Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
October 22nd, 2013 by Cameron

Haunted Alton & The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

Haunted Alton at Night

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

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

Haunted Alton

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

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

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

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

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

"One of the most haunted small towns in America"

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

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

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

Haunted Alton Safe Word

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

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

The Enos Sanatorium

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tunnel Beneath Enos Sanatorium

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

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

First Unitarian Church

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

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

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

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

The Drink

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

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

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

The Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

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

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

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

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

Corpse Reviver No. 2 Recipe

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

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.

 

August 26th, 2013 by Cameron

A Day in the Life of Distilled History

A Day in the Life

Here’s a useless fact to kick off this edition of Distilled History. If I had to play one of those “deserted island” games and choose only one song that I could listen to for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be difficult. “A Day in the Life”, that magnificent opus that closes out side two of Sergeant Pepper is the greatest rock ‘n roll song ever made. I have no doubt about it.

That song has absolutely nothing to do with St. Louis history or drinking, but it sure put a smile on my face a couple of weeks ago. I played it (loudly) on purpose, and I made sure to share my Beatle appreciation with Tower Grove South on the morning of August 10, 2013. I did that because I knew that I was at the start of a very good “Day in the Life” of St. Louis. It’s a day when everything I love to do in this city came together in one very neat package.

It all started at a church south of downtown. I met a few friends, unloaded a bicycle, and spent the morning peddling through a historic tour of two unique St. Louis neighborhoods. After that, I spent the afternoon with another group of friends talking about things that happened 150 years ago. At the same time, I marched people through my favorite 10,000 square feet of St. Louis history. When that was over, I met up with a yet another group of friends and proceeded to get myself quite drunk on well-made cocktails.

That is how a great day in my life goes down.

I thought it would be interesting to recount that excellent day in this blog. It wasn’t a day focused on just one history topic or drink. It was a day filled with random facts, bits of St. Louis history, and plenty of sips.

Follow along as I describe a “Day in the Life” of Distilled History.

The Morning

Our Ride Through Old Frenchtown

Each year, the local bicycle advocacy organization Trailnet offers an extensive calendar of fantastic bicycle rides, tours, and events around the St. Louis area. My favorites are their Community Rides, which are centered on simply having fun and developing an appreciation for St. Louis. I’ve written about a couple of them in my posts about the Jacob Stein House and T.S. Eliot.

Many of these rides are history tours, led by a St. Louis authority/genius/superhuman named Harold Karabell. An avid bicyclist himself, Harold also shares my opinion that seeing St. Louis from a bicycle offers a unique perspective from which to see our city.

On this day, Harold debuted a new tour that I was really excited about. It was a rambling ride through a section of St. Louis formerly known as “Old Frenchtown”. Once a seamless group of neighborhoods in south St. Louis that blended together, “Old Frenchtown” was carved apart in the years following World War II.

Trailnet's Old Frenchtown Bicycle Tour

That’s when I-44 and I-55 were built through south St. Louis. Suddenly, the borders dividing the neighborhoods of Soulard, LaSalle Park, and Lafayette Square became defined by asphalt and semi-trucks. Use of the term “Old Frenchtown”, already in decline due to shifting neighborhood dynamics, faded further into memory.

Harold kept the audience captivated

The field of architecture is Harold’s wheelhouse, but St. Louis history gets equal attention on his tours. While touring historical and unique neighborhoods like LaSalle Park and Soulard, the amount of information presented in both topics can even be overwhelming. I’ve tried taking notes in order to keep up with him on previous tours, but I always end up with nothing but pages of hurried scribbling.

Old Frenchtown is a remarkably historic section of St. Louis. Originally settled by Germans, French Creoles, and Irish, it later became home to concentrations of Syrians, Lebanese, Czechs, and other groups. It was where in 1896, the third-deadliest tornado in American history uprooted homes and buildings. Fifty years later, Old Frenchtown nearly suffered the same fate at the hands of man. A city plan developed in 1947 proclaimed the vast majority of Old Frenchtown to be “blighted”. Furthermore, the plan proposed razing the majority of structures in the area and rebuilding it with modern homes and cul-de-sacs.

As we rolled along, St. Louis history was on display in all forms.

Harold's Wisdom

At the end of the tour, Harold couldn’t resist throwing out one final fact that I particularly enjoyed. When a fellow rider asked for his surname, he responded that it’s “Karabell”, short for the Yiddish term “Karabellnik”.

“Karabellnik” means “country peddler”. And with that final fact, Harold closed out an excellent morning.

The Afternoon

Happy Cameron

After throwing my bike in the back of the car, I sped off to the next stop. After changing into proper attire and drying the sweat off underneath an air conditioning vent in the gift shop, I was set to throw down some epic tours at my beloved Campbell House Museum. At this place, I actually get to spout history off to folks who are willing to pay for it. Even better, I get a group of people like the one I had on August 10th. The tour on that day was rowdy, long (over two hours), and fun.

Rowdy tours are the best tours. When I say “rowdy” I don’t mean people get unruly and start tossing around furniture. Instead, folks get laughing, hundreds of questions are asked, and visitors offer up their own glimpses of history. It’s tours like this where an amusing back and forth dialog exists. It’s also obvious to me that a mutual appreciation for the home exists.

Knock on this door!

The big rowdy tour that I led that afternoon turned out to be only one I gave that day. The most colorful visitor was an English World War II veteran who now lives in Canada. While his wife constantly tried to quiet him, this guy kept us laughing by cracking bad jokes along the way. In the same group, another visitor boasted that this tour was his fourth trip through the Campbell House.

He reinforced a point that I make to every guest: Every tour is different.

It’s not simply because of the overwhelming number of facts, stories, and tales there are to tell, but the difference really comes in the delivery. While I tend to focus on the history of the family (my main area of interest), another docent may focus on the architecture of the house. Yet another may focus on the lives of servants, or the furniture, or even restoration efforts.

There’s even one guy named Tom who could talk to you for three or four days about Lucas Place, the neighborhood the house used to be a part of.

I’ll even admit that I have a mild man-crush on Tom. I aspire to be the best docent ever, and that won’t happen as long as Tom lurks the halls of Campbell House. The guy is a research machine. If a Campbell House docent battle was ever held, Tom would make quick work of me.

Well, if I can’t beat him, I might as well learn from him.

Campbell Facts

I love giving tours, but simply being inside the Campbell House makes for a good day. If we don’t have visitors, I can head upstairs to do research, sift through the archives, or read through the thousands of Campbell family letters.  More than likely, I’ll just kick back in the break room and hash out Campbell history with other museum folks.

The Campbell Kids

Before I head off to the final phase of my day, I’d like to point out some of the excellent press Campbell House Museum has been getting lately. People work hard at that place, and I’m proud to be apart of it.

The Campbell House in the 1930's

The Evening

Blood & Sand Interior

Another benefit of being a Campbell House docent is what sits directly across the street. Blood & Sand, located on the ground floor of the Terra Cotta Loft Building on Locust Street, is one of my favorite places in St. Louis to get a cocktail.

Blood & Sand is a unique establishment. It’s a membership bar and restaurant, which means patrons pay a small monthly fee in order to visit. In return, members receive a level of personal attention not found elsewhere.

I won’t go into detail about how Blood & Sand works. Instead, I’ll simply say that the level of service I’ve received there makes it worth the price of membership for me. On just my second visit, I had a new cocktail set in front of me that was tailored to my own personal tastes. The owners and bartenders enjoy talking about cocktails, and they all know their craft. Each time I go to Blood & Sand, I seem to learn a bit more about the necessary ingredients and practices I should be incorporating into my own drinks at home.

To add to the allure, Blood & Sand also sits on a St. Louis corner that has some very interesting history.

Terra Cotta Lofts Facts

Then & Now: The Corner of 15th and Locust

Blood & Sand makes a variation of the Manhattan that is one of my favorite cocktails in St. Louis. Blood & Sand’s classic “Grounds for Divorce” adds Campari and Amaro to the standard mixture of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters. I’m not certain, but my guess is the vermouth used is Carpano’s Punt e Mes. The result is spicy, bitter, and exceptionally delicious.

The drink is stirred in ice, strained into a coupe glass, and adorned with a “real” maraschino cherry.

The Grounds for Divorce at Blood & Sand

We spent a couple of hours at Blood & Sand sampling cocktails and closing out the day. My friends had to listen to me throw out more useless trivia while we did it, but they are used to that.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my “Day in the Life” of St. Louis, I was exhausted at the end of it. Bicycling, cocktails, and those rowdy Campbell House tours (especially those rowdy tours), combined to put me in bed early that night. I think I’ll have to wait a few weeks before I cram biking, history, and drinking all into one day again.

On second thought, maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

July 15th, 2013 by Cameron

Hop Alley & White Lightning

Fire Hydrant in the Hill

One of the things I like most about living in St. Louis is the diversity. For good reasons or bad, St. Louis looks and feels very different depending on where you stand. If you are in Soulard, you know you aren’t in the Loop. If you are on Cherokee Street, you know you aren’t in Old North. To me, that’s a great thing about living here.

While I believe the existence of diverse neighborhoods like South Grand and The Grove make St. Louis a better place, I lament the neighborhoods that are gone. Today, there is little evidence of neighborhoods like Frenchtown, Kerry Patch, and Vandeventer Place. And while The Hill remains famously Italian, other neighborhoods like Bevo and Dutchtown have struggled to retain their ethnic identity. Even Soulard, an area many St. Louisans think was originally French, actually started as a German neighborhood.

Another neighborhood that was recently wiped off the map is one many younger St. Louisans aren’t aware of. In the middle of the downtown business district, St. Louis had its own “Chinatown” that was home to hundreds of Chinese St. Louisans. It wasn’t on the scale of coastal cities like San Francisco or New York City, but it was here. It existed for nearly 100 years, enduring from the 1870’s until 1966.

Hop Alley in 1910

The history of the Chinese presence in St. Louis is actually quite fascinating. We even know the name of the first Chinese person to settle here. His name was Alla Lee, and he came to St. Louis from San Francisco in 1857. He owned a tea shop on North Tenth Street that provided a modest income. He even married a “buxom Irish lass” named Sarah Graham. Together, the couple produced several children.

We also know what Alla Lee said on the first day he walked into the city that would become his home:

Alla Lee's Quote

Well, maybe that’s not true, but he had to at least been thinking it. Even after eighteen years here, St. Louis summers make me curse like a sailor.

Information about the St. Louis Chinatown is scarce, but I found two books by a professor at Truman State University that were very helpful. Huping Ling’s Chinese St. Louis and Images of America: Chinese in St. Louis both provided a fascinating perspective of the Chinese experience in this city. I also planned to attend a lecture about the topic by Professor Ling a couple of months ago, but a freak snowstorm forced it to be cancelled.

Have I mentioned that I struggle with the weather in this town?

Anyway, after settling in St. Louis, Alla Lee could claim to be the only Chinese person living in St. Louis for nearly a dozen years. Then in 1869, about three hundred Chinese people arrived from San Francisco looking for work in local factories and mines. Shortly after, a second group arrived from New York City for the same reason. As Professor Ling details in her book Chinese St. Louis, this represents a perfect example of “re-migration”. In the years following 1869, Chinese people came to St. Louis when the opportunities in cities they first settled in (like San Francisco or New York) fizzled out.

Alla Lee's Census Records

As the Chinese population in St. Louis started to grow, a distinct neighborhood was established where they lived and worked. Located between Market, Walnut, Eighth and Seventh Streets, this small section of downtown became known as “Chinatown”. However, by the mid 1890′s, the neighborhood was being commonly referred to as “Hop Alley”. This was likely a derogatory term, meant to represent the stereotype of Chinese immigrants frequently being “hopped up” on opium.

By the turn of the 20th Century, Hop Alley was home to more than 200 Chinese people. Most of them lived in small rooms above or behind the numerous Chinese businesses that lined the streets. These businesses included hand laundries, tea shops, groceries, dry goods stores, and restaurants.It looked much like the Chinatowns we know today, with lanterns, banners, and signs with Chinese characters hanging from building exteriors. Mandarin and Cantonese were the common languages spoken and heard in Hop Alley. It was a bustling part of town, with Chinese residents and workers going about their daily lives. With shops, vendors, and businesses selling unfamiliar foods and goods, Hop Alley was an exotic part of St. Louis.

Hop Alley Map

Unfortunately, much of the city surrounding Hop Alley did not embrace the neighborhood nor its residents. Many St. Louisans viewed the Chinese as unusual, lazy, and deviant. Newspaper accounts branded the neighborhood as brimming with opium addicts, criminals, and gamblers.

In researching this post, I scoured several newspaper articles from that time pertaining to Hop Alley. Very few focused on the lives or merits of the Chinese residents, instead focusing on awful stereotypes and prejudices.

Hop Alley in Plate 24 of Compton & Dry's Pictorial St. Louis

In many of these articles, Chinese people are referred to as Chinks”, “Mongolians”, and even “Heathen Chinee”. Reporters repeatedly mocked their spoken English, aping them with quotes like“You likee chop stick?”,tankee tankee, and “Ho Ho! Wat you want?”.

I did stumble upon one article that attempted to understand the daily life of a Chinese person living in Hop Alley. Unfortunately, reading it made me cringe (and honestly, it got me rather pissed off). “The Chinese in St. Louis”, published in the St. Louis Republic on January 14, 1894, spewed ignorance and racism on an epic scale.

The article gives an account of two men visiting a Chinese restaurant in Hop Alley. Although the men were “much surprised to find it palatable”, the contempt for Chinese people eating nearby is appalling.

St. Louis Republic 1894 Quote

A derisive cartoonwas included in the article to reinforce the author’s point. In the drawing, a man is portrayed squatting on his chair, using chopsticks with two hands, and eating a meal of stewed rat.

Hop Alley Cartoon

The article then proceeds to detail how the men attempted to “shove a quarter” to the restaurateur, unaware tipping is not a custom in Chinese culture. This provokes the writer to report:

St. Louis Republic 1894 Quote

While it’s certain that newspapers exaggerated the negative aspects of Hop Alley, the neighborhood was far from perfect. Opium dens and gambling rings did produce repeated problems for St. Louis law enforcement. One crime in particular made national headlines in 1893. In that year, a man named Lou Johnson came into conflict with a Chinese gambling ring. Things didn’t get sorted out, because Lou’s headless body was found dumped in an alley. His head was later found buried in a basket of rice. Although several men were accused, a lack of evidence prevented any kind of conviction.

Young girl in Chinatown

Despite Hop Alley’s poor reputation around St.Louis, it was home to a community of people. Professor Ling makes the point that it’s important to remember that Hop Alley was where Chinese people in St. Louis felt at home. It’s where they lived, worked, and relaxed. In a city where Chinese people frequently felt unwelcome, Hop Alley was where they could find peace and comfort around a common people. It was also a destination for Chinese people living outside of the neighborhood. They visited the neighborhood to see family, shop, and dine with friends. During Chinese New Year, Hop Alley was also a central gathering place for a very important holiday in that culture.

Although Hop Alley existed well into the 20th Century, the neighborhood followed a familiar pattern in St. Louis after 1920. The Great Depression brought about economic strife, causing many Chinese businesses to close or relocate. The flight to the suburbs following World War II prompted many Chinese families to move beyond city limits. By the 1960’s, Hop Alley was a shadow of its former self. It then disappeared completely in 1966, the year Busch Stadium was constructed. Baseball fans needed a place to park, and the buildings in Hop Alley became expendable.

Hop Alley: Then and Now

Following the demise of Hop Alley, many Chinese people congregated in a comparable community around a stretch of Olive Boulevard just went of city limits. I’m glad it’s there, and I’m glad St. Louis still has a visible Chinese community (for reasons you will soon read about). However, I can’t help but wish that Hop Alley had lived on in downtown St. Louis. I think the city would have been even better if it had.

The Drink

Brian and I outside of Taiyuan in 2001

Researching Hop Alley has been one of my most enjoyable posts, and that’s because of the drink that I knew would follow it. Baijiu, an extremely popular liquor in China, is a drink that is also very dear to me. I’ve been fortunate to drink quite a bit of it during two separate trips to China.

These trips were made possible by the fact that my good friend Brian Flaherty was living there. Fluent in Mandarin, Brian knows where to go and how things work in China. As a result, my fellow travelers and I interacted with people who had never seen a western face, we rode hard sleeper trains through the countryside, and we even camped overnight in a Great Wall guard tower. We were able to experience China in a way that very few foreigners have been able to.

Brian is also a big fan of drinking, and this fact made both trips even more special. Drinking is an important part of Chinese culture, and we made sure that we took full advantage of it.

On our first visit to China in 1998, Brian introduced us to baijiu. We were in a tiny Beijing restaurant with a very large bottle prominently displayed on the front counter. It was filled with a clear liquid, but floating inside were reptile skins, unrecognizable round things (eggs, maybe?), and various leaves. I think I also saw a seahorse, but I’m not sure. Brian informed us it was baijiu, and it was custom in China to celebrate important events (like our visit) by drinking it.

Well, it’s not like I really needed a reason.

The baijiu that first night was a special “homemade” brand. The first sip sent us reeling. I can’t really describe the taste, but we soon settled down and toasted a few cups. Then, we toasted a few more. With chasers of warm beer between drinks, we started to acclimate to the flammable potion swirling in our bellies. I ended up sleeping very well that night.

1998 China Trip

In other words, we were roaring drunk. I’ve been a baijiu fan ever since.

Baijiu is distilled liquor made from fermented sorghum. It’s been a staple in Chinese drinking circles for thousands of years. Translated, it means “white liquor” or “white wine”. Brian provided an even better translation:white lightning. I’m not kidding when I say you had better be careful with baijiu. It packs a wallop. Because of “white lightning”, I have a few adventures from those China trips that certainly wouldn’t make Mom proud. Maybe I shouldn’t blame baijiu, but I can also claim to be one of the few Americans that has streaked the Great Wall of China.

An easy (and incorrect) comparison is to say baijiu is like Japanese sake. Although baijiu is sometimes served warm like sake, baijiu is generally much higher in alcohol content (usually 40%-60% APV). It is usually packaged in ceramic bottles, often decorated with colorful labels, ribbons, and small Chinese ornaments. Several types of unflavored and flavored baijiu varieties exist, but because of its distinct (and pungent) aroma, most connoisseurs actually categorize baijiu by fragrance.

As I previously mentioned, the first sip (or even whiff) of baijiu is startling. I force it upon my friends as a novelty often, and it rarely elicits a pleasant response. If baijiu is categorized by fragrance, I even have one friend who insists it belongs in the “feet” category. He’ll come around someday, because I’m going to continue making him drink it. Personally, the taste has grown on me. I like to drink baijiu, and the taste brings back great memories of my trips.

Baijiu: The world's most consumed form of liquor

Chinese drinking customs can definitely add to the impact one may experience with baijiu. Toasting is the rule, and it is custom to invite someone nearby to drink with you. Put yourself at a table in Beijing with several Chinese baijiu drinkers, and you’ll quickly realize that you are in deep shit. They love to toast (especially with foreigners visiting their country), so plan on raising your glass often. The kicker to this is the term “ganbei”, which is often called out during these frequent toasts. “Ganbei” literally means “empty glass” or “drink it all”. It’s not just with baijiu, either. The Chinese also love beer, so get ready to ganbei Chinese lagers like Yanjing or Tsingtao if its nearby.

chinapic_06

Finding and buying baijiu is almost as fun as drinking it. When I eat at local Chinese restaurants, I often ask if baijiu is available to order. I’ve never seen it on a menu, but I know that some places keep a stash in the back. If I strike gold, I’ll usually get a little smirk from the server, and a delicious cup of white lightning. A few days ago, I also bought a bottle for my liquor cabinet at one of the markets on Olive Boulevard. I selected a high-end variety described to me as “unflavored and dry”. When I checked out, the cashier chuckled when she asked for my ID.

And then she whispered to me under her breath “this is a good one”.

Buying baijiu

For the first time, I’m not going to drink the drink I write about in a Distilled History post. Baijiu is meant to be a celebratory liquor to drink with friends. Because of that, I’m going to wait for my pal Brian to come to St. Louis for a visit. When he does, we’ll take that bottle of baijiu to the corner of Walnut and Eighth Streets and toast a couple to Alla Lee, Hop Alley, and the hundreds of Chinese St. Louisans that once called it home.

July 5th, 2013 by Cameron

Climbing Brunelleschi’s Dome

Our Villa in Tuscany

Ciao miei buoni amici!  Saluti dall’Italia!

For this bit of Distilled History, I must ask my St. Louis readers to allow me another brief detour.  I’ve been pampering myself in Tuscany for the past two weeks, and I haven’t had an opportunity to blow the dust off another St. Louis history topic. I’ll return to the stories of Mound City in due time, but for now I am fulfilling a lifelong dream of seeing Florence and Rome.  As a student of history, these two towns have more to offer than just about any place in the world.  To make up for my absence, I figured I could throw in some Distilled History while I’m here.  It shouldn’t be that difficult, right?  Since I’m reveling in the cradle of western civilization, I can’t help but stumble over great history, food, and drink.

It’s actually easier said than done.  I’m very distracted.  I’m trying to write this post while sitting in a luxurious 18th Century villa.  There’s a swimming pool, palm trees, and half-naked lady statues scattered around me.  The landscape before me is filled with rolling hills, vineyards, and round bales of hay. Our villa is located near the idyllic town of Montepulciano, an area known for producing some of the best wine in Italy.  Worst of all, I’m currently battling an astounding hangover caused by too much of that Italian wine (along with grappa, birra, gin, bourbon, and a certain cocktail you’ll read about in a bit).

Brunelleschi's Dome

Fortunately, I found a topic to write about years before I even arrived here.  While it would be easy to write about Italian monuments such as the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Pantheon, these sites are secondary to me on this trip.  Years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary about a Cathedral in Florence that fascinated me.  Although not as recognizable as the previously mentioned sites, it’s a very big deal.  Specifically, what sits on top of that church is what I had to see for myself.

I’m won’t go nuts doing research for this post.  I’m in Italy, and I don’t want to do anything but bake in the Tuscan sun, drink myself tipsy, and look at very old things.  All of the information for this post came from my vague recollections of the documentary, my climb up the dome, and the book Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. If you enjoy superb non-fiction writing, this guy has the goods. His book Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling about the Sistine Chapel is also outstanding.

Brunelleschi's Dome

“Brunelleschi’s Dome” is how many refer to the cupola atop the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the “Duomo di Firenze”, or the Cathedral of Florence. Construction of this cathedral began 1296, and the initial plans called for the largest dome ever constructed to sit atop it.  Sounds like a great plan, but the architects faced a significant problem: Nobody knew how to build a build such a massive dome.

Despite the lack of dome building knowledge in the late thirteenth century, the so-called experts decided to go ahead and build the cathedral anyway.  They figured that since it would take decades to build the foundation and walls, they had plenty of time to figure out the dome problem before constructing it was necessary.

Oops. Not so fast. When the cathedral was ready for the dome in 1380 (nearly 100 years later), they still didn’t have a solution. The cathedral would sit open to the elements for another forty years before one man introduced a plan worth trying.

dome_model

Perhaps it was a certain mindset in Florence at the time that gave the original architects such optimism.  After hundreds of years of ignorance and suppression of knowledge during the Middle Ages, a cultural movement was blossoming in Italy. Florence in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries introduced a resurgence of learning based on classical knowledge.  Instead of writing the ancient Greeks and Romans off as pagans, great thinkers looked to them for inspiration.  This re-birth or “Renaissance” brought humanism back into the mainstream.  The dome that was built atop the Florence Cathedral would become one of the most important accomplishments in the early years of that movement.

The inability to build a large dome is surprising since one had been standing tall in Rome for nearly 1,000 years. The Pantheon, a self-supported concrete dome 142 feet wide and weighing 5,000 tons, was built by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD.  Despite having a full-size model at their disposal, nobody could figure out how to build it again.

That is, until Filippo Brunelleschi came along.

Born in Florence in 1377, Brunelleschi grew up in the shadow of the Florence Cathedral as it was built.  Initially trained as a goldsmith and clockmaker, Brunelleschi soon displayed an unparalleled genius in art, architecture, engineering, and mathematics.  Along with the dome he’d make famous, Brunelleschi is also credited with discovering the mathematical laws of perspective.  Another concept lost since Greek and Roman times, perspective gave artists the ability to accurately represent three-dimensional images on a two-dimensional surface.  This discovery (or rediscovery) radically changed the direction of artistic impression during the Renaissance.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Eventually, a guild in Florence announced a contest for entrants to submit plans to complete the unfinished dome. Brunelleschi, who had studied the Pantheon closely with his good friend Donatello, jumped at the opportunity. It took some convincing, but Brunelleschi was eventually able to secure the commission for himself.

Brunelleschi was a character (to say the least). He was brilliant, competitive, combative, and paranoid.  He was so convinced that his ideas and designs would be stolen, that he refused to explain exactly how he would build the dome. Despite being called an “ass” and a “babbler”, he indefatigably insisted he could do it.

The original plan called for an octagonal dome 171 feet above the floor of the cathedral and spanning 144 feet (two feet wider than the Pantheon). Adding to the challenge, support and centering the dome from underneath wasn’t possible.  Materials for such an enormous scaffold weren’t available, and church leaders insisted that the interior of the cathedral remain open and accessible for services during construction. The dome would have to support itself as it climbed into the sky.

Brunelleschi rose to the challenge with a myriad of ingenious solutions.  In nearly every phase of construction, he overcame hurdles with methods that had never been used before. Even the mathematics used to determine such significant building stress wouldn’t be known for hundreds of years. His accomplishment is all the more impressive considering what little architectural knowledge was available at the time.

The Cupola

The most important aspect of his design is that the dome is actually two domes.  An inner shell is made of sandstone and marble, and it acts as the main load-bearing structure.  The inner shell is also obviously smaller, but that fact is not noticeable to the naked eye. It is protected by a larger outer shell constructed of brick and mortar. The space between the two shells contain ribs for additional support (and the staircase that I had longed to climb).

In constructing the inner shell, the biggest problem facing construction was overcoming “hoop stress”.  As a dome’s construction goes higher, more weight is forced upon the base. Unchecked, this can cause the base of the dome to “spread” and ultimately collapse under its own weight.

I’m no architect, but “spreading” sounds bad for domes built 200 feet off the ground.

To counter hoop stress, Brunelleschi devised a system of horizontal iron, stone, and wooden “chains” that act like metal hoops around a barrel.  Built into the inner shell at various levels, these chains squeeze the dome and distribute weight to the eight corners of the octagon.  Even today, full details of Brunelleshi’s chain designs are not fully understood.  Since the chains are built into the inner shell, they aren’t visible to study with the naked eye.

Brunelleschi's Lift Sketches

Another hurdle was how to get thousands of blocks, brick, and mortar up into the sky. Nobody had figured out how to do that either, so another contest was announced.  Brunelleschi won the blue ribbon again, designing a remarkable lift and crane system. The hoisting power was provided by oxen that moved in a circle around the base of a lift.  Sounds simple enough, but the problem was getting the lift back down to earth.  Oxen don’t travel in reverse, and unhitching and reversing the team after each lifting session was a giant hassle.  To solve this, Brunelleschi designed a reverse gear that could be shifted manually. This allowed the oxen to continue moving happily along (well, maybe not so happily), in one direction. Additionally, Brunelleschi even gave his lift variable speeds.  This allowed heavier blocks to be lifted slower while lighter materials could be raised quickly.

The eight brick sections of the outer shell also presented a unique problem.  As the dome progressed higher, the brick walls angled inward at an increasingly perilous angle.  Without support from beneath, a solution was needed to keep the angled bricks in place while the mortar dried.  No scaffold also meant that twitchy masons had to build the walls while perched more than two-hundred feet off the ground. Without missing a beat, Brunelleschi had a solution for this problem as well.  He used a herringbone (think zigzag) pattern that placed bricks vertically at regular intervals in each row.  These vertical bricks act like bookends to provide support for each row of horizontal bricks.

Sadly, I can barely understand that concept, let alone explain it.  Being a guy who simply likes to drink and find good history, physics makes my head hurt.  I’m going to have to defer to Ross King on this one.  If anyone needs further information how Brunelleschi worked this out,  pick up Mr. King’s book and turn to page ninety-eight.  I can’t add anything other than to say that I think herringbone brick is kinda pretty.

Herringbone Brick Pattern

After sixteen years of construction, the dome was completed in 1436. Except for the one mason that fell to his death, everyone agreed that Brunelleschi had pulled off a remarkable feat. Single-handedly, he pushed architecture and the science of building light years ahead of where it had been. His design would become the standard for all Baroque and Renaissance dome construction going forward. Years later, when when Michelangelo designed the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica, he credited Brunelleschi’s dome as his inspiration.

dome_stairs

Filippo Brunelleschi died in 1446.  His legacy seure, he was even given the honor of being entombed in the cathedral he helped build.  Visit Florence today and you can also find a fine statue of Brunelleschi that sits outside.  It depicts a man gracefully looking up and admiring the dome he built.

Nearly six-hundred years later, Brunelleschi’s dome is as impressive as ever. My good friend Liz and I also found out it’s one hell of a climb. As we huffed up the 400-plus steps, we found twisting stairwells becoming increasingly darker and narrower.  The stairs wind between the two shells, so one can even say they have climbed through history when they get to the top.  The effort is more than worth it.  As you climb higher, you’ll get to view the interior frescoes close-up, you can peer through small exterior portals allowing beams of light in, and can run your fingers along the herringbone-patterned brickwork.  When you finally emerge at the top, you are greeted with stunning panoramas of the city of Florence.  The view isn’t likely to be much different from what Brunelleschi saw himself.

Panorama from Brunelleschi's Dome

The Drink

Campari

After an American climbs an Italian cathedral, it’s only appropriate that an American orders an Italian cocktail. I almost went with grappa for this post (so very delicious), but I needed something refreshing after that climb.

With its distinctive dark red hue, Campari even looks sweet and delicious.  It’s actually quite bitter, made from a secret recipe of aromatic herbs, fruit, barks, and other unknown botanicals.  It even once contained crushed cochineal insects to give it the scarlet color its known for (this process has recently been replaced with artificial coloring).  When I was a kid, I remember insisting that father let me try a sip of his Campari and soda.  My face contorted into a sneer of disgust, and I couldn’t fathom why he even pretended to enjoy it.  My father knew his alcohol though, and thirty years later, Campari became a steady partner in my rambles through Florence and Rome.

A man named Gaspare Campari invented Campari in northern Italy around 1860.  It is a mild bitters-type aperitif, a drink Italians sip to help stimulate their appetite before one of their epic meals.  Italians usually drink it in a cold glass with a splash of soda.  I prefer Campari as an ingredient in cocktails, notably the Negroni and the Americano.  Adding Campari to a Manhattan also creates a delicious variation.

The Americano, my cocktail of choice after the climb, is a simple and refreshing cocktail, especially for a hot summer day.  When I return to St. Louis and the weather is sure to be unbearable (sigh), an Americano is another good cocktail to help beat the heat. It should be stirred and served on the rocks, but I’ve occasionally seen it served straight up in a cocktail glass.  It’s usually served with a slice of lemon or orange as a garnish.

Other than a few “grazies” and “ciaos”, I don’t speak Italian. I gave it a shot while wandering the streets of Florence, but I wasn’t completely surprised to find my Americano order result in a cup of coffee placed in front of me. Thinking I screwed something up, I soon learned I was on the money. An “Americano” or “Café Americano” is also a term used to describe espresso mixed with hot water.

dome_recipe

My espresso was delicious, but I needed a kick after climbing 400 steps.  I sheepishly drank my café Americano and moved on to another bar where I made sure to point at the bottle of Campari when ordering.

The Americano

No problems with this order, and I soon found myself sitting back and enjoying my cocktail. From my seat, I was able to look up and admire Brunelleschi’s dome that towered into the sky before me.

June 5th, 2013 by Cameron

The Battle of Fort San Carlos

Fort San Carlos

A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an Internet article titled “Best Cities for History Buffs”. St. Louis is included on the list, and at first, I was happy to see this town get some recognition as a place with a rich historical legacy.

However, in the days since reading it, I have to admit that a certain theme of the article keeps creeping into the back of my mind. That theme has also kept me mildly annoyed.

In the article, the author includes St. Louis as a “smaller” city with “lesser-known, but no less important” historical landmarks. New Orleans, another city with a staggering amount of history, joins us along with Newport, Rhode Island, New Castle, Delaware, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

I know Charlottesville has Monticello since I’ve been there. That’s a great historical asset, but it’s going to need some slaughter-filled Civil War battles or something to join the big dogs. It doesn’t, and it must be one of the few cities in Virginia that can’t say it does. New Castle, on other hand, is a thriving metropolis of (wait for it) 5,285 people. It has some significant colonial architecture and it’s where William Penn first stepped on American soil. For those keeping score (like me), I just summed up the history of New Castle in one sentence. Try doing that with St. Louis or New Orleans.

Fort San Carlos Diorama

I grudgingly accept many people consider St. Louis to be a “smaller” city. It actually isn’t, but that’s difficult to realize because so much of the population has moved beyond the immovable city border set in 1877. Likewise, much of St. Louis history goes unnoticed, and that is exactly why I write this blog. I’m not even from here, and I can’t get enough of the stories this town has to tell. It’s my belief that St. Louis is easily in the top-ten when it comes to ranking historic American cities.

This got me thinking, and I started to realize how easy it is for me to make that case. Sit back and think for a moment how few American cities can boast a historic resume like this one:

The two most historically significant rivers in North America converge here. In 1250, a Native American city stood nearby that contained more people than London or Paris did at the time. St. Louis was founded by the French, ceded to the Spanish, fought over by the British, and purchased by the Americans. It was once the frontier, and Manifest Destiny unfurled from our front porch. Wedged in the middle of our greatest conflict, it was the largest city in the largest border state during the Civil War. During America’s Gilded Age, only three American cities could claim a larger population. It has been a center of commerce, transportation, industry, education, entertainment, and alcohol (of course, we can’t forget alcohol). The world came here in 1904. Even the race to the suburbs that has depleted the city in the last seventy years is of significant historical record.

If St. Louis isn’t among the big cities of American history with that list, here’s one more nugget: Downtown St. Louis was a battlefield during the American Revolution.

Mural of the attack by Oscar Berninghaus

To me, that battle is a perfect example of how comprehensive and diverse the history of St. Louis is. In 1780, on what is now the corner of Walnut and 4th Streets, St. Louis staged the only battle in the American Revolution fought west of the Mississippi River. Even more interesting is that it wasn’t very “American” at all. The kingdoms of Spain and Great Britain were the belligerents. To mix it up further, the Spanish force consisted mainly of French creoles and slaves. The British force was overwhelmingly Indian, with a sprinkling of Canadian hunters and British regulars thrown in. Remarkably, these two patchwork armies went about trying to kill each other over a small fur-trading village that wouldn’t become part of the United States for another twenty-four years.

Now that is what I call good history.

“The Battle of Fort San Carlos”, as it would be known, was named after a stone tower that played a key role in the engagement. The tower stood just beyond the current-day location of Busch Stadium’s center field wall. In fact, if Busch Stadium existed in 1780, attending spectators couldn’t ask for better seats from which to watch a war.

The key figure in St. Louis leading up to this event was the Spanish governor of Upper Louisiana, a military man named Don Fernando de Leyba. Arriving in St. Louis in 1778, he quickly initiated plans to fortify the village. With France entering the American Revolution on the side of the colonial government in 1788, Leyba knew that Spain would eventually be drawn into the fight. As the center of the profitable Missouri River fur trade, Leyba also knew the British coveted the village located at the confluence of North America’s two greatest rivers.

Diagram of the Battle of Fort San Carlos

Leyba was right. When Spain finally declared war in 1779, the British plan to control the Mississippi Valley quickly went into action. In a nutshell, the British plan consisted of rolling back American military successes on the east bank of the Mississippi, while taking control of Spanish possessions on the west bank. If successful, the British would establish solid footing in lands west of the Appalachians.

A former fur trader and British officer named Emanuel Hesse was placed in charge of the campaign. With few British regulars available outside the eastern theater of war, Hesse enlisted Indian forces from tribes around the Great Lakes that were hostile towards colonial French interests. With promises of weapons, riches, and spoils of war, an army of Sioux, Chippewa, Winnebagoes, Menominees, and other tribes were recruited. In 1780, the British-led force began moving south towards St. Louis. Along the way, 250 additional Sauk and Fox Indians joined the ranks, bringing the total to just over 1,000 fighting men.

Informed that St. Louis would get no financial assistance from the colonial Spanish government in New Orleans, Leyba appealed to villagers to help pay for its own defense. To help the cause, Leyba donated more than a third of the necessary funds out of his own pocket. His plan consisted of building four stone towers around the village, starting with one on the vulnerable western side. He also ordered a large trench dug around the perimeter of the entire village. The trench would connect the four towers and provide a strong defensive position from attackers.

King Charles III of Spain

On April 17, 1780, the first stone in the foundation of the western tower was placed. When completed, the cylindrical fort stood about forty feet tall and thirty feet in diameter. It was named Fort San Carlos after the Spanish King Charles III.

But Leyba had underestimated the costs of fortification. Money ran out before the other towers could be built. Instead, felled trees, logs spiked into the ground, and parapets constructed at each end of the trench would have to suffice. Finally, Leyba ordered five cannon placed on top of Fort San Carlos.

With rudimentary defenses in place, word soon arrived from that the British force had gathered in the north and were preparing for attack. Despite defenses that fell short of expectations, this was significant. Unbeknownst to the British-led force, Leyba and the villagers fully expected a battle in the coming days.

The British and Indian force expected to surprise and overwhelm the small fur-trading village. Hesse was so confident that he even decided to divide his force. A larger force of about 750 was sent across the Mississippi towards St. Louis, while a smaller force of 300 was directed south to attack the American-held outpost at Cahokia.

On May 26, 1780, the attacking force approached the village from the north and west. As Indian warriors crept from tree cover, they came upon villagers tending to crops and livestock in the common fields west of the village. One of the first to discover the day of attack had come was Jean Marie Cardinal, a French creole who had recently moved to St. Louis with his family. As Cardinal attempted to flee, an Indian warrior caught and killed him.

News of the attack spread, and farmers, field hands, and slaves suddenly rushed towards the village for safety. The Indians gave chase, catching villagers and slaughtering them before the eyes of loved ones who looked on. A few villagers managed to fight back. Pursued by an Indian warrior, a slave suddenly turned and confronted his attacker. The slave wrested a musket from the Indian and killed him with it before crossing to safety. Marie Josepha Rigauche, a school teacher, made several trips beyond the village gates armed with a pistol and knife in order to help people get to safety.

The Indians and British must have initially believed the rout was on, but the cannon atop the stone tower exploded with a booming reality check. Suddenly, it was apparent that the village was not only expecting the attack, but prepared for it. In his book, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764-1980, James Primm makes the case that the noise of the cannon was the key factor in the battle. Although far out of range, many Indians stopped in their tracks upon hearing cannon fire. Even the eastern attack on Cahokia lost momentum when the Indians realized the stone tower on the other side of the river had big guns on top of it.

When the Indians realized they had a fight on their hands, only two tribes, the Sioux and Winnebagoes, continued to press the attack. Watching from atop the fort, Leyba described their attack to be:

Captain de Leyba Quote

Despite their bravery, Indian war tactics did not favor attacking stone forts and entrenched riflemen. The Fox and Sauks, already hesitant about attacking a bordering colonial power, halted after one cannon volley. The few British and Canadians remained far in the rear and did not enter the foray at all.

Unsuccessful in drawing the defenders into the open, the Indians shifted their attention. They vented their frustration by killing livestock, burning crops, and destroying outlying buildings. By late afternoon, with Leyba’s defenders staying put behind their defenses, the Indians recognized the futility of the engagement. Disbanding by late afternoon, the attacking forces broke up and headed home.

When the dust settled, the village had suffered over 100 casualties, with twenty-one killed. The defeated British reported four Indians killed and four wounded. The number is likely much higher.

While the number of casualties may not seem significant, it was a staggering blow to a village with a population of just 700. Strategically, the battle had an enormous impact. The Spanish victory ended any British hope for control of the Mississippi Valley. It also prevented the looting and razing of St. Louis by a foreign army. The villagers, however, did not revel in the result. Along with seeing many of their own slain and captured, the residents of St. Louis had to deal with the significant loss of livestock and crops destroyed by the frustrated retreating army.

St. Louis in 1796

Despite his efforts to protect St. Louis, the finger of blame for any form of suffering was pointed directly at Fernando de Leyba. Viewed as the lone representative of an indifferent Spanish government based hundreds of miles away, Leyba became a hated man in the village. He died just a month after the battle, and St. Louis did not mourn his passing. In fact, he was referred to as a coward and a traitor. Some even took to calling him the “Spanish Benedict Arnold”.

The disinterested Fox and Sauk Indians fared even worse. Just a month after the battle, a Spanish militia from St. Louis joined up with an American force led by George Rogers Clark. In retribution for their role in the attack on St. Louis, the army marched on the Indian village of Saukenuk to the north and burned it to the ground.

In the years following the battle, the Spanish improved fortifications around St. Louis and reinforced Fort San Carlos. However, a growing city soon expanded beyond the border it once protected. The stone fort was torn down in 1818.

The Drink

Plaque in front of the St. Louis Hilton

Today, the only physical indication of where the battle was fought is a plaque that was placed near the site where Fort San Carlos once stood. I say “near” because when I went to look for it, I circled around Walnut and 4th for thirty minutes finding no sign of it. Exasperated, I checked the Internet and found out the plaque actually sits one block west at the corner of Walnut and Broadway. The marker stands right outside the entrance of the St. Louis Hilton at the Ballpark.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the Sons of the American Revolution actually helped me out a bit when they decided to place it slightly to the west. They gave me a good drink option for this post. At the top of the Hilton is “Three-Sixty”, an open-air rooftop bar on the 27th floor of the hotel. It provides a full view of downtown St. Louis, including a great vantage point of Busch Stadium. It also provides a top-down view of where Fort San Carlos stood 233 years ago.

It’s a fun place to get a drink, and I’ve actually had good cocktail experiences there on previous visits. However, this time I had a bad feeling as I approached the bar. My bartender had that “I’m gonna shake your Manhattan and put it on the rocks” look to him. Instead of taking a step back and thinking things through, I panicked.

Noticing a printed cocktail menu to my left, I blurted out the first drink on the list. To my own horror, I heard myself muttering the name of a foofy drink named “At the End of the Day”.

sancarlos_thedrink

Sigh.

I can only blame myself, and it was as awful as I expected. I’m not a fan of sweets in general, and this drink tasted like Kool-Aid. With absolutely no kick, it didn’t even taste like spiked Kool-Aid. When I drink alcohol, I want to know it. That first sip of a Manhattan or martini can hit like a train, and it’s fantastic. The abomination I forced on myself this night tasted like it should be served in a sippy-cup.

Next time, I’ll roll the dice with a Manhattan. Three-Sixty is a fun place to go, especially on cool nights when the Cardinals are playing. Most people will focus their attention on the little men running around a baseball diamond to the south, but not me.

I prefer to turn my gaze west and imagine little men running around and making history.

A map of St. Louis drawn in 1796. Fort San Carlos circled in red

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.

April 18th, 2013 by Cameron

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Andrew Veety

In about two weeks, Distilled History is going to celebrate its first anniversary. Looking back over the past year, I am amazed at how this project has enriched my life. I’ve won an award, I’ve scored free meals, and people tell me all the time that I’m good at what I’m trying to do. I’ve had bike crashes, I’ve been chased, and I’ve even been tickled. I’ve met great teachers, librarians, historians, bicyclists, and mixologists who have helped me find the answers I needed. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve become much more aware of the city I know call home. Wrap it all up and it’s been a fun and amazing year.

It all started when a guy named Andrew Veety told me that I should be writing a blog. A freelance writer himself, Andrew has made a name for himself in St. Louis as a person who can tell you where you can find good food in this town. His articles are often published in local magazines such as St. Louis and Feast. With several other “foodies”, he’s also involved in a podcast named StewedSTL that will tell listeners (in a very colorful way) where to find the best (and worst) places in St. Louis to get food and drink. Three years ago, he thought up a project named “The Church of Burger“. For twelve months, he toured St. Louis eateries to find out where the best burger was being served. Like my history posts, it wasn’t done for any sort of reward or pay. He simply wanted to know where it was and let other people know what he found.

Andrew is a great writer. He’s witty, intelligent, and an insufferable smart-ass. I thought I could curse with the best of them until I met this guy. Still, maybe he saw a diamond in the rough when he first tried to convince me to put my opinions to page. At the very least, I’m sure he was growing sick and tired of me complaining about the lack of places in St. Louis that do a Manhattan cocktail right.

1706 Washington Avenue

As I approach the one-year mark of Distilled History, this post will be a bit different. For this one, I don’t have a history topic and tasty drink to write about. Instead, I’m making a fun announcement (keep reading) and offer my thanks to that goofball Veety. I ask my readers to go check out his work, because it’s very good.

The last post, the Bygone Ballparks of St. Louis, was my most ambitious one yet. With all the research, biking, and artwork that went into it, I needed a nap after it was done. And two days after it was published, the company I worked at for the last sixteen years suddenly closed. I’ve tried to keep topics coming out on a regular basis since starting this blog, but Distilled History had to go on hiatus while I looked for a new job.

After working (and biking) to the same job for sixteen years, my daily routine was flipped upside-down. Instead of biking the back streets of St. Louis city, I found myself wearing suits and driving far into the forests (or as most people call it “the County”). Worst of all, I had to cut back on the good gin. As anyone who has been out of work can tell you, unemployment doesn’t pay the liquor bills. However, I did find some time to get out on the bike and create an appropriate new bike-a-sketch.

Bike-a-sketch: Hire Me

Fortunately, things turned around quickly. In an interview, I was actually recognized and asked “Are you the guy that writes the St. Louis history blog?”. After a twenty-minute discussion about it, I was rewarded with a job offer the next day. With that in my back pocket, I started talking up Distilled History in other interviews. Remarkably, two more job offers soon followed. I’m sure it’s just a funny coincidence, but I’ll take it. Suddenly, I had my choice of places to work. I accepted a great position back in downtown St. Louis and things are now getting back to normal. I’ve also started research for the next Distilled History topic and lining up an ambitious drink plan. It should be ready for publication by early next week. So along with blowing up Mr. Veety’s ego, I’ll use this brief post to make an announcement that I’m really excited about.

(Upate: As of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Here’s the skinny: Due to popular demand, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has decided to reprise their popular South Side Brewing Heritage tour. They last offered it in 2010, but this time they’ve asked Distilled History (me) to help them out. The tour will travel past a wide array of brewing-related sites in St. Louis including remaining brewery buildings, the sites of former breweries, the homes of beer barons and former “tied houses” (brewery-owned/operated taverns). We’ll even offer snacks and tasty beer from a local microbrewery on the bus. The tour will make stops at several brewery-related buildings including the Malt House of Schnaider’s Brewery (now Vin de Set) and the stock house and cellars of the former Cherokee Brewery. Andrew Weil from Landmarks Association and yours truly from Distilled History will provide riveting and enlightening commentary along the way.

Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Tickets are $45.00 for members of Landmarks Association and $55.00 for non-members. Call Landmarks Association at (314) 421-6474 or email Andrew Weil (aweil@landmarks-stl.org) at Landmarks to purchase tickets. Seats are limited and additional bar tabs at tour stops are not included. Participants must be 21 or older.

Since 1959, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has been a dedicated advocate for the architectural heritage of St. Louis City and the surrounding region. The organization is an independent non-profit that works to protect St. Louis’ unique architectural heritage and to educate the public about the economic and social values of unique historic buildings and neighborhoods. Through the years, the organization has played pivotal roles in the protection of iconic St. Louis buildings such as the Chatillon-DeMenil House, the Bissell Mansion, the Wainwright Building, and the Old Post Office. It has also helped to protect thousands of neighborhood buildings throughout the city and create incentives for their redevelopment through the creation of National Register Historic Districts. Landmarks Association of St. Louis is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of our amazing historic buildings and works hard to create opportunities for people to explore and learn about the places where we live.

When I decided to write this blog, I made a decision to avoid making controversial statements. Not a fan of debate (especially on the Internet), my goal has been to relay interesting information about topics that interest me. I know I ruffled a few Cardinal feathers in the baseball post (some of you people need to lighten up), but other than that, my intent is to simply inform and amuse. But here’s an opininion I will never back down from: St. Louis is better because of Landmarks Association. I would not be able to write this blog at the level I can if that organization did not exist.

Landsmarks Association

With that said, lets review a few more opinions that I will cage fight you over:

The Del Taco Flying Saucer

  • Stop shaking the Manhattan cocktail. It should be stirred. Although I am grudgingly accepting that many people insist on drinking it on the rocks, I’ll never buy into the shake
  • You need to see the Campbell House Museum. It’s one of the most amazing places in St. Louis. Go there and take a tour. Seriously, the things you’ll see and the story you’ll hear in that house are worth well more than the seven dollars you’ll pay to get in
  • A martini is made with gin. If you want vodka instead of gin in your martini (something that confuses me) you should say “I’d like a vodka martini”. If you ask for it shaken, then you are an extraterrestrial
  • Get on a bike and ride around St. Louis. Even better, get involved with Trailnet and take any one of their fantastic bike tours. It’s a great way to see our city

In closing, please join Landmarks and myself for a beer tour on Sunday, May 19. It will be fun to meet Distilled History fans as we travel through the brewing history of St. Louis. We’ll drink good beer and hear some good stories.

(Update: Again, as of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

Most importantly, proceeds will help Landmarks continue their efforts in historic preservation and educate St. Louisans about the history of our great city.

 

April 1st, 2013 by Cameron

The Bygone Ballparks of St. Louis

Baseball

Opening day! There are few days on the calendar that I look forward to more than this one. By far my favorite sport, I love the start of a new season. It won’t be long before I’m sitting on my porch listening to ballgames and drinking good gin.

Baseball is another reason why I love this city. Imagine re-writing baseball history without St. Louis. Imagine eliminating the Gashouse Gang, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith from that narrative.  Eliminate the St. Louis Browns, “Cool Papa” Bell, Sportsman’s Park, Branch Rickey, eleven World Series championships, and  two (maybe three) Negro National League Championships. Without St. Louis, the story of baseball suddenly becomes significantly diminished. Best of all, the fans here are passionate, they drape themselves in Cardinal red, and they fill Busch Stadium no matter where the Cardinals sit in the standings. It is a great baseball city.

Now that I’ve probably made every Cardinal fan who reads this blog a little warm and happy inside, I’ll make a confession that may alienate each and every one of them.

I loathe the St. Louis Cardinals.

I Don't Like the Cardinals

That’s right. I am no Cardinal fan. I could barely handle it when St. Louis won those improbable championships in 2006 and 2011. I despised those Mark McGwire years when he was crushing balls off facades and breaking the Roger Maris home run record.  I still roll my eyes when I see David Eckstein shirts being worn at Cardinal games. Eckstein? Seriously?

My fellow St. Louisans, before you unsubscribe from this blog and hunt me down like a lippy Cub fan, please hear me out. We aren’t that much different. I love this city and the people in it. I love the buildings, the parks, the neighborhoods, and obviously, baseball. I just happen to come from a different part of the country. Born and raised in upstate New York, my baseball loyalties were firmly established long before I set foot in this city. From the moment of my entry into this world, I was bred to be an unapologetic disciple of the Evil Empire.

Before I get to the real purpose of this post, let me provide an infographic to detail the history of my Yankee heritage. Hopefully, it will help my St. Louis friends and neighbors understand that shifting my allegiances based on a current address (which is something I am told to do often) simply isn’t going to happen.

My Yankee Family Tree

With that unpleasant business out of the way, let’s get to the real purpose of this post. With baseball being such a rich tradition in St. Louis, I wanted to find out more about where the game has been played in this city. Since I enjoy seeing where old structures used to be, I hatched a plan to find out where every pro ballpark once stood in St. Louis.

The Ballparks of St. Louis

Fortunately, this turned out to be a pretty simple task. While scouring baseball books and articles, I kept stumbling upon one particular name. A St. Louis baseball historian named Joan Thomas had researched this topic in great detail already. After reading a few fascinating articles written by her, I purchased her book St. Louis’ Big League Ballparks. It told me everything I needed to know except where to find a good drink along the way.

The Plaque at Federal League Park

I also discovered most of the ballpark locations in St. Louis have commemorative plaques erected where they stood. These plaques were put in place by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Many of the ballpark histories written for SABR’s project were also written by Joan Thomas. Each plaque contains a brief history of the team, significant facts, and a diagram of the layout. Kudos to SABR, Ms. Thomas, and anyone else who had a hand in this project. I believe it’s a great way to celebrate baseball history in St. Louis.

I strongly recommend baseball fans go out and find these locations on their own. It’s fun to stand where these ballparks once stood and think about how the game of baseball was once played there.

Follow along as I visit each of the bygone ballparks of St. Louis. The parks are listed in order of their closing, starting with one that I knew absolutely nothing about.

Red Stockings Park

I have driven or bicycled over the Compton Avenue railroad overpass hundreds of times, perhaps thousands. Until reading an article by Joan Thomas, I had no idea that beneath that bridge once stood one of St. Louis’s earliest ballparks. In fact, it is where the first professional baseball game in St. Louis was played on May 4, 1875.

Red Stockings Park

Although not recognized by Major League Baseball as a Major League, the first professional baseball league ever formed in the United States was the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. In 1875, two St. Louis clubs opted to move up from amateur status and join the league. The Brown Stockings, who played their games at the Grand Avenue Grounds, and the Red Stockings, who played in a new park on Compton Avenue just north of the railroad tracks. That park, known as “Red Stockings Park”, is where the two St. Louis teams met and played that historic first game.

Red Stocking Park Location

Loaded with a roster of  “imported” quality players from around the country, the Brown Stockings easily beat the Reds 15-9 (the score was 15-1 until the eighth inning). This was controversial, since many believed teams should consist of local talent, such as the Red Stockings St. Louis-based roster. Success on the field settled the argument. The Red Stockings lasted just a few months before leaving the league and dropping back down to amateur status. The Brown Stockings continued to play winning baseball. They’d become a charter member of the National League the following year.

Red Stockings Park would continue to be used for amateur baseball games and other contests until it was torn down in 1898.

Red Stocking Park Diagram

Union Base Ball Park

In 1883, a St. Louis millionaire named Henry Lucas decided to get in on the blossoming baseball craze. He created and funded the Union Association, a new baseball league that began play in 1884. Lucas also owned the dominant team in the league, the St. Louis Maroons. The Maroons played their home games at Union Base Ball Park, located at the northeast corner of Cass and Jefferson Avenues.

The 1886 St. Louis Maroons

Being the owner of the league, Lucas selfishly made sure his St. Louis club was the team to beat. At the expense of other teams, he stacked the Maroons with the best talent. As a result, the St. Louis Maroons dominated, winning the title with a 94-19 record (an .832 winning percentage). Many baseball historians don’t consider the league a major league because the St. Louis club was the only one with any legitimate talent. Fred Dunlap, lured to the Maroons when Lucas offered him the highest salary in the league, batted .412. It was eighty-six points higher than his career average.

The farce caused the Union Association to fold after just one year of play. With a quality roster, the Maroons joined the National League the following season. After playing in St. Louis in 1885 and 1886, the team was relocated and became the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

Union Ball Park Location

According to historian Joan Thomas, Union Base Ball park had a capacity of about 10,000. An enthusiastic supporter of sports, Lucas had the park surrounded by a cinder track for running and bicycling. The outfield was planted with blue grass and clover.  Center field contained a scoreboard, called a “bulletin board” that would display game scores from around the Union Association sent by telegraph.

Union Base Ball Park Diagram

Federal League Park

In 1915, a third major league was created to compete with the established National and American Leagues. Deemed an “outlaw” league by its competitors, the Federal league didn’t utilize the reserve clause, which forced a player to be bound to the team that signed him even after a contract expired. This fact, and the lure of higher salaries, caused many big name players such as Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown”, Chief Bender, and Eddie Plank to sign with Federal League Teams.

Harry Chapman of the 1915 St. Louis Terriers

The St. Louis entry into the Federal League was the Terriers. The team played their games at Federal League Park in 1914 and 1915 before a failed anti-trust suit against established leagues forced the Federal League to cease operations.

Although the league lasted only two seasons, the Federal League delivered one very large contribution to baseball. Wrigley Field in Chicago was originally named Weegham Park, and it was built for the Federal League Chicago Whales. The Cubs didn’t move there until 1916 when the Federal League folded.

Handlan's Park Location

Federal League Park was also called “Handlan’s Park” after the owner of the plot, Alexander H. Handlan. After the Federal League folded, the field was used as the St. Louis University Athletic Field. During the 1920 and 1921 seasons, the St. Louis Giants of the Negro National League played some home games there.

Handlan's Park Diagram

Robison Field

In researching this post, I played a little game where I asked several of my St. Louis friends a simple question. I asked them “Can you tell me the names of the four ballparks that the St. Louis Cardinals have called home?”. It was a fun bit of trivia to throw at them. The results were a bit surprising. Not a single person could name all four. Everyone was able to rattle off “Sportsman’s Park, Old Busch Stadium, and New Busch Stadium”. Not a single responder could give me the name of Robison Field,  the ballpark where the  St. Louis Brown Stockings/Browns/Perfectos/Cardinals played baseball from 1893-1920.

1911 St. Louis Cardinals at Robison Field

The history of the St. Louis Cardinals could be a library in itself, so for the purpose of this post, I’ll briefly describe how the Cardinals came to play their games at Robison Field. The St. Louis Cardinals started as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. After stints in the National Association (as mentioned in the game against the Red Stockings), the National League, and the American Association, the Browns would become permanent members of the National League in 1892. The team played their games at “Grand Avenue Grounds”, which would officially become “Sportsman’s Park” in 1886. In 1893, the owner of the club, Chris von der Ahe, built and moved the team to a new ballpark named “New Sportsman’s Park” just a few blocks away at the corner of Vandeventer and Natural Bridge. In 1899, the Browns changed their name to the “Perfectos”, along with changing the team colors from brown to cardinal red. The color change was so popular that the team name was changed to the “Cardinals” the following year.

Robison Field Opening Day

The ballpark at Natural Bridge and Vandeventer would be the home of the St. Louis Cardinals until 1920. It was here that Rogers Hornsby began a career that would make him one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Cy Young was a member of the 1899 team. Other notable players include the future manager of the Yankees, Miller Huggins, and Bill Doak, who twice led the National League in ERA.

Robison Field is also home to some notable off-field events. In 1911, Helene Britton inherited the Cardinals when team owner Frank Robison died. She became the first female owner of a professional sports franchise in United States history. In 1919, Branch Rickey, the man who integrated baseball, became president and manager of the club.

Robison Field Location

Robison Field was the last professional ballpark that was made primarily of wood. It caught fire numerous times, notably in 1898 and 1901. By 1920, the structure had deteriorated and the team looked to relocate. The last Cardinal home game at Robison Field was played on June 6, 1920.

Fire at Robison Field

Robison Field continued to be owned by the Cardinals until the property was sold to developers. In 1926, Beaumont High School was built on the site. Beaumont has since created a rich baseball history of its own. The school has produced dozens of major league baseball players, managers, and coaches. Earl Weaver, the famous manager of the Baltimore Orioles, graduated from Beaumont in 1948.

Robison Field Diagram

Giant's Park

The St. Louis Giants were a Negro League baseball team that competed independently in the early 1900′s. Although the team played at several different ballparks around St. Louis, most of their home games were played at Giants or Kuebler’s Park on North Broadway Avenue.

Kuebler's Park in 1909The St. Louis Giants would become one of the charter members of the Negro National League, the first long-lasting professional league for African-American players. The league was founded by Andrew “Rube” Foster, a legendary man known as the “father of Black Baseball”. The Giants played at Kuebler’s Park for two seasons before being sold, renamed, and moved.

Crowds as large as 5,000 would fill the seats at Kuebler’s Park to cheer on the Giants. Their best player was Oscar Charleston, a future Hall of Famer who batted .436 during the 1921 season.

Kuebler's Park Location

Stars Park

The St. Louis Giants didn’t have to move far when they were sold in 1922. The new owners renamed the club the St. Louis Stars and built them a shiny new ballpark at the corner of Compton and Market.  Stars Park, as it would be called, was one of the few ballparks built specifically for a Negro League Team.

The 1928 St. Louis Stars

Stars Park is the field where one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond began his baseball career. James “Cool Papa” Bell started as a pitcher for the for the Stars in 1921 at the age of nineteen. Like Babe Ruth a few years earlier, Bell began playing outfield on non-pitching days. By 1924, he became the teams full-time center fielder. Considered one of the fastest men to ever play the game, “Cool Papa” Bell led the St. Louis Stars to Negro National League titles in 1928 and 1930.

The famous pitcher Satchel Paige once said about Bell: “One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second.”

Stars Park Diagram

Along with “Cool Papa” Bell, the St. Louis Stars boasted two other future Hall of Famers. George “Mule” Suttle and Willie “Devil” Wells played with the St. Louis Stars until 1931 when the league folded. The Stars had the best record at the time the league folded, so they were declared champions in that final year. This title is disputed by many baseball historians.

According to baseball historian Joan Thomas, Stars Park had a capacity of 10,000 people. It was known as a hitters park, with a home run to left field only 250 feet away. Today, the same field is used by the Harris-Stowe University baseball team.

Stars Park Location

After folding in 1931, the St. Louis Stars were reincarnated in 1937 and again 1939 to play in the Negro American League. This team had no relation to the earlier version other than reusing the Stars name. According to Philip J. Lowry in his book Green Cathedrals, the 1937 team played at Metropolitan Park, the same site as Giants or Kuebler’s Park. The 1939 team played at South End Park, which was located on South Kingshighway, just south of Tower Grove Park. In my limited time to research this post, I’ve been unable to find any photographs, diagrams, or articles to further describe these ballparks.

Sportsman's Park

Sportsman’s Park, perhaps the most famous baseball park in St. Louis, began its tenure as the Grand Avenue Grounds in 1867. Few sites in the United States can claim a baseball heritage as rich as the plot of land that sits at the corner of Grand and Dodier in north St. Louis.

1910 St. Louis Browns

Baseball was played at that intersection for over ninety years.  Ten World Series and three Major League Baseball All-Star games happened there. The names of great players who competed at Sportsman’s Park is like a Cooperstown roll call: Stan Musial, George Sisler, Lou Brock, Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Grover Alexander, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, and many others.

Grand Avenue Grounds

When Chris von der Ahe moved his club to Robison field and changed the name, the Browns name, colors, and ballpark were now available. In 1902, the Milwaukee Brewers relocated to St. Louis and adopted them all. They built a new stadium, aptly naming it “Sportsman’s Park” For the next fifty-one years, Sportsman’s Park would be the home of the American League’s St. Louis Browns.

Sportsman's Park LocationIn 1920, the St. Louis Cardinals became tenants of the St. Louis Browns when they moved from Robison Field to play home games at Sportsman’s Park.  However, it was the renters that soon began winning pennants. Although more successful during the first twenty years of  century, the Browns slid into a long tenure at the bottom of the standings.

Despite a notable Browns vs. Cardinals World Series in 1944, it became apparent by the early 1950′s that St. Louis could no longer support two major league teams. In 1953, the Browns sold the stadium to the Cardinals and relocated to become today’s Baltimore Orioles.

Sportsman's Park

1953 is also noteworthy for it is the year that Anhueser-Busch purchased the St. Louis Cardinals. The owners wanted to change the name of the stadium to “Budweiser Stadium”, but the Commissioner feared a public backlash against a stadium named after a beer. In response, August Busch simply named the stadium after himself. Sportsman’s Park was officially renamed “Busch Stadium”. In a peculiar coincidence, Busch beer was introduced to the American market just two years later.

Sportsman's Park Diagram

Busch Memorial Stadium

The final ballpark in the Distilled History stadium tour is one that has only been gone for about eight years. What many people now call “Old Busch Stadium” was built in 1966 in downtown St. Louis. The first of the multi-use “cookie-cutter” designs to be built during the 1960′s, Busch Memorial Stadium was the home of the St. Louis Cardinals until the end of the 2005 season.

Busch Memorial Stadium

I was never a fan of the cookie-cutter stadiums (thankfully, they are all gone), but I think St. Louis had the best of the bunch.The ninety-six arches that surrounded the roof added a nice touch to the design.

Old Busch Stadium is also where my darkest baseball memory occurred. The one time that I can say I rooted for the Cardinals like I was born and bred in this city was during the 2004 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Just as the Yankees failed to do in the American League playoffs that year, the Cardinals couldn’t stop that wretched organization from winning its first title since 1918.

Busch Memorial Stadium

Busch Stadium had a capacity of over 57,000 when it closed in 2005. Old Busch Stadium hosted the 1966 All-Star game and six World Series (1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 2004). The stadium was the site of Mark McGwire’s 62nd and 70th home runs in 1998.

Busch Municipal Stadium Location

The Drink

Vallerie's Sit & Sip Cocktail Bar

When it comes to finding a drink for a baseball post, there isn’t one more appropriate than cold beer. I certainly have never ordered a cocktail at a ballgame, and I should be justifiably heckled if I did.

Except for Old Busch Stadium, few of the old ballpark sites are anywhere near a bar. But one park stands out in this list, and that’s where I had to get my beer. Sitting at the corner of Sullivan and Spring, just across the street from where Sportsman’s Park once stood, sits Valerie’s Sit and Sip Cocktail Lounge.

These days, most St. Louisans know the neighborhood around Sportsman’s Park has fallen on difficult times. It’s not a neighborhood where a guy driving a Honda with a notebook and camera goes looking for a drink. But as I stood on the field trying to guess where Babe Ruth caught the final out to win the 1928 World Series, Valerie’s Lounge beckoned.

Since it was early in the day, I figured the place had to be empty. I could get a cold beer and maybe ask Valerie (if there really is a Valerie) if she knew anything about the ballpark that once stood on the opposite corner.

I’m still at a loss to describe what happened next. I opened the door to Valerie’s, and I was confronted with a bar packed with people.  It looked deserted outside, but at least seventy-five people were inside drinking like it was going out of style. A deejay was in the corner playing loud music, and many people were dancing (if grinding can be considered “dancing”).

When the door opened, seventy-five heads snapped around and looked at Wally Cleaver standing in the entrance.  Gathering my surroundings, I smiled, pushed my way to the bar, and tried (very unsuccessfully) to convey an aura of knowing what the hell I was doing.

Miller High Life at Valerie's

Since it was so loud, all I could do was point at something to place an order. Although I planned to get a Busch, the only beer I saw people drinking was Miller High Life. A very stern woman stood behind the bar serving drinks. I’m not sure if it was Valerie, but I could tell no monkey business was allowed in this bar. When it was my turn to order, I simply pointed at an empty High Life bottle.Getting my beer, I tipped Valerie very well and smiled broadly while I did so. There’d be no talk of ballparks today.

(update! Since publishing this post, a gracious reader forwarded me this link with a full history of the famous bar I picked by chance. I’m glad to report I picked a very appropriate place to get a drink)

The only person to engage me in conversation was a woman who walked by and said “How you doin’ baby?”. I stumbled over my response, but people around me seemed good-natured and amused. When I tried to explain what I was doing there, I noticed my new friend had started to tickle my lower back.  I quickly decided to cap my visit to Valerie’s with just one beer.

I worked my way back outside and was harshly reminded by the glaring sun that it was only one p.m.. I walked back across the street and took another look at the empty space where one of the most famous baseball fields in American history once stood. It’s where Stan Musial once hit five home runs in a double-header, where Enos Slaughter’s “Mad Dash” won the 1946 World Series, and where three-foot seven-inch Eddie Gaedel was sent in to pitch hit for the St. Louis Browns. It’s where my beloved Yankees won two World Series titles in 1928 and 1943. In turn, the Cardinals would best the Yanks for three championships on that same field, and add four more against others. It all happened, and much more, on just that one city block.

Feeling sufficiently nostalgic, I jumped back into my Honda and drove away.

Along with the book by Joan Thomas, a few other baseball books were very helpful in writing this post. Before they were Cardinals : Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-century St. Louis by John David Cash, Green Cathedrals by Philip J. Lowry, and Baseball in St. Louis 1900-1925 by Steve Steinberg. Although it wasn’t used for this post, David Halberstam’s October 1964 is a must for any Cardinal/baseball fan.

March 18th, 2013 by Cameron

The Submarine Bar Shooting

Dempsey-Tunney Ticket Stub

On the evening of Thursday, September 23, 1926, a group of men stood huddled around a radio in the basement of the Western Manufacturers’ Building at the southwest corner of 14th and Locust in St. Louis. Located just steps from the Central Library, the men were drinking in the Submarine Bar, a “soda pop bar” owned by a man named Anthony Dattalo.  It was during the time of Prohibition, and violent gangs waged war in the streets of St. Louis to control the manufacture and sale of illegal alcohol. Dattalo was in on the action, as the cases of liquor stacked behind his bar suggested.

Dattalo was in his bar that night, along with his twin brother Michael and a few companions. What held their attention on the radio was the first title fight between heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and challenger Gene Tunney. As the men threw dice and listened to the returns of the fight, other patrons drank quietly in the dark corners of the bar. Bartender Frank Mercurio looked on from behind the bar.

Suddenly, the doors to both entrances of the bar swung open. A number of men walked through each door and pulled out blue steel pistols. Without warning, the men opened fire. “A tornado of bullets” is how the next sixty seconds was described by a survivor. Gunfire exploded throughout the bar, bottles of liquor shattered, and wooden fixtures splintered as the gunmen fired indiscriminately. When it was over, the floor of the bar was littered with spent shell casings, shards of broken mirrors, and blood. The gunmen fled as quickly as they arrived.

Newspaper articles from the Submarine Bar shootings

An innocent bystander named Frank Christian was hit in the chest and hip. He was found dead with his head underneath the brass rail of the bar. Another man named Joseph Rubino was shot in the right side of the chest. The bullet penetrated both lungs, and he died the next day. The owner of the bar, Anthony Dattalo, was shot through the leg, the chest, and both hands. He died two days later. Gus Catanzaro was the man police believed to be the target of the hit. He survived, but was hit in the left hip and right thigh. Bullets also clipped his nose and ear. The night watchman of the building, Harold Cressey, was shot three times in the leg. Only two men in the bar were not injured, one being the bartender Frank Mercurio. He immediately dropped to the floor and laid there as liquor from broken bottles poured over him. Wounded in the leg, Michael Dattalo dragged his brother and Gus Catanzaro to a nearby car and drove them to the City Hospital.

Western Manufacturers' Building

Unbelievably, that’s about as far as the story goes. The survivors of the attack knew exactly who was behind the hit, but that’s how liquor wars worked in St. Louis during Prohibition. Justice wasn’t handled through the law, it was handled on the streets. When police asked Michael Dattalo at City Hospital who was responsible for the shooting, he simply laughed.

William

Al Capone and Chicago dominates Prohibition-era tales of bootlegging and mob warfare, but St. Louis was no different during that time. Gangs with colorful names such as Egan’s Rats, the Green Ones, Hogan’s Gang, the Cuckoo Gang, and the Russo Gang ruled St. Louis during Prohibition. They ran bootlegging operations, extorted local businesses, had deep political connections, and most notably, killed people who got in their way.

The gangs were led by violent men who flaunted their power and bragged about their crimes to the press. Men like Tom Egan, Edward “Jellyroll” Hogan, Vito Giannola, Tommy “The Rock” Hayes, and William “Dinty” Colbeck gripped St. Louis with corruption as they waged war upon each other.

The Green Ones, a tight-knit Sicilian mob operating out of the Little Italy neighborhood were especially ruthless. In September 1923, a cook named Angelo Pastori refused to accept a meat delivery from the Green Ones at the cafe he worked at. A few days later, a black sedan pulled up next to Pastori as he walked over the Kingshighway viaduct. Two men exited the car as witnesses heard Pastori plead “Don’t kill me!”. Angelo Pastori died of a fractured skull and stab wounds to the heart.

Edward

Another man named Sam Palazollo also refused to be extorted by the Green Ones. One evening while driving through the Clifton Heights neighborhood, Palazollo pulled over to relieve himself. A man came up from behind and bashed his head in with a tire iron. Not wanting to get blood on the upholstery of their car, the mobsters tied a noose around Palazollo’s neck and drove off, dragging the body to the city dump where it was left.

The main bootlegging rival to the Green Ones were the Cuckoos, a violent gang based in the Soulard neighborhood. Unlike the Green Ones, the Cuckoos had a diverse membership including Irish, Germans, Italians, and even Syrians. Leading up to the Submarine Bar shooting, the Cuckoos and Green Ones had been shooting each other on sight. During Prohibition, more than twenty murders would be attributed to the Cuckoo-Green Ones feud.

Police knew the Cuckoos were behind the shooting at the Submarine bar, but no evidence could be gathered. While Michael Dattalo laughed, other survivors remained silent during questioning.

Edward “Jellyroll” Hogan, the boss of the north St. Louis Hogan’s Gang, summed this policy up best during an earlier crime investigation when police asked him to identify his assailants:

Edward "Jellyroll" Hogan Quote

Anthony Dattalo, his twin brother Michael, and Gus Catanzaro were members of the Russo gang, a smaller mob that had allied itself with the Green Ones. Newspapers speculated the shooting was retribution for the Green Ones killing a low-level snitch named Joseph Consiglio just days before. Another paper reported it was because the Russos refused to pay toll to the Cuckoos. Every newspaper reported that it was simply the latest battle in an ongoing war between the Cuckoos and Green Ones. Another battle like it was just around the corner.

Before he died, police asked Anthony Datillo for more information. He replied “Go to hell, the bunch of you. I don’t give a damn about the law or anybody else”.

The Drink

Repeal the 18th AmmendmentNow, on to the drink. In writing a post dealing with Prohibition, it’s suitable that I try to do something dealing with making my own booze. With that in mind, I thought about going all-out and trying to distill my own whisky. It can’t be that difficult, right? Regular folks built basement stills and mixed their own booze all the time during prohibition. Rural Missouri was littered with them (and probably still is).

Wrong. I realized quickly that this would be a very bad idea. First of all, I could blow myself up. Second, I could go to jail, because owning a still and distilling alcohol for personal use is illegal. Finally, if I didn’t die in a fiery blaze or find myself in a communal prison shower, I could be poisoned. Since I’m not a very good cook, I think this last option seemed the most likely.

Fortunately, I found a solution that is easier than I could have imagined: Bathtub gin. During Prohibition, bathtub gin was an extremely popular option over distilling whisky. It was easier to make, didn’t require a still, and it was ready to drink right away.

Even better, readers of this blog know that I simply love gin. I love gin so much that I even ventured out and created another Bike-a-Sketch to show my affection for it.

Bike-a-Sketch: I Love Gin!

(Note: If you aren’t familiar with my bike-a-sketches, I’ve done others. They can be found here and here)

There’s actually a misconception out there about the term “Bathtub Gin”. Most people believe the term describes where the ingredients were mixed: a bathtub. Add a bit of mold, soap scum, and maybe some body hair, you are bound to have something special. Actually, this could explain New Amsterdam Gin, which I think kind of tastes like feet.

Bathtub Gin

Actually, there’s not much evidence to suggest gin was mixed in bathtubs during Prohibition. The term came about because a bathtub tap was used as the water source. Homemade gin requires combining grain alcohol, water, juniper berries (and other ingredients) in a large jug and allowing the mixture to steep for a short period of time. Since the jug was often too large to fit under a sink tap, a bathtub tap was used. Other than the tap, the gin didn’t come in contact with a tub.

Getting water to make bathtub gin was easy, but getting alcohol presented a problem. That’s where people would get themselves into trouble. During Prohibition, alcohol continued to be produced in the United States for industrial uses such as fuels, polishes, and lubricants. Mob groups like the Green Ones And Cuckoos would divert industrial alcohols away for more profitable purposes, like selling it to people wanting to make illegal gin.

Ethanol is the basic ingredient used in the spirits we drink to get tipsy and happy. In moderate amounts, it’s fit for human consumption. Methanol, on the other hand, is highly toxic. Drink it, and you run the risk of damaging your optic nerve (thus, the origin of the term “drinking yourself blind”). Drink more of it, and you’ll be dead before you realize you can’t see. During Prohibition, the government added methanol to many alcohol-based products in order to keep people from drinking it.

Prohibition Ends!

Today, industrial alcohols have additives that make it undrinkable. In order to keep stupid people from getting drunk on camp stove fuel, upholstery cleaner, or shellac, it’s purposely made to taste extremely bitter or smell very foul. In 1926, these safeguards weren’t in place. People frequently poisoned themselves and others by drinking bathtub gin containing methanol.

If done right, making bathtub gin was quick and easy. It didn’t require a still, the lack of odor made it harder to detect, and it didn’t need to be aged like whisky. You could drink bathtub gin minutes after mixing it. Since the taste was usually very harsh, people would mix it with other ingredients such as fruit juice to make the drink taste better. As a result, cocktails like the gimlet became more even more popular.

Since “Bathtub Gin” is not a recipe one will find in the Joy of Mixology, I found one that looked interesting on the Internet. It’s legal, simple, and ready to drink in less than twenty-four hours.

Bathtub Gin recipe

Combining the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over a high flame. When bubbles appear at the edge of the saucepan, turn the heat down to medium and let it steep for two minutes.

Bathtub Gin

Remove from heat, pour everything into a mason jar, and cap it. Let it sit for eighteen to twenty-four hours. When it’s ready, strain the gin through a conical strainer lined with a paper filter into a bottle. It’s now ready to drink.

fourgins_labeled

As soon as I made the first batch (labeled “A” in the photograph), I started tinkering with the recipe. I didn’t think it was realistic to use vodka and wine. I realized the purpose of the recipe was to make something that tasted good. That wasn’t my goal. I wanted something like the real stuff they drank during Prohibition. I started tinkering and ended up making four different versions.

The first batch (labeled “A” in the photograph) is the exact recipe detailed above. It created a pale yellow mixture. The second batch (labeled “B” ) is the same recipe, but I substituted Everclear (grain alcohol) diluted 1:1 with water, and omitted the wine. This produced a pale green mixture.

The third batch (labeled “C”), is Everclear, water, and crushed juniper berries. I removed all other ingredients. The crushed berries created a dark, rusty color.

The fourth batch (labeled “D”) is my attempt at true bathtub gin. It’s Everclear, water (from the bathtub tap), and juniper berry oil mixed directly in a mason jar. I used juniper oil instead of dried berries to get the clear look common with gin. This batch wasn’t heated. Everything just went in the jar and I shook it around a few times.

The next day, I sat down to taste all of them. At first, I tried each one neat. Surprisingly, I found Batch A (the real recipe I found online) to be the worst tasting gin by far. It was like drinking grass. The aroma was so pungent that I had to hold my breath as I drank it. Unfortunately, I made far more of this recipe thinking it would be the stuff I’d drink. After I feed it to a few friends to verify my findings, It’s going down the drain.

Blue Ribbon

Batch B was better, but not by much. The aroma was far less offensive, but it still tasted like sod.

Surprisingly, the next two batches redeemed the project. Batch C had a woodsy taste, and it reminded me of drinking whisky. The Everclear was very dominant, though. I tried another glass diluted with tonic water and ice. It wasn’t great, but I’ve had far worse.

Finally, Batch D was pretty much what I expected. It tasted like rocket fuel. I added more juniper berry oil to help, but it’s a big mistake to drink this stuff neat. I turned it into a gin and tonic and had no problem throwing a couple back.

I learned a few things from this experiment. Most importantly, I won’t be doing it again. There’s a reason making bathtub gin production isn’t a fun hobby like home brewing is. The ingredients are expensive and it’s difficult to make something that tastes better than the worst stuff on the market.

Maybe I need to cut New Amsterdam some slack.

This post required more research than any Distilled History topic to date. Numerous sources were used, notably Daniel Waugh’s books Egan’s Rats and Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect. They are meticulously researched and offer an almost overwhelming history of gangs in St. Louis. Wetter than the Mississippi: Prohibition in Saint Louis and Beyond by Robbi Courtway is very readable, and a source I look forward to using in future blog posts about Prohibition. Mobs, Mayhem, and Murder: Tales from the ST. Louis Police Beat by Tim O’Neil provided further insight into several gang related crimes during Prohibition. The Book of Gin: A Spirited World History from Alchemists’ Stills and Colonial Outposts to Gin Palaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails by Robert Barnett provides a wonderful history of gin from its origins to today. The September 24, 1926 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and the St. Louis Star were also used in researching the Submarine Bar shooting.

 

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