Distilled History

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Archive for the ‘1904 World’s Fair’ Category

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
March 9th, 2014 by Cameron Collins

The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874

My Favorite Drinking BuddyOne of the joys in my life is that my dear mother can take a joke.

My mother is brilliant, effusive, hilarious, (and in a very lovely way), kinda nuts. She’s easy to make fun of, and badgering her about one of her many quirks (such as her inclination to chitchat with everyone who crosses her path) is always good fun. But Mom can also dish it back, and this sort of back-and-forth banter always makes for an amusing evening when we’re visiting. While we’re at it, the scene is usually accompanied by gin, colorful language, and laughter as we make fun of each other and (of course) others.

Frequent topics include how one should never willingly ride in a car my sister is driving, accounts of my misbehavior during high school/college/last week, or even the time Mom sprayed eyeglass cleaner in her mouth because she thought the little spray canister was a breath refresher.

I’ll also go to work on her with an annoying little game I call “That’s from St. Louis”. It’s a simple game, especially for a guy who knows thousands of useless facts about St. Louis. Here’s how it works:

During our fun chats, all I do is wait for my mother to say something that I can relate to the city of St. Louis. I’ll usually start with something trivial that everyone knows:

Mom & Cameron BanterIn the beginning of the game, Mom will usually respond with something simple like “That’s nice, dear”. But the key is to keep it going. The more random the fact, the better:

Mom & Cameron BanterAfter five or six of these, it’ll start to get to her. I’ll hear a “sigh” in return, or maybe I’ll get one of her “looks”. My mother adores the city of St. Louis, but the button pushing is getting to her. This is when I go in for the kill:

Mom & Cameron Banter(Snap)

Mom's Fed UpI actually have a good reason for telling the story about how I mildly torment my mother. It’s a good lead-in to this post, which is a first in the life of Distilled History. Instead of promoting something that did happen in St. Louis, I’m going to promote something that didn’t.

The Hot Dog: Not a World's Fair Creation

My dumb little game not only led me to learn that I had one of my facts wrong, but it also led me to the fun story behind a classic drink. It’s not exactly St. Louis history, but it’s drinking history. That’s one-half of this blog, so it’s good enough for me.

On the evening when I informed my (somewhat exasperated) mother that the gin-based Tom Collins cocktail was invented in St. Louis, I remember suddenly wondering if it was actually true. Although I’ve been told by a few reliable sources the Tom Collins was born here, I’ve fallen for more than a few myths of St. Louis before.

How to Mix Drinks

Others have as well, and that’s why we sometimes hear people incorrectly boast that the hamburger, the hot dog, and peanut butter were all invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. They weren’t, and minimal research will provide evidence that the three foods were around well before 1904. But all is not lost, dear St. Louis. Our magnificent fair 110 years ago can still claim the waffle ice cream cone and cotton candy.

With a bit of research, I also learned the Tom Collins cocktail also belongs in the same “Not-from-St. Louis” category as peanut butter. It turns out the classic libation of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda was almost certainly first poured in New York City.

Many claim the drink is a St. Louis creation because of a famous bartender named Jerry Thomas, the “presiding deity” of the bar at the famous Planter’s House Hotel that once stood downtown. One of the most famous hotels west of the Mississippi in the 19th Century, it’s possible that during his tenure, Jerry Thomas served drinks to notable guests including Charles Dickens, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jefferson Davis.

The claim does have merit on the surface, because “Professor” Jerry Thomas (as he would come to be known), was in fact there. He did work as the head bartender at the Planter’s House at some point in the mid-19th Century. But it’s a flimsy claim to say he invented the Tom Collins cocktail during his tenure. Not a single shred of evidence exists to support it. In fact, there is no record of how long he was at the Planter’s House, what he did (other than tend bar), or why he eventually left.

What can’t be argued is that in the years after he left St. Louis, Jerry Thomas would become the most famous bartender in American history. This happened in part because of a benchmark book he published, The Bar-Tender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. Published in 1862, it is considered the first book of cocktail recipes ever published in the United States.

"The Professor" Jerry Thomas

A significant clue that the Tom Collins cocktail is not a St. Louis creation is that the recipe doesn’t appear in the that book. The Collins doesn’t appear (for the first time in print) until the second edition, published fourteen years later in 1876. By that time, Jerry Thomas had been for years firmly rooted in his own bar on Broadway in New York City.

A second (and most convincing) clue is remarkably, a simple practical joke.

In 1874, some random fellow in the saloon-filled streets of New York City came up with an idea to provoke one of his drinking companions. It worked, and the success of the joke caused it to become a popular form of entertainment in the city. It didn’t stop there. As fast as news could travel, folks in Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and any town that could claim a bar and a guy looking to rile up his pal became a place where the prank was rehashed. It was known as The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, and it’s one of the more amusing (and well-documented) stories in the history of drinking and mixology.

An article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 13, 1874, details how the prank worked:

How the Hoax WorkedWith his friend sufficiently riled up, the two men would set forth to locate Tom Collins. Entering the crowded saloon he was directed to, the joke’s pawn would angrily demand of the bartender “Where is Tom Collins?” Already in on the prank, the bartender would direct the man towards some unsuspecting patron about to deny being familiar with anyone named Tom Collins. In the resulting confusion, tempers would flair, the joke would eventually be realized, and the crowded bar (most certainly in on the act) would erupt with laughter.

Tom Collins Ad

Of course, this sort of scene would require a round of drinks to get everyone to simmer down and heal egos.

The prank became so popular that even newspapers became participants. False sightings of the notorious “Tom Collins” were reported, advertisements promoted his preferences in hats and cigars, and articles with titles such as “That Infernal Tom Collins!” appeared frequently when the joke succeeded. People even wrote songs to memorialize the good times had with the prank.

In one humorous account, the joke caused conflict even when the victim knew what was happening. In June 1874, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed an account of a hotel patron who became quite angry when he was handed a card that said “Tom Collins wants to see you after dinner”. Already victimized by the joke two or three times previously, the man became “wrathful”. This led to “hard words” with the identified prankster, and a “first class scrimmage hung in the balance”. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

As 1874 wound down, so did the joke. The more it was staged, the more difficult it became to find someone who’d be an unknowing patsy. But the hoax has a lasting legacy that lives on today. According to cocktail historian David Wondrich (and several other sources), it’s this joke that gave us the name of the famous Tom Collins cocktail we know today. In his book Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, Wondrich asserts that the ancestor of the Tom Collins is a gin-based punch with the similar name of “John Collins”. Popular in England, the recipe was likely transported across the Atlantic by British sailors visiting New York City. However, Americans have a tendency to put their own spin on things, and before long the “John Collins” became known as the “Tom Collins”.

And it’s delicious gin that gives us the answer why.

Tom Collins Quote

In 1874, the London dry version of gin (think Bombay Sapphire, for example) that many prefer today was practically unheard of. Order a gin drink in 1874 and you’d either get Dutch Jenever or British Old Tom gin. Both are sweeter and maltier versions of the London dry everyone is familiar with today. These (delicious) versions are still around today, but London dry is now the standard (due in large part to the popularity of the martini cocktail).

Anyway, when angry guys started storming into saloons in and demanding to see a “Mr. Collins”, bartenders started putting their own spin on the joke. A “Collins” was also a drink, so holding one up and bellowing back “Here’s your Mr. Collins!” became an amusing way to enhance the prank.

Title Page of Jerry Thomas's Book

The final piece of the puzzle occurred when an unknown bartender or patron decided to refer to the drink as a “Tom Collins” instead of a “John Collins”. This likely made more sense at the time, because it was very probably that Old Tom gin (or just “Old Tom”) was used to make it.

Like the hoax that had spread from bar to saloon, and town to city, so did the freshly named drink. Then, two years after the joke took the country by storm,  Jerry Thomas sat down to write the second edition of his popular cocktail recipe book. Surely recalling his own experiences from the hoax the Tom Collins recipe was included. It would be the first time the recipe appears in print. The rest, as they say, is drinking history.

Tom Collins Recipe

The Drink

The Planter's House

The location of the drink for this post is one I have been saving for few months. The Planter’s House, named after the famous St. Louis hotel, recently opened on the on the corner of Mississippi and Chouteau just north of Lafayette Square. Frequent readers of this blog will likely become very familiar with Planter’s House, because it’s going to be featured in this blog for years to come. The first time I walked in the door, I instantly recognized that St. Louis had been blessed with another place at which I could satisfy my cocktail fix.

I knew it would be good even before that because a guy named Ted Kilgore is one of the proprietors. I don’t know Mr. Kilgore personally, but his name carries weight among cocktail connoisseurs in this town. I’ve been telling people for years that the best Manhattan in St. Louis is the one he served when he ran the show at Taste. Now it’s at Planter’s House, and I’m giddy that it’s actually possible to order a pitcher of them from the cocktail menu.

The Planter's House Tom Collins

Another aspect of the (new) Planter’s House that I appreciate is the attention to St. Louis drinking history. Not only is the name of the establishment a nod to Jerry Thomas and the original Planter’s House, but the accompanying “Bullock Room” is named after a notable African-American bartender who worked in St. Louis in the early 20th Century. That’s a guy who will be getting attention in this blog sooner or later.

I’ll be back often for the Manhattans, but the purpose of my visit was to get a Tom Collins. It’s listed as one of the “House Favorites” on the Planter’s House cocktail menu, and I’ve never had a better version. My only complaint is that this brutal 2014 winter continues. Accompanied by fresh lemon juice and orange peel, I believe a Tom Collins is most enjoyable during warmer weather.

To add to my excitement, I was elated to learn that Bol’s Genever, not London dry gin, is used in the Planter’s House Tom Collins. That’s how Jerry Thomas would have prepared it.

Served in a tall Collins glass over perfectly clear ice, the drink is ideally made at Planter’s House.

Now all I have to do is get Mom, my favorite drinking buddy, back to St. Louis so I can take her to the Planter’s House for another.

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