Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
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.


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.


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


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.


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”.



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


March 1st, 2013 by Cameron

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Part II

Narrative of Riots at Alton by Edward Beecher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Beecher

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

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

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

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

Elijah Lovejoy Quote

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

First Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

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

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

Printing Press #3 Destroyed

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

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

The Lovejoy Monument at Alton National Cemetery

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

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

Lovejoy Quote

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

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

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

The Pro-Slavery Riots at Alton

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

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

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

Printing Press at Alton Telegraph

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

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

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

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

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

Biscuits & Lovejoy

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

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

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

The Drink

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


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

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

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

February 15th, 2013 by Cameron

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Part I

American Experience

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

Elijah Parish Lovejoy

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Old Meeting House

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

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

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

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

The St. Louis Observer

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

Slavery Quote

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

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

Elijah Lovejoy Quote

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


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

The Francis McIntosh Lynching

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

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

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

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

Judge Lawless

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

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

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

The Drink

Paul Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hooters Manhattan

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

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

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

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

January 30th, 2013 by Cameron

Our Flag is Better Than Yours

The St. Louis Flag

When I was bicycling around south St. Louis a few weeks ago, I noticed the St. Louis city flag flying prominently in front of several private homes. St. Louis pride runs deep in this town, so it makes sense that many fly the flag. I share that pride, but I believe there’s another reason the flag is so popular: It looks really, really good.

Aesthetically, I think it’s one of the best flag designs in use anywhere. I actually sit around and think about ridiculous things like “who has the best flag”, so I’ll take on any challengers to this argument. Unless you live in the United Kingdom or maybe Bhutan, I think the St. Louis flag is better than yours.

Seeing it around town, I started to wonder how it came to be. When was it adopted? Who designed it? How did St. Louis get this minor aspect of their city so right? Turns out, it’s a pretty good story.

The St. Louis Flag

St. Louis’s flag is exceptional for many reasons. It’s simple, it’s unique, it uses just a few basic colors, and it contains several components that symbolize the history of the city. It doesn’t have lettering (it’s difficult to read a waving flag), it doesn’t have a seal (a seal is meant to be seen up close, such as on a document), and maybe best of all, it doesn’t use the image of the Gateway Arch. The St. Louis flag does exactly what it’s supposed to do: It’s a symbol for the city and it’s easy to identify from a distance.

I’m not alone in my opinion. In my initial research for this post, I stumbled upon an organization named the North American Vexillological Association. According to Wikipedia, vexillology is the “scientific study of the history, symbolism[,] and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general”.  It also seems there are quite a few prominent vexillologists around that take flag design very seriously. In 2004, NAVA held a survey to rank the top 150 American city flags. St. Louis came in fifth, behind Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix. Personally, I think St. Louis has them all beat. Maybe I need to join NAVA and set things straight.


In contrast, take a look at Milwaukee’s flag below. I’d wager not many porches in our fellow beer town are waving this travesty. I thought I’d offer up my own design that I think is a far better representation of that fair city.


How about Mankato, Minnesota? The folks there must know a thing or two about good flag design. They know the St. Louis flag design is so good, they should just rip it off. Too bad they screwed it up by adding the riverboat, lettering, and a putrid color scheme.


It’s actually only a recent development that American states and cities starting flying official flags. Prior to the 20th century, many believed the United States flag was the only banner needed. Despite this sentiment, Baltimore kicked things off in 1914 by adopting an official city flag, followed by New York City in 1915.

Baltimore & New York Flags

It didn’t take long for St. Louis to join the fun. In 1915, a man named Percival Chubb suggested that St. Louis should design and adopt an official municipal flag. Soon after, a group named the Pageant-Drama Association held a contest, offering $100 to the winning design. The winning design would then be offered to city authorities as an “appropriate city flag”.

Krondl's Winning Design

A winning design was announced in January, 1916. The winner was a young St. Louis artist named Edward A. Krondl. It featured a white figure of St. Louis on his horse in front of blue background. Surrounding St. Louis are four fleur-de-lis, representing the Louisiana Purchase and signifying the city of St. Louis as being the fourth-most populated city in the United States. The flag also contained three stripes on the right, signifying Krondl’s idea that St. Louis would soon advance to third place.  The color blue behind St. Louis represented celestiatlity, the white stripe represented purity and cleanliness, and the two orange stripes represented gold, wealth, and prosperity.

His winning design kicked off quite a debate. Some argued that a flag was no place for a portrait. Percival Chubb complained that the blue was too blue and the orange wasn’t orange enough. He made Krondl change it. Almost everyone agreed that the four fleur-de-lis representing St. Louis as the fourth city was impractical. If St. Louis dropped in the rankings, the flag would need to be redesigned (today, it would need fifty-eight).

The city aldermen were the least impressed, with some even hinting favoritism. Alderman Gus Bauer was accused of promoting Krondl’s design since he represented the area where Krondl lived.  In one humorous exchange during the debate, Bauer barked at one of his accusers “What do you know about art? You’re a florist!”.

Aldermanic Contest Winner

Ultimately, the city aldermen rejected the design and decided to hold a contest of their own. After reviewing over 150 designs, a new winner was announced on May 20, 1916. This time, a young man named A.P. Woehrle was awarded $100 for his winning design. The new design replaced orange with red and centered the image of St. Louis in front of a blue shield. Stars replaced the fleur-de-lis, but surprisingly, they held the same symbolism. St. Louis was to be represented as the fourth city.

It’s not difficult to notice that the two designs are very similar. And that’s where things get interesting. It was soon discovered that the same artist designed both flags. Claiming that he wanted to win on merit and not on the prestige from winning the first contest, Edward Krondl entered his new design under the name of his friend, A.P. Woehrle.

By this point, the aldermen didn’t really care. Except for one alderman who refused to vote for any flag that wasn’t the stars and stripes, they had their flag. To celebrate the new design, the aldermen all hopped on a riverboat and took a ride on the Mississippi with the new flag proudly snapping in the wind.

St. Louis Flag 1916-1946

Thirty years later, it was discovered the flag argument wasn’t finished. In 1946, a local man stumbled upon a collection of varying St. Louis flag designs. Unaware of the competitions held in 1916, he walked over to City Hall to see what he could learn. He was startled to discover that St. Louis didn’t have an official flag. After their friendly boat ride promoting the new banner, the aldermen went back to work on other matters. They never bothered to make the new flag official.

An ordinance was quickly passed in 1946 to correct the oversight, but many St. Louisans were now reminded that the design wasn’t very good to begin with. Prominent St. Louisan Charles Nagel, an architect who would come to play a role in the selection of the Gateway Arch design, declared the 1916 flag to be “wretchedly bad in heraldic design”.

Proponents for a new design became more vocal in the 1950′s. Even the St. Louis Post-Dispatch promoted the idea of a new flag with an editorial in 1957. Eventually, Charles Nagel called upon an acquaintance who had experience designing flags. Theodore Sizer, an art professor at Yale, came to St. Louis and designed the flag that flies in St. Louis today.


Sizer also used specific colors to represent the four empires that have ruled St. Louis:

  • Spain – Red and Gold
  • Bourbon France – Blue and White
  • Napoleonic France – Blue, White, and Red
  • The United States – Red, White, and Blue

In an article for St. Louis Magazine in October 1964, Sizer explains that designing the flag presented quite a challenge. He was asked to incorporate the history of the city into the design, with references to the Louisiana Purchase, Charles Lindbergh, and even Stan Musial. Most importantly, he was told his design must include the image of St. Louis on his horse.

Theodore Sizer

Fortunately, Sizer had better ideas in mind. In response to using the image of St. Louis, he stated:

“I have nothing against St. Louis, or his white horse, but on a flag it looks like anybody on any horse. Dammit, you look at it and you can’t tell if it’s Saint Louis, King Arthur, or Robert E. Lee.”

To the benefit of St. Louis, he took his design in a completely different direction.

“The one distinctive feature about the city of St. Louis are the rivers, the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi. The confluence was the reason for St. Louis being founded by the settlers in the first place.”

Sizer stressed the importance of how the flag would look at a distance. When it was suggested an eagle be included in the design, he responded that it would have “looked like a chicken or some other bird”. Fortunately, he also rejected incorporating the newest of St. Louis symbols.

“And we decided to stay clear of the new Saarinen arch. Would have looked like a chicken wishbone at thirty paces.”

Fortunately, Sizer was able to bring others around to his way of thinking. When the process was complete, Sizer’s design was officially adopted as the St. Louis municipal flag on February 3, 1964.

Theodore Sizer died in 1967. Today, his design can be found flying around the city without a whisper of derision. Eat your heart out, Milwaukee.

The Drink

Before getting a drink, I thought it’d only be appropriate to get out and buy my own St. Louis flag. For that task, I knew exactly where to go.

STL-Style is one of the neatest stores in town. Located at 3159 Cherokee Street in Benton Park West, it’s owned and operated by two brothers, Jeff and Randy Vines. Like myself, these guys have a deep pride for St. Louis city. Back in 2001, they decided to make it their mission to create a line of apparel that promotes the city as they saw it.

Twelve years later, that mission has evolved into a unique store filled with fun pro-St. Louis merchandise. They’ve since built a team of artists who create witty and eye-catching designs that promote the city and the neighborhoods in it. It started with t-shirts, but they’ve since expanded to sell prints, bags, mugs, stickers, hats, onesies, and even underwear. The St. Louis flag is available in two sizes, but Sizer’s great design is also available on shirts, bags, and other store items.

It’s a great store for tourists, but the designs are really meant for St. Louisans to promote their city from within. Get down there and check out their inventory. They’ll have something to represent whatever neighborhood you call home.

STL-Style Designs

Their passion goes beyond selling t-shirts. Dig around their website, or simply talk to them, and you’ll discover two guys working to make St. Louis better in many different ways. They are even on the Board of Directors for Landmarks Association of St. Louis, a great organization I mention often in this blog.

Stl-Style InteriorFor the record, I’m plugging this place without any kickback from Jeff and Randy.  I simply think they have a great store and I appreciate what they are doing. And since it’s tough to tie a flag to a drink, I asked them where to get my drink for this post. They didn’t disappoint. They directed me to the The Fortune Teller Bar, located nearby in the eclectic Cherokee Street neighborhood.


I’d never been to the Fortune Teller, so I was happy to they recommended a place that takes cocktails seriously. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a well-stocked bar with a great selection of spirits. The Fortune Teller also offers a good craft beer selection. As I sat down at the bar, I noticed a bottle of Old Tom’s Gin on the shelf. If a bar has Old Tom’s, it’s going in my belly. With that in mind, I ordered the “Alpine Daisy” off their specialty cocktail menu.

The drink was delicious. Served on the rocks in a highball, it was tart and refreshing. And since it was a dark and stormy night, I followed it up with their version of my beloved Manhattan. Since I know I’ll be returning to the Fortune Teller, I’ll save that review for a future post.

NOTE: In my research for this post, I came across several references to the St. Louis flag being dubbed the “Three Rivers Flag”.  These sources claim the Meramec River is also represented as one of three rivers in the design (instead of two). I found no evidence to support this. As Sizer quoted to St. Louis magazine in 1964, the key feature of the design is the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri. The Meramec is never mentioned. There is also no mention of the Meramec in the official city ordinance passed in 1964.

Furthermore, putting the Meramec on par with the Mississippi and Missouri is absurd. It also makes no sense in the design. Are the three rivers supposed to be flowing together behind the bezant? So, until someone proves otherwise, don’t call it the “Three Rivers Flag”.

January 5th, 2013 by Cameron

The Langdon Mansion

Greetings from ElmiraI had a one hell of a day last week. While driving from my native upstate New York to my current home in St. Louis, my car hit an ice patch on I-86. I lost control, spun, and was flung off the highway. I was flipped perfectly onto the roof of the car, which is where I stayed as I bobsleighed one-hundred feet down a hill.

It was quite a ride. Lots of snow, glass, and colorful language was bouncing around inside the car as I went. Remarkably, I hit something that caused the car to slowly roll me back upright. I came to a stop, turned off the engine, and realized I was completely uninjured. I was able to walk away like nothing happened. Other than a slight headache from a book (I think it was a book) that hit me in the head during the roll, I was as good as new.

What does this mishap have to do with history and booze? Well, after being collected and driven back to my hometown of Elmira, I had some time on my hands. Instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to dig up some history in the town where I spent the first eighteen years of my life.

Sweet Wounded Jesus!

For a small city, Elmira has some good stories to tell. With that in mind, please pardon this brief sojourn away from St. Louis. I’ll return to the hidden tales of The Gateway City soon enough.


Elmira, New York is a small city of about 29,000 people in the Southern Tier of New York State. Just south of the Finger Lakes, it sits in a truly beautiful part of the state. Unlike St. Louis, it has rolling hills, voluminous lakes, and cooler summers.  Although I now prefer to live in St. Louis, I’ll never waver from the opinion that it was a great place to grow up.

In fact, I believe Elmira shares many qualities with St. Louis, but on a far smaller scale. Both cities are the population centers of their respective areas. Both cities serve as the regional hub for financial, cultural, and educational institutions. Both cities have a rich and deep history that often gets overlooked by the people who live there.

1972 Flood

On the flip side, both cities have watched their populations plummet in the years following World War II. Both cities are trying to bring people, companies, and jobs back within city limits. Both cities are desperate to revitalize their downtown cores (and both cities have mistakenly believed that building sports arenas is one way to do it).

Both cities have also been severely impacted by flooding. While St. Louis’s history with flooding is well-known, Elmira’s history with rising waters is just as troubled. Many point to the damage caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 as the point from which downtown Elmira has never recovered.

And finally, both cities are filled with historic homes, buildings, and structures that are in desperate need of preservation.

Since starting this blog, I’ve become far more aware of the need for historical preservation. This was especially true when Landmarks Association helped me research the blog post about the William B. Ittner schools. I was stunned to see how much work and research they had completed in order to campaign for the survival of those historic buildings.

I can now say for certain that I wish my hometown had its own version of Landmarks seventy-five years ago. That’s because in 1939, the wrecking ball took apart this historically significant house that once sat at the corner of Church and Main streets in downtown Elmira.

The Langdon House

The Langdon House, facing Main Street

This large Victorian home was the home of a wealthy coal merchant named Jervis Langdon. He was an ardent abolitionist, and he served as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad along with his close friend Thomas K. Beecher. The brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Beecher was the pastor of Park Church located across the street from Langdon’s home. Both men counted Frederick Douglass as a close friend. The famed abolitionist even once visited Langdon at his home in Elmira.

It was Langdon’s daughter, however, that would make the most significant impact upon the Langdon legacy in Elmira.

Olivia Langdon as a young woman

In 1867, Olivia’s brother Charles traveled to the Mediterranean aboard a boat named Quaker City. On the trip, he befriended a reporter writing a story for a California newspaper. That reporter was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, soon to become known as the famous author Mark Twain. One night, Charles showed Clemens a small daguerreotype of his sister Olivia. Upon looking at the portrait of the delicate woman, Clemens admitted to falling in “love at first sight”. Throughout the rest of the trip, he asked Charles to bring out the photograph and allow him to gaze upon it again. When the trip concluded, Twain made a point to visit Langdon and his sister during a trip to New York City. During that visit, Clemens was invited to visit the Langdon home in Elmira. It wasn’t long before Twain found himself knocking on the large door of the Langdon home on the corner Church and Main.

For the next two years, Clemens courted Olivia and visited Elmira often. After an initial rejection, the two became engaged in late 1869. On February 2, 1870, Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon were married by Thomas K. Beecher in the library of the Langdon home.

Over the next twenty years, the Clemens family would make Elmira their summer home. While there, they lived at Quarry Farm, a Langdon vacation home located on a large hill outside of town. In the octagonal study built there for him, Mark Twain found what he called ”the quietest of all quiet places.”  Here, he would write the majority of his most famous works, including Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Mark Twain at Quarry Farm in Elmira

While in Elmira, the Clemens family would spend a large amount of time at the large house in town. Three of the four Clemens children were born in the house. The house was a convenient place for Clemens to entertain visitors or to do business. The house is where Ulysses S. Grant once visited Twain to discuss his memoirs, a work that Twain helped get published. Clemens even stated that since the house was so large, one could “always escape your enemies in Langdon house”.

The Langdon home is also where on a warm day in 1889, a young reporter from British India traveled to Elmira in search of his idol. Detailing the experience in his later work Letters of Travel, Rudyard Kipling recounts his arrival in Elmira:

“I slid on the West Shore line, I slid until midnight, and they dumped me down at the door of a frozy hotel in Elmira. Yes, they knew all about “that man Clemens,” but reckoned he was not in town; had gone East somewhere.”

Kipling then took a carriage to Quarry Farm, but was told Clemens was in town. He traveled back down the hill and found himself at the Langdon house. Kipling continues with his description of the meeting:

“Then things happened somewhat in this order. A big, darkened drawing room; a huge chair; a man with eyes, a mane of grizzled hair, a brown mustache covering a mouth as delicate as a woman’s, a strong square hand shaking mine, and the slowest, calmest, levellest voice in all the world saying: – “Well, you think you owe me something, and you’ve come to tell me so. That’s what I call squaring a debt handsomely.”

“Piff!” from a cob-pipe (I always said that a Missouri meerschaum was the best smoking in the world), and behold! Mark Twain had curled himself up in the big armchair, and I was smoking reverently, as befits one in the presence of his superior.”

Rudyard Kipling & Mark Twain

Kipling was just starting his career and was still unknown. It would be a few years before he’d achieve fame as the author of stories such as “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “The Man Who Would Be King”. But a year after their meeting, Twain recognized a sketch of Kipling in a copy of the London World. The article also mentioned that Kipling had traveled to the United States. Twain took interest in Kipling’s work and began to admire his burgeoning career. In 1895, Twain wrote a letter to Kipling:

“It is reported that you are about to visit India. This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago, you came from India to Elmira to visit me. It has always been my purpose to return that visit and that great compliment some day. I shall arrive next January, and you must be ready. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with silver bells and ribbons, and escorted by a troop of native howdahs richly clad and mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; and you must be on hand with a few bottles of glee, for I shall be thirsty.”

Interior rooms of the Langdon Mansion

Olivia Langdon Clemens died in Italy in 1904. Although buried in Elmira, Clemens returned just once to Elmira after her passing. His last visit was in 1907 for the dedication of a new organ at Park Church. On that visit, he declined an offer to visit Quarry Farm because it would “awaken sorrowful thoughts”. Samuel Clemens died in 1910 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira along with Olivia and their four children.

Mark Twain's Grave in Elmira

Imagine if the stately Langdon home still stood in Elmira. Located at the busiest downtown intersection, it could have become the symbol of the city. Flanked by the historically significant Park Church, the elegant Trinity Church, and Wisner Park, the entire neighborhood would have become one of the most historic corners in the Southern Tier. Perhaps the house could have been used as the focal point in presenting the legacy of Mark Twain in Elmira. Unlike other cities that claim a legacy to Twain (Hannibal, Hartford), Elmira has no central building from which to tell his story. The octagonal study that was relocated to the campus of Elmira College is too small. His grave in Woodlawn Cemetery is well, perhaps too morbid. Quarry Farm still stands, but it’s far outside of town and isn’t open to the public. It’s even likely that most Elmirans couldn’t find it if they tried.

Mark Twain Study

The ultimate fate of the Langdon home is nothing short of maddening. In the 1930′s, the Langdon family offered to sell the house to the city of Elmira at its assessed value. It was offered as such for the purpose of creating a museum or a place of historical significance. For a price of just under $50,000, the city could have preserved a rare historical jewel that would have been a beacon for the city. City leaders debated, voted, and ultimately concluded that such a large home would be too expensive to maintain. The city declined the offer, so the home was sold home to a private developer. Within months, the home was razed and a shopping center was built. Named “Langdon Plaza”, the shopping center provides visitors to Elmira a place to purchase meatball sandwiches and hair gel.

All that is left of the Langdon home is the fence that surrounded it. Like the octagonal study, it was relocated to the Elmira College campus.

Langdon Plaza

The Drink

After flipping a car, it’s so surprise that I needed a drink. Maybe five. And although completely uninjured, I still had the mind to milk it. To that end, Mom filled me with good bourbon, gin, and plenty of home cooked food over the next few days.

Carl on the rocks

The extended trip also allowed me to spend New Years Eve with my Mother and her close friends. The party was held at the home of two very close friends in Elmira, Carl and Bunny Vallely. This presented a great opportunity because Carl Vallely is also a huge fan of the Manhattan cocktail.

There’s a great story that goes along with Carl and his love of the Manhattan. Years ago, when he first courted Bunny, he showed up at her door to take her on their first date. Tucked under his arm was a thermos. When Bunny answered the door and inquired “What’s in the thermos?”, to which Carl replied “Manhattans, of course!”. I can’t help but admire the guy for that. Taking a thermos of Manhattans on a first date is nothing short of fantastic.

And going forward in my search Manhattan cocktail varieties, I can now the recipe for “The Vallely Manhattan”:

  • 1 Part Canadian Club Whisky
  • 1 Part Sweet Vermouth
  • Stirred and served on the rocks

I asked Carl what the ratio of the ingredients should be, and he simply said “until you get the right color”. I guess I’ll have to work on that. He also omits the cherry, since it “takes up room in the glass needed for more Manhattan”. I certainly can’t argue with that logic. The “on the rocks” aspect of the Vallely is tough for me to get by, but it’s his drink. I was in his house and I was happy to drink them with a fellow fan of my favorite cocktail.

Carl served me a few of his Manhattans that night, but I also took the time to visit Horigan’s in Elmira. Owned by my old high school pal Katie Boland, I am a frequent visitor here when I’m in Elmira. My father used to spend so much time at the bar reading books that they’d actually keep the book there for him. Katie also happens to be Carl’s step-daughter, so when I asked for Carl’s version of the Manhattan, she was happy to oblige.

Horigan's ManhattanAs for my opinion of the drink, I’ll say that it’s very pleasant. Due to the ice and the use of Canadian whisky, it’s a lighter and smoother version what I’m used to. It doesn’t have that bite on the first sip (which I adore). It made me think I could be tricked into drinking more in one sitting than I’m used to. After rolling a car, that’s not the worst idea.

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