Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
August 9th, 2017 by Cameron Collins

My Gin Craze

Martini

Here’s a fun Distilled History tidbit. I briefly mention in it the “About” page on this blog, but the first version of Distilled History didn’t have anything to do with history. Initially, this blog was going to tell people how to drink.

No joke. After brainstorming ideas with an old friend, I came up with an idea to write a St. Louis cocktail blog. The plan was to drive around St. Louis, tell some fun stories, and write blog posts about who was making a Manhattan cocktail correctly (by stirring it) and who wasn’t (by shaking it). But after a few preliminary drafts, I realized something was missing. I love drinking, but history is my true passion. Not to mention, the idea of publicly judging (and quite possibly annoying) a large group of people who have been very good to me (St. Louis bartenders), a cocktail review blog didn’t seem like the best of ideas.

So I mixed history and drinking together. And just like that, Red, Clear, or Beer became Distilled History.

Red, Clear, or Beer

I’m glad I made the switch, but seeing the original logo reminded me that Distilled History has never become the drunk I intended it to be. I’ve had great fun with St. Louis brewery histories, cocktail histories, and other drinking-related posts, but I know more alcohol is needed here. So I’m going to take a break from my favorite city (St. Louis) and focus my efforts on my favorite booze. That special spirit is gin, and the historian (and cocktail snob) Bernard DeVoto sums up my sentiments about the stuff pretty well.

Bernard DeVoto Quote

St. George Gin

Gin is also an ideal topic for this blog because it has a special story behind it. The history of gin includes riots, wars, revolutions, Italian monks, Dutch distillers, English mercenaries, and even a guy nicknamed “the Orange”. There’s an actual era in English history known as “The Gin Craze” in which an entire country took their love for gin WAY too far (and inspired the title of this post). And although many have told gin’s story already, I thought I’d give it a shot. I had fun with it, but what follows is a whirlwind trip. I did my best to hit the major points of gin’s story, but there is much more to it. Gin: A Global History by Lesley Jacobs Solomonson and The Book of Gin by Richard Barnett are both great sources (along with many others) that can fill in the gaping holes I’ve left here.

Before I get to gin itself, I have to provide a little background on gin’s essential ingredient, the juniper berry. Interestingly (and a sign of what’s to come), juniper berries aren’t actually berries. They are seed cones, and people have been adding them to foods and recipes for centuries due to the unique flavor they provide. That’s important to the subject of this post because juniper is what must be present for a distillate to be officially labeled “gin”. That’s right, along with all those gin varieties containing everything from coriander, saffron, rose petals, cinnamon, cucumber, and pine needles, every one of them must also contain juniper if “Gin” is written on the bottle.

Juniper Berries

Juniper wasn’t always just a flavor, though. As Richard Barnett details in his The Book of Gin, juniper has been lauded since ancient times for its medicinal properties. The ancient Greeks used it to cure tapeworm, the Romans rubbed it under togas as a contraceptive, and medieval Europeans placed juniper twigs in masks to help fend off the plague. Barnett also details a significant twist around the year 1050 when a bunch of monks in Salerno, Italy infused juniper in distilled wine. Their intent was to create a medicinal elixir, and the recipe was recorded in a compilation of tonics titled the Compendium Salerta. This may have been the first time juniper and alcohol came together as one, and Barnett notes this “proto-gin” is the earliest recipe for anything that resembles what we call gin today.

Jabir ibn Hayyan

From these Italian monks, we can thank the Dutch and English for gin’s evolution from a juniper-based elixir to what it is today. But before I explain why, I have to mention the process known as distillation. That process, separating components from a liquid through heating and cooling, is how alcohol is separated from fermented materials such as fruit, potatoes, and grain. Unlike beer and wine, which can happen by accident if yeast happens to be floating around, distillation is a necessary step in the production of spirits like gin and whiskey.

Distillation (as we know it today) got its start in the 8th or 9th century when alchemists like Jabir ibn Hayyan were trying to figure out how to turn cheap metal into gold. Slowly (with help from inventions like movable type), the distillation how-to manual worked its way to other parts of the world. By the mid-16th century, stills could be found all over Europe, mostly producing healing concoctions referred to as “aqua vitae” (Latin for “water of life”). But distillation, a process rooted in healing for hundreds of years, began to change when it arrived in Europe’s Low Countries.

That’s where the Dutch, a people with a hearty grain surplus and plenty of flavor creativity, embraced a new trend of recreational drinking. Intent on making elixers that tasted better, Dutch distillers began adding herbs, botanicals, and sweeteners to hide harsh tastes produced by unrefined distillation methods. It worked better than expected, and gradually national-scale industry emerged. By the mid-1600’s drinking spirits for the taste (and the intoxication that went along with it) was all the rage. The signature product was jenever, a juniper-based spirit that is maltier and sweeter than what many know as “gin”. Jenever is also known as “Dutch gin”, “Holland gin”, or even just “Hollands” (it’s also often spelled with a “g”). Today, jenever is the national liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium and remains the most popular spirit in that part of the world.

Schiedam

We should all raise our glasses to the Dutch for getting the juniper-based spirit trend going, but the next major players in the story, the English, should get a toast as well. Dutch jenever made its way to England as early as the 1500’s, but it could barely compete in a country filled with pubs serving pints of ale. But according to most gin historians, two major historical events helped England get into the gin game. As a result, jenever would evolve into distinctly English spirit with a shortened name.

William of Orange

The first was the 30 Years War (1618-1648), a conflict in which the Dutch Republic fought to win its independence from Spain. England sent an army to help the Dutch, and in the hours before going into battle, English soldiers steadied their nerves by drinking cups of jenever supplied by their Dutch allies. This is the origin of the term “Dutch Courage”, and when the Spanish were defeated, a large number of English soldiers returned home with a taste for something new.

The second event was 1688’s Glorious Revolution. That’s when the Dutch Republic’s William of Orange arrived in England to overthrow the unpopular King James II. Parliament invited William and his wife Mary to take the throne, and they became co-monarchs in 1689. Taking a page from their Dutch playbook, William and Mary encouraged grain production to get the English economy going again. One way they did that was to make it easy (really easy) to distill grain-based spirits. The industry was unregulated and untaxed, and suddenly anyone in England who wanted to make or sell gin could do so.

Still 630's Volstead's Folly

This all sounds pretty great to a present-day gin drinker, but the results were catastrophic. While some distillers adhered to high standards carried over from the Dutch, a new type of gin maker emerged. Using cheap ingredients and near-toxic levels of alcohol, libations known as “scorch-gut” and “mother’s ruin” became common in England’s major cities. Many didn’t even bother with juniper, using poisons such as turpentine and sulfuric acid to hide the taste. This gin industry was also directed entirely towards the urban poor, often manufactured in seedy back-alley gin shops and sold for pennies in grimy drinking dens. Crammed into the dirty back-alleys of cities like London and Bristol, the masses didn’t hesitate in drinking as much of it as they could. Cheaper than ale, gin helped people fend off pangs of hunger and forget about a life of impoverishment. This period, or event, or whatever stretch of Hell it was, is famously known as England’s “Gin Craze”.

The term “Gin Craze” may be a fun title for a 21st-century blog post, but it was anything but in 18th century England. In less than fifty years, consumption of distilled spirits in England’s major cities quadrupled. Debauchery ruled, with crime, murder, and suicide rates spiking while birth rates plummeted. For the first time in history, women drank to excess in public, and it wasn’t uncommon to find drunk children alongside them. In what could be the most notorious example of gin’s treacherous influence, in 1734 a woman named Judith Defour strangled her own daughter and left her body in a ditch. When forced to explain her crime, she reported she needed to sell the child’s clothes so she could afford another serving of gin.

William Hogarth's Gin Lane

It didn’t take long for many to realize that things were of control. As consumption of spirits increased, so did public outrage. Moralists, politicians, and pretty much anyone with a box to stand on started shouting about the impending collapse of society. Perhaps the most famous example of anti-gin propaganda came in the form of two prints published by William Hogarth in 1750. In “Gin Lane” Hogarth depicts a scene of London debauchery and chaos. Among other images, a baby tumbles from a drunken mother’s lap, a man is seen chewing on a bone along with a dog, and people in the distance are lifted into coffins. On the flip side, “Beer Street” shows London as a happy, productive place. Artists paint, portly people smile with mugs of ale, and everyone productively goes about their day.

William Hogarth's Beer Street

Hogarth’s (and other) efforts eventually paid off.  Parliament took its first step in 1729 with the first of eight “Gin Acts”. The first few attempts at regulation didn’t go over very well (people rioted) but Parliament continued to tweak the rules by imposing taxes on gin, restricting where gin could be sold, and even rewarding informants who reported gin-related crimes. After the final gin act was implemented in 1751, the gin craze flickered out. New regulations put the back-alley distillers out of business, and the pint of ale slowly regained its place as the preferred English method of getting a buzz.Gordon's Gin

But the taste for gin never left, and a handful of reputable distillers came to prominence by producing high-quality gins. Many of them are still around today, including Gordon’s (established in 1769), Plymouth (established in 1793), and Tanqueray (established in 1830). Gin sellers also helped improve gin’s reputation by opening classier, upscale bars known as “gin palaces”. These venues, which became popular in the 1830’s, offered a safe, well-lit (often sparkly), and sophisticated venue for one to enjoy a glass of gin.

Improvements to the distillation process also helped. The invention of the column still (also known as the Coffey still) in the mid-1800’s enabled distillers to efficiently (and continually) produce a spirit with more alcohol and subtler flavors. As a result, a style of gin unique to the English emerged. Less reliant on sweeteners and bold flavors commonly found in Dutch jenever (which is made in a pot still), “London dry” gin has since grown to become the most popular style of gin in the world.

The Drink
Martini at the Gin Room

With the Dutch and English settled into their own corners of the gin world, it’s time to bring this post to a close. There’s much more to the story (so much that it makes my head hurt), but what comes next is just too much to get into. It includes other gin varieties (such as Old Tom gin), gin’s path to America, gin during Prohibition, and the stories behind all of the wonderful gin cocktails. I’ll get to those stories in due time, it’s time to get back to St. Louis history (and ordering a much-needed) gin-based drink.

Where to get my drink to celebrate gin was a no-brainer. Few places are as dear to my heart as The Gin Room, located at 3200 South Grand in St. Louis. It’s a gin-lover’s paradise, with shelves packed with countless styles and variations of gin reaching all the way to the ceiling. I also love the place for the events that are always happening there, including gin tastings, tonic workshops, and random gin celebrations.

Best of all, the people at the Gin Room (led by my pal and owner Natasha Bahrami) know their gin. One of the few places where I get overwhelmed by the cocktail menu (a rarity), I always end up with a great recommendation at the Gin Room. The result of my latest visit was no exception, when I was served a Fillier’s martini to close out this celebration of my favorite spirit.

I’ll be back to the Gin Room (I’m even house-hunting near it), so the days ahead are sure to be filled with aqua vitae. My own gin craze will continue for years go come.

The Gin Room
June 6th, 2017 by Cameron Collins

A Toast to Minnie Kleeman

A small piece of history

Sometimes even the littlest of things can make a tremendous impact.

I should know, because I watched it happen two years ago. And it all started with a little piece of paper with the name “Minnie” written on it.

To be more specific, this little piece of paper is glued to the inside of a kitchen cabinet at the Campbell House Museum, where I’ve been a volunteer since 2012.  The written name “Minnie” is short for “Philomena”, as in Philomena Ann Kleeman, a cook who lived and worked in the Campbell family’s home over eighty years ago.

But before I get to the great story about Minnie and that little piece of paper, allow me to provide a bit of background information.

Philomena Kleeman in 1934The Campbell House Museum has been open for more than seventy years. And while it’s a great place for visitors to look at beautiful stuff and hear great stories, much more is happening behind the scenes. It’s a place of constant research and learning, and that’s a major reason I’m glad to be part of the Campbell family.

And it may surprise many that we are still just scratching the surface. Even after seventy-four years of operation, significant new information is constantly emerging. For example, we didn’t know the name of the architects who designed the house until a few years ago (Joseph C. Edgar and Thomas Warying Walsh). We just learned where one of the Campbell children is buried (he’s in Bellefontaine Cemetery with his brothers and sisters). And in an astounding 2012 discovery, it was proven that Robert Campbell once owned an enslaved woman named Eliza. All of these are important changes to the Campbell narrative, but even the littlest things like name pronunciations have thrown us for a loop. If you took my tour four years ago, you would have heard me pronounce Hazlett Campbell’s name with a short “a” vowel sound (like “hat”). Take my tour today and you’ll hear me say it with a long “a” (like “maze”).

The 1880 Census

But if there’s one aspect of the Campbell story that remains elusive, it’s the story of the Campbell servants. These are the scores of men and women who lived and worked behind the scenes as domestic laborers. They are the cooks, housekeepers, maids, and coachmen who worked long hours keeping the Campbell House running smoothly. And other than a few notable exceptions, we know almost nothing about them. Several names can be found from family letters, official documents, and census records, but that’s about it. Most of the Campbell servants simply showed up to work for a year or two and then left. And when they left, they took all of their stuff (letters, journals, photographs) with them. Little evidence of their time in the Campbell House was left behind.

Mary BoersteServants are an important part of the Campbell story, but they also represent an aspect of private life that has all but disappeared. Hiring live-in domestic labor still happens today, but on an infinitesimally smaller scale. 150 years ago, it wasn’t just commonplace for a wealthy family to utilize domestic labor, it was expected. And it would have been impossible for Robert and Virginia to live the lavish lifestyle they did without the aid of servants. In fact, the number of servants employed by a wealthy family even played a role in determining social status. With as many as nine or ten servants living at 20 Lucas Place during the peak years of the Campbell House, there’s no doubt that the Campbell family found themselves near the very top of the 1875 St. Louis social ladder.

While servant names and faces continue to be elusive, what is known is that their days were filled with backbreaking work. Campbell servants worked an average of 78 hours a week. On-call at all hours, servants were hard at work before the family awoke, and were still at it long after the family went to bed. The Campbell servants were responsible for every household chore, including cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, emptying chamber pots, sewing garments, arranging ice delivery, pulling weeds, fetching coal, driving carriages, and much more. During a time when appliances like washing machines, gas stoves, and microwaves didn’t exist, little time was available for anything but work.

Gus Meyer

Andy Hahn, the Executive Director of the Campbell House, once offered up a perfect analogy. He told me the primary job responsibility of a servant in the late 1870’s could be equated to the primary purpose of a household appliance today.  Take the vacuum cleaner, for example. In 2017, the time needed to vacuum a home can often be counted in minutes (maybe twenty in my little south city bungalow). But 125 years ago, cleaning carpets was an arduous, time-consuming task. In homes with wall-to-wall carpeting (known as “fitted carpets” back then), a servant would begin the process of cleaning a carpet by removing every piece of furniture from the room. And since Victorian-era homeowners loved filling their homes with as many chairs, tables, sofas, and pianos that could possibly fit inside, it was a major effort just to get the process going. After the room was cleared, a servant then had to get down on the floor and tear out the seams where each piece of carpet was stitched together. With the carpet separated into manageable pieces, each section was taken outside, hung on a line, and beaten with a carpet beater. After getting the dirt and dust swatted out, the maid had then had to put it all back together. After the pieces were perfectly aligned, re-sewn, and the furniture was moved back into place, it was time to move on to the next room. And since carpets were cleaned twice a year (on average), the process probably started again as soon as it was completed.

Campbell House Parlor

But being a domestic laborer in an elite, upper-class home did have its merits. It allowed young men and women to earn a decent wage along with free room and board. In some instances, even a servant’s clothing was provided. With few expenses (and little free time to spend money), a young woman like Philomena Kleeman could save her money and prepare for a life ahead. And that’s exactly what she did. Although her time at the Campbell House probably wasn’t as labor-intensive as what was described above (only one Campbell was alive during her time there), she made the most of it. After working at the Campbell House as a cook from 1932 to 1936, she returned to her hometown of Tell City, Indiana with $3,000 in her pocket. After marrying her sweetheart William Emmett Miller, she used her savings to build the house in which they would spend the rest of their lives together.

1953 Campbell House Guestbook

But wait a minute… didn’t I just get done explaining that very little is known about the Campbell servants? How could I possibly know how much Minnie Kleeman saved and what she did with it? And how do I know the name of the guy she married? Well, this is where this story gets even better. And it all started with that little piece of paper glued to a kitchen cabinet door.

It all started on a Saturday when I was at the house giving tours. A fellow docent named Dennis Rastert told me a story about a Christmas party held at the Campbell House back in 1922. The party was hosted by Hugh Campbell, the older of two surviving Campbell sons living in the home at the time. Hugh Campbell was a very generous man, and one way in which he showed his appreciation to those who worked for him was to throw lavish Christmas parties for his servants and their families.

The Campbell House

The 1922 party is special because we actually have a written account of the event by someone who was there. In his account, a man named Dewey Dauby details an extravagant affair that included a catered nine-course meal and dancing to a seven-piece orchestra. Among other indulgences, Dauby describes his plate surrounded by “six small glasses filled with wine and liquors of different kinds”, and he goes on to say that it was impossible to empty one of the glasses without it being immediately refilled. As the festivities continued, Dauby admits to feeling a bit “dizzy” while making eye contact with another man “in a funny hat” on the other side of the room. After the two men raised their glasses to each other, Dauby hilariously realized that he’d been toasting to his own reflection in a mirror.

Dewey Dauby was at the Campbell House in 1922 as the guest of Mary Boerste, one of the few Campbell servants we know quite a bit about. Dauby had recently married Mary’s niece, Polly (Pauline) Kleeman, and the couple attended the party as part of their honeymoon in St. Louis. Born in 1883, Mary Boerste came to St. Louis in 1904 to visit the World’s Fair. Instead of returning home after her visit, Mary answered an ad in a newspaper for a housekeeping job at the Campbell home. And after being hired by Hugh Campbell, she remained there for the next thirty-two years, becoming one of the longest-tenured servants and a significant part of the Campbell story.

Servants in the Garden

 After telling me this story, Dennis showed me the small piece of paper  (that I had never paid much attention to) glued to the inside of the kitchen cabinet. Seeing “Minnie” written on it, I learned the name was short for Philomena Ann Kleeman, Mary Boerste’s niece. Minnie also attended the epic 1922 Christmas party. She was eighteen at the time, and she’d return to the Campbell House ten years later when her aunt Mary helped secure her a job as the Campbell cook.

As for me (sufficiently envious of Dennis and his tale), I walked back into the kitchen and took a picture of Minnie’s little piece of paper. Happy to add another story to my tours, I applied a shiny filter and posted it on the social media site Instagram. A few weeks later, my iPhone dinged and notified me that someone had commented on my post. And that’s when the real fun began.

 (I’ll let the image below speak for itself)

The Instagram Post that Started it all

After a few back and forth messages on Instagram, I soon found myself in the midst of an amazing email correspondence with Beth Puckett, Minnie’s oldest granddaughter. She explained the Instagram find was the result of a simple Google search by her cousin, Susan Kornreich Wolf, who was visiting her mother, Patricia Miller Kornreich, in Maine. The two were curious about Minnie’s time in St. Louis working for a millionaire and discovered the above Instagram post, shared it with the rest of Minnie’s family, and just like that, a new connection between the Campbell House and someone who lived and worked there came to be.

William Miller & Philomena Kleeman

The excitement of this new connection quickly spread throughout the Campbell House and Minnie’s family. Information began flowing back and forth, and both sides became excited about a rare opportunity to share information. And a couple of months later, four members of Minnie’s family came to St. Louis to see the Campbell House in person. Along with Minnie’s children Wilma and Cliff, Minnie’s granddaughter Beth and great-granddaughter Emma spent an afternoon touring the house and talking with museum staff. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first visit for Wilma and Cliff. In 1953, Minnie brought her entire family to St. Louis to see the place where she lived and worked for four years. At the time, Wilma was fourteen and Cliff was ten. Their visit is even recorded in the Campbell House guest book.

But the story gets even better. During their visit, Minnie’s family donated two shirts that Minnie had taken with her back to Indiana in 1936. The shirts once belonged to Hazlett Campbell, and getting those shirts was a significant acquisition for the Campbell House. Prior to that donation, no clothing belonging to any of the Campbell children existed in the museum’s collection. And for those wondering if Minnie Kleeman stole the shirts, she didn’t. It’s funny to consider, but Hazlett Campbell was beyond the need for such fancy attire when Minnie worked in the house. One plausible theory is that she simply held on to the shirts as a source of extra fabric.

I was unable to be there when Minnie’s family came to visit the Campbell House, but I was fortunate to be part of a second donation that soon followed. A few weeks after their visit, Minnie’s granddaughter Beth contacted me again to arrange a special delivery. A few days later, I hand-delivered a photo album to the museum that once belonged to Mary Boerste, Minnie’s aunt who worked in the Campbell House for more than thirty years. Mary Boerste died in the Campbell House in 1936, and Minnie’s family believes it was this event that stirred Minnie to return to her home in Indiana. Along with her own belongings (and a couple of Hazlett Campbell’s shirts), Minnie also packed up her aunt’s photo album and took it all with her. Nearly eighty years later, Minnie’s family generously decided to hand it back to the Campbell House.

Hazlett Campbell's shirts make their return

This special photo album contains nearly 200 photographs that had never been seen by anyone at the Campbell House before. Suddenly, after more than seventy years of operation, the Campbell House had new photographs of the home, new photographs of the garden, and best of all, new photographs of Mary Boerste and other servants. From these photographs, the museum learned the house once had awnings, that a unique screen once existed in the garden, and that the furniture in Mary Boerste’s bedroom wasn’t arranged as she had it during her time in the house.

Mary's Bedroom

But perhaps the highlight of this experience is learning more about Philomena Kleeman herself. Through a freak social media connection, we now know that a woman who once  lived in the Campbell House lived a splendid life after she left. And we’ve learned more about how she lived it. We know she was a hard worker, but she was reluctant to come to St. Louis in 1932 because she’d be far from the man she loved. And we know that she married William Miller as soon as she returned to Tell City in 1936. We know that together Minnie and William raised five wonderful children, and that all of them came to St. Louis in 1953 to visit the museum where Minnie once lived and worked. We know that her fried chicken was everyone’s favorite, along with mashed potatoes, milk gravy, and green beans. We even know that Minnie continued gluing recipes and housekeeping tips to her cabinet doors like she did at the Campbell House. And finally, along with so much more, we know that Minnie passed away in 1983.

Today, two years after the events in this post happened, I still look forward to telling visitors about my favorite items in the Campbell House collection. But now there’s one I look forward to more than any other. Today, my favorite item in the Campbell collection is not a piece of furniture, a painting, or a stained glass window. It’s not Virginia’s Limoges china, Robert’s straight razor, or the Schomacker piano in the parlor.

It’s a little piece of paper glued to the inside of a cabinet with the name “Minnie” written on it.

Minnie's Family
The Drink
This is the most difficult Distilled History post I’ve ever written. Unlike posts about cholera epidemics in the 1840’s and fires in the 1870’s, people who care deeply about the subject matter of this post are still around. I wanted to make sure I got it right.

In trying to find a drink for this post, I asked Beth if Minnie liked to have a drink from time to time, and if she did, what was her beverage of choice? My grandmother was a sherry drinker, so I found it funny when Beth told me that her grandmother didn’t go for that. Minnie was content with a cold beer or two on a hot summer day.

But Beth also sent me a fantastic photograph of Minnie taken sometime during the 1970’s. In it, Minnie is holding a drink in her hand while smiling from ear to ear. Is it possible that Minnie is holding a Manhattan cocktail? Is it possible that she also enjoyed a drink that is also my personal favorite? Or maybe I’m trying to make this story even better than it needs to be. Either way, the photograph makes me think that Minnie Miller led a wonderful life after her time in St. Louis.

And I’ll drink to that.

Minnie & a Manhattan (maybe?)
April 13th, 2017 by Cameron Collins

The St. Louis Water Towers

In the past few years, I have been fortunate for many opportunities that I have been given to share my take on St. Louis history. In presentations, tours, and talks to various groups and organizations, I’ve found that I really enjoy getting out and talking up the great history of this city. I also always try to accompany my talks with plenty of visuals, photographs, and maps. I mix it up based on what the event is, but a few images have been included in nearly every presentation I have given. One of them is this image, which features the three famous standpipe water towers located in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Water TowersThe St. Louis Water Towers

I say “famous” because just about anyone who has lived in or spent time in St. Louis has at least seen these three structures. They are standpipe water towers, and each one of them played an important role in helping deliver water to the people of St. Louis in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. All three of them rise more than 150 feet into the air, and they are hard to miss if one happens to be on a nearby highway or in a city neighborhood that happens to have one. From left to right, they are the Grand Avenue Water Tower, the Bissell Street Water Tower, and the Compton Hill Water Tower.

The notable fact about St. Louis and its three towers is that although hundreds of these standpipe water towers once existed all over the country, only seven remain standing today. St. Louis has three of them, with Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, and Louisville rounding out other four. This is the same fact I use in my presentations, and it always gets a nice response from the audience. I always notice a few people nodding their heads in agreement or a few others showing pleasant surprise. St. Louis likes being a winner, and St. Louis won the water tower game.

The Grand Avenue Water Tower

The towers are special to me because along with a few other structures (such as the bear pit wall in Fairground Park), the towers are a reason I started writing this blog. Back when I started to poke around St. Louis to get a better look at it, I was repeatedly drawn to these three structures. However, while I’ve stared at these towers, photographed them, talked about them, and even climbed one of them a few times over the years, I’ve never really tried to figure out the answer to one important question:

How did they work?

Not intending to make it a blog post, I set out to learn a bit more about the towers for my own benefit. But along the way I learned some good stuff, so I decided to turn it into a quick Distilled History entry. And fortunately, few topics have been easier to research. Each tower has its own Wikipedia page, the National Register of Historic Places nomination forms for each are available online, and a simple Google search landed me a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article written by Joe Holleman that answered the very question I was asking. And best of all, the Compton Hill Water Tower even has its own foundation with plenty of information available to those interested.

Interior Views of the Compton Hill Water Tower

Prior to working on this post, I had always assumed the three water towers somehow served the same purpose as modern water towers do today. Simply put, I thought they stored water. I just never took the time (until now) to figure out where all the water was being held (the St. Louis water towers look much skinnier than today’s bulbous versions). But I soon learned that water storage was never the intended purpose. In fact, they aren’t even the same kind of water tower. The key function of the St.Louis towers was not storing water, but regulating water pressure.

According to the St. Louis Water Department, in the mid-to-late 1900’s the city utilized a system of steam-driven pumps to deliver water from water plants to consumers in and around the city. The water got around no problem, but the steam pumps created surges in water pressure. The steam pumps caused water pipes to frequently rattle and shake, and delivering water to the upper levels of multi-story buildings was difficult. To remedy this, each water tower contained an enormous (100+ feet tall, 5-6 feet wide) vertical iron pipe filled with water. The standpipe acted like a vent, with the water level rising and falling as the intensity of the water pressure in the water mains fluctuated. As a result, the water towers were responsible for allowing consumers to get an even flow of water from the city’s waterworks.

I was also interested to learn that even the masonry sheathings found on each tower serves a special purpose. Each has its own unique and beautiful exterior, and it’s logical to assume that the decorative masonry installed on each was done for aesthetic purposes. Actually, there’s more to it. The primary functions of the stone, brick, and terracotta exteriors are to protect the standpipe inside. If left to the elements, water inside the giant pipes would freeze, causing the pipes to burst like any standard water pipe would.

It’s also important to note that the water towers, especially the Grand Avenue and Bissell Street towers, represented the city’s first modern and comprehensive water distribution system. As new areas of the city suddenly had a working water supply, new builders, homeowners, and businesses began to populate new neighborhoods. St. Louis actually grew because of these water towers.

Grand Avenue Water Tower

Located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 20th Street in the College Hill neighborhood, the Grand Avenue Water Tower is the oldest of the three St. Louis water towers. Built in 1871 when Grand Avenue was still a dirt road, the Grand Avenue Tower was designed by architect George I. Barnett, who also designed the Old Courthouse, Henry Shaw’s Tower The Grand Water Tower in Compton & DryGrove House, and the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. Interestingly, the Grand Water Tower was commissioned when a man named Thomas Whitman, the brother of the poet Walt Whitman, worked as an engineer for the St. Louis Water Department. The Grand Water Tower served St. Louis until 1912 when the city installed a modern pump system that delivered water at an even pressure and the need for the tower was eliminated. Soon after, the iron standpipe and spiral interior staircase were removed. In the 1920’s, lights were installed atop the Grand Water Tower and were used as aviation beacons. According to the tower’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form, some in the city government wanted the tower razed in the 1930’s, but a group of local businessmen successfully “agitated to have it restored”. Today, the Grand Water Tower may need a coat of paint or two, but it continues to stand tall in north city. It can also lay claim to being the tallest free-standing Corinthian column in the world.

Bissell Street Water Tower

Located just a couple blocks east of the Grand Water Tower, the Bissell Street Water Tower stands at the intersection of Bissell Street and Blair Avenue in North St. Louis City. Completed in 1886, the Bissell Street Water Tower (or “Red” Tower as it is commonly called) was designed by William S. Eames, the deputy The Bissell Street Water Towercommissioner of public buildings at the time. Built to supplement the nearby Grand Avenue Water Tower, both towers were located near the Bissell Point Plant, the city’s first water treatment facility. Standing at 194 feet tall, the Bissell Street Tower is the tallest of the three water towers in St. Louis (and it’s also taller than the four found in other cities).  Set in a circular plaza 67 feet in diameter, the “New Red” tower (as it is also known) is my personal favorite. But the New Red Tower doesn’t seen to get as much attention as the others, perhaps due to the fact that it sits off the beaten path. And maybe as a result, it has spent more time under threat of demolition than the other two. After being removed from service in 1912 (the same year as the Grand ower), the Bissell Tower spent much of the 1900’s under the threat of demolition. Efforts were made by the city in the 1950’s and 1960’s to have it razed. Fortunately, a study concluded that restoring the tower would not be significantly more expensive than tearing it down. With help from a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the tower was restored in the 1970’s and continues to stand today.

Compton Hill Water Tower

The youngest of the three water towers, the Compton Hill Water Tower was built in 1898. It was designed by architect Harvey Ellis, a man who had a hand in Theodore Link’s winning design for St. Louis’s Union Station. Located in Reservoir Park at the intersection of South Grand and Russell, the Compton The Compton Hill Water TowerHill Water Tower stands 179 feet tall. It remained in service until 1929. Along with being a magnificent icon in South St. Louis, the Compton Hill Water Tower is also special because it’s the only tower open to the public. On one Saturday each month (and on evenings with a full moon), the Water Tower Park & Preservation Society will let people in to climb the 198 stairs to an observation room and get a fantastic 360-degree view of St. Louis. It’s the same thing people were doing 113 years ago, when thousands of visitors climbed the tower during the summer of the 1904 World’s Fair. From the top, the 28-million gallon Compton Reservoir can’t be missed, a reservoir that still provides water to residents of the city. The Compton Hill Water Tower also shares Reservoir Park with the a large bronze sculpture known as “The Naked Truth”. Designed by Berlin sculptor Wilhelm Wandschneider, the Naked Truth honors the German-American press in St. Louis. Due to the statue’s nudity, the Naked Truth created a bit of controversy when the design was unveiled.The Drink

Tower Pub

Getting a drink to celebrate the three water towers was tough. Not a single (and I mean not one) drinking establishment exists near any of them. Well, the Compton Hill Tower has a few bars within a few blocks, but nothing that really relates to the iconic structure. And as many know, the neighborhood around the Grand and Bissell Towers is a struggling one. As a result, I decided to get my drink at a place that at least shares a word with what I had been thinking about: Tower Pub on Morganford.

I actually go to Tower Pub often. They have a nice patio and good happy hour specials. It gets too crowded for me later in the evening, but it’s a pleasant south city hangout. And along with toasting water towers, I had another exciting reason to share a few Urban Chestnuts with friends. Yesterday (April 13, 2017), was the day I finally could hold my new book with my own two A Beer at Tower Pubhands. After picking up cases of Lost Treasures of St. Louis from my publisher, I made sure to get out and celebrate two years of hard work (and I may have celebrated a bit too much). I’ll have more to share about that project in the future, but please consider purchasing a copy in the time being. Signed copies can be purchased in the Distilled History Store (the link is also at the top of the page), but the book is available in bookstores and other retail outlets as well. I’ll also have plenty of events and signings in the coming months.

As for the water towers, I recommend getting out and taking a closer look at these fine structures (and be sure to climb the Compton tower). All three were made City Landmarks in 1966, and they each hold a special place in the story of St. Louis.

The Compton Hill Water Tower in 1890
The Bissell Street Water Tower
The Grand Avenue Water Tower
March 2nd, 2017 by Cameron Collins

The Hero of the Southern Hotel Fire

Lost Treasures of St. Louis

I know I must sound like a broken record, but please pardon my lack of activity here (again). But this time, I think I have a pretty good reason. I am happy to announce that I have a book coming out on April 15, 2017.

It’s not Distilled History in book form (baby steps), but it was this blog that prompted a publisher to reach out and ask if I’d like to take on a special project. The book is titled Lost Treasures of St. Louis, and it’s a fun look back at many of the restaurants, amusement parks, movie theaters, and other St. Louis memories that are no longer with us. The project took hundreds of hours of my life over the span of eighteen months, and I simply couldn’t keep Distilled History going at the same time. Now that it’s done, I plan to get back to blogging here as much as I can. In the meantime, pre-orders are now available at the “Store” link at the top of the page.

Anyway, I’m excited to get back to the great stories (and watering holes) St. Louis has to offer. And now that the entire archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are available online (with a subscription), finding a good story has become immeasurably easier. I still love listening the whir of microfiche machines at the Central Library, but it’s so convenient to get your history fix from a home computer. And while doing that last summer, I found something interesting.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Snorkel News

I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I forgot it as soon as my eyes landed on a 1949 article with the word “snorkel” in the title (the firefighting “snorkel”, not the thing that lets you breath under water). And seeing the debut of the snorkel in St. Louis made me think a particular fire in which a snorkel would have come in handy. That’s the Southern Hotel fire of April 11, 1877, a fire I know well since my pal at the Campbell House Museum (Robert Campbell) owned the hotel at the time. The Southern Hotel fire was a devastating event in the city’s history. Along with the complete destruction of the city’s most elegant and magnificent hotel, more than twenty people lost their lives. And many of them died because they were simply out of reach.

But the snorkel article also made me think of a particular firefighter who was a major participant in the events of that fateful night. I have always wanted to learn more about him because his story always sounded too good to be true. His name is Phelim O’Toole, and it turns out it his story really is that good.

In the spring of 1877, Phelim O’Toole was a captain of Hook & Ladder No. 3  in the St. Louis Fire Department. Born in County Wicklow, Phelim O’Toole worked as a sailor before coming to America in the 1860’s. He turned twenty-nine just a few days before he arrived on the scene that night. A member of the St. Louis Fire Department since 1872, O’Toole already had a reputation as one of the bravest men in the department. But on the night of April 11, 1877, Phelim O’Toole became the stuff of legend.

I’ll get to telling O’Toole’s amazing story in a bit, but I have to stop and make sure the other guys who helped him that night also get the credit they deserve. As I started to dig into what happened on that horrible night 140 years ago, it became clear to me that the response of the St. Louis Fire Department was probably the only thing that went right. Another firefighter named Mike Hester deserves as much recognition as O’Toole (and he did get it at the time), but I’m going to focus on O’Toole for now. I have started researching Hester’s heroics as well, and my plan is to tell his story in a future post.

I should also mention that this post was meant to be published in conjunction with the post I wrote about the Southern Hotel last summer. I recommend going back and reading that one first. It will provide a good backdrop for what Phelim O’Toole was dealing with that night. Even better, here’s a short video I put together featuring some great images and a waltz composed in honor of the hotel.

The events that unfolded in the early hours of April 11, 1877 probably began in a storeroom in the basement of the Southern Hotel. The exact cause was never determined, but as Arlen Ross Dykstra details in an article in the Missouri History Museum’s Gateway Heritage magazine in 1986, there was “no lack of combustible material” in the hotel’s basement. Dykstra points out a variety of fire hazards, including a large pile of hair (for use in mattresses), the hotel’s gas supply meter, and a baggage elevator described as “wooden and oil-soaked”. And it was this elevator that caused the night to take a very deadly turn. As the fire reached the wooden elevator shaft, the fire was sucked to the top floors of the hotel almost immediately. As the fire quickly spread to the hotel’s upper hallways, the 500-room Southern Hotel began to burn up from the basement and down from the top floors at the same exact time.

Phelim O'TooleBy the time hotel employees became aware of the situation unfolding around them, the fire was already out of control. Although men such as Charles Shephard, one of the hotel proprietors, and George Ford, the night clerk, sprung into action as soon as the fire was discovered, it wasn’t enough. Already undermanned due to the late hour, hotel employees failed to adequately warn hotel guests, the key to the city fire alarm telegraph box couldn’t be found, and heat-sensing mechanical alarms didn’t activate (the sensors were turned up too high by employees frustrated with false alarms). Furthermore, the flaming elevator shaft was located next to the hotel’s primary staircase. Before many guests were aware of their predicament, the hotel’s primary route for escape was already lost.

As hotel employees abandoned efforts to extinguish the spreading fire and fled, most of the estimated 650 guests, residents, and employees located on the hotel’s lower floors had been alerted and were able to escape without much difficulty. One of them was Joseph Pulitzer, a resident of the hotel who occupied two rooms on the third floor. According to the St. Louis Globe Democrat, Pulitzer didn’t even bother getting dressed, and escaped “sans shirt, stockings, or anything else”. But to anyone watching the night unfold, it was clear that the critical scenes would play out on the hotel’s upper floors. As the streets around the hotel filled with hundreds who had escaped and thousands more who came to watch, the pleas of those trapped rained down from windows high above.

The chaos caused by a fire of this magnitude is hard to underestimate. The Southern’s chief engineer, J. E. Russell, told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat two days after the fire that he was rousted from his fifth floor room shortly after 1:00 a.m. by the sounds of women shrieking. Finding smoke seeping through the transom above his door, Russell fled his room and immediately tripped over a woman laying prone in the hallway, screaming for help and crawling frantically for a path to safety. Dropping to the floor to catch his breath, Russell found himself crawling over more than a dozen people screaming for help. Russell reported that he did his best to lead people to safety, eventually reaching the servants wing where he found many of them in a “state of panic” and “running wildly about”.

Southern Hotel Ruins

Finally, approximately twenty minutes after the fire started, the first alarm was pulled at 1:30 a.m. from a Fourth Street alarm box. Within minutes, fire carts arrived on the scene. After two additional alarms (1:45 a.m and 2:00 a.m), every fire department in the city was involved except one. Upon arrival, firefighters quickly determined the building was doomed. With the hotel’s interior made almost entirely of wood (including the duct system), and rooms lavishly decorated with flammable carpets and drapes, the fire raged unchecked from within. As firefighters rushed into the hotel’s main entrance, they found the floors and ceilings on the verge of collapse. Rushing back outside, it was clear that all emergency efforts would proceed on the hotel’s exterior only. The fire department then turned their attention to saving lives and preventing the fire from spreading to other buildings.

The Southern Hotel Fire

Other than the inferno itself, the biggest problem facing the fire department was the inability to reach those trapped on the hotel’s upper floors. While some extra height was provided by positioning ladders on top of porticos and on top of Tony Faust’s restaurant next door, many remained out of reach to ladders that could reach no higher than the hotel’s third floor.

This reality of the situation forced many to take drastic action. Kate Reilly, a hotel employee with no means of escape from her fifth-floor room, jumped from her window rather than be consumed by fire. She died instantly. Adolph Einstmann, using a makeshift rope fashioned by tying bed sheets together, attempted to scale down the exterior of the building. With his wife and mother-in-law watching from above, Einstmann made it about halfway down before the rope slipped. Before hitting the ground, he was gored by a hook mounted on the outside of the hotel. With no option but to follow, Einstmann’s wife and mother-in-law descended the rope after him. While his wife was able to reach the ground safely, her mother did not. Critically injured by the fall, she died the next day.Phelim O'Toole Sheet Music

Another man named G. Frank Gouley initially found a path to safety, but then made the tragic decision to return to his room to retrieve a cherished photograph. The fire sealed him in this time, and Gouley was forced to jump from his fourth floor window. He died moments after hitting the ground. Another man named Sidmore Hayden was one of the fortunate to have a ladder reach his window. But while climbing on, Hayden lost his footing as he attempted to step upon the top top rung. Death found him on the balcony below. The St. Louis Globe Democrat reported in the days after the fire that at least twelve people died falling or throwing themselves from the hotel.

And what may have been the most heartbreaking turn of events, a member of the British House of Commons named Lord William Felix Munster became separated from his wife of eight months while fleeing from the fire. Reaching safety, Munster learned that his wife did not make it out alive. In a fit of despair, Munster produced a revolver and fired a bullet into his head. Tragically, it was discovered hours later that his wife had in fact survived.

The Southern Hotel Fire

But a glimmer of hope was restored when a special truck known as a “Skinner escape” arrived on the scene. Drawn by horses, a Skinner escape was an early form of today’s aerial ladders, and its hand-cranked extension ladder provided the best hope for those who remained out of reach. Phelim O’Toole was the truck’s foreman (a term used for “Captain” at the time) and what happened next must have been quite a sight for the thousands of people on hand to see it.

Ruins of the Southern Hotel

After arriving and “making better time to the fire than we usually do” as O’Toole reported in his own journals, O’Toole’s Skinner escape made its first stop in front of the hotel’s main entrance on Walnut Street. With no sign of anyone in the windows above, the truck was then moved to the 4th Street side. With several identified on this side, the order was given order to stop and raise the ladder. But Skinner escapes were cumbersome vehicles, and getting a good position on the ground proved almost impossible with obstacles such as the hotel’s porch and double-car tracks in the street. As a result, when Phelim O’Toole eventually reached the top of the ladder, he found himself five feet short and five feet back from the fifth floor window (with four people inside) that he was trying to reach.

O'Toole Portrait in the STLFD HeadquartersRealizing he wasn’t able to effectively throw the rope he brought with him, O’Toole shouted for someone to pass him a bed sheet. With assurances that “I’ll save your lives”, O’Toole was able to grasp one end of a sheet thrown by a Washington University professor named Reese. With the other end tied to a bed inside the hotel room, O’Toole twisted the sheet and then swung himself off the ladder. Dangling fifty feet above the ground, and with a remarkable faith in an English professor’s knot-tying skills, O’Toole climbed hand-over-hand up the side of the hotel and into the burning hotel room. Reese and his family must have been amazed by the feat, but there was no time for admiration. Almost immediately, O’Toole had his rope around Reese and ordered him out the window. It wasn’t possible to lower Reese to the top of the ladder (which remained five feet back from the wall), so O’Toole ingeniously made Reese a part of his rescue effort. Lowering him to a position on a wider widow sill below, O’Toole brought the rope back up. As Reese’s wife was lowered next and came within her husband’s reach, O’Toole instructed the professor to shove her out to the ladder. As Reese did this, another firefighter stationed at the top of the ladder was able to grasp the woman and pull her to safety. And this was all done in the midst of a treacherous fire.

After saving several others on the Fourth Street side in a similar manner (with a few lowered completely down, bypassing a shove from Professor Reese), the Skinner escape was moved again. On the Elm Street side, a man named Charles Kennedy was spotted outside his fourth floor window. As Kennedy repeatedly announced that he was about to jump, O’Toole climbed the ladder again, threw Kennedy a rope, and shouted “No, damn it, don’t jump.”  Then O’Toole ordered Kennedy to turn around (facing the window) and hang his legs over while clutching the window sill. O’Toole reached up and fastened his arms around Kennedy’s legs like a vise. Holding tight, he shouted for Kennedy to “Drop!”. Kennedy let go, and after a bit of a struggle, was soon secured at the top of the ladder. Charles Kennedy was the last to be saved by Phelim O’Toole that night, and it happened just moments before the entire Fourth Street side of the hotel fell.

Phelim O'Toole Quote

In the end, it’s believed Phelim O’Toole was responsible for saving the lives of at least twelve people. It could have been more, but much remains unknown about that tragic night. In fact, the number of people who died in the Southern Hotel fire has never been precisely determined. The hotel’s guest book was destroyed in the blaze, and newspaper accounts had numbers varying from fourteen to more than thirty. Two days after the fire, the St. Louis Dispatch attempted to calculate the number of people unaccounted for, and the number reached was thirty-eight. However, bodies were still being pulled from the rubble, and the article admits that some survivors may have simply left town.

Phelim O'Toole's Grave in Calvary Cemetery

As for Phelim O’Toole, his heroics brought him celebrity and instant fame throughout St. Louis. Awarded with a gold medallion, a substantial monetary reward (which he promptly donated to charity), and musical performances held in his honor, Phelim O’Toole became the toast of the city. He even had a song written about him. And even today, Phelim O’Toole is remembered as one of the bravest and most revered firefighters in St. Louis history. Walk into the St. Louis Fire Department’s headquarters on Jefferson Avenue, and his portrait can be seen prominently displayed in the lobby.

Sadly, Phelim O’Toole’s career was cut short just three years after his heroics at the Southern Hotel. In July 1880, O’Toole was responding to a small fire in a vacant house on Locust Street when a fire extinguisher blew up in his hands. He was killed by the blast. Two days later, as many as 20,000 people lined the streets to pay their respects during Phelim O’Toole’s funeral cortege. Beginning at a firehouse, O’Toole was carried by a Skinner escape to the (Old) Cathedral. After the memorial service and being transferred to a hearse, more than 100 carriages and 70 buggies followed Phelim O’Toole to his final resting place in Calvary Cemetery.

The Drink

Seamus McDaniel's in Dogtown

While writing this post, I decided to reach out to the people who probably knew Phelim O’Toole as well as anybody, the St. Louis Fire Department. Phelim O’Toole is an important figure in the department’s history, and I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So, not long after I knocked on the front door of the department’s headquarters and asked if anyone could help, a captain from Engine House No 1. named Michael Corson reached out to me. It took me a while to get back to him (pesky book project), but we eventually met and shared information about the history of fighting fires in St. Louis and its most famous firefighter. It was a great experience, and I’m grateful for his and the St. Louis Fire Department’s help.

Finally, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate neighborhood in which to toast Phelim O’Toole than Dogtown. It’s not Kerry Patch, the long-gone Irish neighborhood O’Toole called home 150 years ago, but Dogtown is an Irish as St. Louis gets today. I lived in Dogtown for several years when I first moved to St. Louis, and I have many fond memories of walking just a couple hundred feet from my front door and ordering a pint of Guinness at Pat’s (now the Pat Connolly Tavern).

I have a special project in mind for the Pat Connolly Tavern, so for this post I decided to cozy up to the bar at the other Irish bar in Dogtown, Seamus McDaniel’s. I ordered a pint of Guinness, and while getting a good pour from one of the nicest bartenders around, I raised my glass to Phelim O’Toole and toasted to one of the bravest men in the history of St. Louis.

A Toast to Phelim O'TooleKey Sources:

  • St. Louis’ Southern Hotel Fire of 1877 by Arlen Ross Dykstra – Gateway Heritage Magazine
  • The St. Louis Fire Department
  • Campbell House Museum Archives
  • Countless articles published in the days and years after the fire in the Missouri Republican, the St. Louis Globe Democrat, the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 23rd, 2016 by Cameron Collins

Closing Out the 2016 (& 1904) Olympics

Dad & I at the 1980 Winter OlympicsWell, the Rio games are finally over.

And I can say that it went well. Meaning, my absurd Olympic appetite was fully sated in the last two weeks.  I watched hours upon hours of every badminton match, fencing duel, and steeplechase that I could.

During my sixteen-day obsession, I took the opportunity to post daily Olympic history tidbits over on the Distilled History Facebook page.  Many who follow Distilled History on social media may have seen a few of them, but I’m not so sure. I still can’t figure out how Facebook handles “pages”. Unlike personal pages, Facebook seems to think Distilled History is a business (despite being classified as a “personal blog”) and keeps insisting that I pay to “boost” my posts to more readers. It’s a bit frustrating because I’m really not trying to make money off the page (or the blog). I just want to use it as a place to post fun St. Louis history finds and additional content that was edited out of larger blog posts.

Anyway, since I didn’t “boost” any of my Olympic history facts, I think Facebook made sure fewer people saw them. So, I decided to combine them all into a single post here. So, this isn’t a “new” post, but I have four or five in the works that should be coming along soon.

Finally, a few of these facts are related to my post about Olympian George Eyser that was published when the Rio games got underway. Click here to get caught up on that great story.

Glen Echo Country Club

112 Years Later, Golf is Back

In the Rio games, the first Olympic gold medal in golf was awarded (to Justin Rose of Great Britain) since Canadian George Lyon won the event at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. A Canadian who didn’t pick up a club until the age of 38, Lyon amused spectators during his final round in 1904 by cracking jokes and doing hand stands while waiting for his turn to hit. The event was contested at the Glen Echo Country Club, a course that still exists in the suburb of Normandy, just west of St. Louis. Glen Echo was not only the first 18-hole golf course in St. Louis, but the first 18-hole course west of the Mississippi River. But wait, there’s more. The 1904 American golf team also included a man named Albert Lambert. Lambert’s father was Jordan Lambert, the founder of a pharmaceutical company that is known for creating Listerine. Lambert was also an aviation nut, and not only was he one of the primary financial backers of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, he is the “Lambert” in our “Lambert-St. Louis International Airport”.

They Ran on a Trapezoid

Like many events at the 1904 Olympics such as cycling, lacrosse, roque, archery, and weightlifting, George Eyser’s gymnastics events were held in the infield of the Olympic Stadium (now known as Washington University’s Francis Field). Built in 1902, the stadium could hold 19,000 spectators and featured a track that looks much different from what we saw in Rio. Unlike the 400 meter track (1/4 mile) that is standard in track & field today, the 1904 games featured a 536.44 meter track (1/3 mile). The track featured one very long straightaway, four turns, and three shorter straights. In 1984, the facility underwent a major renovation which included a new 400m synthetic track and the spectator capacity was reduced to 4,000. In the attached photograph, the octagonal “Women’s Magazine Building” (now University City’s City Hall) can be seen in the background.

The 1904 Olympic Stadium
Oliver KirkBantams and Feathers

Along with events such as freestyle wrestling and the decathlon, the sport of boxing made its Olympic debut at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. Held in the Physical Culture Gymnasium (next to the Olympic Stadium) on September 21st and 22nd 1904, the boxing competition had only seventeen boxers compete in seven weight classes. And since the event lacked world-class competition (only Americans participated), the boxing competition is not regarded as one of the highlights of the games. However, it did produce a bit of good Olympic history. Oliver Kirk, a fighter from the Business Men’s Club in St. Louis, won the gold medal in the men’s bantamweight division. But when only two boxers entered the featherweight class, Kirk fought the winner and was awarded a second gold medal. To this day, Kirk is the only man in Olympic history to win two gold medals in two separate weight divisions at the same Olympics.

Anton Heida

Austrian or American? Both.

Anton Heida, George Eyser’s primary gymnastics foe at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, has a good story to tell himself. Heida had one of the greatest Olympics of all time in 1904 when he won five gold medals and one silver medal in a single day. Heida is also the only athlete to have competed in the Summer Olympics for two different countries in the same games. An Austrian by birth, Heida competed as an Austrian during the first gymnastics competition held in July 1904. But in October 1904, Heida became a citizen of the United States. When Heida won six medals during the second gymnastics competition held on October 29, he competed an as American.

That’s a Pretty Painting! Here’s a Medal.1928 Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam

Many people aren’t aware that the Olympics used to contain art competitions. From 1912 to 1948, medals were awarded for works of art, including architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. These five subjects were even broken into sub-categories, with awards for subjects like “lyric literature”, “graphic arts”, and “municipal planning”. Remarkably, the reason why the art contests were removed from the Olympic program is not because they weren’t sports (although all art entries were required to be “inspired by sport”), but because the artists were considered professionals and not amateurs. At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, it can even be said that the stadium itself was a gold medalist. The stadium’s design was the gold medal winner for architect Jan Wils.

The Irish Whale

I was a discus thrower in high school, so as the track and field events got going in Rio, I decided to take a look at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics discus results. The winner was an Irishman named Martin Sheridan from New York. Part of a group of athletes known as the “Irish Whales”, Sheridan also won three medals in the 1908 London Olympics (one being the successful defense of his 1904 discus title). When he wasn’t throwing things for sport, he worked as a New York City policeman. I also found discus isn’t the only thing I have in common with Sheridan. When Sheridan died in the 1918 (in the notorious flu epidemic), he was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, the same cemetery my great-great grandfather is buried in. The photo below shows Sheridan competing in the 1908 games (and note the awesome garters he’s sporting).

Martin Sheridan

Dick Roth at the 1964 Tokyo OlympicsDick Roth’s Appendix

It wasn’t just the St. Louis Olympics that had me saying “no way”. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, American swimmer Dick Roth was stricken with an acute case of appendicitis just days before the swimming events started. Japanese doctors insisted on an immediate operation, but Roth adamantly refused. He also refused medication, so it was decided to simply pack him in ice and hope for the best. When he swam the 400 meter individual medley three days later, he not only won gold, he broke the world record. Interestingly, his post-swimming career has been just as interesting. In 1999, he wrote a book titled “No. It’s Not Hot in Here: A Husband’s Guide to Understanding Menopause”.


Olympic Shoes

They Didn’t Come in Gold Back Then

When I was a fledgling freshman shot putter and discus thrower in high school, I actually dropped something like $100 on a pair of shoes designed specifically throwing shot puts and discuses. Such shoes have no tread whatsoever, making it easier for hurlers to spin and slide inside throwing circles. But I also remember hiding them from my coach, because I knew he would scoff at my insistence that I’d throw farther as a result of wearing them. Well, I can say that I scored a grand total of TWO points that year, and I’ll go to my grave believing those shoes are the reason it wasn’t zero. Anyway, while flipping through old records of the 1904 Olympics, I found an A.G. Spalding advertisement for track and field gear. Back then, a pair of running shoes would cost the 1904 version of Usain Bolt a whopping five bucks.  Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $130 in 2016.

Matilda Scott Howell

It Runs (Or Maybe Shoots?) in the Family

In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the only official event in which women competed was archery. And the archery competition was dominated by one woman in particular: Matilda Scott Howell. Born in Warren, Ohio and representing the Cincinnati archers, Howell swept the field, winning gold in both individual events and the team event. Interestingly, her father also competed as an archer in the 1904 games. His name was Thomas Foster Scott, and he was 71 years old when he finished in 17th and 13th place in his two events. He may not have won a medal, but to this day, Thomas Scott still holds the record for being the oldest competitor at an Olympic games.

Dwight Davis Tennis, Anyone?

In the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, the tennis competition was held from August 29 to September 5, 1904. The event was dominated by the Americans, which makes sense since only one of the competitors (a German) wasn’t American. And although he didn’t win a medal, the American team featured a historic figure of note. Dwight F. Davis, a prominent citizen from St. Louis finished 10th in the singles event and 5th in the doubles. Today, Dwight Davis is known for his political career (he was Coolidge’s Secretary of War), and the international tennis event he helped create as a member of the Harvard Tennis Team in 1900. The tournament was originally known as the “International Lawn Tennis Challenge”. Today, the tournament is known for the trophy Dwight Davis commissioned (and paid for himself) that was awarded to the winner: The Davis Cup.

The Sport of Roque

Don’t Call it Croquet

The Olympics have always featured sports that many Americans aren’t familiar with, and the 1904 Olympics were no exception. The only time the sport of roque was contested during the Olympics was at the 1904 St. Louis games. A variant of croquet, roque is unique in that it is played on a hard surface (such as clay or packed sand) and the court is surrounded by a short wall. The fast surface allows players to apply spin to a ball and the wall can be used to bank balls (like in billiards). Croquet and roque also feature similar playing implements including mallets and stakes, but in roque “wickets” are known as “arches”. At the St. Louis games, the roque competition was held on the infield of the Olympic Stadium from August 3 until August 8, 1904. The event was won by the “Father of American Roque”, a 64 year-old from Springfield, Massachusetts named Charles Jacobus.

Abandoned Venues? Not in St. Louis!The abandoned canoeing & kayaking venue in Athens

A big knock on the Olympics these days is that host cities are forced to spend millions building event venues that are quickly abandoned once the games are over. What happens in Rio remains to be seen, but recent hosts such as Athens, Beijing, and even Sochi are now faced with high maintenance costs for facilities that are no longer needed (for example, a baseball stadium in Greece) Well, at least St. Louis got that part of their Olympics right. Not only does the Olympic Stadium still stand, it is now home for Washington University athletics. Same with the gymnasium (also at Washington University) that held the 1904 boxing and fencing events. The 1904 golf course is still here (Glen Echo Country Club), and Creve Coeur Lake, which hosted the rowing events in 1904, is still where someone can watch a regatta. The only venue that no longer exists today is the “U.S. Life Saving Exhibition Lake”, where the swimming and diving events were held. More information about this man-mad lake (created specifically for the 1904 World’s Fair), can be found in this post I wrote back in 2012.

Water Polo at the 1904 Olympics

Some Were Olympic, Some Weren’t

To this day, Olympic historians bicker about what was an Olympic sport in 1904 and what wasn’t. Organizers filled the entire summer of 1904 with all sorts of athletic contests, including handicap events (assigning advantages through scoring), high school and college competitions, and various amateur organization championships. Today, the International Olympic Committee officially recognizes only seventeen of the sports contested, including athletics, gymnastics, golf, tennis, and others. Even tug of war, a sport contested at every Olympics from 1896 to 1920, is included in that list. However, many other sports contested that summer, including baseball, basketball, water polo, lacrosse, and even hurling, are not considered “Olympic” for one reason or another.

Other Distilled History posts about the 1904 St. Louis Olympics:
Weightlifter Fred Winters at the 1904 Olympics
August 12th, 2016 by Cameron Collins

George Eyser’s Big Day at the 1904 Olympics

Clicky Thing

Here’s what I typed into Google a few days ago:

“What is that clicky thing on an Olympic bow?”

While enthralled with NBC’s archery coverage of the Rio Olympics over the past week, I kept noticing this little piece of metal (or maybe it’s plastic) on an archer’s bow flip down and “click” (it makes an audible “click”) just before an arrow was released. And I was sure Google would give me some fancy techno-archery term to describe something only what an Olympic archer would know.

Well, it turns out it’s just a clicker. Seriously. They call it a “clicker”.

Anyway, the purpose of a clicker is to let the archer know that the arrow has been drawn back enough to effectively fire it. It’s usually made of strong wire or carbon, and the audible “click” is the signal to fire away. And once again, I’m enlightened.

A Turnverein Team at the 1904 Olympics

Actually, this little nugget of information helps explain why I am so happy the Rio Olympics are finally here. The Olympics are filled with great history, and each time I watch the games, I find myself wanting to know more. So my Olympic experience is not just watching the games. I use the time as an opportunity to flip through reference books, click-through Wikipedia, and ask Google for the stories behind the sports that are played, where they have been played, and most importantly, the people who have played them. As I figure out what a “clicker” is, I’m also learning that the South Koreans are the best archers in the world (at least in the Olympics), that humans have been shooting arrows at things for over 70,000 years, and that the only sport women could participate in at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics was in fact, archery.

And speaking of St. Louis, all of this reminds me how great it is that the city I now call home once hosted the Summer Olympics.

The Horizontal Bar Competition at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics

The St. Louis games suffer a poor reputation in most Olympic histories, but it’s still fun to know we had one. Only twenty-two cities in the world have hosted the summer games, and it’s a feather in our cap to say we are one of them. Even better, we flat-out stole the Olympics from our midwest rival Chicago, the city the games were originally awarded to. That’s a story (and a good one) for another day, but I first have to tell the story of George Eyser, a story I’ve been saving since I last wrote about the Olympics in 2012.

George Louis Eyser was born on August 31, 1870 in Kiel, Germany. His family emigrated to the United States when he was fourteen, first settling in Colorado and then in St. Louis. He became an American citizen in 1894, was a bookkeeper by trade, but other than two remarkable facts, little else is known about George Eyser’s story. The first fact is that at some point in his youth, George Eyser was run over by a train and lost his left leg. The second is that despite this tragedy, George Eyser became an Olympic champion, winning six gymnastics medals (three gold, two silver, and one bronze) in a single day at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

The Concordia Turnverein Gymnastics Team in 1908

Before I get to the details of Eyser’s special day, let me set the table a little bit. A key reason why many Olympic historians believe the St. Louis games came up short is that many of the world’s best athletes didn’t bother to show up and compete. Many even use George Eyser to help make this point. If a man with a wooden leg could win gold, the guy who won silver must have been a pushover. It’s an argument that does have some merit. Getting to the middle of North America in 1904 wasn’t an easy task, and the 1904 Olympic organizers decided to stretch the Olympic events out over four months to coincide with the 1904 World’s Fair. To complicate things, organizers also broke the gymnastics competition into two separate events. One competition was held in early July of 1904, and the other in late October. As a result, many of the best European athletes decided not to make the trip. And although Germany sent a team of athletes to compete in the July competition, they didn’t stick around to compete in October.

But I believe George Eyser’s accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished. The level of competition he faced certainly wasn’t as skilled as it is today, but the sport of gymnastics was in its infancy in 1904. Despite this, Eyser undoubtedly faced athletes skilled in gymnastics. One example is Anton Heida, a 25-year old Austrian from Philadelphia who won six gymnastics medals of his own, including five golds. Heida was also the 1902 national champion in the long horse vault, and was a respected gymnastics athlete. In fact, the only event in which Heida did not win gold was the parallel bars competition. And it was George Eyser who beat him.

Concordia Turnverein

In what must have been a fascinating event to watch, Eyser and Heida also tied in the long horse vault (known simply as the “vault” in today’s Olympics), and each man was awarded a gold medal. Eyser’s performance is remarkable because unlike events that didn’t require the use of leg power, such as rope climbing or the horizontal bar, the vault competition certainly did. And the 1904 event didn’t include a springboard like it does today. George Eyser was required to launch himself over the apparatus and safely land not just once, but three times. His impressive final score matched that of a national champion who had both legs intact.

Turner Meet Headline

Another reason I’m inclined to believe George Eyser was exceptional is because of how popular gymnastics was among German Americans at the time. This was due to an actual gymnastic movement, or Turnverein, founded by man named Friedrich Ludwig Jahn at a time when Germany was occupied by Napoleon’s forces in the early 19th Century. Established for the purpose of cultivating health and vigor through gymnastics, the Turnverein movement came to America when German immigration was at its peak in the mid-1900’s. As a result, hundreds of Turnverein (also known as “Turner”) societies were founded all over the country. In large cities like St. Louis, Turner halls became the athletic, social, and political centers for thousands of German immigrants settling into a new life in America. More than a dozen Turner halls were founded in St. Louis, and each one contained a gymnasium filled with German athletes learning gymnastics, practicing gymnastics, and making gymnastics a part of their daily lives. It was also common for Turner clubs to participate against each other in organized gymnastic competitions and athletic meets, with members representing their club first and country second. And this is how George Eyser became an Olympian. Along with the South St. Louis Turnverein, St. Louis was represented by the Concordia Turners at the 1904 games against clubs from cities like New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and many others. In fact, no fewer than thirteen Turnvereins participated in the 1904 Olympics, and one must assume that George Eyser was just one of many with sufficient gymnastic ability to win gold.

Concordia Turnverein First Active Class

The popularity of gymnastics among German Americans could be one reason why the 1904 Olympic organizers decided to hold two separate gymnastic competitions. The events contested in July were restricted to Turners only, and were even referred to as the “Turner Games”. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in the days before the competition that “It will without doubt be the greatest competition ever held by Turner societies”. The Post-Dispatch also reported that the German Turnverein en route from Berlin was favored to win, but it wasn’t to be. When the German team arrived in St. Louis, it was discovered that the German athletes didn’t all belong to the same Turnverein. And since that is how the American athletes were organized, the Germans were barred from the team competitions.

Turners racing in the 100 yard dash

George Eyser didn’t find Olympic glory in the July competition. His Concordia team finished fourth in the team event (Anton Heida’s Philadelphia club won gold), and the all-around competition included track and field events that didn’t suit George Eyser’s unique disability. Not surprisingly, Eyser finished 118th (dead last) in the 100 yard dash, 118th in the long jump, and 76th in the shot put. However, despite a wooden leg, Eyser’s time of 15.4 seconds in the 100 meter dash is certainly impressive. The winner of the event, Max Emmerich of Indianapolis, won with a time of 10.6 seconds, just five seconds faster than Eyser.

Eyser & Heida's Medal Fight

On October 29, 1904, when the second set of gymnastic events began, George Eyser’s prospects for success were far better. The October events were apparatus-only, allowing Eyser to capitalize on his upper-body strength and technical gymnastic ability. As a result, he won gold in the parallel bars, rope climbing, and as mentioned earlier, tied for gold with Anton Heida in the long horse vault event. To round out his impressive day, Eyser won silver medals in the all-around and side horse, and won a bronze on the horizontal bar. Regardless of how the St. Louis Olympics are viewed today, George Eyser’s accomplishment of six medals in a single day is an impressive one. He faced quality competition in a sport that was widely contested at the time. And it wasn’t until 2008, when Natalie du Toit swam for South Africa at the Beijing Olympics, did another Olympic athlete compete with an artificial leg.

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t able to find much else about the rest of George Eyser’s life. But it certainly seems that his competitive fire continued to burn. Along with continuing his gymnastics career with the Concordia Turners, I found George Eyser in a newspaper article published six months after the St. Louis Olympics ended. It seems there is more to the story between Anton Heida and George Eyser’s Olympic competition. The article states that the 1904 parallel bars gold medal was originally awarded to Anton Heida as the result of a scoring error. But when the scoring error was identified and Eyser proclaimed the winner, Heida refused to relinquish the gold medal. And as the article suggests, the matter was likely headed to court. Unfortunately, I can find no record of the resolution.

But I have another week of Olympics, so I have plenty of time to keep digging.

The Drink

Caipirinha

With all the Turners jumping, swinging, and flipping in this post, I suppose I should be celebrating the Olympics by drinking something at least a bit German. But with the games set in Rio De Janeiro, I simply couldn’t resist toasting George Eyser with anything but Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.

Prior to the opening ceremonies of the Rio games, the caipirinha is actually a drink that I have never tried. I’ve been told often that is delicious, but for one reason or another, I’ve never ordered it. But as the Rio Olympics drew closer, I made sure to have a bottle of cachaça on hand.

Cachaça is the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil and the key spirit in the caipirinha. It’s distilled from sugarcane juice and has close ties to rum (but I’ve also been told not to call it a “Brazilian rum”). Anyway, it’s safe to say I became well-acquainted with the caipirinha since the opening ceremonies a week ago. I had a splitting headache the next morning, but it reminded me that I now have another cocktail for the bar book. It is a tart, refreshing drink that is not only perfect for Olympic watching, but for surviving the dog days of summer St. Louis is so eager to provide.

My caipirinha recipe:

  • 2 ounces Uma Gold Cachaça
  • 2 sugar cubes
  • 1/2 lime cut into half-wheels

Muddle sugar cubes and lime wheels in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and 2 ounces of cachaça (or maybe a bit more if you are in the fourth hour Olympic opening ceremonies) and shake vigorously. Pour into a rocks glass and enjoy.

And don’t forget to raise your glass to George Eyser, a true St. Louis Olympic champion.

June 30th, 2016 by Cameron Collins

The Magnificent Southern Hotel

The Southern Hotel on Plates 4 & 24

As much as I love the rich history of St. Louis, I must admit that a vivid imagination is often necessary to enjoy much of it. This city has always had an inclination for knocking down old stuff, and that fact makes it tough for many in St. Louis to recall what the streets, buildings, and people who moved among them looked like years ago.

Fortunately, I believe I’ve always had a pretty good ability to think things up. As much as I wish I could still gaze upon long-lost treasures such as the Planter’s House Hotel or Chouteau’s Mansion, I’ve never had a difficult time staring at a parking garage and imagining a vivid St. Louis street scene that occurred there 150 years ago.

And that’s what I did just a few weeks ago. I hopped on my bike, rode downtown, and worked my way to the corner of 4th and Walnut. That’s where the Stadium East Parking Garage stands today. It’s an active garage, often filled with cars and surrounded by ticket scalpers on Cardinal game days. But as I sat there and stared, I saw something completely different. I was looking at the majestic Southern Hotel, and I envisioned it dominating a bustling corner filled with people, horse-drawn carriages, street vendors, and noise.

4th & Walnut Today

Before I go into detail about that vivid scene, I should mention that one could spend days thinking about what’s happened on that corner. First of all, it’s where Fort San Carlos once stood, the centerpiece of the only battle fought west of the Mississippi River during the American Revolution (an event I wrote about in this blog back in 2013).

It’s also where many believe the famous Odowan Indian Chief Pontiac is buried. Historically significant for the military campaign he personally launched against the British in 1763 (the appropriately titled “Pontiac’s War”), Chief Pontiac was murdered near the village of Cahokia by a Peoria warrior in 1769. It’s believed his remains were brought over the river to St. Louis and interred in the ground near that intersection.

The Southern Hotel in 1869

Those are pretty good reasons to stare at a corner and wonder what once happened there, but I think the magnificent Southern Hotel, which stood on that corner from 1865 until 1934, provides many more. I should also admit I’ve been boasting about the Southern Hotel for years. The guy who owned it from 1865 until 1877 is someone I’m a huge fan of. That man is Robert Campbell, and it his house (now known as the Campbell House Museum) that is the base of operations for this blog and where I spend time as a volunteer.

The Southern Hotel in 1868

The idea behind the Southern Hotel’s construction, a project of several prominent city leaders in the 1850’s, was based in the belief that St. Louis required a world-class hotel as it rushed to become a world-class city. Profit was surely a motivation, but civic pride was the driving force behind this particular hotel. And when it opened in December 1865, the city celebrated. Marching bands played, governors visited, and glowing reports of the opening night’s gala were printed in newspapers across the nation. The Missouri Republican proclaimed it the “finest hotel in the world” and it was “the theme of many celebrated pens and tongues, both native and foreign”. It even became the subject of song: “The Southern Hotel Waltz”, which was published in 1865 by composer Albert Mahler.

The Southern Hotel Waltz

The Southern Hotel occupied the entire block bounded by Walnut, 4th, 5th (now Broadway) and Elm Streets (of which Elm no longer exists in that part of the city). The principal front and entrance of the hotel faced Walnut Street, stretching 270 feet from one end to the other. The Southern was six stories tall, with an exterior made of “Chicago stone”, which the St. Louis Republican at the time described as “magnesian stone of excellent properties”. It contained over 350 guest rooms and apartments, and employed nearly the same number of people to keep it running. It was designed in the Italianate style by the famous St. Louis architect George Barnett, who’s other notable works included the Old Courthouse, Henry Shaw’s Tower Grove House, and the Grand Water Tower.

TChief Pontiac Commemorative Plaqueo imagine what this special hotel looked like in its day, it’s important to note that the city of St. Louis at that time was a very crowded place. The population was almost exactly what it is today (about 320,000), but the city itself was much smaller. Before 1876, the city’s western boundary sat just a few hundred feet west of Grand Avenue, and Carondelet hadn’t been added yet. Although new neighborhoods had been developed away from the congested riverfront starting in the 1850’s, the city around the Southern Hotel remained densely populated. The neighborhood around the Southern was also a very upscale part of town. Grand homes and elegant buildings surrounded the hotel, especially to the north and west. It was a time when St. Louis was one of the biggest cities in America, and it could rival the glitz and glamour of cities like New York and Philadelphia.

The Southern was the most luxurious hotel in St. Louis, and if one wanted to be seen, the Southern was the place to be. If one stood on the corner of 4th and Walnut in the 1870’s, seeing a celebrated actress of the day, a business tycoon, or even a president walk through its doors would not have been a surprise. Inside, one could find Mark Twain playing billiards, Adolphus Busch sipping wine, or Ulysses S. Grant leaning against the Southern Hotel’s famous mahogany bar. In the hotel’s immense rotunda, Theodore Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, or the famous actress Lily Langtry could stride by, all of whom were guests at the Southern at one time or another. And if one was fortunate to be invited, attending a lavish banquet in honor of a prominent citizen such as James Eads, Henry Blow, or Robert Campbell was a possibility.

The Southern Hotel in 1888

Famous guests aside, the Southern Hotel was also the site of some remarkable events. The most tragic of them explains why there were actually two Southern Hotels. In the early morning hours of April 11, 1877, a fire broke out in the hotel’s basement. The result was a tragedy that rocked the city of St. Louis and became front-page news across the nation. Perhaps more than twenty guests and hotel employees were killed, many more were severely injured, and the original Southern Hotel was completely destroyed. However, the story of that fire is also remarkable for the bravery and heroism shown by the St. Louis Fire Department (and that story is coming up next in this blog).

The Southern Hotel Dining Room in 1894

Another amazing story is the Preller trunk murder.  On April 12, 1885, the manager of the Southern Hotel checked room 144 after reports of a foul odor emanating from the room. Inside, he found the decomposing body of a man stuffed inside a trunk bound with rope. The victim, identified as Charles Arthur Preller, was found wearing nothing but a pair of white underwear with the name “H.M. Books” stitched into the waistband. A cross had been carved into Preller’s chest and a placard with the inscription “So perish all traitors to the great cause” was found along with the body. The subsequent trial of H.M Brooks (who had to be fetched from New Zealand) is so fantastic that I can’t do it justice here (in other words, Preller also gets his own future Distilled History post).

Bob Wilkinson, barber of the Southern Hotel

Along with fires and murders, the Southern provided the backdrop for a host of notable events. It’s at the Southern where a man named Logan Reavis argued that the capital of the United States should be moved from Washington D.C. to St. Louis. It’s where James Eads proposed building a ship railway across Mexico, and where William McKinley caused an uproar when he did something no other president had done before: he lit a cigarette in public. In a room at the Southern Hotel in 1888, Democrats decided to nominate Grover Cleveland for President. Eight years later, Republicans used the Southern to negotiate the nomination for William McKinley. The outlaw Jesse James was rumored to stay at the Southern Hotel during his visits to St. Louis under the alias “J.J. Howard”. He came often for the purpose of racing his horses at the St. Louis Jockey Club (and he was recalled as an excellent tipper). In the years prior to becoming a publishing icon, Joseph Pulitzer lived in rooms 305 and 306 at the Southern Hotel, and he was there on the night of the tragic fire. In an article written for the paper Pulitzer would own just two years later (the St. Louis Dispatch), it’s reported that Pulitzer had to flee the building “sans shirt, stockings, or anything else”.

The Southern Hotel in 1914

Sports and recreation were also no stranger to the Southern. People gambled, drank, boasted, and challenged each other daily at the Southern Hotel. The hotel’s bar is where Adolphus Busch placed $100 bets that he could name any wine he sipped, and it’s where “Gentleman Jim” Corbett challenged John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight championship in 1892. The result of that bet was one of the most famous fights in boxing history, and the first match to require that gloves be worn by the heavyweight contenders. Even baseball can point to the Southern for some of its history. Newspaper accounts of the time reported that the Southern Hotel’s lobby is where two newspaper men helped the American League’s Ban Johnson and the National League’s John Brush settle their differences. As a result, an annual event known as the “World Series” would come to be.

The Southern Hotel in 1934

After the fire in 1877, the Southern Hotel was rebuilt (eventually) and it opened again to great fanfare in 1881. The new version was bigger, fancier, and advertised as “completely fireproof”. This newer version of the Southern continued as the city’s premier hotel, and it thrived during exciting times such when the world came to St. Louis in 1904. But cultures change, cities change, and the glimmer of the Southern began to fade in the early 20th Century. Citing declining patronage, the Southern Hotel was closed for good on August 1, 1912. Despite immediate rumors that it would soon reopen as a hotel, be converted into an office building, or even turned into a beer garden, none of them came to fruition. The former Southern Hotel spent its final two decades mostly empty or sporadically utilized as an exhibition hall for automobile shows. Burdened by taxes they no longer wanted to pay, the owners announced in 1933 the building was to be demolished.

And just two years later, a shiny new Mobil gas station opened on a pretty remarkable corner in downtown St. Louis.

The Drink
Tony Faust's Restaurant and Oyster Bar

For someone like me (someone who spends way too much time thinking about how and what people were drinking 150 years ago), places like the Southern Hotel are special. Today, great bars can still be found at hotels, but it’s not quite the same. Hotels were social centers back then, and hotels were places where 19th Century drinkers went if they wanted something other than a shot of whiskey (see: saloon) or a stein of beer (see: beer garden). Specifically, it was hotel bars that helped usher in an increasingly popular form of drink in the late 19th Century: the cocktail. St. Louis’s most famous example of this is the Planter’s House Hotel, which stood on the other side of the Old Courthouse. That’s where Jerry Thomas, a man known as the “father of American mixology”, plied his trade in the mid-19th Century.

Today, good cocktail bars are ubiquitous, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of passing one of them up in order to get a drink for this post. For one thing, parking is no fun for hotel drinking, especially at the many downtown St. Louis options. However, it’s only fitting that I make my way to a hotel bar and toast the Southern, so I chose the St. Louis Union Station’s Hilton Hotel. Thinking it’s probably closest I can get to the spaciousness and grandeur of the Southern Hotel in its prime, I can report that I wasn’t disappointed at all. Union Station’s Grand Hall, with all its tourists, light shows, and lack of cocktail snobbery (that I can provide), is a fun place to have a drink.

Union Station's Grand Hall

I ordered the New York Central Manhattan off the cocktail menu (of course), and I’ll admit I wasn’t disappointed with that, either. The price is ridiculous ($11 for Four Roses?), but I’m pleased to report it was stirred and served up without me asking for it that way.

Cheers to you, majestic Southern!

Southern Hotel Timeline

 Key sources:

  • The Campbell House Museum archives gave me enough material about the Southern Hotel to write a book about the Southern and everything that happened there. I’m considering it.
  • “St. Louis’ Southern Hotel Fire of 1877” – Gateway Heritage, Fall 1985, pages 38-48
  • Many of the anecdotes about stuff like Busch’s wine bets, Corbett’s challenge, and the presidential nominations came from newspaper articles “remembering” the Southern Hotel when it was demolished in the 1930’s. Someday, I’d like to go back and nail them down with primary sources, but I think that will have to wait for a bigger project (book) to do that. In the meantime, the September 8, 1933 and the August 15, 1934 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were a big help
  • In researching this post, I probably dug through over one hundred newspaper articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the Missouri Republican, the New York Times, and many others. I’m not going to list them all here, but if anyone would like a list, please contact me.
  • More attention to sources will be given in my next post about the 1877 fire that destroyed the Southern Hotel
October 14th, 2015 by Cameron Collins

The Indian Delegation of 1831

Nez Perce monument in Cavalry Cemetery

During a visit to Calvary Cemetery in north St. Louis a few years ago, I learned about a remarkable event in the history of St. Louis that many people aren’t aware of.

Standing off by itself in that beautiful cemetery is a monument that honors four American Indian warriors. Standing over eight feet tall, the granite carving of two eagle feathers was placed in 2003, the result of a campaign initiated by a Nez Perce Tribal historian. Two of the men it honors, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, are buried beneath it.

It’s there because of a remarkable journey the four men took in 1831, when they traveled over 2,000 miles to St. Louis from present-day Idaho. The purpose of their journey was to meet with a man they knew as the “Great Father”. That man was William Clark, one-half the famous Corps of Discovery duo, Lewis and Clark. In 1831, Clark was living in St. Louis and held the position of Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

General William ClarkAs I heard the story, the four Indians came to St. Louis in search of the “White Man’s Book of Heaven”(presumably the Bible), and the Indians believed William Clark could help them find it. The Nez Perce knew Clark well, since he and Meriwether Lewis lived with the tribe for more than a month on their journey back from the Pacific Northwest in 1806.

The delegation arrived in St. Louis in October 1831. The Indians met with Clark in his home, but over the years, Clark had lost his touch with the Nez Perce language. As a result, communication was impossible. But the Indians decided to remain in St. Louis for several weeks, living in a lodge on the north edge of town and hoping someone would come along and provide what they were looking for. That is, until the two older Indians, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, became ill and died. Prior to their deaths, both men were baptized into the Catholic faith. The two men were then interred in the burial ground next to the city’s Cathedral (known today as the “Old Cathedral”).

Reverend Jason LeeThe two younger Indians, No Horns On His Head and Rabbit Skin Leggings, left St. Louis empty-handed the following spring. Sadly, these men met the same fate on their journey home. No Horns On His Head succumbed to disease and Rabbit Skin Leggings fell in a skirmish with Blackfeet Indians. Their final resting places are unknown.

Years later, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s remains were relocated to Calvary at some time after the cemetery opened in 1854. Their final resting place was a mystery for decades until Robert Moore, a National Park Service historian, successfully traced them to an unmarked grave in the fall of 2000.

By itself, the story of four Indian warriors traveling 2,000 miles to St. Louis 184 years ago is a remarkable one. However, I knew such an idyllic tale of four men seeking God had to have more to it, and I was right. When I decided to dig a bit deeper, I found a much more complicated tale, and several versions of it. Furthermore, I discovered the Indian’s journey in 1831 would have a significant impact on the future of the United States as a whole.

I also figured out that any explanation as to why these four men came to St. Louis in 1831 is pure conjecture. Even as Indians wandered around St. Louis, conflicting opinions were being formed. The most significant of these was published two years later in the March 1, 1833 edition of the Christian Advocate and Zion City Herald, a leading Protestant journal of the time. The article is written by a man named G.P. Disoway, the secretary of the Methodist Board of Foreign Missions in New York City. Disoway had an agenda, and the intent of his article is implicitly stated in the very first sentence:G.P. Disoway Quote

The article goes on make an appeal for a “religious awakening” among the distant Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In the early 19th Century, mostly because of the rigorous effort needed to cross the Rocky Mountains, the Oregon Country had been left mostly untouched by Christian missionaries. To support for his cause, Disoway attempts to prove that the “savage tribes” not only need salvation, they desperately want it. That “proof” comes in the way of a letter written by his friend William Walker, a “half-breed” Wyandot (and converted) Indian who had also recently visited William Clark in St. Louis. In the letter, Walker claims that he was introduced to three of the Indians (one had already died) during his visit with Clark. The Indians are described as being “small in size, delicately formed, small hands, and the most exact symmetry throughout, except the head.” Walker goes on to describe the Indians as having flattened foreheads, a practice used by some western tribes to modify the shape of a infant’s head by pressing it between two boards before the skull hardens.

"Flathead" Indian IllustrationWalker further explains in his letter that the four Indians were sent as a delegation from their homeland after a white man had visited them and witnessed them perform a Nez Perce religious ceremony.  The white man told the Indians that their method of worship was “radically wrong” and the supreme being would be angered by their method of worship. The visitor then convinced the tribe that white men in the east possessed a “book containing directions on how to conduct themselves”. Soon after, a national council was called. The result was a decision was made to send a delegation to meet with the “Great Father” in St. Louis. The Indians were sure that William Clark could provide them with such a book.

According to Walker, when the four men arrived in St. Louis, Clark immediately acknowledged the visitor’s claim. Furthermore, Clark proceeded to give the Indian men a full biblical lesson, including a “succinct history of man, from his creation down to the advent of the Savior”and a full explanation of all of the “moral precepts contained” within.

At its conclusion, Disoway’s article reaches a fever pitch. In describing the Indian quest through “thick forests and extensive prairies, the four men are described as brave and “sincere searchers of truth!”:

G.P. Disoway Quote #2

It was a bold move by Disoway to use Walker’s story in his article, because Walker’s story is almost entirely fabricated. Walker was not in St. Louis at the time of the Indians visit, and he certainly never met a single one of the Indians. The most glaring evidence of this is his completely inaccurate physical description of the Indians. The Nez Perce were not small in stature, and despite their name, Flathead Indians did not practice the custom of skull manipulation. In all likelihood, Walker heard about the visit during his own travels and simply decided to make himself a participant in a really good story.

The Oregon Trail

But Disoway’s application of Walker’s letter worked perfectly. Within a year of the article’s publication, Oregon Country missionaries were on their way west. At the head of the pack was Reverend Jason Lee, a Methodist minister from New York. Within just a few years, the Pacific Northwest was inundated with Protestant missionaries and Jesuit priests spreading the word of God in one form or another.

If Walker’s version of the Indian visit was “high-wrought” (as even Reverend Lee described it), it paled in comparison to the flamboyant version it became. In what became known as the “Indian’s lament”, a man reportedly overheard one of the younger Indians make a final appeal to Clark at a banquet. Transcribing it word for word in a letter, the account eventually ended up in the hands of Henry Spalding, a Protestant missionary. Spalding used it in an 1866 speech to justify the missionary movement:

The Indian's LamentA notable contradiction to Walker’s letter (and the subsequent “lament”) is provided by Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first Bishop of the St. Louis Diocese. In December 1931, Rosati wrote a letter detailing the visit at the same time it happened. Contrary to Walker’s account, Rosati details the struggle communicating with the men, including his own six-week (and unsuccessful) search for an interpreter. In contrast to the Protestant-based version of G.P. Disoway, Rosati’s letter introduces the Catholic argument in why the Indians came to St. Louis. Most significantly, Rosati details Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s satisfaction with being “administered the sacrament” prior to their deaths.

No Horns On His Head & Rabbit Skin LeggingsRisati’s entry into this story is significant because in the years following the Indian visit, Catholics and Protestants (and even Mormons) argued over which branch of Christianity the four Indians were really looking for. Even as late as 1920, Reverend J. Rothsteiner argues the Indian visit was entirely Catholic in nature. Rothsteiner argues the Indians did not seek a “black book”, since a copy of the Bible is something that was surely available to give. Instead, what Clark couldn’t give them was a “Black gown”, or a Jesuit priest that could travel back with the four men to the Oregon Country. This version of the story, that western Indians actually sought Jesuit teachers, is reinforced by the work of another notable St. Louisan, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. In 1841, DeSmet founded the St. Mary’s Mission among the Salish Indians in present-day Montana.  Today, Father DeSmet’s final resting place is not far from where the Indian monument stands in Calvary Cemetery.

Of course, the Indian version of the visit is as important, if not more so, than any other. In an interview with Tim Woodward of the Idaho Statesman in 2002, Nez Perce Tribal Council Member (and Black Eagle descendant) Allen Pinkham rejects the view that the warriors were seeking religion. He adds that a “black book” could have meant a multitude of things, and most likely it was meant as a way to record and a convey knowledge. Even the monument that stands today in Calvary Cemetery offers a different version than Disoway or Rosati. Inscribed on the base, its stated that the Indian men sought information about the “Book of Heaven” and the religion of a group of people encroaching on their homeland.

The Oregon Territory

Nailing down a definitive reason for the Indian’s visit is something more suited to a different forum, but it must be mentioned here what the lasting impact was. As historian Francis Haines writes in 1937, the missions founded in Washington, Idaho, and Montana in the 1830’s and 1840’s are a direct result of the publication of Walker’s account of the Indian visit in 1831. Haines isn’t alone in his assessment. Nearly every account and history of the Indian’s journey (including the Indian version) agrees that the missionary movement to the Pacific Northwest was triggered as a result.

And it goes even further. A secondary impact can be seen just by looking at a map of the United States today. The permanent American presence in the Pacific Northwest, which began with explorers and fur traders, was secured by the missionaries that arrived after 1831. In 1846, when Great Britain and the United States finally decided sit down and work out their Oregon border dispute (without any Indian input, of course), British hopes of controlling even the northern bank of the Columbia River had long-since disappeared. The Americans were already there, and they weren’t moving. As a result, the border between the United States and British Canada was set at the 49th parallel, where it stands today.

The Drink

Dry Fly Washington Wheat

I love history topics like this one because they allow me to boast about historical events that St. Louis has taken part in. Even if St. Louis played a minor role, I still look forward to telling friends in Portland and Seattle that if it wasn’t for St. Louis, they’d be living in Canada.

That’s probably a stretch, but it’s certainly more realistic than the “Indian’s lament” that Henry Spalding gave us in 1866.  Anyway, It’s a perfect example of the kind of fun I like to have with good history.

Alcohol can be a difficult topic when it comes to Indian history, but I still think its appropriate that I raise my glass and offer a toast to the four Indian Warriors who came to St. Louis in 1831. To do so, I found a nice whiskey distilled in Spokane, Washington, which is not far from where the Indians likely started their journey.

And finally, consider making a trip to Calvary Cemetery to see the monument that honors the four men. It’s a beautiful monument, as I found out by writing this post, a thought-provoking one.

Nez Perce monument inscription

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 Key sources:
  • The Evolution of a Lament by C.T. Johnson, The Washington Historical Journal, Vol. 11 No. 2, April 1908
  • Ten Years in Oregon by Daniel Lee, 1844
  • The Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis in 1831 by Francis Haines, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 6 No. 1, March 1937
  • The Flat-Head and Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis 1831-1839 by Rev. J. Rothsteiner, Saint Louis Catholic Historical Review, Volume 2 No. 1, January 1920
  • A History of the American Fur Trade of the Far West by Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1902
September 23rd, 2015 by Cameron Collins

Compton & Dry in Color

No Color in Plate 42

Well, that map is still driving me crazy.

Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis, the same map that led me on an exhaustive brewery hunt earlier this summer, has completely derailed my summer plans once again. I can’t say that’s actually a bad thing, but it does mean that a dozen or more potential Distilled History ideas have to take a back seat once again.

(Note: If you aren’t familiar with Compton & Dry’s epic map, click here. Or, get to the Missouri History Museum as soon as you can.)

For a history nerd who dreamed of being a cartographer as a kid (seriously), this map infatuation of mine explains why Compton and Dry’s opus is easily my favorite item or “thing” in St. Louis history. I think about it every single day, a result of its use as my iPhone wallpaper and its prominent placement on my living room wall. It is also the most referenced source material in just about every history-related project I undertake. And what gets me in trouble is that each time I look at it, I can’t help but think up new ideas in which to have fun with it.

Like this one, which drifted into my head several weeks ago:

"Hmmm. I wonder how long it would take to color that map?"

Looking back on that moment now, I probably should have taken a moment to think about what I had in mind. Hand coloring the Compton and Dry map, all 110 plates of it, is a monumental task for a throng of artists, let alone an individual non-artist. But before I had an idea of what I had taken on, a cocktail was poured, Photoshop was open, and a gigantic map beckoned.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery on Plate 27That’s when the real delusions of grandeur began. In only fifteen minutes,I had the finishing touches applied to a single building, a brick brewery drawn on Compton & Dry’s Plate 27. A post on social media followed, and the horde of “likes” that flooded in had me instantly convinced that I was about to strike St. Louis history gold. I even convinced myself that I could finish the project in a year, maybe two.  So I dove in further, determined to soon have the 110 plates of Compton & Dry’s map in full-color glory for all to see.

Before I get to the what happened next, I want to mention that I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to “colorize” Compton and Dry’s map. I’ve seen other attempts, most notably an unknown artist who took a crack at Plate 42 with watercolors many years ago. I think it looks fantastic, but many of the buildings, homes, and roofs are painted with just a few different shades of brown and gray. I’ve also never seen examples of the technique applied to any of the other plates. I wanted to try adding color to the map (in intricate detail) using a full spectrum of color.

Fast-forward about eight weeks and here I am. After countless hours of zooming, coloring, erasing, shading, and tweaking, is my plan to color the Compton and Dry’s map in two years possible?  The answer is simple: Absolutely not.

Watercolor Colorization of Plate 42

However, I’m happy to say that I have completely finished one of the 110 plates to my satisfaction. And I am really happy with how it looks. I’m sure I missed a pixel or two, but I really did my best to make sure every single building, house, tree, sidewalk, fencepost, and blade of grass had color. I added stained glass to church windows, added sunlight to trees, and used at least thirty different shades of brick. When possible, I even tried to accurately match a few structures to the colors they wore in 1875.

Vignettes from Plate 42

But at times, it became an overwhelmingly daunting task. The first plate I chose to color contained so many trees, so many chimneys, and so many roofs. Looking back, it was the roofs the stopped me after one plate. Roofs are boring to color. But in the end, I do think it was a fun project to work on. It gave me something to (mindlessly) do as I watched a ballgame, filled in crossword puzzles, and sipped cocktails. I’ll also say that coloring is very relaxing. It’s made me realize that I few cranky people I know could use a box of crayons.

Christ Church Cathedral on Plate 42

Like my watercolor friend of the past, I chose to begin with Plate 42. It’s where my beloved Campbell House is drawn, and my office (the “real job” office) sits in a building at the northwest corner of 18th and Washington in a building constructed after the map was drawn. But Plate 42 is also crammed with tons of great history. I can’t even begin to do it justice here, but plate 42 shows us Washington University at its original location (southwest corner of 18th and Washington), the future site of City Hall (Washington Park), and the future site of the magnificent Central Library (Missouri Park). Just behind the Campbell House, the city’s first public high school (known simply as “High School” in 1875) can be seen at the corner of Olive and 15th. Finally, two long structures known as the Lucas Market can be seen running right down the middle of Twelfth Street. That market is gone today, but it serves as a reminder why Twelfth Street (now called Tucker Boulevard in that part of the city) is one of the widest streets in downtown St. Louis.

Time-lapse Video (with background music)

Most significantly, plate 42 is where the Lucas Place neighborhood appears on Compton and Dry’s map. The height of residential luxury in 1875 St. Louis, Lucas Place can rightly be called St. Louis’s first suburb, an inescapable aspect of the city today. Planned and developed by a man named John H. Lucas in the 1840’s, it was the first neighborhood to be deliberately built at a distance from  the city’s congested riverfront.

Lucas Place was at its apex when Compton and Dry drew it on their map in 1875. Along with the Campbell family, Lucas Place was home to many wealthy and prominent figures in 19th Century St. Louis. The list includes William S. Harney, one of the longest-serving Generals in American history, Henry Hitchcock, a co-founder of the American Bar Association and the first dean of the Washington University’s Law School, and Trusten Polk, a former Governor of Missouri and former United States Senator. Lucas Place on Plate 42

What’s depressing about plate 42 today is how much of it has been erased. Of the hundreds of homes, schools, churches, and buildings drawn on plate 42, only four structures remain today. Along with the Campbell House, only three churches drawn on Plate 42 still stand today: Christ Church Cathedral, Centenary Methodist Church, and St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. It’s a blunt reminder that St. Louis has literally wiped much of its history right off the map.

Finally, I wanted to mention something I couldn’t stop (humorously) thinking about the more I stared at the map. After spending countless hours looking at it, it became impossible not to notice how absurdly neat and tidy St. Louis looks in Compton and Dry’s version of it. I didn’t find myself coloring in piles of animal manure, drunken men stumbling out of saloons, or puddles of fetid water, all of which St. Louis had plenty of in 1875. I also looks nearly void of people, with only a few loitering on random corners. I know Compton and Dry drew their map to make St. Louis look pretty, but it would have been fun to color in a bank robbery or maybe some roaming livestock.

Vignettes of Plate 42

Despite my determination to get Plate 42 fully colored, I’m done with Compton and Dry for a while. My dreams of having a full-color version of the map by 2017 have been laughed off long ago. However, I’m sure I’ll pick up the pen again before too long. think I’ve kicked off a fun hobby I’ll have for years to come, and I’m sure I’ll use a bit of color here and there to support future blog posts.

But enough with all that. Let’s get to the color.

Full Image

Plate 42 in Color

Before/After Image Slider – Move (hover) the mouse left and right to view before and after versions. (Update: This plugin doesn’t seem to play nicely when viewing on mobile devices.)

Image Loupe – Drag the mouse pointer to zoom in parts of the final image.

The Drink

Saloons on Plate 42

Follow this blog, and you’ll know that each post ends with a drink that relates directly to the subject matter of the post. But Plate 42 doesn’t offer many drink options since the dozens of saloons that once dotted it are all long gone.

But the Campbell House, one of four still standing tall from Plate 42, has given me an opportunity to not only get a drink, but to give a few away.

On Friday, September 25 (tomorrow), Distilled History is teaming up with the Campbell House Museum for our annual #DrinkupTweetupSTL event. I blogged about last year’s event, and we have even more fun lined up for this year. Typhoon Jackson will be back to provide live music, free beer will be provided by Schlafly and Urban Chestnut, and free food will be provided by Caruso’s Deli. The house will be open to take a look at, and I’ll have a bunch of fun Victoria-era drinking history on hand. We’ll also be raffling off a bunch of great prizes, including a brewing history tour (led by me) and our annual grand prize, a chance to do a shot of whiskey out of a silver cup once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant.

I’ve even got a few additional perks. First of all, I’ll have a 4×5 foot enlargement of Plate 42 in full color on display for everyone to take a closer look at. I’ll also be passing out samples of my “Campbell Beer Series” and my own version of bathtub gin. This year also marks the debut of “Gus and Mary’s Answer the Bell Ale”, a new addition to the Campbell beer family honoring the many servants that worked and lived in the home during its eighty-four year run. Please consider joining us!

Campbell Family Beers
June 18th, 2015 by Cameron Collins

The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part II

Note: This is part two of a post that was originally published on June 12, 2015. Go read that one first, or you’ll end up as confused as I was when I wrote it. Here’s the link to The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part I.

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Bavarian BreweryHere’s an astounding fact. In the year 1875, no fewer than 1,095 saloons were open for business and serving alcohol to a thirsty St. Louis population.

The exact number is probably even higher, but 1,095 is what I’m sticking with because it’s how many I counted in Gould’s 1875 St. Louis City Directory. Sounds like a tedious endeavor, but I even did it twice to make sure I wasn’t crazy.

Let that number sink in for a moment. In 1875, the land area of the city of St. Louis was about one-third of the size it is now. It would triple in size the following year when the city seceded from St. Louis County (the infamous”Great Divorce”), but when Gould’s 1875 St. Louis Directory was published, the city’s western border sat just to the west of Grand Avenue. With a population of about 325,000 people living within it, St. Louis was one very crowded town.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery

Before I get to all those saloons, I’d like to mention a few other gems that showed up in my fun brewery hunt. It is a marvelous thing to flip through a book that provides a comprehensive list of who and what existed in a city 140 years ago. When I did it, I found James Eads, our famous bridge builder, living at his stately mansion on Compton Avenue. I found General William Tecumseh Sherman listed with a residence on Garrison and an office on Locust. Adolphus Busch’s listing is at the brewery he’d soon co-own with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser. A young Joseph Pulitzer, making his way just a few years before he’d purchase the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is renting a room at the Southern Hotel.

Cherokee & Koch Today

Along with the twenty-nine breweries St. Louis detailed in this (and the previous) post, St. Louis also contained fourteen malt houses and forty-three wholesale liquor dealers. Booze aside, St. Louis offered a kaleidoscope of people living and working, including twenty-six of them who could put shoes on your horse. Need a wig? Ten human hair dealers could get you the key ingredient, and one offered fake hair if the real stuff gave you the creeps. Better pack your long johns if traveling to St. Louis in 1875, because the city offered only three underwear manufacturers. Gould’s informed me St. Louis had two Turkish baths, four fresco painters, one submarine diver, fifty-nine dentists, and two draughtsmen. One of them, a talented artist named Camille Dry, resided in a room at 414 Olive.

I even found trades that had never heard of. I had no idea what a “thimble skein manufacturer” was, but apparently St. Louis had two of them in 1875. Assuming it had to be something to protect the fingers of a seamstress, I soon learned that if I asked for one at Waterman Brothers at 809 N. Main, I would have been handed some sort of sleeve for a wagon axle. Good to know.

Plate 7

But let’s get back to that staggering number of saloons. To clarify, Gould’s seems to use “Saloons” as an all-inclusive heading for any type of drinking establishment, including beer gardens, hotel bars, taverns, and maybe even brothels. That’s really not fair to the brewers, because a “saloon” in 1875 was usually a much shabbier place to be than a pleasant-sounding “beer garden”. Either way, there’s no doubt a drink was never far out of reach. If my math is right, St. Louis in 1875 averaged nearly fifty-five saloons per square mile.

I always knew I was born in the wrong century. I can’t even get tonic water at the 7-11 near my house.

Anyway, of the twenty-nine breweries that existed in St. Louis in 1875, only one (very well-known) brewery still operates in 2015. Known as the Bavarian Brewery when Compton and Dry published their map, it was renamed the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Corporation just four years later.

Cherokee Brewery Card

Anheuser-Busch remains because it’s one of the few American breweries that managed to navigate the dark days of Prohibition. And while Prohibition did knock out 1875’s other major St. Louis brewery (Lemp), many of the smaller breweries featured in this post didn’t even make it that far. It’s a topic for a future post, but one reason is that in 1889, eighteen St. Louis breweries were sold and merged into a British-owned syndicate known as the St. Louis Brewing Association. Ellis Wainwright, introduced in part one of this post, helped put it together and became the first president of the organization’s American branch.

Wainwright’s motive behind the SLBA was to create a conglomerate that could challenge the two major breweries that had started distancing themselves from the pack. In fact, many St. Louisans aren’t aware that the Wainwright Building, our famous skyscraper downtown, came to be because of beer. Ellis Wainwright had it built to be the headquarters of his new St. Louis Brewing Association.

The Southern Breweries

Fortunately for St. Louis, 2015 almost feels like it’s 1875 all over again. Breweries seem to be popping up all over the metro area, and the number may even challenge what we had in 1875. I’ve already considered how fun it would be to write a present-day brewery companion post to this one.

But before I get to that, I need to finish what I started. Here are the final fourteen “Southern” breweries identified on Compton & Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis.

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Exclesior Brewery

Excelsior Brewery – Plate 7

Later known as the American Brewery Company, the Excelsior Brewery is one of five operating breweries visible on plate 7.

It’s listed in the 1875 City Directory at 2818 S. 7th Street. According to St. Louis Brews, Excelsior ranked ninth overall in St. Louis beer production in 1874.

Today, the former site of the Excelsior Brewery is a parking lot for Anheuser-Busch InBev.quote_line

Pittsburgh Brewery – Plate 7Pittsburg Brewery

Pittsburgh Brewery is also drawn on plate 7, and it was located at 2506 Carondelet Avenue. Today, it’s the east side of Broadway between Sidney and Victor.

Interestingly, Pittsburgh also operated a branch facility known as “The Cave”. I found no additional information about it, but it’s clearly drawn and labelled on plate 27.

At any rate, Pittsburg stick around long. It disappears from city directories after 1876.

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Green Tree Brewery

Green Tree Brewery – Plate 7

Another plate 7 brewery, Green Tree is listed the southwest corner of 8th and Sidney.  Today, it’s at 9th and Sidney.

Green Tree Brewery was originally created by Joseph Schnaider (who went on to open Chouteau Ave. Brewery) and Max Feuerbacher (whose former home still stands a short walk from the brewery’s former location).

In 1875, It’s Feuerbacher and another man named Louis Schlosstein who are running Green Tree, and it was one of the bigger breweries in St. Louis at the time.

Green Tree’s former location gives us a pretty good story. Back in 1982, Anheuser-Busch started digging around Green Tree’s former site and unearthed the cellars to the brewery, complete with an entryway to the caves beneath. Before filling everything in and converting it to a parking lot, they placed a time capsule inside. Appropriately, it was in the form of a keg.

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Koch & Feldkamp's Brewery

Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery – Plate 7

Also on plate 7,  in 1875 Louis Koch and his partner Ferdinand Feldkamp operated a small brewery just to the west of its larger neighbor, the Green Tree Brewery.

The 1875 City Directory lists it at the southeast corner of Sidney and Buell. Today, it’s Sidney and 10th.

The office building of Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery still stands today. Appropriately, it’s now the home of a bar named Big Daddy’s.

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 Anthony & Kuhn's BreweryAnthony & Kuhn’s Brewery – Plate 27

Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery is also visible on plate 7, but the entire complex is better viewed on plate 27.

Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery is listed in the 1875 City Directory at the northwest corner of Sidney and Buell. Today, Gene Slay’s Boys’ Club occupies the same site on 11th Street between Sidney and Victor.

In its day, Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery featured an enormous beer garden that could entertain up to 3,000 beer drinkers at once.

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Phoenix Brewery – Plate 39Phoenix Brewery

Drawn on plate 39 of Pictorial St. Louis, the Phoenix Brewery was located on the south side of Lafayette Avenue between the exits for I-55 and I-44. Lafayette Park can be seen just a couple of blocks to the northwest.

The Phoenix Brewery isn’t listed in the 1875 City Directory. Once one of the largest breweries in St. Louis, it had slipped out of the top ten by the time Compton and Dry published Pictorial St. Louis.  It even closed for a time in 1875 (explaining its omission from the city directory) before re-opening later in the year.  

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 Cherokee BreweryCherokee Brewery – Plate 34

Located at the southwest corner of Ohio and Cherokee, the Cherokee Brewery is drawn on plate 34.

As the authors of St. Louis Brews point out, The Cherokee Brewery was unique in that it brewed ale as well as lager. Furthermore, their lager was only available in bottles, while the ale varieties were available in draft.

Today, the stock house of the Cherokee Brewery still stands in an active south St. Louis neighborhood.

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National Brewery – Plate 11National Brewery

The National Brewery was a small operation that operated in the shadow of the massive Lemp complex that towered just to the east.

Although it’s clearly drawn and labelled on plate 11 of Compton and Dry, it doesn’t appear in city directories.

It it stood today, National Brewery would sit right on top of I-55 in south city. On plate 11 of Pictorial St. Louis, the DeMenil Mansion (alive and well today) can be seen just to the north.

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Milentz's Brewery

Milentz’s Brewery – Plate 6

Almost every one of the southern breweries are clearly drawn and labelled in Pictorial St. Louis. The Milentz Brewery is the lone exception.

A weiss brewery, it was run by a woman named Laura Milentz who took over for her husband who died in 1873.

It’s listed in the 1875 directory at 1525 Carondelet. It likely occupied one of the small structures drawn at the intersection of Carondelet (now Broadway) and Marion Street. If I’m right, a bar named Cuz’s now occupies the site.

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Arsenal Brewery – Plate 27Arsenal Brewery

Arsenal Brewery  is listed in the 1875 City Directory at the northwest corner of State and Lynch. It was actually at the northeast corner, and in 2015, State is now named 12th.

The facility was new in 1875, and Arsenal Brewery has the distinction of having its “old” facility also drawn and labelled in Pictorial St. Louis. That structure is drawn on plate 7.

Today, the former brewery location at 12th and Lynch is a parking lot.

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William Stumpf’s Brewery – Plate 27William Stumpf's Brewery

Another location that benefited from the caves beneath it, the Stumpf brewery is drawn and labelled on plate 27 in Pictorial St. Louis.

In the 1875 City Directory, it’s listed at the southwest corner of Buena Vista and Shenandoah. Today, Buena Vista is known as Lemp Avenue.

That corner is an important one in the history of St. Louis brewing. The former Falstaff Plant #10 now stands (barely) on the site. Sadly, it’s in a severe state of disrepair.

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Iron Mountain BreweryIron Mountain Brewery – Plate 8

Drawn on plate 8, the Iron Mountain brewery is listed in the 1875 City Directory  at 2301 Jackson. Today, it would sit on 3rd Street between Barton and Shenandoah.

The Iron Mountain Brewery was a small operation, and 1875 may have been its last. It doesn’t appear in any city directories after 1875.

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Western Brewery – Plate 9

The famous Lemp Brewery, known in 1875 as the Western Brewery, is drawn on plate 9 in Pictorial St. Louis, and it comes with many firsts.

The Lemps were the first to lager in St. Louis, the first to utilize the caves beneath the city for climate-controlled storage, and the first in overall beer production in 1875.

The site on Cherokee was originally used as a storage facility. In 1864, the entire operation was moved to the site and housed in a massive new brewery complex that still stands today.

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Bavarian Brewery
 Bavarian Brewery

Last but certainly not least, the Bavarian Brewery, now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev, is drawn at the top of plate 10 in Pictorial St. Louis. In 1875, Eberhard Anheuser’s brewery trailed only the Western Brewery in overall beer production.

And like the Western Brewery, the story of Anheuser-Busch deserves much more than just a few meager sentences. I’m sure both breweries (and a few others) will get more than their fair share of attention in this blog in the years to come.

The Drink

The DrinkTo close out my Pictorial St. Louis brewery hunt, I knew all along where I’d go to get a celebratory beer. I didn’t mention it earlier, but Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery, found on plate 7 of Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis, has quite a claim to fame. I learned about it a few years ago from a good (and very knowledgeable) friend at Landmarks Association of St. Louis. In fact, many of the southern breweries were easy to find because he simply showed me where they were.

Anyway, most people today are familiar with the “Boston Lager”, known as Samuel Adams. It’s available just about everywhere, including Big Daddy’s Bar, which occupies the building that used to be the offices of the Koch andFeldkamp Brewery. Sam Adams is on tap there (it’s what I ordered), and it’s easy to understand why. The St. Louis brewer Louis Koch created it there over 140 years ago.

That’s right. Samuel Adams is the “Boston Lager”, but it’s a St. Louis recipe. The Samuel Adams website even tells the story for us. Back in the 1970’s, Louis Koch’s great-great-grandson Jim Koch found the recipe in a trunk in his father’s attic. He resurrected it, launched a fledgling brewery with it, and the rest is brewing history.

But like so much else, it’s St. Louis brewing history.

Phoenix Brewery Workers

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