This year marks the centennial of a St. Louis statue honoring – incredibly – newspaper editors. German newspaper editors at that.
Named “The Naked Truth,” the statue is located in Compton Hill Reservoir Park, just south of the famous water tower. Three men get props: Emil Preetorius, Carl Schurz and Carl Daenzer.
Daenzer published the Anzeiger des Westens (born 1835; combined with the Westliche Post in 1898). Schurz and Preetorius, at one time, owned the Westliche Post (1857-1938). All three men had been hellraisers in Germany; all three supported the Union cause in their new homeland. (The Westliche Post is where a young Hungarian immigrant named Joseph Pulitzer began his newspaper career. Pulitzer later founded the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
Beer baron Adolphus Busch picked up most of the tab for “The Naked Truth,” which was sculpted by W. Wilhelm Wandschneider in Berlin. Wandschneider was known for his monumental Otto von Bismarcks and kaisers, not naked women. Still, “The Naked Truth” was controversial in St. Louis because the figure was, well, naked and there didn’t seem to be much about journalism in the representation.
Herr Wandschneider’s explanation? “The nude figure … is symbolic of ‘naked truth.’ The open arms mean that there’s nothing to be concealed. The torches which the figure holds in either hand are for the enlightenment of Germany and America.”
The statue was dedicated on May 24, 1914 near Lafayette and Grand (it was moved in 1969 to accommodate highway construction). Less than three years later, the United States entered the Great War and the statue would become controversial again. The St. Louis branch of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union called on the St. Louis Park Commission to melt down the statue and use the bronze for munitions to kill Germans. The organization’s letter, dated June 3, 1918, read in part:
“… we most respectfully ask that immediate steps be taken by your department for the removal of this gift from Berlin from its present place of honor, and we further suggest that the bronze be used for munitions purposes.”
It’s not the last time the statue was a target. In 2012, it was tagged with the words “Class War” in blue paint across the figure’s chest. Right now, “The Naked Truth” is being restored. The Landmarks Association of St. Louis has details on its website: www.landmarks-stl.org