Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
January 28th, 2014

Adding a Bit of Color to St. Louis History

Union General Ambrose Burnside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Hopkins!

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

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

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

Newsies at Skeeter's Branch by Lewis Hine

Colorization of Newsies at Skeeter's Branch

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

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

Weightlifter Fred Winters at the 1904 Olympics

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

Boys Playing Marbles in an Alley

Colorized version of Boys Playing Marbles in an Alley

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

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

Aftermath of the 1896 Cyclone in Lafayette Square Park

Colorization of 1896 Cycle Aftermath

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

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

James

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

Gurley on 18th & Washington

Gurley on 18th & Washington Colorized

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

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

1904 Olympic Swimmers

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

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

St. Louis Motodrome

St. Louis Motordrome Colorized

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

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

Schnaider's Beer Garden

Colorization of Schnaider's Beer Garden Photograph

 

November 12th, 2012

The Great Cyclone of 1896

The Great Cyclone of 1896

In the late afternoon of May 27, 1896,  a meteorologist by the name of Irl Hicks looked out the window of his observatory on 22nd street in St. Louis. He watched anxiously as black clouds and green skies loomed dangerously to the south.  An ordained minister, Confederate veteran, and publisher of his own almanac, Hicks knew exactly what was happening. By watching barometer in his office all day, he knew the air pressure in St. Louis was dangerously low. Shortly after 4 p.m., he ordered the storm doors to the building be closed. He instructed others to find safety and prepare for the tornado that was about to slam into the city.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (such as the T.S. Eliot post), one of the great joys of writing this blog is discovering where history happened in St. Louis. Recently, I met a woman who told me the third floor of her home in the Lafayette Square neighborhood was ripped off by the tornado Mr. Hicks correctly predicted over 120 years ago.  This piqued my curiosity, and I wanted to learn more about that day. I’ve found that most St. Louisans believe 1896 tornado was limited to the Lafayette Square neighborhood. In fact, it hit far more than that. The “Great Cyclone of 1896″  (as it would be known) ripped an eight mile swath of destruction through St. Louis and East St. Louis. To this day, it accounts for the single deadliest day in the history of both cities. It is the second deadliest tornado in the history of the United States (behind the “Tri-State Tornado” that hit Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in 1925). Adjusted for inflation, the estimated $2.9 billion dollars of damage makes it the single costliest tornado in the history of the United States.

I also learned that my bike commute to work each morning nearly follows the path of the tornado exactly (except for the last leg into East St. Louis). Since I have quite a bit of time to kill on these rides, it’s been a fascinating event to think about each morning as I head to work.

Path of the Great Cyclone of 1896

Unlike Reverend Hicks, few St. Louisans had a barometer nearby to warn them of the tornado that touched down just past 5 p.m. In twenty minutes, 255 people would be dead. Over a thousand would be  injured.  Over three-hundred buildings were completely destroyed while  nearly eight-thousand were severely damaged. Homes were ripped from the earth, trees were uprooted, and boats were hurled across the Mississippi River. Factories, hospitals, and churches were flattened. The city’s most treasured public park would come to look like a battlefield. In just twenty minutes, St. Louis would be cut off from the rest of the world as every telegraph line out of the city would be severed.

The tornado first touched down near the City Poor House on Arsenal Street, just east of Hampton Avenue. This complex of brick buildings held over 1,300 poor, elderly, and impoverished residents. Few were given any warning as walls crumbled and chimneys toppled . Amazingly, nobody was killed. The tornado then jumped across the street and took the roof off an entire wing of the Female Hospital. It then twisted east, narrowly missing the hulking St. Louis Insane Asylum.  Still, not a single life was lost. That good fortune wouldn’t last long.

As it headed east towards Kingshighway Boulevard, the conical shape of the tornado became more pronounced.  It roared into Tower Grove Park at the south-west corner and cut across it diagonally.  It stormed through Shaw’s Garden (now the Missouri Botanical Garden), uprooting hundreds of trees and plants as it moved. To the north of Tower Grove Park, the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company was building a large addition of buildings. Ironworkers were still high atop the girders when the tornado hit, causing many to plummet and be crushed beneath fallen iron and brick.

Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company

The tornado then crossed Grand Avenue and slammed into the Compton Heights neighborhood. Here it bounced around towards Jefferson Avenue, tearing off roofs, blowing out windows, and wrecking apartment buildings.  The tail of the tornado snapped around in a wide arc, wreaking havoc from Chouteau Avenue to the north and Russell Boulevard to the south.

The scene at Jefferson & Lafayette

It then stormed east into Lafayette Park and the elegant homes that surrounded it. The 36 acre park was turned into “a wasteland of stripped trees and stumps.” in a matter of seconds. Gazebos and pavilions were hurled into the sky. Pieces of the main bandstand were found over four hundred yards away. Many of the stately homes and churches that surrounded the park were laid to waste.

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park was a place of beauty and joy to the residents of south city. The first public park in the city of St. Louis, its destruction delivered to them a severe blow.  Surveying the damage from the balcony of his home, a Lafayette Square resident named Charles Simpson openly wept. Although his family was safe, he lamented the destruction of the park he loved dearly. He turned to his son-in-law and said “It took forty years to grow those trees, and I shall never see their like again. The house I can repair, but my trees are gone forever”.

Lafayette Square

The tornado continued east, now bearing down on the massive City Hospital complex. Containing over 400 patients, the tornado ripped roofs and floors away. The crematorium was instantly demolished. One newspaper reported that a patient named George Wilson was sucked out of his second floor room. Amazingly, he landed upright and was able to run back into the basement of the building. Another patient was pulled from his fourth floor room and thrown over 150 yards away. Miraculously, that patient also suffered only minor injuries.

The City Hospital after the tornado

Moving past the hospital, the tornado was still gaining power. It reached its full fury in the Soulard neighborhood, near an intersection that would come to be known as the “vortex”.  Here, at the corner of Seventh and Rutger Streets, a man named Frederick Mauchenheimer owned a tavern on the ground floor of a tenement building. As he sat at a table playing cards with two patrons, the tornado slammed into the building. Every floor of the building collapsed down. Mauchenheimer survived, but the other card players and fifteen others died. Six more people died across the street. The day after the storm, the body of seven-year old Ida Howell was found in the arms of her mother.

The scene at the corner of Seventh & Rutger streets

After wreaking havoc in the Soulard neighborhood, the storm turned north and continued its carnage on the riverfront. Over twenty steamboats, tug boats, and ferries were ripped from their moorings and destroyed. The steamboat “Anchor Line” was hurled across the Mississippi, crashing into pieces on the eastern shore of the river. Although the official death toll on this day is 255, many believe the number is much higher. On the riverfront, scores of people lived in shanty boats. Since their bodies were washed downriver, perhaps as many as 150 deaths were unaccounted for.

Wreckage of the steamboat City of Vicksburg

As the tornado moved across the river, even Eads Bridge wasn’t spared. The top abutment of the first pier, including the girders and rocks, was picked up and thrown onto the tracks behind a passenger train. Two baggage cars were knocked off the tracks. Wagons loaded with goods and merchandise were thrown on top of them.

Eads Bridge on the East St. Louis riverbank

As the tornado moved onto the Illinois side of the river, residents of East St. Louis ran for cover as they watched entire homes pulled from the ground. More than 100 people on this side of the river were killed in a matter of minutes.  The police station and courthouse were completely destroyed. Inside that courthouse, a jury deliberating a case barely escaped with their lives. It wasn’t until minutes before the tornado hit that the judge allowed the members of the jury to flee and find safety.

The tornado was especially deadly at the various rail yards and depots in East St. Louis. When the storm hit the St. Louis, Vandalia, and Terre Haute Railroad Depot, fifteen of the thirty-five workers were killed.

The East St. Louis railyards

When the tornado finally dissipated, St. Louis and East St. Louis were wrecked cities. People emerged by the thousands to survey the damage and search for loved ones. Rescue efforts were organized to locate survivors buried under brick and rubble. One woman was found alive after being buried for over two days. Throughout both cities, the death toll clicked higher as victims succumbed to injuries. Many newspapers reported people physically unharmed by the storm still died of “shock”, and “fright”.

The day after the tornado, hundreds of people began gathering at city morgues to identify lost loved ones. Bodies were laid out on pine boxes as wagons departed and returned with more victims of the storm. At the St. Louis Morgue on 12th and Spruce, the crowd became so large that the police were called in to restore order.

Hundreds gather at the St. Louis Morgue

People come together in the wake of tragedy, and St. Louis in 1896 was no exception. Laborers were hired to remove debris. People who lost their homes were fed and given shelter. Communication was first restored to Kansas City, and then Chicago. Quickly, the rest of the country would come to learn about the tragedy that befell St. Louis. In the coming weeks and months, St. Louis slowly started to rebuild the homes, churches, and factories that it had lost.

Today, Lafayette Square is again one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city. Tower Grove Park, Compton Heights, and Shaw’s Garden look as elegant as ever. Hundreds of trees now stand tall in Lafayette Park. The City Hospital still stands as an attractive condominium complex. Although few signs of that storm are visible in St. Louis today, it’s a remarkable and tragic event in the history of the city.

The Drink

Square One Brewery

Well, this is a very depressing post to try to tie a drink to, but I’m still gonna do it. And, since that tornado cut quite a swath through St. Louis, it’s not difficult to find a bar that has ties to it. For this one, I chose Square One Brewery & Distillery in Lafayette Square. I know this place well since it’s on my bike route and the building’s previous tenant was my company’s after-work hangout years ago.   Today, Square One lays claim to being the first microdistillery restaurant in the state of Missouri. They pride themselves on pairing food, beer, and spirits together. Personally, I think they do a great job because I’ve always left happy. They brew an excellent selection of craft beers in small batches that are very good. They also make a good whiskey that I’ve had on a few previous visits.

I was tempted to see what Square One would do with a Manhattan. Instead, I checked out their cocktail menu and found a drink that seemed more appropriate for the subject of this post.

The “South Sider” contains Square One’s JJ Neukomm Whiskey, a dash of bitters, and Fevertree Ginger Beer. It’s served on the rocks in a tall glass. I haven’t experimented much with mixing beer and spirits, but this was a good start. The bitters added a nice spicy flavor and I enjoyed the drink.

I asked the bartender if he knew anything about the history of the building. I was told it was built before the tornado, but he did not know the extent of damage it took. Maybe I’ll find out more on my next visit.

The South Sider at Square One

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The Great Cyclone

Almost all of the information for this post came from the book The Great Cyclone at St. Louis and East St. Louis, May 27, 1896. It’s a compilation of stories that appeared in St. Louis daily newspapers after the tornado hit. It was first published just days after the tornado hit in 1896. It was recently republished and a new forward was added by St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Tim O’Neil.

All photographs used in this post are courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.

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