Gateway to the Great Trans-Mississippi Empire

Afraid of being alone? You are not alone.

Being told repeatedly “you are not alone” may not be all that reassuring. What may be intended to validate your experience, or at least spark your curiosity, also potentially strips your story of its particularity.

When “you are not alone” you no longer are unique — you fit into a pattern. You’re a statistic. A data point, frozen in an icy lake along with all the other data points.

A reminder that you are, when all is said and done, very much alone.

Of course, that’s not exactly what is happening here ->

Instead, consider being told you’re “not alone” a journalistic device — a shortcut for turning the specific into the universal — drawing you in, making a subject “relatable.”

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‘Blue Horizon’

‘Three papers united in one’

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was created in December 1878 when Joseph Pulitzer combined the Dispatch and the Evening Post. Most contemporary histories of the paper, however, omit Pulitzer’s acquisition of the recently launched Evening Star in May 1879 for a paltry $790.

From 1880 business check

“Three papers united in one” is how the Post-Dispatch described itself after it bought the Evening Star. The paper even adopted a new logo on its checks and other correspondence, featuring the slogan, a telegraph pole and a six-pointed star.

And a “prospectus” published repeatedly that year included language similar to Pulitzer’s famous platform, penned in 1907, and still repeated each day on the newspaper’s editorial page.

This wasn’t the only time Pulitzer bought a newspaper to put it out of business. It did the same in 1951, when it acquired and closed the Star-Times. And in 1983, the owner of the morning Globe-Democrat, which was part of a JOA with the Post-Dispatch, announced plans to close that newspaper, and continue splitting profits with Pulitzer. The Reagan administration’s Justice Department intervened, and forced the sale of the Globe-Democrat, which struggled for several years under a succession of new owners before dying.

‘A seething throng’ in downtown St. Louis

A facsimile of the Chouteau Mansion was included in the replicas of old St. Louis streets on display on 12th Street (now Tucker Boulevard) in downtown St. Louis to celebrate the Missouri Centennial. Enthusiastic crowds – “a seething throng” is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described them – created such a jam on the night of Oct. 5, 1921, the “spectacle had to be postponed.” (Note the advertisement for the St. Louis Times, which, at the time, billed itself as “the only evening Republican paper in a city having the largest Republican majority in the United States.”)
– Post-Dispatch photo by A.W. Sanders

‘A full-fledged insurgent’

Reading outrage-provoking journalism was, for many, a substitute for meaningful action. One urban myth in New York magazine offices told of a well-to-do Alaskan who walked into an editor’s office, clamoring that the time had come for the people to rise up:

“Well!” replied the editor, “you certainly are a progressive, aren’t you?”

“Progressive!” the man cried. “Progressive! I tell you I’m a full-fledged insurgent. Why, man, I subscribe to thirteen magazines.”

– from “Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America.”

‘He studied nothing, but knew something about everything.’

In January 1903, Rep. John T. Crisp of Independence proposed a “Jim Crow” law for Missouri, requiring Black and white passengers to ride in separate railway coaches. “Col. Crisp’s bill is taken seriously by his fellow members at Jefferson City. It is necessary to say this for the reason that Col. Crisp’s colleagues do not always take him seriously,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported

The “portly orator” did, in fact, introduce such a bill, but he was beat to the punch by Rep. Lon B. Williams of Scott County, a fellow Democrat who hoped to ride Jim Crow racism straight to the lieutenant governor’s seat. The two bills were combined into one, but after considerable debate and lobbying, the legislation was soundly defeated, 55-70, with all of the House Republicans and a few Democratic leaders opposing the measure.

Vocal opposition from Black Missourians was key — they held meetings and rallies, and showed up in force in the Capitol to lobby lawmakers. (In the House gallery, Blacks and whites were required to sit in separate sections.) Another reason for the legislation’s defeat: the world’s fair planned for St. Louis in 1904. One Republican opponent pointed out that if the bill passed, fair visitors, including foreign dignitaries, would have to switch to segregated coaches when they crossed into Missouri. Black leaders also vowed to call on President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress to withdraw the federal appropriation to the fair if the Jim Crow bill passed.

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‘Stop complaining’

Marcus Aurelius (Photo by Carole Raddato/Flickr/CC)

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not.

“If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.

“If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.

“Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.” – Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations

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Watermelons and Prophets

Illustration of one of the floats in the 1890 Veiled Prophet procession (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 5, 1890)

Organizers of the Order of the Veiled Prophet in 1878, led by Confederate veterans Charles and Alonzo Slayback, sought to lift the city’s profile as a growing, affluent commercial hub. But, early on, the all-white, all-male Veiled Prophet promoted racist tropes, which were unapologetically echoed by all the leading newspapers of St. Louis.

One theme, which appeared several times in the organization’s first four decades, depicted “carefree” African Americans, gorging on watermelons. “One of the best comic floats in the procession,” the Globe-Democrat said of the 1890 display.

In The Atlantic in 2014, historian William R. Black explained how watermelons emerged as a politically potent symbol used by whites — and it’s worth revisiting to better understand the racist underpinnings of the Veiled Prophet organization.


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‘Real news’

Old press.

“In this market-driven world of easy-to-digest events, news increasingly becomes almost a parody of the term. News is no longer something ‘new’ but instead becomes a commodity that can be passed off as something interesting or original.

“Unfortunately, the lack of real news in the newspaper – news that gives a sense of depth and insight and context to surface events – is the one solution market-minded managers won’t consider when they analyze why readers are abandoning newspapers.

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Porta il luce …

“Facesti come quei che va di notte, che porta il lume dietro e sé non giova, ma dopo sé fa le persone dotte.”

(“You were as one who goes by night, carrying the light behind him – it is no help to him, but instructs all those who follow.” – Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio XXII, 67-69, Divina Commedia)  

The Missouri editor whose bigotry outlived him

John W. Jacks (1897)

John W. Jacks, who died a century ago this year, was in his time an esteemed newspaperman, a native Missourian who started, owned and edited several publications before buying the Montgomery Standard in 1881 and editing the weekly for some 40 years. He was politically active, accepted state and federal appointments, ran for office and used his position and his paper to advance his interests. “One of the ablest newspapermen in Missouri” is how he was described in news stories about his death published across the state.

None of those reports, however, cited Jacks’ most notorious contribution to Missouri journalism, when, as president of the Missouri Press Association, he responded to British anti-lynching activist Florence Balgarnie’s solicitation of support by sending a racist broadside.

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Local vs. independent?

“… local journalism is still at risk to losing out to independent journalists who raise money through websites like Patreon. The power of the internet can cut out centralized journalist operations and purge them of talent…. I don’t think independent journalism will be the only way news is distributed in the future because there is a huge benefit to hearing multiple perspectives. However, it will purge the talent pool and provide some new competition.” [“Buy Lee before the market finds out about its transformation,” Seeking Alpha, Feb. 10, 2021]

‘He shall feed his flock’

Colonel Jones

A Globe-Democrat cartoon published the day after Jones was ousted as editor of the St. Louis Republic.

“Journalists who take themselves seriously, who regard the work of moulding public opinion as a high vocation, who believe in duty and are willing to accept responsibility, who would rather champion the rights of the many than defend the privileges of the few, are finding it more and more difficult either to enter or to remain in the newspaper field, whether as employees or proprietors.” – Col. Charles Henry Jones, Feb. 23, 1899 [From “Charles H. Jones 1848-1913: Editor and Progressive Democrat” (1974)]

Veteran newspaperman Charles H. Jones was given full editorial and managerial control of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1895 under a five-year contract signed by founder Joseph Pulitzer. But his relationship with Pulitzer, who was still majority owner, soon soured because Jones was, among other things, an advocate of free silver, while Pulitzer was pro-gold. Pulitzer tried to oust him, but Jones prevailed in the courts.

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Breaking the pattern

Vacant in the snow, 2018

When we produced the “Tipping Point” stories for the Post-Dispatch in 2018-2019, I was struck by how there was a familiar pattern to decades of news coverage of housing abandonment, segregation, disinvestment and population loss: every now and then, the newspaper or the civic leadership would recognize the problem, express outrage and try to marshal public opinion into taking action.

Sometimes, there would be an earnest response – committees created, programs announced, headlines generated – and then all would quietly fade for a few years. Just like a roaring fire eventually turns to ash.

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Depressingly consistent

The Tampa Times, April 4, 1980

In 2015, I wrote about a century-old insurance industry study that examined murder in selected U.S. cities, including St. Louis. The study linked high homicide rates, in large part, to the “unrestrained sale of firearms.” It also found rates tended to be higher in cities with “persons of color.”

That theme – guns as a cause, minority communities as victims – has remained depressingly consistent for more than a century, especially in St. Louis.

That was true in 1920, when St. Louis had a homicide rate of 12.6 per 100,000 people. And it was true in 1980, when the rate reached 50 per 100,000 and The Associated Press described St. Louis as the nation’s “murder capital.”

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‘Zweierlei Rechte’

“… Das wissen natürlich bei euch die Guten ganz genau. Der Rest hat von Blasen und Tuten keine Ahnung. Hört nur den Schmeichelchor seiner news-papers …” (“Bei uns in Europa,” )

Kurt Tucholsky

‘The corrupter’

‘Damn the war’

White riot, 1920

08-17-1920 negro's home burned small
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 17, 1920

The East St. Louis Massacre of 1917, a series of riots triggered by white labor’s reaction to the employment of Black workers as strikebreakers, left dozens, if not hundreds, of Black residents dead and thousands homeless. But workplace-related racist violence continued in the region for years, albeit on a smaller scale.

On Friday, Aug. 13, 1920, the owners of a coal mine in Coulterville, Illinois, faced with a shortage of white workers, decided to make a Black worker, William Morrison, work in a pit hitherto reserved largely for whites. But the white miners refused to work with Morrison. And they again refused  on Saturday, Aug. 14.

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Regula Mühlemann: Exsultate Jubilate

‘No longer will policemen beat the heads off malefactors’


In April 1911, voters in Granite City — a company town founded by steelmakers near St. Louis — elected Marshall E. Kirkpatrick, a 28-year-old shearer at the Niedringhaus mills, as mayor. Kirkpatrick, a Socialist, would prove to be a capable administrator, serving nearly two decades in that office, until his death in 1942.

In an introduction to the new mayor — he enjoyed dancing and “ball playing” — the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Kirkpatrick wanted a municipal-owned coal yard and ice house, which would sell fuel and ice to residents at cost. He also promised a new approach to law enforcement under Police Chief Adolph White, also a Socialist.

The Post-Dispatch reported, “No longer will policemen beat the heads off malefactors, and it is going to be bad form for a Granite City policeman to kick a prisoner in the ribs.

“’Prisoners will not be beaten up by policemen while I am Mayor,’ said Mayor Kirkpatrick, telling what it is going to be like in the only city that has a Socialist Chief of Police and two or three Socialist policemen, as well as a Socialist Mayor. ‘And all prisoners will be treated alike. A poor man will have just as much consideration as a rich man.’”

Kirkpatrick promised a “clean administration.” No more slot machines and gamblers. Saloons would have to close at midnight. And government appointments would be based on qualifications. “We Socialists believe in the merit system,” he said.

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100 years of disappointment

04-13-1920 a1 editedThe 1920 Census bumped St. Louis out of fourth place, launching a century-long quest to undo the Great Divorce of 1876. And though its population would climb for a few decades – peaking at 856,796 in 1950 – St. Louis kept sliding in the rankings and dropped out of the top 10 in 1970.  (Most recent estimates indicate the population is hovering just above 300,000 – below the 1870 count.)

Reaction to the preliminary census results, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 13, 1920, was predictable:

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Patricia Janečková

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes
Laudate eum, omnes populi
Quoniam confirmata est
Super nos misericordia eius,
Et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.

Robert Lemen

Joseph Robert Lemen

Joseph Robert Lemen (1890-1955) was born in St. Louis, went to art school at Washington University, married in 1912, joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as an artist a couple years later and remained with the paper until sometime in the 1920s when he took off for California.

In the 1930 Census, his wife, Constance Andrews Lemen, and their two children are living on Orchard Avenue in Webster Groves. Constance is listed as widowed, and three years later she remarried. She died in 1970.

Lemen, who was not dead, signed a draft registration card in 1942, giving his address as 4013 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He’s buried at Bellefontaine in St. Louis. (There’s more about him at Stripper’s Guide.)

Here are examples of his work (with some added color):

‘Policies and practices’


“In order that one may understand exactly what the Lee Syndicate is, it is necessary that certain policies and practices of the Lee Syndicate be disclosed…. They descended largely from Mr. (Alfred Wilson) Lee himself …. ¶ The first of these ideas … was to promote your own men, to delegate authority freely, and place upon authority strict responsibility…. ¶ Another policy of the Lee Syndicate has to do with the management of the several papers. From the outset the original trio, Messrs. Lee, (E.P.) Adler and (James F.) Powell, came to the conclusion that there must be no dictation from any central authority controlling the policy of the individual papers of the syndicate. They felt these papers must be of and for the cities which they sought to serve …. ¶ There is one feature of the syndicate newspapers, or most of them, that is rather exceptional. It is a thing many publishers would say could not be done.

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‘Another party’

reedy mugWilliam Marion Reedy: “The cry of the politicians is ‘Down with the Bolshevists.’ In Russia a Bolshevist is a man who insists that he who will not work shall not eat. In America a Bolshevist is any man who dares disagree with the schoolmaster and who dares assert the right of free speech and a free press.”                             ———>

Duncan McDonald: “Every time you create a millionaire you also create hundreds of paupers. There are 465,000 school children in America who go to school without having breakfast, who are so undernourished they cannot study. And yet they call one a Bolshevist if he dare comment on these things. The workingman gets the work, the other fellow gets the worry.”

Robert N. Owens:  “The only difference between the treatment of negroes by the two old parties is that a Democrat points his gun at us and says, ‘You cannot vote,’ while the Republican points his gun at us and says ‘Vote, but damn you, vote my way.’” – Liberal Speakers Discuss Need of Another Party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1920

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Art criticism

“Henri Matisse’s ‘Girl Who Has Just Passed Through a Wringer’ is good. …  Cummings’ ‘Soft Shell Crab Defending Its Mother’ is a striking bit of post-impressionism…. Alexander Couard’s ‘Battle Between a Varicose Vein and a Septic Flush’ is a trifle complicated, but he’s put a lot of feeling in his work, especially in the vein.” (“Exhibit Shows Independent Artists Deserving of Name,” March 12, 1920) Read more of this post

‘Land of opportunity’

ST. LOUIS – Somebody was emptying the poor box at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, so the Rev. Father Joseph R. Watson rigged the box, wiring it to an electric buzzer that would sound in his study.


On Feb. 3, 1920, the alarm went off, and Father Watson, accompanied by a nearby store clerk, ran into the church and caught a man who said his name was Vaclav Krejci, a 35-year-old immigrant artist. When police officers searched the suspect, they found tools, skeleton keys and three slugs that Father Watson had placed in the box.

Krejci was sentenced to the City Workhouse for a year, but was paroled less than two months later despite the fact he was facing a separate felony charge of stealing from a different St. Louis church. Police caught up with the newly freed Krejci in Chicago.

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