Stop and listen. If you want to know about St. Louis history, all you have to do is stop and listen. One of the best ways to learn about the past is to hear from the people who were there to see it. In this section, you get that opportunity.

Collected here are 50 eyewitness accounts of moments both big and small. You will hear about tragedy and you will hear about triumph. You will hear about important firsts and failed first attempts. You will hear stories from the city’s distant past and stories from the past few years.

These firsthand stories all offer unique perspectives of St. Louis. Stop and listen, and you will hear what we mean.

A Day at the Highlands

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  • A Day at the Highlands

An excerpt from an oral history with Rose Marie Chiaurro Kennedy. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

The school picnics. Oh those were great, parading to the picnics.

 

Picnic day? You got a new outfit; you made a banner with your school room number on it and everybody paraded from Gratiot School over to the Highlands. But you got three tickets. One for the merry go round, one for the airplane swings, one for the Comet. Which then was the Racing Derby, they called it the Racing Derby. Then you got three more tickets, one for popcorn, one for soda, one for ice cream.

 

And, of course, we were poor, we didn’t have anything really. But we hung around all day. We hung out there a good deal of time. As children, the ages of 8, 9, 10. You didn’t have to worry about children then like you do now. You didn’t have that much corruption.

 

So they had Pevely Dairy Day or St. Louis Dairy Day. You’d go, get a ticket, you went in the gate, for a free milk, free somethin’. Went around the back and back around the front again to get another ticket.

 

Oh, Coca Cola day, we did the same thing.

 

They had different affairs that would come up. That’s when we were real little. Just so much excitement. ‘Cause where we lived you could see the lights every night.

 

 

A Day with George Harrison

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  • A Day with George Harrison

An excerpt from an oral history with Ron “Johnny Rabbitt” Elz. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

I guess in a way I’m like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or Clark Kent and Superman, as I’m known by two names. To some I’m Ron Elz and to others, I’m Johnny Rabbitt. 

As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of our great city, I’m celebrating my 60th year in media and over all this time I’ve had many unique experiences, not the least of which was getting to spend a day with George Harrison of the Beatles in September of ‘63.

It wasn’t a big deal at the time as basically no one in the USA knew about the group, but that would all change the day after Christmas when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was officially released, and then they went on the Ed Sullivan show in February ‘64.

I may have been the first person to play that song on the radio in America as I’d been given a copy of the British 45 by George’s sister, Louise Harrison Caldwell, who did her darndest to get St. Louis disc jockeys to play the group’s songs. As music director and DJ for KXOK, then the top rock ‘n’ roll radio station in St. Louis, she’d mail me records on a regular basis, usually wrapped in butcher paper and tied with string.

I played a couple of their songs on our “Make It or Break It” feature and the audience voted both times to “break it.” But one day George, who was visiting his sister, came to call on some of our town’s radio stations. At WIL he didn’t make it past the receptionist, but that was the day of the week that I talked with record company people and George caught me just before lunch. I had him ushered into a spooky tunnel under North Kingshighway where I listened to 45s on a small portable Mercury record player and we hit it off, so we went to lunch at the Bonfire Restaurant of the Carousel Motel on North Kingshighway just north of Natural Bridge...we had roasted chicken.

Then we spent the afternoon at the almost secret private nightclub owned by Johnny Noel that was above his tire store on Easton Ave. George went for a swim in Noel’s hidden from the street, second-story swimming pool and we spent a couple of hours just talking about music. Then George was gone and 4 months later he’d be a superstar in this country, and in August ‘64, at his suggestion, I got the incredible honor of introducing them at the Beatles’ first concert of their initial American tour. It was at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. And it all started in an underground tunnel at Radio Park in St. Louis.

A Memorable At-Bat

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  • A Memorable At-Bat

An excerpt from an oral history with David Huyette and Jeremy Reiland. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

[DH] So we were walking into our seats and there was a proposal happening as we were walking in. And then we found out that that couple was sitting right in front of us. And so that was just another one of those fluky moments where we got to walk right past the guy as he’s on his knee proposing to his future wife. And then they sat in front of us. And most of the game, the Cardinals were down and so it really wasn’t an incredibly fun game to be at.

 

[JR] Initially.

 

[DH] Right, well except for the Texas fans behind us who had a blast. And then as it started getting toward the later innings, there were a few times where the Cardinals were making a comeback and then they’d get back down again and it was, I think it was the 9th inning, they tied it back up and then it became a little more exciting. But by then, a lot of the fans I think had left in the 8th inning. So, the stands around us, including the couple in front of us who had just got engaged, they had left.

 

[DH] So, it seems like maybe about half the people in our section were gone. So we were able to walk around in our section and that helped us out a lot because I just started getting this feeling that I should go stand over by the grass. And so at least half the time from the 8th or 9th inning on we were leaning up against that grassy area.

 

[JR] So as we got closer of course Freese hit the triple in the 9th which tied up the game, it went into the 10th, and then Hamilton hit a home run to take the lead; Cardinals got down to their last strike again in the 10th, and Berkman doubled to tie the game and so we got to the 11th and in the middle of the 11th, which is kind of interesting, I went to the bathroom, so I wasn’t actually at our seats when it happened. I came back, and right when I came back to the section, I was at the top of the stairs, Freese was up to bat and Dave was leaning up on the railing like he mentioned.

 

[DH] Yeah, I actually had my foot, my left foot was up on the seats, the bleachers, so I could spring off of them into the grass. It would have been a sad twist of fate if the home-run ball had actually gone into our seats because I wasn’t there anymore.

 

[JR] So I’m standing there at the top of the stairs and it’s a good 20 rows maybe in that section I would guess. And I’m just standing there watching the game not thinking anything about, well, I should be going back down to my seat and it gets to a full count and Dave notices that I’m standing there and he turns around and points at me, like, hey, get ready. Just joking around, and sure enough, that’s when David Freese hits the home run. And it goes in the air, and I’m not watching Dave at all. He’s not looking at me. You know, he jumps the fence where he’s at and he got way ahead of everybody else. I jumped from the top of the hill there as you could see. I was wearing a black jacket so you couldn’t really see my Cubs shirt. But I go run and I jump the fence. I go running towards it and it looks like if you see the video, it looks like I slid behind Dave like I knew he had it. I had no idea. I actually slid there thinking I was trying to get it. And I actually slipped. I wasn’t actually trying to slide. It’s a pretty good incline there.

 

[DH] Yeah, it’s much more than it looks like on TV.

 

[JR] Yeah, you wouldn’t guess it until you’re actually on it. And then…so I get up and I turn over and I see Dave kind of rolling over to get up and he’s got the ball in his arm and at that point I noticed he had it and just went over and kind of high-fived him and jumped up on him and Fox actually zooms in on us on TV which is another interesting story.

 

[DH] I think I got more abuse from him than I did from anybody else but I put the ball in my pants immediately because I expected to get beat up and have people grabbing at it and trying to get it away from me.

 

[JR] At that point everybody kind of knew they were seeing a pretty incredible baseball game in history and so I’d say it was a huge excitement. The energy was very high. So I think in the crowd you know, the funny thing is, you don’t really remember the sound of the crowd, it was so loud. But it was about as loud as I’ve heard any sporting event, and the funny thing is, I do remember hearing the fireworks going off and we were on the grass right after the home run. They say the stadium was shakin’ and I would bet it was.

 

[DH] When David Freese went up, and I heard the crack of the bat and I saw, you know, it was kind of a combination of hearing the crack of the bat, seeing the ball start to go out to center, and I heard the crowd start to cheer really loud and that’s when I jumped and at that point, everything went quiet for me. It was almost like being focused on something so much where you can’t hear anything. I had no idea that there were fireworks. The crowd was completely dead to me at that point, and it looks like on the video that I could see where the ball was coming down, but I couldn’t because I had rolled over the fence that I had to jump was quite high and I kind of look back and think how did I do that so easily? I don’t know. But I rolled around and I basically stood up for a split second on the grass. Everything was quiet and the ball thudded right in front of me. And the only thing I heard was the thud of the ball and then I picked it up and kind of rolled over onto it. So I was almost in a different dimension at the time because I couldn’t hear anything going on. And then Jeremy tackled me.

 

[DH] At some point you start to realize that you have a bond with the city and a bond with the team. There’s never going to be a time now where I won’t be a Cards fan and you know, it’s the same kind of thing where my son is seven and we’ll be playing catch or he’ll be doing batting practice in the front lawn, and he’ll always be David Freese or Albert Pujols, and now that they’re both traded we’ll have to fix that, but it was one of those things where he even knew, he was five at the time, but he knew that something was special and people at school were talking about it. And it’s one of those moments that will live on forever.

A Mysterious Enemy

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  • A Mysterious Enemy

An excerpt from the memoirs of H. C. Penniman

Read by Steve Kelley.

 

By the middle of June, the deaths daily were 200 to 250, and it was said that 10,000 people had left the city. Every boat coming from New Orleans was obliged to land her passages on an island, and still the death list increased. On the 4th of July, all the stores were closed, and the dealers gave up to the city all of their lime, tar, and pitch, and on the evening of the 4th, the streets were white with lime, and tar and pitch was burning on every block.

 

On the morning of the 5th, the papers reported 325 deaths on the 4th, which was the largest number of deaths in any day. That week, 83 persons died in a row of 5 tenement houses on Washington Avenue. They drank water from a pump at the corner of the street. As an experiment, the handle was removed from that pump and the number of deaths fell off to 5 or 6 a week. All the wells on the streets were closed, and the people were ordered to drink filtered river water, and the death list fell from 300 to 100 or less a day.

 

I believe if they would have drank rain or cistern water it would have entirely disappeared in the months of May, June, and July. There was 10,000 registered cholera deaths in St. Louis during all the time. When the deaths fell off to 50 a day the citizens gave it no more thought and the papers were silent about it. With cold weather it disappeared.

 

In 1850 I was a clerk in the Planter’s House, and cholera came again. The house employed 115 servants and it was here I learned how to treat it. We kept in the office a good stock of pure mustard, several gross of Brown’s Jamaica Ginger, Radway Ready Relief, and a pure article of Blackberry Brandy. If anyone was reported with cholera symptoms we went to him with the above remedies. If they were sick at the stomach we gave him a glass of warm water, a tablespoonful of mustard and the same of salt stirred in. It will empty the stomach. Then give him Radway Ready Relief or Brown’s Ginger as the severity of the case may be. If there are cramps in the limbs give the patient a hot mustard foot bath and rubbing and he will soon be on the mend.

A Serious Concern

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  • A Serious Concern

 An excerpt from the letters of Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne.

Read by Florence Monroe.

 

To William Carr Lane, the Mayor of St. Louis: 

 

"I have recourse to your authority for the redress of an abuse which I look upon as very much against the welfare of our establishment. You know, Sir, that our young ladies, day scholars, have to pass the creek that runs all around our house. The warm weather invites a number of men and boys to swimming in the creek, and every day our young ladies meet with that disagreeable sight, both coming [to] and leaving the house; and as I understand that some regulation of court forbids swimming in public places, I suppose that it is merely by some negligence of the sheriffs in discharge of their duty that it takes place.

 

As you are Sir, the father of an amiable family I need not say how much that rudeness is against the delicacy of sentiments we strive to endow our young ladies with, and I am convinced that you will be so good as to use your power to remove that obstacle.

 

At Home in the City

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  • At Home in the City

An excerpt from the letters of Elizabeth Sargent.

Read by Elizabeth Pickard.

 

"I don’t think you would like to live on a farm out here. The land is good but such bungling carts as they have. The women come in in the market wagons, sitting down in some hay or on a board put across. Why our New England people, farmers I mean...live genteel compared to the farmers here. The houses the farmers live in look like John Littlefields and they live something like them. Their carts rigged up and ride in them very much like some of the poorest plains folks. 

 

 

Your houses at Kennebunk are like city houses compared to these here, you can raise things easy to eat but to go off and travel all night to sell a few chickens alive and some other things but all night going back is no fun. I would not persuade father to come out here for anything. Perhaps he might raise things easier but he lives much more like a gentleman where he is. 

 

 

We have got quite well settled. We are boarding in Glasgow’s row in a block of 11 tenements. Ours is the third in the row. They are all built uniformly of brick four stories high. They face the river four squares back from the river. So you can imagine us situated in a room in the third story facing the river. Our room is about 20 feet wide and about 26 feet long. It has three large windows in it. The opposite side is not built up directly opposite our tenement so that I can sit at my window and see the river and over in Illinois as far as the eye can reach. It is a fine large room and commands a fine prospect. 

 

 

I am always looking to the east facing home, our dear New England home. I see the sun rise in the morning and come peeping in with its bright rays far over the far off hills of our nativity. I sometimes wish I were where the sun rises that I might be nearer home."

 

 

 

 

Birth of a City

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  • Birth of a City

An excerpt from Fragment of Colonel Auguste Chouteau’s Narrative of the Settlement of St. Louis. Read by Jean-Francois Trani.

 In consequence, [Laclède] set out from the Fort de Chartres in the month of December [1763], took with him a young man in his confidence, and examined all ground from the Fort de Chartres to the Missouri. He was delighted to see the situation (where St. Louis at present stands); he did not hesitate for a moment to form there the establishment that he proposed. Besides the beauty of the site, he found there all the advantages one could desire to found a settlement, which might become very considerable hereafter.

 After having examined all thoroughly, he fixed upon the place where he wished to form his settlement, marked with his own hand some trees, and said to Chouteau, “You will come here as soon as navigation opens, and will cause this place to be cleared, in order to form our settlement after the plan that I shall give you.”

 We set out immediately afterwards, to return to Fort de Chartres, where he said, with enthusiasm, to Monsieur De Neyon, and to his officers, that he had found a situation where he was going to form a settlement, which might become, hereafter, one of the finest cities of America. So many advantages were embraced in this site, by its locality and its central position, for forming settlements. He was occupied the rest of the winter in procuring all things necessary for the settlement—men, provisions, tools, etc.

 Navigation being open in the early part of February, he fitted out a boat, into which he put thirty men, nearly all mechanics, and he gave the charge of it to Chouteau, and said to him, “You will proceed and land at the place where we marked the trees; you will commence to have the place cleared, and build a large shed to contain the provisions and the tools, and some small cabins, to lodge the men. I give you two men on whom you can depend, who will aid you very much; and I will rejoin you before long.”

 I arrived at the place designated on the 14th of February, and, on the morning of the next day, I put the men to work. They commenced the shed, which was built in a short time, and the little cabins for the men were built in the vicinity. In the early part of April, Laclède arrived among us. He occupied himself with his settlement, fixed the place where he wished to build his house, laid a plan of the village he wished to found, (and he named it Saint Louis, in honor of Louis XV, whose subject he was expected to remain, for a long time; he never imagined he was a subject of the King of Spain) and ordered me to follow the plan exactly, because he could not remain any longer with us. 

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

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  • Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

A letter from James Gaston Brown to his grandson.

Read by Steve Stoltz.

 

My Dear Guy—

 

It is a long time since I had a letter from you. If you were here to day we would go to see Buffalo Bill and his Troupe. This morning they went through the streets of St. Louis. Buffalo Bill in the 1st carriage drawn by 4 gray horses, then next came a chariot with a band of music drawn by 6 gray horses—then came 25 mounted Indians and a pretty dangerous looking lot they were too, with their bows and arrows, faces painted, and hats made of Eagle feathers, with their hairpipe and wampum moon ornaments, all over their buckskin coats—then came 50 mountain cowboys on their fine horses, with their rifles—then came 20 Russian Cossacks from Caucasus all on fine horses,—then came on Mexican ponies 80 Mexican Greasers a pretty hard looking lot—you would not want to meet them on a road in the country.

 

Then came another hard looking lot of North American Indians—looked like Arapahos, all on fine ponies. Then came detachments of U.S. Cavalry. Then another hard looking lot of some 26 Bedouin Arabs—mounted on very elegant steeds. And then came in an old overland stage coach, a lot of worn out travelers,—then some 30 French Chasseurs and 30 South American Gaumar—and then came 40 United States Cavalry from our St. Louis Arsenal to keep the whole in order. Now I took particular pains to take these all down, so I could write you about it.

 

Now these chaps are going to exhibit themselves about a mile west of this hotel. They charge 50 cents admission—a boy like yourself 25 cents—but Lars could not get in less than half a dollar. You see these fellows have to eat, and their horses have to be fed, and I understand they eat

            -400 loaves of bread

            -1000 rolls

            -2400 eggs, boiled & fried

            -kill 3 beaver every day

            -25 bushels potatoes

            -50 pounds coffee

 

And they cleaned out all the strawberries there was in Central Market, nearly a car load besides a good many vegetables all this just fed them one day, they have I understand several elephants and some wild animals but I have not seen them, and so can not tell you about them.

           

 

 

Cannonball Special

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  • Cannonball Special

An excerpt from an oral history with Barnett Brooks. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

There was nothing like the Cannonball Special. On Sunday nights we’d go to church at Rosehill Church down on VanBuren and Monroe Avenue. The church was called Rosehill Baptist Church down there. We would get out—church would dismiss late, all us kids would go. There was a train that left St. Louis for Kansas City, Missouri Pacific Railroad, and that train carried only pullmans—mostly pullmans anyway. And sometimes it would stop at Kirkwood, but very, very seldom, and it was called the Cannonball because all trains had a name.

 

And it came through Kirkwood round about 1:00 in the morning it would seem. We would go and try to wake up to hear that train coming through, and we were honest with each other. If we heard it, we heard—if we didn’t hear it, we’d say we didn’t hear it. But you could hear that Cannonball come through Kirkwood—fast, blowing that whistle. I heard the Cannonball. You were the tops if you heard that Cannonball.

 

A lot of times, because church—we want to go to church—we’d go to church with the parents and then go to sleep in church. But we’d come home and try to stay awake for that Missouri Pacific night train that would leave St. Louis at 12:00 at night, I believe it was, and get to Kansas City early the next morning. Most of the time, they tell me, it only stopped at Jeff City. That’s how it could go so fast, but it would always blow that whistle coming through Kirkwood—down around about Woodlawn blowing that whistle. We could hear that whistle blow…Here it be coming.

 

“That’s it! That’s it! Wake up—that’s it—that’s the Cannonball.” We wake up our brothers and one thing or another. “Ya hear it?” “Yea, I heard it.” Oh, oh, —we got something for tomorrow. We’d go to school early. “I heard the Cannonball last night.” It was just the same as winning a prize on the TV show.

 

 

Climbing the Arch

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  • Climbing the Arch

An excerpt from an oral history with Percy Green. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

I become involved in climbing the Arch in protest because the government as well as the National Park Service that was the government structure, they were the ones that were building the Arch as well as the general contractor, they didn’t have any black employees nor any black construction workers.

 

So we gave him 2 weeks to hire a hundred people, and then of course, upon him not doing so in 2 weeks then we would not be responsible for what kind of demonstration that we would initiate. And so we utilized the element of surprise. We set up a picket line in front of the Old Courthouse, as a diversionary. And then we, [Richard] Daly and I, we walked on to the construction site. Civil rights people at the time pretty much dressed like the construction people, you know, coveralls, Levis, and stuff of that nature. And so we walked on the grounds.

 

First of all, we did a reconnaissance a week prior to, and then on the day that we set up the picket line and the day we was gonna climb it, we just walked on the grounds. We organized it at lunchtime, when everyone lax during their lunch walked right up to the Arch. They had a ladder going up the sides of it. It was about 300 feet up at that point and we climbed up about 125 feet and remained there. And, um, told them that we were gonna remain there until they hired the hundred people.

 

Of course we had already worked out between ourselves, Daly and I, that I was gonna come down ‘cause I had to go to work. I was working at McDonnell at the time so I had…working at night, so I had to come down. Knowing that I was going to be arrested, we had the bondspeople in place, that the moment I’m arrested I would be bonded out so I would be able to go work by 12 o’clock that night because I was working from 12 to 7 in the morning. So we had that all prearranged or whatnot.

 

And sure enough, I mean, that’s what happened, you know. We were both arrested; we were both bonded out. Daly was going to school at the time; I think he was attending St. Louis U or Washington University. He was in the school of engineering. And I went to work that night and then, of course, that made all kind of news at the time that we were there, I mean that being a national monument, you know, I mean, we had no idea that the publicity was gonna be as wide and as big as it was. 

Crashing Down

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  • Crashing Down

An excerpt from an oral history with Marion Phelps. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

 

After about 15 or 20 minutes we saw them coming in for a landing. I watched them. The altitude was not…I don’t know, it would be hard for me to say, but I would say the altitude was not more than about 800 feet. And we could see them up there and they were coming down and suddenly the right wing of the thing fell off. And you could hear people in the crowd kind of, you know, kind of, “uuuhhh,” wondering what in the world was happening.

 

But I think they thought it was a stunt because nobody seemed to be very concerned, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, we have to get out of here quick.”  Well, as it came down, as I remember, as it came closer to the ground, the other wing fell off, and we could hear it, and Judy and I say we can still hear that thing as it hit the ground with a kind of a thud. You know there’s no weight to that plane, really, and it’s hitting this dirt out in the middle of the field, not on the runway, either.

 

And then absolute quiet. And so we picked up. I didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to see any more of it at that point because we knew there could have been no survivors. So we left as fast as we could.

Crossing the Mississippi

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  • Crossing the Mississippi

An excerpt from John F. Darby’s Personal Recollections. Read by Barnes M. Bradshaw.

 When we reached the eastern bank of the Mississippi, and saw for the first time the town of St. Louis, it had even then a striking and imposing appearance when viewed from the opposite shore.

 The first thing to be done by the movers was to cross the great river; the current was strong, and the waters seemed boiling up from the bottom, and in places turbid and muddy. The ferry consisted of a small keel-boat, which was managed entirely by Frenchmen. Their strange habiliments, manner, and jabbering in the French language, had a new and striking effect upon myself and the other children, coming as we did from the plantation in the Southern country.

 Everything being ready for a start, I jumped into the boat and determined to be one of the first to cross the river; my mother objected, but my father consented, and I came. The lines were cast off from the bow and the stern of the keel-boat; as the bow of the vessel was pushed out into the stream, the current of the mighty river struck the prow with great force and power, the Frenchmen laboring at their oars with an activity and nimbleness impossible to describe, and which could only be fully understood by being seen. Every portion of the body,—every muscle, in fact,—was brought into play; each oarsman seemed to throw his whole soul into the work. The vessel rocked so that the trace-chains at the end of the tongue often dipped into the river; the large wagon, with its white sheet on, towered up in the air in the middle of the Mississippi.

 Meanwhile, the Frenchmen, with great vivacity and animation talked, cursed, and swore in French, “prenegard,” “sacre,”!—so that the enterprise seemed a dangerous and hazardous undertaking. Nevertheless these trusty oarsmen brought us safely to the shore, and landed us on a sand beach about one hundred feet south of Market Street. At that time the beach extended from the foot of Market Street for about four or five hundred feet eastwardly before striking the water in the river. It took these primitive ferrymen three days to ferry my father with his family and effects across the river, at a cost to him of about fifty dollars for ferriage.

Dear Santa

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  • Dear Santa

A letter from Martha F. Cunliff, printed in Betty Burnett’s book St. Louis at War.

Read by Shannon Sowell.

 

Dear Santa,

 

A lot of serious thinking went into this letter before I finally decided what I wanted this Christmas. At first I thought I’d ask for victory and peace—but those are things that must be won and are not to be had merely for the wishing. Then I knew what I wanted, not only for myself, but for thousands of girls like me.

 

Dear Santa, could you possibly—please—give me a whole 24 hours to spend just as I like? Just 24 hours away from the pounding roar of a rivet gun, away from the agonized death shriek of metal as it goes under the cutter. For a whole year now, ever since December 7, we victory workers have been working six, sometimes seven, days a week, and a whole day to ourselves would be heaven!

 

Would you like to know how I’d spend it? First I’d sleep late, until 9 or so. Then after breakfast, I’d go to town and shop leisurely for that devastating hat I want...and need so badly. To lunch, then, with another girl at a big hotel, where we would see a lot of old friends we haven’t seen for months.

 

Next a visit to the Art Museum to renew an old friendship with a certain pair of Ming dogs, as well as the rest of their Chinese collection. A date for cocktails and dancing, then, with Jim, and home to dress before going to dinner with Bill. We’d take our time over dinner and dance until the musicians yawned openly and laid away their instruments. There’d be a moon on the way home, and Bill would whisper all the things I want to hear him say. And when he kissed me good night, I’d know that all my tomorrows would be taken care of.

 

That’s my wish for Christmas, St. Nick—just one whole day, 24 hours out of eternity, to live just like that.

 

Martha F. Cunliff

 

P.S. Of course, you know it can’t really happen, because—Jim was killed on Bataan, and Bill—Bill’s “somewhere in the Pacific,” with no word from him in months. But there are hundreds of thousands of girls, Santa, who have the same wish, I know, so try to arrange it for them, won’t you please? Merry Christmas!

Dressed for Success

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  • Dressed for Success

An excerpt from an oral history with Stella Bouie. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

I would like to talk about how influential the time was when Homer Phillips was built. The hospital.

 

That was a wonderful time. You see, that was just before the war. And I was an early teenager and I remember when that opened, my mother got employed there. Her first professional job and she was a nurse attendant. And when that hospital opened, it was wonderful for blacks. Because it was a big brand new pretty building.

 

But anyway, the nurses, all the employees were of course college-degreed people and for my mother to go there as a nurse attendant, it was a beautiful thing to happen to us because she had put in so many hours to be taught like they do the practical nurses and she passed. And the day that she got dressed to go to that job it was just wonderful in my home. Because they had certain uniforms that they wore and my mother was a pretty woman, very pretty woman. Tall. She was about 5’ 9” and she had this light blue striped uniform on, which was long to the floor, and they wore white aprons. It was almost like, to me, as a kid, reminded me of the Dutch pictures I used to see and it was like a pinafore, the apron and yet she had this white nurse cap on too and wore white oxfords and white stockings. And she was so pretty.

 

And my father, I don’t remember what they called his work, but I remember what it consisted of. There was a clay tennis court and my mother and father used to go to work together because my dad had to be out there so very early to get this clay hardened and ready for the doctors and nurses who played tennis before they went to work or had their day off. He worked at Homer Phillips also and they had this recreation area in the back of the hospital for the doctors and nurses and the administrators to play tennis.

 

And he used to get a joy out of coming home and telling us how he had to do this ground. He used to have to wet it down good and he had a hand roller ‘cause that’s the same type of roller they used in the streets at that time before they had the machine rollers. And he enjoyed watching the professional people play tennis and he also was in charge of the grounds around there. But he enjoyed that part of it because he says as he did other work he could see these people come and go. And the nurses and doctors came from the southern schools here to work. And Howard University.

 

And I used to be proud of the stories my daddy would say of how proud he was to see these young blacks have a place to come to work and doing professional work.

 

That was her only professional job that she had that I remember her having and how proud we were. She worked between three of the children, I remember that. Between birthing them. As we girls got older we would laugh about momma gonna have a baby at the place where she worked.

 

It was wonderful. We enjoyed that. That was a lovely time of our life.

 

Driving Mr. Lewis

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  • Driving Mr. Lewis

An excerpt from the notes of J. D. Perry Lewis.

Read by Jeff Meyer.

 

So one afternoon in June 1893 I backed out of my mother’s carriage house at the rear of 3014 Morgan Street in the first successful automobile that was built west of the Mississippi River and took a drive through the western part of the city.

 

I had no license plates on the car, and no restrictions as to where and how I should drive, no traffic signs, safety glasses, stop & go signals to comply with, nor police officers to ball me out for making a U turn on Broadway. I never realized what a grand and glorious thing that was to be so free until I think about driving today. I try to get by each day without some mistake being made, such as passing up some obscure stop sign that really does no good but to get the driver into trouble.

 

The machine was an open roadster driven by an electric motor which derived its power from storage batteries under the seat. The speed was about 12 to 15 miles per hour downgrade and about 8 to 9 miles uphill.

 

To get on with my drive, after backing out of the carriage [house] down into the alley a friend got in and we drove out to Grand Avenue, then South on Grand to Olive Street, on which street cable cars ran in those days. A gripman saw us and stopped his cable train so that he could see us pass in front of him, this we did and on we went with a whirring sound of the gearing to Lindell Boulevard where we turned west for Forest Park. By this time several horse drawn vehicles were following the car but when I hit the downgrade to Vandeventer Avenue I outran them until I was almost to the park when they caught up again.

 

We drove through the park until we came to Cottage Hill which we climbed easily and stopped in front of the Cottage, got out and had some refreshments while a crowd of patrons of the resort looked over the strange contraption making various comments.

 

The return trip was just the same with the exception of the last two or three blocks from home we stalled and the crowd that gathered helped us the rest of the way by pushing.

 

Many good rides were had in the little car after that first trip and never a word from the law against me for the way I drove.

Duel to the Death

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  • Duel to the Death

An excerpt from a letter by Major Edward Dobyns, printed in the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper, February 22, 1877.

Read by Jim St. Louis.

 

Mr. Biddle, being the challenged party, of course had the right to choose the weapons, and prescribe the distance and time of meeting. The weapons were pistols, distance five feet and time 3 o’clock p.m., Friday, August 27th, 1831.

 

No objections whatever was urged by Mr. Pettis to the terms. Major Biddle was attended by Major Benjamin O’Fallon as second, and Dr. H. Lane as surgeon; Mr. Pettis by Captain Martin Thomas as second, and Dr. L. F. Linn.

 

The intelligence of the duel spread throughout the city, and an immense concourse of people lined the river shore opposite the island to witness it. The windows and the tops of the houses in the vicinity were crowded with spectators. Owing to the nearsightedness of Major Biddle and the deadly nature of the difficulty, the distance was fixed at five feet! Both parties behaved intrepidly and coolly. When they presented their pistols they overlapped!

 

Both parties stood erect; Major Biddle’s ball passed through the front of Mr. Pettis’ abdomen; one inch farther to the front would have missed him. Mr. Pettis’ ball struck Major Biddle in the center of the hip, passing in and lodging in the center of the opposite hip. Both were mortally wounded. When assured of this fact by the surgeons, like Hamlet and Laertes, they exchanged forgiveness, and were borne from the ground.

 

Mr. Pettis died the next forenoon. He was buried on Sunday, the 29th, and old inhabitants yet speak of his funeral as the largest they ever witnessed. Major Biddle survived until the following Sunday at 3 o’clock a.m.—the very morning of the day of Mr. Pettis’ burial. He was buried with honors of war at Jefferson Barracks. 

Everyone Was White

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  • Everyone Was White

An excerpt from an oral history with Patricia McKissack. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

 

I went from Turner to Robinson. I was the first and only black child in my 6th grade class. 1954. 

 

I was scared to death. Scared out of my mind. Because no kids were walking my way. Maddie Carroll was going, but her mother took her I think.

 

Mother went the day before and took me up to, to see my room. You know how they do all that before you go to school.

 

So I was…”I can go by myself.  I don’t need you to walk me to school.”

 

So Mother…I’ve always been like that, so….

 

Mother said, “Ok, but now, but if you get frightened or apprehensive….”

 

“Oh mother!” was my answer.

 

I got midway up that street and I saw this sea of white faces and I don’t see anybody that looks like me. Not a teacher; not even a crossing guard! Nothin’! Every single person I saw was white. Wheww….

 

Family Restaurant

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  • Family Restaurant

An excerpt from an oral history with Joseph Tanaka. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

They opened up a small restaurant. This was the restaurant on Jefferson Avenue. The restaurant served modest priced meals to African Americans—the working class. And I can still see a sign on the plate glass window which reads, “Meals—15 cents and up.” The business was open from 6 in the morning till 10 in the evening, 7 days a week. Most of the cooking and baking was done on a coal-fired range in the kitchen. Fast frying was done on a gas range burner behind the counter. There were 3 or 4 tables, which would seat about 4 each. From this small business venture begun in 1916, the young couple purchased the store, bought a home and a car and raised a family.

 

Then of course, World War II came along—Pearl Harbor. I was at the symphony. I was with some friends. We had gone there that afternoon and, of course, they interrupted the symphony—Japan had declared war. Well...I wondered what would happen. My friends who were with me said whatever we can do, let us know. So I went back home, we were on Berthold Avenue and I think right after that, it might have been the next day or that afternoon, the FBI came around. Just checking. They wanted to know if we had any shortwave radio. I did have. I was a youngster. I was an engineer. I was interested in radio. Come to think of it, I’d like to know where that short wave radio set is now. I think I’ll ask the government to return it.

 

We were or maybe the FBI was concerned about the restaurant, because it was called Tokyo Restaurant. We thought too that we ought to change the name. That’s why we changed it from Tokyo Restaurant to Pig Meat Restaurant. As I mentioned before, most of the customers were African Americans. Dad’s restaurant served everything from beef stew, oxtail stew and sausage, potatoes, and maybe rice was the one oriental meal that they had. But it was primarily soul food. So I grew up on kale greens and pig nose, pig tails, pig ears, pig meat. I still like sausage…. Also, dad was called Joe. I guess this is why I was called Joe…. When they liked him, they would call him Piggy because so much of the menu was pig and something that the blacks liked, which I learned to like also. So when there was a name that came up, well, let’s call it Pig Meat.

 

All of dad’s customers of course stayed with him. To them, it was fine. As far as I know, there was no trouble. The government, the FBI, the police were concerned or not. They thought there might be some violence towards the store, the Tokyo Restaurant, but there wasn’t. Of course, when we changed the name I think this helped the situation. No, there was very little. Even the suppliers of my dad’s restaurant, the meat, the fish, canned goods, flowers and all this sort of thing, there was no problem.

Fire!

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  • Fire!

An excerpt from the letters of William Belcher.

Read by David Sims.

 

You have no doubt learned the heavy calamities fallen on our city. We have that terrible disease the cholera raging in our midst, brought here by the thousands of European emigrants from New Orleans and added to this we have just had the most awful fire known in the west. A most terrible sight was it to see 23 steamboats and 300 or more buildings in blaze at once.

 

The fire broke out about 11 o’clock at night amongst the steamers and thence spread to the heavy wholesale stores on the landing and in four hours nearly half of the heavy business portion of the city was in ashes. There was a very strong wind at the time and the fire ran through block after block and terminated nearly ¾ of a mile from the first building burnt.

 

We have lost no property by the fire. Our refinery is in the northern part of the city nearly a mile from the burnt district and there are but few buildings about the refinery. We have made large expenditures for water cisterns in order to have a supply of water to guard against fire. And it is rare that we have less than 500 hogshead* of water in [the] cistern, which is iron and stone. We have also hose and hose attachments to our city water works pipe and perhaps better prepared to fight a fire than any other concern in the city. But I pray I may never have to fight such a fire as we have had here or see the like again.

 

*[hogshead—unit of alcohol measurement, anywhere from 63 to 140 gallons for each]

First Trip to the Library

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  • First Trip to the Library

An excerpt from an oral history with Marion Jenkins Brooks. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

I remember the first library that we had, which was over the City Hall that burned. It was way up those steps and there was grave question and concern in the black community as to whether blacks could go to the library. Now can you just imagine, wondering whether you could go to the library for which you paid taxes?

 

But anyway, there was a great concern about whether blacks could go or not. And Mom dressed me and my brother up, cleaned us up, combed our hair, had us shining bright and she said, “You go to the library and tell the librarian that you want a book.”

 

And we went up those steps, and we were so scared, but we went hand in hand and climbed about 30 steps to get up to the top of the library and went in and told the librarian, “We want a book.”

 

We didn’t know how to get one; we just told her that we wanted a book. And the librarian was Mrs. Decker; I’ll never forget it. And she was so dear and so kind and so patient with us and she helped us get a book, showed us what to do and invited us back again, and that’s when we found out that blacks could use the library.

 

We came down the steps and went home to momma. “Yea, we can use the library.” Which was a real discovery because many people were concerned about whether blacks could use the library or not.

 

 

 

Forced to Flee

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  • Forced to Flee

A letter from Daisy Westbrook to her daughter, printed in the History of St. Clair County, Illinois.

Read by Karmen Brock.

 

Dearest Louise:

 

Was very glad to hear from you. Your letter was forwarded from what used to be my house. Louise, it was awful. I hardly know where to begin telling you about it. First I will say we lost everything but what we had on and that was very little—bungalow aprons, no hats, and sister did not have on any shoes.

 

It started early in the afternoon. We kept receiving calls over the phone to pack our trunks and leave, because it was going to be awful that night. We did not heed the calls, but sent grandma and the baby on to St. Louis, and said we would “stick” no matter what happened. At first, when the fire started, we stood on Broadway and watched it. As they neared our house we went in and went to the basement. It was too late to run then. They shot and yelled something awful; finally they reached our house. At first, they did not bother us (we watched from the basement window); they remarked that “white people live in that house, that is not a nigger house.” Later, someone must have tipped them that it was a “nigger” house, because, after leaving us for about 20 minutes they returned and started shooting in the house, throwing bricks and yelling like mad “kill the niggers, burn that house.”

 

It seemed the whole house was falling in on us. Then someone said, they must not be there; if they are they are certainly dead. Then someone shouted, “They are in the basement. Surround them and burn it down.” Then they ran down our steps. Only prayer saved us, we were under tubs and anything we could find praying and keeping as quiet as possible, because if they had seen one face, we would have been shot or burned to death. When they were about to surround the house and burn it, we heard an awful noise and thought probably they were dynamiting the house. (The Broadway Theatre fell in, we learned later.) Sister tipped to the door to see if the house was on fire. She saw the reflection of a soldier on the front door—pulled it open quickly, and called for help. All of us ran out then, and was taken to the city hall for the night.

 

The next morning, we learned our house was not burned, so we tried to get protection to go out and get our clothes, and have the rest of the things put in storage. We could not, but were sent on to St. Louis. Had to walk across the bridge with a line of soldiers on each side—in the hot sun, no hats, and scarcely no clothing.

 

When we reached St. Louis, we tried to get someone to go to our house, and get the things out, but were not successful. On Tuesday evening at 6 o’clock our house was burned with two soldiers on guard. So the papers stated. We were told that they looted the house before burning it.

 

We are in St. Louis now trying to start all over again. Louise, it is so hard to think we had just gotten to the place where we could take care of our mother and grandmother well, and to think, all was destroyed in one night. We had just bought some new furniture and I was preparing to go away, and had bought some beautiful dresses. Most of my jewelry was lost also. I miss my piano more than anything else.

 

Freedom Secured

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  • Freedom Secured

An excerpt from Lucy A. Delaney’s autobiography, From the Darkness Cometh the Light, or Struggles for Freedom.

Read by Olivia Petitt.

 

On the 7th of February 1844, the suit for my freedom began. A bright, sunny day, a day which the happy and carefree would drink in with a keen sense of enjoyment. But my heart was full of bitterness; I could see only gloom, which seemed to deepen and gather closer to me as I neared the courtroom. The jailer’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Lacy, spoke to me of submission and patience; but I could not feel anything but rebellion against my lot. I could not see one gleam of brightness in my future, as I was hurried on to hear my fate decided.

 

Judge Bates began by saying “Gentlemen of the jury, I am a slave-holder myself, but, thanks to the Almighty God, I am above the base principle of holding anybody a slave that has as good right to her freedom as this girl has been proven to have; she was free before she was born; her mother was free, but kidnapped in her youth, and sacrificed to the greed of negro traders, and no free woman can give birth to a slave child, as it is in direct violation of the laws of God and man!”

 

The case was then submitted to the jury, about 8 o’clock in the evening, and I was returned to the jail and locked in the cell which I had occupied for seventeen months, filled with the most intense anguish. On the morning of my return to Court, I was utterly unable to help myself. I was so overcome with fright and emotion—with the alternating feelings of despair and hope—that I could not stand still long enough to dress myself. I trembled like an aspen leaf; so I sent a message to Mrs. Lacy to request permission for me to go to her room, that she might assist me in dressing. I had done a great deal of sewing for Mrs. Lacy, for she had showed me much kindness, and was a good Christian. She gladly assisted me, and under her willing hands I was soon made ready, and, promptly at nine o’clock, the sheriff called and escorted me to the courthouse.

 

Some other business occupied the attention of the Court, and when I had begun to think they had forgotten all about me, Judge Bates arose and said calmly, “Your Honor, I desire to have this girl, Lucy A. Berry, discharged before going into any other business.”

 

Judge Mullanphy answered “Certainly!” Then the verdict was called for and rendered, and the jurymen resumed their places. Mr. Mitchell’s lawyer jumped up and exclaimed: “Your Honor, my client demands that this girl be remanded to jail. He does not consider that the case has had a fair trial, I am not informed as to what course he intends to pursue, but I am now expressing his present wishes?”

 

Judge Bates was on his feet in a second and cried: “For shame! Is it not enough that this girl has been deprived of her liberty for a year and a half, that you must still pursue her after a fair and impartial trial before a jury, in which it was clearly proven and decided that she had every right to freedom? I demand that she be set at liberty at once!”

 

“I agree with Judge Bates,” responded Judge Mullanphy, “and the girl may go!”

 

Oh! The overflowing thankfulness of my grateful heart at that moment, who could picture it? None but the good God above us! I could have kissed the feet of my deliverers, but I was too full to express my thanks, but with a voice trembling with tears I tried to thank Judge Bates for all his kindness.

Gaslight Square

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  • Gaslight Square

An excerpt from an oral history with Jan Mahannah. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

I worked at the original Gaslight Bar. Frank Moskus owned that bar at that time. He’d taken it over in ‘66. The original owner was Dick Mutro and he was the first place down there and he really developed this bar for his friends. By the time I came on, Frank was doing international music and honky-tonk piano, and a lot of jam sessions.

 

And so I came in and sang in the original Gaslight Bar and also in the adjacent side, which was really the original theater for the Musical Arts building. And in that room then we could have lots of musicians and lots of people. The Gaslight Bar was a little bit smaller. And there were some wonderful nights of doing music and improvising with other musicians and all sorts of people crossed the doors. You know, from conventioneers which paid the bills but weren’t much fun to sing to. And then there were those who just loved the music and came for that. And, so we had some really interesting people in addition to ourselves that were doing music. One of them was David Amram, and David was the first composer in residence for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And he came to St. Louis because the St. Louis Symphony was doing one of his original pieces, and I believe he was conducting it.

 

When he walked into the nightclubs that night, he was followed by a Life photographer—for the magazine—and an entourage of very well known people. But on his arm was an instrument, and it was a French horn. And so Frank, because we had a lot of guest musicians, Frank walked up and he said, “Well, I see you came ready to play.” And David said, “Do you know me?” And he said, “Well, you have your calling card on your arm.”

 

And so David opened up, took the French horn off his arm, and began jamming with some of our best musicians and became a friend that came back time after time.

 

He was a great guy. He was wearing a tuxedo, and the next day he came by, we took him out for breakfast or something, and he said, “I really need to buy some clothes.” He said, “I bought this tuxedo in New York and it was secondhand.”

 

And I said, “David, it’s so thin I can see your knees!

 

And he said, “Well, if you’re the first composer in residence for the New York Philharmonic you grovel a lot!”

 

But he was a great musician and a lot of fun.

Halloween Arrest

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  • Halloween Arrest

An excerpt from an oral history with Greg Smith. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

Well there was just a big group of friends, I’d say maybe 8 of us that we all decided that we were going to go out and get dressed up, on Halloween…as women, and go to the gay bars in St. Louis which were down on Olive, just east of Grand.

 

We all got together, we went shopping and we got these clothes. You know, we had hairdressers come over and do our wigs, other friends of mine, and just made this into, the whole day into a big party up until the time we left to go out that night which I would think was probably around 9 o’clock. And then, as women, dressed as women, went to these Halloween parties in the bars.

 

It was one minute after midnight that I walked out of this bar and was going down to another place which is a coffeehouse called the Golden Gate Coffeehouse which was a gay coffeehouse for kids to go to that weren’t 21. And I was on my way down there and that’s when the cops arrested a whole bunch of us and threw us in the back of a paddy wagon and took us off down to the Clark Street police station.

 

Masquerading I think was the main charge that they were trying to hold us on. As far as I understood, you weren’t supposed to…. It was against the law to cross-dress or for a man to dress as a woman in the state of Missouri. Or maybe it was just the city of St. Louis. I don’t know but, there was this underlying law supposedly that if you wore men’s underwear, they couldn’t, you weren’t totally dressed as a woman, they couldn’t arrest you, but obviously that wasn’t true.

 

Well, we just walked out the door and I was, you know, in party mode, and was walking down to another place. And the police grabbed, I think, I’m not sure. Maybe 8, 6 to 8 of us, and put us in a paddy wagon and took us down to the downtown police station. And had a mug shot, dressed as a woman with the numbers on it and all that stuff, and, we were put in cells. And, still having a good time, I’m not scared. So this is still kinda fun and I’m with this friend of mine and we’re in the jail, and we’re singing to the other prisoners that are in there. There was this song from Gypsy, “Let Me Entertain You,” and we’re singing that and these guys are like banging on the bars and they’re having fun.

And all of a sudden this cop comes up and says something like, “If you two don’t stop this you’re going to be in serious trouble.” And I turned to my friend Michael, and I said, “You know, Michael, I think he means this, I think we better calm down and I’m gonna call my mother and father and uh, have them come get us.”

 

But we didn’t know that in the meantime, there was a whole lobby full of our friends that had gotten together to get us all out of jail that were down at the police station. So I never would have had to call my parents and have them come get me out of jail. And they had to put up their house. You know, it was the middle of the night, so you could sign a deed that your house would cover my bail to make sure I showed up in court.

 

On the way out of jail, it was like the final processing; I’m getting ready to go. And the police said, “Now I want you to take that wig off and do your best to walk out of here like a man. And I said, “You know what, I’m gonna walk out of here just the way I came in.”

 

And I got a brush out and I combed out my wig and I put on lipstick and put these earrings out of my purse that were my mothers on and there was this swinging door, and I swung open the door and there was my mother and my father standing in the lobby out there with a bunch of my other friends who were down there to get us out.

 

And, needless to say they were quite upset and they’re chasing me down Clark Street to get into the car. And I’m like running down the street in these high heels, to get to the car. We get to the car my mother says, “Now you’ve upset us so bad, you’re going to have to drive home. So as the sun was coming up and we were driving back out to Webster Groves.

 

My mother was just upset that I had taken her earrings and worn those that night. But she got those back.

 

House Parties

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  • House Parties

An excerpt from Gail Milissa Grant’s book At the Elbows of My Elders.

Read by Gail Milissa Grant.

 

House parties weren’t all as orchestrated as my parents’ wedding reception. Some were thrown together so friends could just talk and eat together. On occasion, they also offered the unexpected. A celebrity in town to perform might drop by a run-of-the-mill gathering, brought there by the local impresario or a friend. In fact, that’s how my mother met Cab Calloway, who eventually became my godfather. “It was just an ordinary party, and in walked Cab. He was so handsome and famous at the time. It must have been sometime in the 1930s when I was home from college,” my mother said. Over the years, she and Cab developed a friendship and she even introduced him to one of her dearest girlfriends from Chicago, who became his second wife and my godmother. Although his appearance that night was unplanned, it was not so unusual. The black community made sure that performers and nationally known figures had someplace to go to unwind and mingle with the locals.

 

The best clubs during those days, both opened in the 1930s, were the Club Plantation and the Riviera. The Jeter-Pillars Orchestra was the Club Plantation’s house band from 1934 to 1945 and THE big band to have for formal events when they were available. James Jeter and Hayes Pillars, both saxophonists and originally from Arkansas, directed fifteen musicians and were known for their musical prowess and professionalism. During the summers the club shut its doors because of the heat but Jeter-Pillars traveled to outdoor venues in Kansas City to play.

 

The Riviera consisted of a room with tables and chairs, a long bar, and a stage. Jordan Chambers, the proprietor, made sure all of the Negro big bands and most of the famous black performers in the United States played at his club, along with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra, when he could snatch them away from the Club Plantation for an occasional gig. He also made certain that St. Louis’s summer temperatures didn’t keep paying customers away. He had blocks of ice (hundreds of pounds’ worth, in fact) delivered to the attic and installed industrial-sized fans that swirled refreshing, “washed air” throughout the club. It was damp air and may have put a crimp in the women’s hairdos but was soothing nonetheless.

 

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, some house parties may have become less formal but they still had lots of sparkle. There were so many parties that the women joked that all they did was just sit around, waiting for the next party, until they got involved in desegregation efforts and their focus changed.

 

I was always mesmerized when my parents talked about the parties and balls they attended. It all seemed so glamorous to me. When I interviewed some of the St. Louisans, who were in their 80s, for my book, I noticed how their eyes brightened and their voices became more animated as they relived these gatherings for me. These were wonderful memories for them. But their tales were always peppered with the fact that they had to create their own fun. No place to go, nothing to do—follows me to this day when I think about those times. How they built such marvelous institutions and at the same time worked tirelessly on civil rights matters that would eventually bring an end to or drastically alter some of the very institutions that sustained them during segregation.

 

Jewish Prayer Meeting

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  • Jewish Prayer Meeting

An excerpt from Isidor Bush’s column in the Jewish Tribune, November 20, 1883.

Read by Harold Karabell. 

 

A Mr. Bomeisler, who had removed to the latter city from Philadelphia, where he had been Parnass of a small Jewish Congregation, together with Eliezer S. Block and Abraham Welgel, the latter two having just commenced business in co-partnership at St. Louis, and young Nathan Abeles, succeeded with the aid of some peddlers, who were just stopping at St. Louis over the Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 1836, to hold the first Jewish Prayer Meeting or minyan, in the Mississippi Valley.

 

They had rented a room at Max’s Grocery and Restaurant, at the corner of Second and Spruce streets, which served as Temple for these few days. Bomeisler had ordered a Sefer Torah from Philadelphia and Tephiloth at his own private expense. They had no Rabbi, every member of the minyan considered himself Rabbi, and those able to do so served in rotation as readers. Nathan Abeles even acted as Shochet, gratis, whenever his services as such were requested.

 

Bomeisler soon moved back to Philadelphia. Three members of that first minyan in the then “Far West” are still living! Eliezer S. Block, the oldest, is now 92 years; and it is both interesting and amusing to hear them relate their experiences in those early days; how they had to seek their brethren far and near to get the required number of 10 for prayer meetings or funerals.

 

Once, by mistake, or because they could not possibly find more than nine, they called in a non-Israelite with some biblical name (an Irishman!) to make the tenth man. He joined the prayer meeting, and ever afterwards punctually attended their divine service on all Jewish Holy Days.

Lacking in Manners

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  • Lacking in Manners

An excerpt from Phillip St. George Cooke’s Scenes and Adventures in the Army: Or, Romance of Military Life.

Read by William Gunn.

 

The characteristics of St. Louis, in 1827, which first struck me, were the muddiness of the streets—the badness of the hotels—the numbers of the Creole-French, speaking the French language—working on the Sabbath—a floating population of trappers, traders, boatmen, and Indians—and finally, an absence of paper currency. These were all very distinctive; and in truth, St. Louis had very little of the Anglo-American character. 

 

Rowdyism was the order of the day—the predominating influence of the street population of Indian traders and other northwestern adventurers. These men, in outre dresses, and well armed, were as characteristic in the deportment as sailors; exhibiting the independence, confidence, and recklessness of their wild and lawless way of life. All this was food for my companions on the qui vive for novelty; they were to be seen in all directions on voyages of discovery through the mud, and seemed suddenly to have become a very homogeneous element in this rare compound; and parties of officers from the barracks daily galloped into town, which they enlivened in a sort of sailor-like style. Fun and frolic then prevailed in St. Louis.

 

Listening In

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  • Listening In

An excerpt from the memoirs of George T. Desloge.

Read by Josh Smith. 

 

Not long after moving to Red Gables we got our first telephone. This was a sort of village circuit affair, all the subscribers being residents and storekeepers. It had the old style instrument, which had to be cranked to reach central. I doubt if it even had a central, but all subscribers were on one circuit and would signal each other by the number of rings.

 

The evening of the day it was installed my father undertook to test it by calling up our neighbor Mr. Gause. It was summertime and the windows were open, and the houses about one hundred yards apart. The two families were greatly entertained by the fact that although the telephone users could not hear each other over the telephone line, both families heard them perfectly through the open windows and would supply the information as to what the other had said.

 

A year or so after that the Bell system came into the town and took over the local circuit. 

Mob Takes Control

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  • Mob Takes Control

An excerpt from John F. Darby’s Personal Recollections.

Read by Barnes M. Bradshaw.

 

The news spread like wildfire through town that the negro had killed both the sheriff and constable, and persons came running to the jail from different parts of the town, greatly excited. In a very short time a crowd of between five hundred and a thousand persons collected at the jail, determined to hang the negro then and there. They demanded of James Brotherton, the sheriff, the prisoner. He said no, that the man was his prisoner, and he intended to protect him, and keep him to be dealt with according to law.

 

Instantly two or three stout men seized Brotherton and held his hands behind him, whilst another ran his hand into his pocket, took out the key of the cell in which the prisoner was confined, immediately opened the cell, brought out the negro murderer, and started with him westward out Chestnut Street. The excitement was great, and men from all points came running to join the crowd.

 

At last, as they were proceeding up Chestnut Street, an individual from the land of steady habits, and the good old State of Connecticut, who was intensely excited, shouted out, “Let’s burn him.” The word took with the multitude, and the cry went up, “Burn him, burn him.” They took him to two honey-locust trees, about where the Polytechnic building is now situated, got some trace-chains, and bound his body to one of the locust trees. There was a carpenter’s shop close by, full of shavings and dry pine boards; they ran into the shop, collected these shavings and boards, and piled them around the unfortunate culprit, and set the same on fire. The negro was instantly enveloped in a brisk blaze, which ran up far above his head into the tops of the trees.

 

For two or three years afterwards, strangers and visitors from the East—particularly from Pittsburgh—would go to that locust tree, cut off pieces of it, and take them away; so that the tree was greatly cut to pieces, and large portions of it carried away.

Prohibition Raid

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  • Prohibition Raid

A police report from the Paul Toelle papers.

Read by Larry Schneider.

 

Arrested and Seized March 22, 1923.

 

1-350 GALLON STILL IN OPERATION,

1-30 GALLON STILL,

1-15 GALLON STILL,

500 GALLONS OF MASH, and

55 GALLONS OF ALCOHOL,

ALL DESTROYED, BUT SAMPLES.

 

The warrant was then read to Schooley and after the reading of same took him to another part of the house, and showed him the still, and at that time stated that he did not have any knowledge of same being there, which is false as he lives in this house, and could not help knowing that same was there. A blind man could have smelled the mash and the heat from the still made it uncomfortable for the persons in the house. There is another floor to this house, and the stairway leads past this room in which we found the still. It could easily be seen by anyone using the stairway.

 

The still was set up partly in the basement and being of such a large capacity the first floor was cut through and part of the still coming through same, and connected in such a way using both basement and the first floor. In a rear front room where a piano was we found 11-5 gallon cans, containing alcohol and about 20 empty 5-gallon cans. The still is set up in the house in which Mr. Schooley lives with his family.

 

In the basement in addition to where we found the still we also [found] a large vat containing 500 gallons of mash; this vat had capacity of 10,000 gallons, which no doubt some of same had already been run off.

 

Samples of the mash and alcohol was taken and the balance was destroyed on the premises.

 

It is well to state that Mr. R. Schooley is an attorney and in the last state election was a candidate for state legislature but was defeated, and previous to that was a candidate for Circuit Judge in St. Louis, Missouri, and owning to the fact that this man claims to be well versed in law he should be given the full penalty of the law. 

Ready to Rumble

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  • Ready to Rumble

An excerpt from an article in the Missouri Democrat, August 8, 1854.

Read by Robert Hagel. 

 

Our city, on yesterday afternoon, and up to a late hour last night, was the theater of one of the largest and most disgraceful mobs that ever transpired in the Western country. It originated about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, at the Polls of the Fifth ward, between a party who called themselves Americans, and a number of Irish, who had gathered around the Engine House.

 

They then proceeded up Morgan and Green streets, above Fourth, and assailed a number of houses, completely riddling the doors and windows with stones and brickbats. During the evening a slight assault had been made on the office of the Anzeiger Des Westens, but the party were dispersed without much injury.

 

In the meantime the military and police were out in full force, scattering the excited combatants here and there, and doing much to restore quiet to the city. About 10 o’clock at night, however, a company of the rioters, numbering perhaps twenty, came marching down Third street from the scene of assault with stones in hand, and shouting in the wildest manner, and upon arriving in front of the Anzeiger office, again commenced an assault upon the windows and doors of the house.

 

It is utterly impossible to estimate the number of persons wounded in the whole affair, or even to say how many have been killed. We saw at least twenty men lying bleeding, and wounded so severely that they were perfectly insensible—their faces cut most horribly and skulls mashed, and some appearing perfectly dead; and then we have learned of three men certainly killed and of five or six more who are thought to be dead at this time for wounds received.

ROTC Fire

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  • ROTC Fire

An excerpt from an oral history with Bob Metcalf. Used with permission of Washington University in St. Louis.

You know, we knew that there were groups of students protesting the Vietnam War at Wash U. prior to that night on a lower scale. Looking back on it, the way I remember it is early in the day, in proximity we’re probably half a mile distance from the fire department and city hall to Washington U’s complex. Somewhere’s in the early evening, the police department started to assimilate in the school parking lot adjoining the fire department. I think that’s when we first become aware that there was anticipating or potential possibility of a problem with protesting.

 

So when we first initially got the call, we had four people on a pumper then. We dispatched the pumper, which is a little fire truck, and a ladder truck. We had four people on the pumper and two on the ladder truck, and at the time we always ran the pumper first, which we did that night, and we were the first ones on the scene. The ladder truck was right behind us.

 

When we got to Wash U, we were going south on Big Bend and we noticed that there was a large crowd of protesters occupying the parking lot, and part of the hill that’s above the Quonset-type building which they called the ROTC building. Well, we proceeded to get in the parking lot with our pumper when a lot of the protesters were throwing bottles, rocks, and firecrackers at the truck and firefighters themselves. We started to get off the truck and pull a hose off, and decided that, you know, it was getting way out of hand.

 

The police did not have control of the situation then, so we had to leave and proceed back out on the street two blocks north and wait till the police got control of the situation. The ladder truck was already committed. They were in the parking lot, and they experienced the same type of reception. And they actually hit a protester trying to get out of the parking lot, and I’m not, I don’t think that there was any physical or bodily damage to the protester, but he was hit by a truck.

 

We went down to the corner of Big Bend and Millbrook for some twenty, twenty-five minutes. They dispatched two or three busloads of county police officers and University City police officers to that area. And they kind of set up their little brigade and backed all the protesters back up the hill and they had like some type of a barricade up there to where they couldn’t cross the barricade. At that time we went back up, back around, and to the place. By then the fire was burning way out of control and was a defensive mode, what we refer to, that we just went in and fought the fire from the outside and just wrote the building off. So we lost a building.

 

 

Service Cars

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  • Service Cars

An excerpt from an oral history with Jim Buford. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

We took service cars to go downtown. They were big six-, eight-seater long…they would be called like a limo today…. They were long cars that would be turned into mini buses and the consolidated service cars. Black people rode those ‘cause most of the buses didn’t come through the black community. We created our own form of…. But you see, I didn’t know that. I just figured that people were getting on in my neighborhood and the people who lived in my neighborhood were black, there was nothing unusual about that.

 

Service cars were a kind of a version between a cab and a bus. It would hold more passengers. The service car would run a route just like the bus. The service car started in Wellston and would come down certain streets.

 

Most of the streets…come down Delmar, it would come down Delmar,  come down Page, it would come down Easton Ave which is now Dr. Martin Luther King and several other streets but you could walk a couple of blocks and catch a service car and it would take you downtown. They only ran from the black neighborhood, downtown, and back. So that we could go downtown and shop. Most of the buses skirted our neighborhood so you couldn’t ride them. Until I got to be in high school that the buses went into the African American community.

 

That was one of the first revelations I had when I got old enough to realize that buses don’t come through our community. They…so a service car was owned by individuals rather than a major metro transit system. I think it was, couple of them were owned by gentlemen who owned cab companies. They would buy several of these cars and they would run every 15, 20 minutes. They had quite a few of ‘em. I used to see a lot where they were all parked in the evenings when I got older. So that was unique to the African American community.

 

Silent Protest

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  • Silent Protest

An excerpt from an article in The St. Louis Republic, June 15, 1916.

Read by Katie Reinarman. 

 

There, were banners, to be sure, great yellow ones, each with the name of State, county, congressional district or ward flung across its yellow width.

 

In addition there were Kentucky pennants and Oklahoma pennants and Texas pennants, and pennants, it seemed to me, from each and every State where women now come into the November reckoning; and parasols, yellow as sunset, umbrellas, balloons, sashes, hat bands, breast knots, belts, armlets and dear only knows what else, all flaunted in Democratic noses.

 

The delegates and alternates, nearly all of them, marched through the entire “golden lane” on their way to the opening session of the convention.

 

The walkless parade, or “Golden Lane,” as we romantically inclined St. Louisans termed it, was the idea of Mrs. Emily Newell Blair, the storywriter of Carthage, Missouri. It was arranged under the auspices of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, the details being left in the hands of a committee of local suffragists.

 

It was truly a democratic assemblage. There were women voters from the 12 enfranchised States, women semivoters from less fortunate Commonwealths, who, under certain circumstances, can vote, and women, like those of Missouri, who can only wait and hope, prisoners, to the fancies of the men.

 

There were some 2,000 women in line during the walkless parade with probably five times as many more yellow-sashed, yellow-badged sisters parading the sidewalks and promenading up and down the automobile concourse.

 

On the steps of the former Museum of Fine Arts building, beneath a swelling canopy of brightest yellow, was given the tableaux for which the suffragists have been preparing several weeks. In front of a generous background of palms and other greens there was presented, at 15-minute intervals during the morning, a tableau of the parlous state of women in the American Republic.

 

Along the right was clustered a group of black-garbed women, mourners, with iron-chained wrists emblematic of the nonvoting state of the womanhood of those States where suffrage is entirely denied the sex. Down the center of the sweeping stair flight stood proudly the women representing the States and nations where womanhood is recognized at the polls, tall, splendid blondes and brunettes, gold-crowned, opulent, bright-garbed, the triumph of womanhood, wives, mothers, voters, standing side by side with their mankind in the serious matters of life as well as the intimacy of the family. A striking figure was that of Mrs. David N. O’Neil, who impersonated the spirit of Liberty.

 

Sitting for Change

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  • Sitting for Change

An excerpt from an oral history with Jessie McMillan. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

At first, we couldn’t sit down, and some of the white ladies that were at the counter got up and gave us their seats. And then they said, they don’t serve blacks here. And so these ladies ordered food for us and we ate it. And so that, I think, was the beginning of the end.

 

And I really feel that the ladies who got up and gave us seats and bought us food were, really, feeling that this was an unjust thing to have happen, particularly during the war. And so, I think they were heroes in their own rights.

 

Slavery in St. Louis

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  • Slavery in St. Louis

An excerpt from Narrative of the Life of William W. Brown. 

Read by Lincoln Calvin.

"While living at the Missouri Hotel, a circumstance occurred which caused me great unhappiness. My master sold my mother, and all her children, except myself. They were sold to different persons in the city of St. Louis.

 

I was soon after taken from Mr. Colburn’s, and hired to Elijah P. Lovejoy, who was at that time publisher and editor of the “St. Louis Times.” My work, while with him, was mainly in the printing office, waiting on the hands, working the press, et cetera. Mr. Lovejoy was a very good man, and decidedly the best master that I had ever had. I am chiefly indebted to him, and to my employment in the printing office, for what little learning I obtained while in slavery. 

 

Though slavery is thought, by some, to be mild in Missouri, when compared with the cotton, sugar and rice growing States, yet no part of our slaveholding country, is more noted for the barbarity of its inhabitants than St. Louis. It was here that Col. Harney, a United States officer, whipped a slave woman to death. It was here that Francis McIntosh, a free colored man from Pittsburgh, was taken from the steamboat Flora and burned at the stake. During a residence of eight years in this city, numerous cases of extreme cruelty came under my own observation; to record them all would occupy more space than could possibly be allowed in this little volume.

 

While living with Mr. Lovejoy, I was often sent on errands. Once, while returning to the office with type, I was attacked by several large boys, sons of slave-holders, who pelted me with snow-balls. Having the heavy form of type in my hands, I could not make my escape by running; so I laid down the type and gave them battle. They gathered around me, pelting me with stones and sticks, until they overpowered me, and would have captured me, if I had not resorted to my heels. Upon my retreat they took possession of the type; and what to do to regain it I could not devise. Knowing Mr. Lovejoy to be a very humane man, I went to the office, and laid the case before him. He told me to remain in the office. He took one of the apprentices with him, and went after the type, and soon returned with it; but on his return informed me that Samuel McKinney had told him that he would whip me, because I had hurt his boy. Soon after, McKinney was seen making his way to the office by one of the printers, who informed me to the fact, and I made my escape through the back door.

 

McKinney not being able to find me on his arrival, left the office in a great rage, swearing that he would whip me to death. A few days after, as I was walking along Main Street, he seized me by the collar, and struck me over the head five or six times with a large cane, which caused the blood to gush from my nose and ears in such a manner that my clothes were completely saturated with blood. After beating me to his satisfaction, he let me go, and I returned to the office so weak from the loss of blood, that Mr. Lovejoy sent me home to my master. It was five weeks before I was able to walk again. During this time, it was necessary to have some one to supply my place at the office, and I lost the situation."

 

 

Snake on the Loose

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  • Snake on the Loose

An excerpt from an oral history with Jerry McNeal. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

Well, I had just been in the building a very short time, probably a year or so, and we had a spitting cobra, and back in those days we had concrete pools in the bottom of the enclosures and they had a drain pipe that was about 6 inches high and it had holes in the top of it and so if you wanted to run water in it you could, and it would just overflow through the little holes. But to clean the pool, you literally had to unscrew the drain pipe, take it out, flush out the pool, scrub it, and then put the drainpipe back in.

 

Back in those days, the Reptile Department was in charge of dog control. So if we get a call that there were dogs on the ground, which is a very serious thing, it was our job to go and see if we could chase them out of the park.

 

So, I had come to the cage and you have to wear a shield because these animals are capable of spitting its venom and they aim for your eyes. And so I was working this particular enclosure and I had taken the drain pipe out and set it down, and then the phone rang. So I closed the door, locked it, and I went over and answered the phone, and they said, “We have dogs on the grounds.”

 

So I had to go get the other keepers and tell them, “We’ve got to go chase dogs.”

 

So we left. Well, when I came back to the building I didn’t go back to that enclosure. I went on and did my other routine, forgetting that I had left that drain plug out. So I went home that night. The next morning, I came in and I’m doing my routine and I open up the cage and here’s the pipe, but there’s no snake. And back in those days, we had a gutter system underneath the cages and that’s where all the water would go, it would drain down into this gutter underneath the cages and then it would drain down into the sewer.

 

And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, the snake is not in here but maybe he is just underneath these cages.” So I get a flashlight and a snake hook, and I crawl, and the crawl space is only about this high. So I get in there and start crawling around looking for this snake and I can’t find it anywhere and then I happen to notice there were some other holes that went down into the basement area. 

 

And so I thought, “Oop. I guess I better call somebody.” So I call Charlie [Hoessle] on the phone and I say, “Charlie, we’ve got a spitting cobra loose and I don’t know where it is.”

 

And he says, “Close the building immediately. Get everybody out of the building and close the building immediately.”

 

Well that snake was out for 40 days, and I probably lost 20 pounds because this snake it can bite you, but it can also spit its venom, and we didn’t know if the snake had gotten out of the building because it was a very good possibility that it could have. And they’re very, very good climbers. So they could be in a tree or a bush or anything. What we did is we put white powder down everywhere and then we would check the powder every couple of hours to see if we could find tracks.

 

On the 39th day they found some tracks down in the basement so they started concentrating searching for the animal down there. On the 40th day I was at home. I remember I was at home and the phone rang and it was Charlie and he said to me, he says, “Guess what?”

 

As soon as he said that I said, “We got him, you got him.”

 

He goes, “Yeah, we just caught him.”

 

So that was a big relief for me because nobody got hurt—that was the main thing—but now my worry was, was I going to get to keep my job because as long as that snake was loose they needed me to help look for it. So I’m figuring, well, I’m probably going to get a call from Charlie. And the call came. And he says, “Can you come over to my office? I need to talk to you.” I figured I’d be looking for a new job the next day.

 

And Charlie says, “You know, Jerry, everybody is entitled to a mistake and you’ve had yours.” So, basically, if it wasn’t for Charlie Hoessle I would not have had a 42-year career here at the Zoo. He let me keep my job, and I haven’t let anything out since. Of course, that’s a big, big story. It not only went all over the United States, but it also went all over the world. The reason I know that is about two years after the fact I was out on the floor and these two young guys come up to me and they said, “Hey, you know, we were over in Vietnam and we were reading in the local newspaper in Vietnam that you guys let a spitting cobra get loose in this building.” So it went worldwide.

Southwest Bank Robbery

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  • Southwest Bank Robbery

An excerpt from an oral history with Mel Stein. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum. 

 

Well, that day Corporal Bob Heitz was my partner and we were riding car 29—that’s a cruising patrol. And it was getting near noon and I said to Bob, “Well, you getting hungry?”

 

And he says, “I can use a sandwich,” and I says, “Well, let’s stop at Sala’s.” So I drove down to Sala’s, and just as I pulled up in front of the front door of Sala’s restaurant, Bob got out and started to go in the door of the restaurant when the dispatcher comes on and says, “Attention all cars, the holdup alarm is sounding at the Southwest Bank.”

 

So I quickly opened the door and says, “Hey Bob, come on, the alarm is sounding at the Southwest Bank.” So, he came over, jumped in the car. It was one long block from Sala’s up to the bank. So we pulled up in the front of the bank and just as we pulled up to the front of the bank, the dispatcher comes on and says, “Attention all cars, the holdup at Southwest Bank is now in progress.”

 

Now I know what it’s like for the hair to stand up on the back of your head, because that’s what happened to me. As we stopped and got out, I told Bob, “Take the side door, I’ll take the front.”

 

And as I got close to the bank, Bob went to the side door. He opened the side door, and as he did, he saw Scholl with a gun in each hand by the front door. So Bob fired a shot. Now I’m coming up to the front of the bank now, the front door. Bob’s fired a shot and he hit him in the backside.

 

And just as he opened the door and fired the shot, I could see through and I saw Bowerman shoot Bob through the glass door and he hit him in the head. So at that moment, as soon as I saw him shoot him I fired 2 shots through the glass at him and then I ducked. And just as I ducked down, 2 shots from his sawed off shotgun went about four inches over my head.

 

And of course, I credit the Marine Corps for saving my life by saying in a firefight, you always take cover and make yourself a small target and that’s what I did. Just involuntarily I just dropped and as I dropped, these shots went over my head. Otherwise I would have got it straight in the face.

 

So I backed off, and as I backed off, and I started to stand up there was a Salvation Army girl that was takin’ money there; she was standing right next to me. And I told her to get over. And she testified later in the trial that at that moment, she said that the guy got out of the car, that was Glenn Chernick, the getaway car driver, and he got out of the car and he put his gun on the hood, and aimed it at me. But he couldn’t get a good bead on me because there was a paper box between me and him. And he decided apparently that it was too much of a chance to try to hit me with such a small target with the paper box there, so she says he got back into the car and he took off.

 

In the meantime, I stood up, there, and I made myself as small a target as I could and I lined up the barrel of my gun on the axis of my arm and I put it, aimed it at the, where the storm door was. And I could see in, it was sort of a curve there and I could see Bowerman in there grab this hostage and he had this big black bag of money, in fact it was 141,000 dollars he had in there, and he had this sawed off shotgun in this woman’s back. And he come, I could, I guess, watch every move he made, and as he came marchin’ in…. He kept pushin’ her. She was kind of negligent. She didn’t want to go. But he kept pushin’ her.

 

When he opened the storm door then and came out the storm door…I lined up my gun on the upright of that door and then I moved over just slightly and I stopped breathing.

 

And as he passed in front of my line of fire, I squeezed off, double action and caught him right through here. When he fell, the impact of the bullet, he dropped to the ground and I was watching, because Scholl was right behind him and Scholl was gonna take a hostage and come after him. But I, fortunately, took my eye off of that and Bowerman is layin’ on his back and he was gropin’ for a gun and he had just grabbed a gun in his hand when I spotted him and clounced on him, and…fortunately, by the grace of God, I got that gun away from him or he would have got me. 

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

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  • Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

 An excerpt from Ernest D. Kargau’s book The German Element in St. Louis.

Read by Peter Roloff.

 

The phrase: “Whoever can speak German can get along all right in Belleville,” can be just as well applied to Frenchtown as to our friendly neighboring city in Illinois. This was still more the case in the fifties and sixties, for at that time one could wander from Chouteau Avenue as far as the Arsenal without hearing anything else than German. By and by this became different of course. The growing German American youth brought English home from the school and the playground. Now for a long time young Americans of German ancestry, even in this most German part of our city, prefer to speak the language of their adopted fatherland.

 

Customs and usages have, however, remained German. The traveler who but a few days before has disembarked from a Bremen or Hamburg steamer will find, even today, in Frenchtown much that reminds him of home. There no immoderate haste and hurry prevails. People do not hurry unless they have to. They go to work deliberately, but then demonstrate the proverbial German diligence and perseverance. They still find time to enjoy life.

 

In the old days one took things even more easily than in our day. There existed no street cars at that time. If one was in a hurry, he made use of the omnibus. It required a rather long time to get to Market Street. If one undertook to go on foot to the courthouse, he took leave of wife and child as if he started a real journey. Frequently he did not get back till afternoon or even till evening. Conventional formality was then disregarded even more than today. One went for blocks without his coat, and on hot summer days even without his vest, and without neckcloth and collar.

 

There was no lack of taverns in Frenchtown during the fifties. Because the streets were usually quiet one could hear at some distance when a new keg of beer was opened. (At that time the beer was not yet lifted from the cask by means of an air pump.) When the familiar sound of opening a keg was heard, work was dropped in order to get a fresh glass of the new tapping. Between ten and eleven o’clock in the forenoon the tavern-keeper would step outside of his place and ring a bell or strike a Chinese gong to announce that lunch was being served. If there was a particularly juicy piece of roast beef or a good veal roast, one also took a sandwich of these good things home to his wife.

Steamboat Explosion

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  • Steamboat Explosion

An excerpt from the diary of Walter B. Foster.

Read by Gabe Karabell.

 

I was asleep at the time of dropping astern but was awakened when the machinery was put in motion. I looked out my stateroom window as we passed and then laid down again but had scarcely done so when I heard a crash followed by shouts. Our machinery was instantly stopped and our clerk running aft called out that the Edna had blown up and upon listening I could hear the cries of the wounded softened by the distance as they were down on the water on the still morning air.

 

I dressed and went on deck and in a few minutes we were alongside. The scene that then met our eyes no pen can describe. The Edna had nearly one hundred deck passengers and nearly all of these were either killed or wounded. The shrieks and groans from the disabled boat were horrid beyond all description. I went on board to assist in taking care of the wounded. The scene that there presented itself I shall never forget.

 

The entire deck after the boilers was a complete wreck. The dead, wounded, and dying were scattered in all directions, some lying upon another, others half buried in the goods and rubbish blown in pieces by the explosion while screams and prayers, cursing and groaning, resounded from all sides.

 

“Water! Water! Water!!!” was the cry in all directions. Poor fellows they were burning with thirst and imagined no one cared for this suffering. Some begged in the most piteous account to be killed at once. Some uttered shriek on shriek in the most heart-rending manner while others lay perfectly silent, but the plaintive manner in which they would look up in our eyes was even more afflicting than cries.

 

One could scarce move without touching the dead, dying, or wounded. Some imagined they were freezing while others thought themselves burning to death and their cries were alike horrible.

 

A part of the wounded were removed on board the Iatan and a few were placed in the cabin of the Edna. The latter boat was taken in tow by the Annawan which very fortunately just then came down the Mississippi. The three boats then proceeded to St. Louis.

Streets of Mud

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  • Streets of Mud

An excerpt from Henry Boernstein’s book Memoirs of a Nobody.

Read by Alexander Hass.

 

The streets were like the Sahara in dry weather with thick, swirling clouds of dust, while in rainy weather they became bottomless seas of mire. In wet weather it became an art and a matter of some courage to cross from one side of the street to another without getting stuck in the mire. Granted there were crossing stones at a certain distance from one another, rectangular stones running right across the street so that the wheels of carriages ran between them. This was precisely the same primitive arrangement the Romans had used two millennia before, and which can be discovered in Pompeii, excavated from the ashes of Vesuvius.

 

A certain dexterity was always called for to get to the opposite side via these stones. One could not make a misstep or his foot would sink into the mire, and continuous rainy weather sometimes brought the mud so high that even crossing stones were covered. Then a person had to step into the unknown, trusting to luck to step in the place where a stone should be. This did not exclude many an error.

 

Once in those days I was in the broad Carondelet Avenue, which then resembled a backwater of the Pontine Marshes in the relentless rain. I made a bad step, landing alongside a crossing stone rather than on it, and my right foot sank up to the calf in mire. I managed to work myself out, but with the loss of my boot, which remained stuck in the mud and was irretrievably lost. The result was that I had to hop on one foot to my apartment, which fortunately was nearby.

 

Such was the condition of the main streets. But in most of the other streets there were neither sidewalks nor crossing stones, and in bad weather one sank in on stepping out of one’s own house door. In the streets which ran behind Fourth, parallel to the river, there were still no entirely uninterrupted streets constructed, with the exception of Seventh. Instead, large areas of grass, sand or clay lay between scattered groups of houses, the building lots of the future.

 

Who was supposed to be building sidewalks there? Even the streets running to the west from the river were in the same miserable, interrupted condition. Street illumination was in its infancy, and the farther one came from the city’s center the poorer it grew, ceasing altogether in the streets running near the outer edge.

The Admiral

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  • The Admiral

An excerpt from an oral history with Bob Kuban. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

 

We were hired from Wednesday through Sunday on the Admiral when we first got down there and it was basically probably—well it was the world’s largest inland excursion boat. A lot of people don’t know that. And it had this massive dance floor, a huge dance floor. And so consequently it was predominately ballroom type music, you know, ballroom dancers. And they’d sashay around the dance floor and we had sets that were kind of strange. We’d have to play two songs and then take a break of about three minutes. So we’re all sitting up on the dance floor and people are standing out on the dance floor staring at us during this three-minute thing.

 

So one day right after we got started, we started doing this thing, I asked the captain, I says, “Captain, why do we have to do this two-minute break?” He said, “Well”—you ready for this—”this gives everybody a chance to smoke a cigarette or have a drink.” And I said, “Smoke a cigarette?” Okay. Well I’m a non-smoker and so this did not blow my skirt up at all. I was not very happy with stuff like that. And so I said, “Well, I really would like to keep things flowing, you know, and keep things going and not have to have people just stand there and stare at us.” So the captain said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. We’ll try it your way one night, okay? Is that good?” I said, “OK. Fine. Let’s try it.” So anyway we tried it my way and it worked. You know, without the two-minute break every five minutes or whatever it was.

 

Then the other thing I came back to after we were putting a number of people on the boat and we’d have to play—we were playing a lot of ballroom music back then and then we’d throw in some rock things and everything. But I told the captain, I said that Sunday night was a slow night. I mean, you could fire a machine gun and you wouldn’t hit anybody on the dance floor. It was just a couple dancers.

 

I approached the captain and I said, “Captain,” I said, “tell you what. I’ve got an idea.” I says, “Let’s make Sunday night young people night.” He said, “What do you mean?” I says, “We’ll play nothing but contemporary music,” I said, “at the time.” And I said, “And we won’t play any ballroom. We won’t cater to the ballroom crowd at all on Sunday nights. They’ve got their other four nights, let the younger people have Sunday nights.” So I said, “We’ll give that a try.”

 

Well, if you look at my book, and look at the picture in my book, you see what happened on Sunday nights. It got to be the busiest night. We were putting 4,000 people on that boat on Sunday nights. And there was the standing line of about 2,000 outside that couldn’t get on the boat. I mean, that’s how great it became. That became the spot. And what was so neat about that was the fact that these kids were from all over. They were from Springfield, Illinois. They were from Springfield, Missouri. They were from Kansas City, Missouri. They came up from Cape Girardeau, you know, and we had people come up from Arkansas. And I didn’t know this at the time, but guys like John Goodman, you know the movie actor, he used to come down there on Sunday nights, you know. And I would hear these stories later, of some of these stars, you know, they were kids at one time, too, and they hung around and went around and followed Kuban and everything, too. And I didn’t realize it at the time.

 

But anyway, that was such a melting pot of young people that got to meet each other you know from all over the Midwest, basically, that would come in for that Sunday night thing and they would have their ball. 

The War Hits Home

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  • The War Hits Home

A letter from Alice E. Cayton to her brother Alexander Badger.

Read by Mindy Smith.

 

In the first place let me tell you, the governor of this state, Governor Jackson, last month called out all the militia of the several districts to camp on the 6th of this month for the purpose of drilling. The companies of this district as you are aware of are composed of American men, Germans, and Irishmen, all state troops of course.

 

They are however divided into two parties as regards politics, the Germans belonging to the Federal Army and the Americans and Irish to the Confederate Army and are called “Minute Men,” accordingly the “Minute Men” went into camp out at Lindell Grove, that is between Garrison Ave. and Grand Ave., and Olive and Market Street. The Germans went to the Arsenal where they have been reinforced to the amount of seven or eight thousand.

 

On Friday the 10th, in the afternoon about 3 o’clock, they marched out to Lindell Grove, surrounded the camp, which then contained eight hundred men, under the command of General D. M. Frost, about as many more being on leave in the city. They could do nothing under the circumstances but surrender, which they did accordingly, they were then made prisoners, and were formed into a line ready to march to the Arsenal, when a disturbance took place between the citizens and the German soldiers, the soldiers fired into a crowd of citizens killing about eighteen or twenty and wounding many others.

 

I cannot describe the scene to you fully. Imagine to yourself all of those hills surrounding the Grove filled with people, for as soon as it was known that the Minute Men had surrendered their arms, it was natural to suppose there would be no fighting, and just as soon as this company commenced firing, the multitude commenced running. Men, women and children were there, some in carriages, buggies, on horseback and on foot. Everybody from Aunt Nancy’s and our house, with the exception of mother, was out there.

 

Emma and Charlie were there, Dora was there and was knocked down by a man and then run over by a horse and buggy. She was severely bruised, but was likely to have no bones broken. I never was so frightened in all my life before. It was all done so unexpectedly, and so uncalled for. I will send you a paper containing all the particulars, a list of the killed and wounded. Harry Somers, an engineer you recollect who used to be with father, lost his daughter, a girl fourteen years old. She was shot in the breast. Her funeral took place this morning. The excitement continued Friday night and all day yesterday....

 

 

Tough as Nails

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  • Tough as Nails

An excerpt from the journal of George J. Engelmann.

Read by Justin Burry. 

 

We visited Carondelet yesterday, and had an opportunity of observing the progress of the gun boats now building at that place, and learned that those at Mound City were in the same state of forwardness, and all will probably be completed about the 15th of October—10 days after the specified time.

 

A very important part of the gun boats is the sheathing iron, which is to protect the wood work from damage by shot. This iron, as we before stated, is two and a half inches in thickness, furnished by Gaylord & Sons, through their agent William Colcord. The contract was for seven hundred tons of this iron, to be thirteen inches wide, and in plates from three and a half feet to eleven feet long. The first installment of this iron has been received here, and tested with satisfactory result.

 

The experiment was made on Friday, opposite Carondelet on the other side of the river. The iron was fastened firmly on oak blocks, with bolts, and the surface placed at an angle of 45 degrees—with the range of the cannon shot—that inclination being the same as the casements of the gun boats.

 

A rifled gun was used at a distance of 800 yards, without any effect on the plate, excepting tearing out a bolt or two and raking the iron slightly. At a distance of 500 yards, an indentation about 1 inch deep was made in the plate, but without breaking it in the slightest degree. A shot was then made at 100 yards distance, at a plate placed at right angles with the range, and the ball was broken to pieces, without fracturing the iron in the least.

 

After these experiments and the flattering result, all will agree that the sheathing iron is everything that could be expected of it; and we are assured that it will be ready within the specified time.

Up in Smoke

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  • Up in Smoke

An excerpt from an interview with A. N. Arneson, John E. Hobbs, and Melvin A. Roblee. Used with permission of Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine.

 

That’s right. Then, talking about the power plant, it was coal-fired and the power plant furnished electricity for all of the institutions. We had big piles of coal out there dumped at the railroads and the smoke stack belched coal smoke. 

 

We used to get our lectures in anatomy up on the corner of the building across from the power plant. Coal smoke would come into those rooms and almost choke you. Talk about pollution today—in those days we had such dense coal smoke, a lot of times we wore masks. Our collars were dirty, our handkerchiefs were filthy. We had coal in our noses and people that came to autopsy all had black lungs, I guess anthracosis, right?

 

It also ruined our books. We have had to spend thousands of dollars to have them—

 

In walking to school—I used to walk from over on North Kingshighway—sometimes you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. You could hear cars “Crash, crash”—of course, people drove slowly—and you could see a little halo of light. That’s all you could see. You have here something about street lights. Of course all the street lights here were gas. We had lamplighters that came around.

 

The railroad tracks, of course, are still in the same place. When we had our lectures in pathology the trains would rumble by there, lots of trains. Coal smoke—of course we had no air conditioning—hot, windows were open, coal smoke would waft into the rooms. When the train would go by you couldn’t hear the lecturer at all.

 

 

 

Up, Up, and Away

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  • Up, Up, and Away

An excerpt from the book St. Louis: One Hundred Years in a Week, edited by Walter B. Stevens.

Read by John Moore.

 

The grandstand was filled, and the vacant spaces north of the grounds were packed with people. On Chouteau Avenue both sidewalks were lined with crowds, and the street was so full that streetcars had to move slowly. On the opposite side of the street every window of every house was crowded with people; many had climbed to the roofs. The Peoria was brought before the grandstand a few moments prior to leaving. At a signal from Bemis, the members of the balloon corps and assisting aeronauts released the basket in which he and Smith stood, and the balloon rose gracefully to a safe height and drifted away, south of east. The departure of The Peoria gave the crowd the first impression of the great events of the program. Cheer after cheer followed. The pilot and his aid, as they mounted toward the sky, doffed their hats in recognition.

 

Eight large balloons, comprising the largest number which ascended in a single American aeronautic event, were sent away in the St. Louis Centennial long distance contest for spherical balloons. All were between 78,000 and 80,000 cubic feet capacity. Their pilots expected to be able to remain in the air forty hours or more. A cloudless sky and hardly more than a breath of air provided almost ideal conditions for the ascensions, each balloon being enabled to get away on its flight without delay from weather conditions.

 

Farmers who mistook one of the big gas bags for an advertising balloon fired numerous shots at it in the hope of capturing a $10.00 prize, which kept Morris A. Heimann and John Bennett in a constant state of apprehension during their flight in the New South St. Louis. They landed at Laredo, Missouri, 205 miles from St. Louis, after a charge of buckshot narrowly missed Heimann. When near the little town of Laredo the shot that came near making of their pleasure trip a tragedy, convinced them it would be foolhardy to proceed farther. The landing was made in safety. The man who had fired the last shot appeared on the scene in a few moments, greatly perturbed. “I read about those advertising balloons,” he said, “and thought I would just bring down one of those $10.00 bills.”

 

During the night Heimann and Bennett met The Peoria, carrying James Bemis and George E. Smith, and traveled along with them for some time. “We had our lights lighted and so had they,” said Heimann, “and when they got near us I hailed them. After an exchange of a few words we invited them down to luncheon, but they had a previous engagement and couldn’t accept. Then I got out my banjo and Bennett and I serenaded for some time. I guess it must have sounded kind of weird to the people below us.”

 

Heimann was caustic in his remarks concerning the plan of sending up the advertising balloons just before the other ascents were made. “They might have known the farmers would shoot at those little balloons in order to bring them to earth,” he said. “It was placing the balloonists in unnecessary danger. There is enough danger in the sport itself without adding to it. Even if none of the aeronauts were hurt by a bullet it would have been very easy to cause a leak that might lead to a serious accident.”

 

The New South St. Louis sailed independently, leaving the Rutger street gas works instead of the Aero Club field. This unprecedented flight of balloons came to its conclusion Wednesday evening.

 

Visiting the Fair

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  • Visiting the Fair

A letter from Edmund Philibert.

Read by Andrew Wanko.

 

Angie and I made our first visit to the Fair today. We carried a lunch with us and arrived at the Main Entrance about twelve o’clock. We stood in the Plaza St. Louis in front of the Louisiana Monument where there was speech making until about a quarter to one, but we heard none of the speeches. At a quarter to one the Cascades and fountains started to flow, and the flags on all the buildings were unfurled one after another amidst great cheering by the crowd.

 

We next strolled along Louisiana way to the west end of Transportation Building where we viewed the parade which was composed of the Pike attractions, headed by the mounted police. We saw Jim Key the educated horse, Esquimaux, Chinese, Japanese, Turks, Indians, Filipinos, Boers, et cetera. After the parade we sat on the steps in front of the unfinished Italian Pavilion and ate our lunch, then we went through the Forestry Building where we saw live fishes and stuffed animals and birds, and different kinds of wood before and after polishing, also hardwood floors and borders from France, after which we went through Transportation Building where we saw a model of King Edward’s private car, models of the first locomotives, the first locomotive that entered Chicago on October 1st, 1848, a train of Pullman cars, yachts, et cetera, also large locomotives with about seven foot driving wheels.

 

Then we took intramural at station Number 16 and rode to Number 1, the car was so crowded we had to stand. After leaving the car we walked up the Plaza St. Louis to the Cascades crossing DeSoto and Jefferson bridges on the way. As we ascended the steps the Cascades showed to better advantage, and although a little disappointed at first sight of them in the afternoon, we now both thought they were grand, and stood watching them until the illumination began. As the lights were turned on for the first time the people raised a hearty cheer, for it was a grand sight indeed.

 

Welcome to St. Louis

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  • Welcome to St. Louis

A letter from F. M. Pepper to his brother.

Read by Zach Silvers. 

 

Dear Sir and Brother,

 

This writing leaves me in St. Louis attending medical college. I have been here three weeks today, and am very well satisfied with my school. Our school is the largest in the city, matriculating at present over 200.

 

I attend eight lectures a day: from 9 to 12: from 1 to 6, and dissection from 8 to 10, when it gets cooler. You will very readily infer from this that I have no time to gossip around town.

 

The heat has been dreadful since I have been here, excepting the last few days. Last Saturday night, St. Louis was visited by an earthquake, which was something dreadful. It shook bottles from off the shelves in the drugstores, and threw persons out of their beds, and shook things up generally.

 

Sunday eve, at about 9 o’clock fires broke out and before morning 23 had broken out; every fire department in the city was out several times. I saw a nine story building burn; it covered one whole block. It was a grand, magnificent night, yet fearful and appalling in consequences.

 

You have seen heavy hail storms—if you will imagine the hail to be balls of fire you can form a meager description of the fire.

 

It is very nearly lecture time so I will close hoping this will find you all well and happy, and expecting to hear from you soon. With love to all I remain

 

Your Brother

F. M. Pepper

 

 

 

When Astronauts Came to St. Louis

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  • When Astronauts Came to St. Louis

An excerpt from an oral history with Rose Church. From the collections of the Missouri History Museum.

  

I felt like they were just test pilots, which they were! And, they’re all different. Even the test pilots are all different personalities. Some are quiet, some are louder, some don’t…you know, are just sure of themselves, that kind of thing. And the astronauts were the same, ‘cause they were test pilots. Some, as I said, were easier to talk to than others.

 

And Neil Armstrong didn’t say much of anything! And he’d sit there with his legs crossed in the chair, with his space suit on, ready to go into the chamber, and he’d be pre-breathing 100 percent oxygen for one hour to get rid of the nitrogen. And he’d sit there and you’d have to jump over his feet to get by, and he wouldn’t say a word! And I’ve always said that if I got a yes or a no out of him that was conversation. He hardly says boo and yet for him to share his words or knowledge with us on the moon I wondered what he was going to say or do. Well, anyway, he had a little quote to say which was written for him. But that’s all he said.

 

Whereas people like Alan Shepard went up there and tried to hit the golf ball and, um, Pete Conrad. It’s bouncing around on the moon, and laughing, having a good time. But Neil Armstrong was a very quiet man.

 

Wally Schirra was another one of my favorites. He was the most even-tempered guy I’ve ever met. John Glenn was sorta quiet, but he was, he knew what he was doing.

 

Frank Borman was sort of a quiet guy, but very congenial and I had to shave his head for encephalogram electrodes. And when he wrote in my book he says Thanks for the haircut, Rose. Two little round circles.

 

I used to tell Jim Lovell, or, um…when he was suiting up in another room behind closed doors with the doctor and the suit technician and so forth. And I’d make sounds like I was walking to the door to go in. And I’d say Jim, I’m coming in to help you with your urine bag! And then I’d stop at the door, and that was as far as I would go.

 

[And you also said that you used to use jokes to…]   

Keep them awake!

[Yeah, tell us about that.]

 

One day I told a joke that was a little…had some pretty bad words in it and the doctor wasn’t there. I was monitoring the blood pressure and the pulse and so forth and the doctor had just stepped out. When he came back and I told this one story, I thought I was gonna get fired when he heard about it, but the astronauts kind of told him that that’s the way it is. And kept them awake anyway rather than falling asleep, because it’s so tiring, being in one position, on your back, for many hours.

 

I could say that every one of them exuded confidence. They didn’t show any form of, you know, fright or not wanting to do anything. They were ready for anything and everything. Because they were ready.

 

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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  • Where Everyone Knows Your Name

An excerpt from an oral history with Jennie Garegnani. Used with permission of Washington University in St. Louis.

 

Because when we bought our first washing machine, we needed a washing machine. I used to go to my sister-in-law’s do to my laundry and finally we had to get one because poor Barbara was going, I was hanging up diapers with strings, like a Chinese laundry. So we bought the washing machine and we would go to the furniture store. They know who you are, you just put a down payment and they put your name in the book. The book was very, very important to people on the Hill because they knew they could at least eat and get what they needed.

 

Even if they didn’t have the cash handy right away, they knew that their husband was going to bring a paycheck and they’d go pay it and the people that, like the furniture store and grocery store, they knew that you would pay it, that you wouldn’t, you know, renege on your bill.

 

So we would go to the furniture store and pay five or ten dollars, whatever we could afford until the bill was paid. They never sent you a bill to your house. They didn’t charge carrying charges, it might have been in your original price, but they knew who you were—oh it’s all right. I said I couldn’t come last week. She had a cold, we had to go to the doctor and pay five dollars to the doctor. Oh, that’s okay, it’s okay.

 

So that’s the way it was. Everybody kind of trusted each other and my husband did business like that too. You know, he’d start a job fixing somebody’s kitchen or somebody’s bathroom and they’d say, well, when you get done bring me the bill. Now how do you know they’re going to pay you? You don’t know that, but people paid by cash mostly. They didn’t call you to do any work unless they had the money to pay for it.

 

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