Pompier ladders, cat boxing, coffin nails, UFOs, soccer rules, battleships and other miscellania 

BOXING CATS: 75 years ago, the featured act at Club Boulevard on North Grand was Eddie Fay and his boxing cats. The Post-Dispatch memorialized the act in a full-page spread on May 2, 1948; two days later, the Star-Times had a Humane Society rep warning Fay “against using rough treatment on the cats.” Fay had been promoting the boxing cats since at least 1941; he was still doing his cat act in 1963 when he appeared on Charlotte Peters’ show on KSD-TV. Archie D. “Eddie” Fay died in 1965. He was 73.

Watch the video:

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‘The baby burner’

Julia Fortmeyer, 1875

One of the earliest stories about abortion in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives was published in 1874 by The Dispatch, one of the newspaper’s predecessors. It involved a midwife-abortionist named Julia Fortmeyer, who lived at 1817 Morgan Street (now Delmar, between 18th and 19th streets).

Fortmeyer’s brush with infamy began in August of that year, when she asked local authorities to retrieve the body of Lena Miller, an African American woman of about 18 years, who died after a crude abortion and after receiving what was described as an overdose of morphine.

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‘Land of opportunity’

Vaclav Krejci

Somebody was emptying the poor box at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, so the Rev. 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.

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

Post-Dispatch illustration

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.

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The Missouri editor whose bigotry outlived him

John W. Jacks (1897)

John W. Jacks 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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The dynamite plot

Streetcar at Fairground Park (1880s)
Missouri Historical Society

In 1885, streetcar workers in St. Louis went on strike, seeking a 12-hour workday (instead of the usual 16- to 18-hour day), a wage scale of $2 per day for conductors, 20 cents per hour for overtime, and $1.75 for drivers. The streetcar companies responded by hiring replacement workers.

The strikers, backed by the Knights of Labor, responded, in some cases, by dragging the replacements — denounced as “scabs” and “rats” — from the cars and assaulting them. They also tried to disrupt service by rocking cars, stretching carpet across the tracks to frighten the horses, and blowing cars off the tracks.

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‘Simply a business proposition’

Roy Simpson Rauschkolb
Roy Rauschkolb

When Presbyterians decided to sell their church at 910 N. Newstead to Lane Tabernacle, Roy S. Rauschkolb, a 34-year-old Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. salesman, organized a “protective association” to block the sale and keep African Americans from moving into the neighborhood. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 25, 1920)

Rauschkolb said: “This is not a race question, and there is no prejudice in it. It is simply a business proposition. Most of us have worked hard to build or buy our homes, and we don’t propose to see their value depreciated.”

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‘Purely a human contrivance’

Frederick Douglass
Library of Congress.

On Feb. 7, 1867, amid heavy snow and frigid temperatures, Frederick Douglass came to St. Louis to denounce President Andrew Johnson for his policy of leniency toward the white insurrectionists of the South. His speech, also delivered elsewhere, was titled “Sources of Danger to the Republic.”

Douglass spoke at Turner’s Hall — the Turnhalle — on 16-18 S. Tenth Street, between Market and Walnut streets. The hall was built by German immigrants, staunch Unionists who fought Missouri state government’s effort to join the Confederacy. (The building, nicknamed the “Cradle of Liberty,” was razed in 1932.)

In his speech, which resonates today, Douglass described the imperfections of the U.S. Constitution, which he called “a human contrivance,” and offered recommendations for improvement, including universal suffrage: “Keep no man from the ballot box or jury box or the cartridge box, because of his color — exclude no woman from the ballot box because of her sex.”

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‘Refusing to obey orders’

The Day Book (1916)

The Day Book, E.W. Scripps’ Chicago-based ad-free daily, in 1916 reported on an unusual fight between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and all of St. Louis’ major department stores.

The Post-Dispatch introduced a slick new rotogravure section to showcase its photography, but the department stores balked at the 50 cent per line ad rate, the highest “ever charged in St. Louis for newspaper advertising,” The Day Book reported.

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Jerry the smoking St. Louis orangutan


St. Louis still celebrates some of the long-ago residents of its famous zoo. Phil the gorilla. Mr. Moke the chimp. Moby Dick the sea elephant. Siegfried the walrus.

But not Jerry.

This much-photographed orangutan showed up in newspapers across the nation in the 1940s — and even scored appearances in Life magazine and in at least one newsreel.

Today, though, Jerry seems to have been forgotten.

I became curious about Jerry when I spotted an old postcard that showed him in uniform, smoking a cigarette. I made a few inquiries and checked archives.

Here is what I learned.

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‘St. Louis is a slum city’

Mill Creek housing, circa 1948

The wholesale demolition of Mill Creek, the elimination of historic structures along the riverfront and urban renewal share a dark legacy in St. Louis. But long-forgotten is the wretched condition of most of the city’s housing stock immediately after World War II, when one out of every three residences lacked a toilet or bath.

Only five major cities — all in the South — were worse off, the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau found.

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Watermelons and Prophets

Illustration of Veiled Prophet float in 1890

Organizers of the Order of the Veiled Prophet in 1878, led by brothers 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.

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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.

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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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‘Only one Santa Claus’

Everybody knows about little Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus is real. Francis Pharcellus Church’s response – “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus” – deftly elevated magical thinking, delivering a double blow to journalism and parenting from which neither ever recovered.* The Sun, which also gave us the Great Moon Hoax, died in 1950.

Unlike Virginia, who was the subject of news stories throughout her long life, nobody remembers little Wilbur Kent and his letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which he asked whether there were two Santa Clauses because that’s how many he saw — on the very same day! He was deeply troubled because his “pap an mamma” said there was only one Santa, just like “they is only 1 god.”

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‘American money’

Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, circa 1922

Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born Bavarian fascist, made his first appearance in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a century ago, about 10 years before he was appointed chancellor of Germany.

It was a brief mention. The newspaper on Dec. 11, 1922, published only the first paragraph of a short Associated Press story, which reported “American money is helping to finance the Fascisti movement in Bavaria led by Herr Hitler.”

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‘There was great rejoicing in hell this morning’

prisonRemembering George Dinning, a black Southerner who in 1897 defended his family from a white mob, then courageously brought suit against his tormentors — and won. 

FRANKLIN, Ky.  •  Late on the night of Jan. 21, 1897, a group of 25 armed white men showed up at the home of George and Mary Dinning and told the family they had 10 days to leave.* They accused George Dinning, a former slave, of stealing chickens and hogs.

Dinning insisted he was no thief, but these Night Riders weren’t listening. They shot into the house — most of the couple’s 12 terrified children were there — and hit Dinning in the arm and grazed his forehead.

Despite his wounds, Dinning returned fire, killing a 32-year-old man named Jodie Conn. After the whites fled, Dinning made his way to nearby Franklin — the county seat of Simpson County, Ky. — where he turned himself in to the sheriff.

The vigilantes, as Dinning had feared, returned to his home and on a bitterly cold night forced his wife and children to leave. They then plundered the Continue reading “‘There was great rejoicing in hell this morning’”

A ‘network of surveillance’

G Herbert Walker small
George H. Walker

The goal was to counter German spies and saboteurs during the Great War, but the American Protective League appeared to be more successful at helping criminalize speech and neutralize dissidents, including leftists and labor activists.

The league functioned as a “voluntary auxiliary” under the U.S. Department of Justice, a network of amateur secret agents of 200,000 or more “loyal” Americans.

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‘The house where Eugene Field was not born’

eugene-field_edited-1A plaque on the Eugene Field House says “the children’s poet” — famous for “Little Boy Blue,” “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” and other works — was born there. The Field House Museum, on its website, says “Eugene Field was born in St. Louis at 634 South Broadway, on September 2, 1850.” And some contemporary news stories also say Field was born there.

But he wasn’t.

A former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter named Robertus Love took the blame for the confusion — a century ago. In letter to the newspaper, published on Feb. 12, 1917, Love wrote: “About 15 years ago I suggested a story on Eugene Field.… My suggestion was approved and I was assigned to get the story. I interviewed several persons who had known Field more or less intimately when he lived here as a young newspaper man. Also I interviewed his guardian, an elderly gentleman now dead…. In reply to a specific query as to where Eugene Field was born, his guardian told me it was the house on South Broadway.” Continue reading “‘The house where Eugene Field was not born’”

How ‘Santa’ ended up buried in St. Louis

1900 Santa

Early on Christmas morning, in the year 1900 in the city of St. Louis, an old man with a long gray beard and shoulder-length hair wandered north on North Grand Avenue, leaning on a cane as a brisk cold wind stung his face and whipped his coat.

Sitting at the front window of 3615 North Grand the home of butcher Edward Ladain and his wife, Lulu  seven-year-old Elizabeth watched the old man with growing amazement.

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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)]

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100 years of disappointment

04-13-1920 a1 edited

The 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. 

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

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‘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.

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‘There is no business in America that is more precarious’

01-02-1906 St. Louis Republic A1

When it looked like the St. Louis Globe-Democrat was going to be shuttered, back in 1983, I did a quick study of other St. Louis newspapers that beat the Globe to the cemetery. (I was working for a journalism review; it was my job to know the history.) There’d been many, including the St. Louis Chronicle († 1905), the Times († 1932) and the Star-Times († 1951).

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