the prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. He turns it on its head, informing the reader that The Waste Land will be a far darker reading experience.

Personally, I’ve read The Waste Land twice. The first time was about twenty years ago when it was assigned in college. The second time was a few days ago when I realized I was about to write a blog post about T. S. Eliot.  On both occasions, getting through it was no easy feat. The Waste Land changes voices and locations constantly. It contains lines in German and mantras in Sanskrit. It alludes to Homer, the Bible, Aldous Huxley,  Sophocles, Dante, and even Buddha. I won’t pretend to offer insight into its meaning or explain it’s purpose. Just take my word for it. The Waste Land is a momentous achievement. Read it and it’s impossible to not admire the beauty of Eliot’s prose.

The Waste Land

Many haven’t read him, and I’d venture to guess that many more bend the truth and say they have. But find me a person who hasn’t at least heard of T.S. Eliot. Pull up any list of the great poets, and it’s likely his name is on it somewhere. For that reason, it has always surprised me T.S. Eliot is not more recognized in the city he was born and raised in. Eugene Field’s boyhood home in St. Louis is a museum. He lived in St. Louis less than ten years. Scott Joplin’s home is a state historic site. He lived here less than seven.

T.S. Eliot’s time in St. Louis was not a flash in the pan. He was born at 2635 Locust Street in St. Louis on September 26, 1888. He was raised and spent his formative years here until leaving to be educated at Milton Academy and then Harvard. His family was well established in St. Louis. His grandfather was William Greenleaf Eliot, a prominent St. Louisan and co-founder of Washington University.

Recently, I took another great bicycle history tour sponsored by the good people at Trailnet. This one led us up and down Locust Street on the western edge of downtown St. Louis, an area that was once referred to as “Automobile Row”. The area has that nickname because of the large amount of automobile dealerships, showrooms, parts stores, and automotive businesses that once existed there. Another post may be coming about that topic at some point, but Trailnet promoted this tour by claiming we’d see “one of the most overlooked historical locations in the midwest”.  The tour was led by Harold Karrabell, a man  who previously led me on Trailnet bike tours of Cahokia Mounds, East St. Louis, and Carondelet.  As I mentioned in a previous post about the Jacob Stein House, Mr. Karabell has an impressive knowledge of the history of St. Louis. His tours are well-researched, well-organized, and informative. Even better, he prefers to lead these tours while riding a bicycle. And once again, Harold didn’t disappoint. As we rode east along Locust Street, we slowed as we approached the Jefferson Avenue intersection. Harold stopped us in front of a parking lot and pointed out a large plaque on the sidewalk.

T.S. Eliot Plaque at 2635 Locust

The plaque identifies the location of the home where T.S. Eliot was born and raised. My jaw dropped when I saw it. Over the years, I have ridden or driven past this location hundreds of times. I simply never knew it was there. I had always heard Eliot lived in Central West End, not in the sketchy outskirts of downtown St. Louis. I simply love historical markers such as this. Some people prefer to only see historical places that still exist, but that’s not me. I enjoy seeing places that have changed and thinking about why they did. Why was T.S. Eliot’s home razed and turned into a parking lot? What did the neighborhood look like when he lived there? When T.S. Eliot lived at 2635 Locust Street, the population of St. Louis was almost 700,000. In Eliot’s day, the street was likely teeming with activity. Today, the neighborhood shows no sign of once being a residential neighborhood. Fortunately, one building still stands that can give us a frame of reference between then and now.

2635 Locust - H.W. Eliot Home - Then & Now

At the time Eliot lived there, Locust Street was a neighborhood in transition. Once residential, saloons and factories started popping up, making it a rougher part of town. Although the Eliot family was wealthy, they remained in the neighborhood during it’s decline because of family that lived nearby. In 1905, the family moved to a new home in the prosperous Central West End. Although this home still stands today as a private residence,  T.S. Eliot lived here for less than a year before heading off to school.

4446 Westminster Place - H.W. Eliot Home - Then & Now

After graduating from Harvard, Eliot moved to London in 1914. There he met the poet Ezra Pound, a man who would have a profound impact on his writing and career. Pound helped Eliot get his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock published in 1915. The success of Prufrock marked the beginning of Eliot’s career as an influential poet.  Along with The Waste Land, Eliot would publish several noteworthy poems such as The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945), each of which earned him critical acclaim and recognition. He also gained renown as a playwright and a literary critic.  In 1939, he published a book of poems named Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which became the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. In time, he’d be recognized as one of the most important poets of the 20th Century. To honor of his impressive body of work, he was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature.

 In 1929, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. He lived the rest of his life in England, but he never forgot the influence St. Louis had on him. Later in life, he spoke about the impact of  growing up in a river town. He fondly recalled going down to Eads Bridge to view the Mississippi when it flooded. He believed people who grew up in a river town understood rhythm more than people who didn’t. In The Four Quartets, he writes about a river in this notable stanza:

The Four Quartets

T.S.EliotEliot did return to his hometown on a few occasions. In 1953, Eliot returned to speak at the celebration of Washington University’s 100th anniversary. In his speech, Eliot expresses his feelings about growing up in St. Louis:

“Many other memories have invaded my mind since I received the invitation to address you today. But I think these are enough to serve as a token of my thoughts and feelings. I am very well satisfied to have having been born in St. Louis. In fact, I’d even say I think I am fortunate to have been born here rather than in Boston, or New York, or London.”

T.S. Eliot died of emphysema on 1965. His ashes are interred at St. Michael’s Church in East Coker, Somerset.

In closing, can we get a street or something named after this guy? As of now, the extent of T.S. Eliot’s recognition in St. Louis doesn’t go beyond a few plaques and a small bust in the Central West End. How about a park or a library? His grandfather has one of the Ittner schools named after him. It’s time St. Louis gave T.S. his due.

Harold Karabell & I on the Automotive Row Trailnet Ride

The Drink

Initially, I planned to get a drink at the closet location possible to T.S. Eliot’s plaque on Locust Street. This worked out pretty well, because that meant I’d be heading to the Schlafly Tap Room, located just a couple blocks to the east. Even better, Schlafly was hosting their annual “Hop in the City” beer festival on the same day Harold showed us the plaque. Since I already had a ticket, it seemed like a perfect fit.

That is, until I read about an exchange T.S. Eliot had with an admirer in the 1950′s. The person asked him about the source of his inspiration. His reply quickly changed my mind.

Gin and drugs, my dear, gin and drugs

Imagine my joy when I found out T.S. Eliot drank gin. Although the Manhattan is my favorite cocktail, gin is very dear to my heart. The gin and tonic is probably my standard drink to have on the porch after a long day at work. I also love martinis. After reading his response,  I started hunting around for more clues about T.S. Eliot’s drinking preferences. The news only got better. I found out he had a cat named “Noilly-Pratt” after the French vermouth brand. In the Letters of T.S. Eliot, he explains how he wrote the monologue to the verse drama Sweeney Agonistes: “I wrote it in three quarters of an hour after church time and before lunch one Sunday morning, with the assistance of half a bottle of Booth’s gin.”. Finally, I found this quote:

Martini Quote

With that, there leaves no doubt that a martini is the drink for a T.S. Eliot blog post. Located just a few blocks west of T.S. Eliot’s boyhood home at 3037 Locust is the Fountain on Locust.  The window of this restaurant advertises ice cream and retro cocktails. It’s a neat place with a fun and colorful decor inside. Their specialty is the “Ice Cream Martini”, and the drink menu has a full-page of varieties. I’m not an ice cream and alcohol kind of guy, so I went for the standard dry martini. The selection of gin at Fountain on Locust is a bit weak for a place advertising retro cocktails, so I the best I could get was Bombay Sapphire. Nothing against Bombay, but I was hoping to get something special like Plymouth or Broker’s.  To my delight, the bartender made me an excellent martini. If it had any vermouth in it, it was probably the same amount my father used when he taught me how to make a martini: Open the vermouth bottle and just wave your hand over it a couple of times. And to top it off, it was wonderfully stirred. I can’t abide a shaken martini. Damn you James Bond! I like to think T.S. Eliot wouldn’t put up with that, either.

The Fountain on Locust

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