Reflections 2015
Series 19
November 1
Mississippi River VII: Outer St Louis, West


The obvious continuation of a northbound river trip out of Sainte Genevieve would be to continue just a little upstream in Missouri to Saint Louis, get on the steamboat, and continue north to Saint Paul. We will do that. But why stick to the obvious when good reasons present themselves for additional geographic and historical travel adventures? During the planning of this trip earlier this year, one by one, three good reasons appeared that suggested a pause at Saint Louis would be appropriate to dash out west to the other side of Missouri and visit the area around Kansas City. To wit:

 ● When we were in Texas last year we stopped at LBJ's grave. I dug out of my paper files the old typewritten list of presidential graves Beverly and I visited in the 1960s and 1970s, updated it, and checked LBJ off. I reported in 2015/3 that LBJ's raised my total visited to 26 out of the 38 existing graves, but that I'm still lacking visits to twelve, seven of the older presidents and five of the more recent ones. I have absolutely no intention of completing this list. But I also mentioned that in 1968 we'd visited the Truman library in Independence MO and the Eisenhower library a bit further beyond in Abilene KS, but both presidents were still alive at the time, so those visits can't be included on the list. But then I wrote in that posting that an opportunity is expected to open up later this year to go back and add on Truman and Eisenhower, bringing the total to 28, or 74%, almost three-quarters. Well, this is that opportunity, and once we've been there, those updated figures will be accurate. But the graves are just an opening gambit and not nearly enough of a reason to drive all that distance.

● The rental car from the Memphis airport would logically have been returned in Saint Louis, prior to embarcation. But if we drive to Kansas City (KC), we can return the car there and take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to come back to Saint Louis on Amtrak's Missouri River Runner, subsidized by the state of Missouri and connecting Missouri's two major cities. On top of that, I have enough Amtrak points after the four train trips last year that this short run in Missouri would not only be free, but free in business class. Sounding better.

● I have discovered a wealth of interesting places to visit on such a short side trip, or in some cases, to revisit. That tipped the scale. We're going to KC.

I usually summarize past visits to a place, and in the situation of Missouri, such a summary appears to be particularly important, because of a major historical misunderstanding on my part. Let me first mention the trips.


Arriving at Saint Louis was the lead-in to the two long summer tours I've mentioned in the past around the US and Canada in our new VW Camper. First in 1968 we did a clockwise western loop and in 1969, a figure-8 in the East. Only now, looking at it a little differently, do I realize that that Grand Tour of the US and Canada, coming out of New York and after an overnight stop in Ohio, actually started in Saint Louis. Well, that's slightly off. Our very first stop was at the Cahokia Mounds in the St Louis suburbs on the Illinois side of the river, but that's still metropolitan St Louis. We followed that by gong into St Louis with a visit to the then brand-new Arch, then up to Hannibal for Mark Twain, off to Fulton for the Churchill museum (more later), a stop for Truman, then into Kansas for Eisenhower, Dodge City of Western fame, on to Santa Fe, Los Angeles, and then north.


A decade later, in 1978, our second visit was when we flew to St Louis to meet relatives from Springfield IL, and then we went to stay with them. I'm counting as a valid third visit, even though it lasted just about an hour, the beautiful arrival on the Texas Eagle last 26 October across the Mississippi with the view of the illuminated Arch. Thus the present visit is the fourth, but it will be divided into two halves.


The severe historical misunderstanding on my part was this. I was thinking in terms of "east bank=original US; west bank=Louisiana Purchase", and that the westward movement that the Arch celebrates was simply that expansion. I did wonder why Missouri was chosen to represent that—why not Iowa or Arkansas?—but nothing beyond that occurred to me. Only when preparing the present trip did I realize how wrong I was. It was more than the Louisiana Purchase, it was the wagon trains crossing to the West that was the expansion that was being celebrated, and St Louis and neighboring St Charles were the eastern Missouri portals. Travelers moved from there across Missouri, some by steamboat on the Missouri River, others by other routes, until they reached Independence and the rest of the Kansas City area to be outfitted for wagon trains to cross the Great Plains, most often on the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, or the California Trail.


Only with this realization did it strike me how unwittingly perceptive the 1968 start of our Grand Tour with the camper was. We crossed from the East to St Louis—as did the mid-19C western pioneers and settlers. We crossed Missouri. We left the Kansas City area onto the Great Plains, just as the wagon trains did, and were probably as close to the Santa Fe Trail as possible on modern roads. And we actually did stop in Santa Fe on the way to the west coast. We were trailing the wagon trains without thinking about it.


Now let me extend the above third reason to go west. The "revisiting" would involve roughly reduplicating part of our 1968 drive across Missouri plus part of Kansas to Abilene, with a corresponding nod to commemorating that adventure. We would also revisit Churchill, Truman, and Eisenhower. But then I've discovered new things to see in western Missouri. The Pony Express Museum, in the stable where the riders left from! The National Frontier Trails Museum, where the earliest wagon trains left from! The Arabia Steamboat Museum, with the extensive salvaged contents and partial hull of the steamboat Arabia, that sank in the Missouri River! We've gotta go west!


Planning this western side trip away from the Mississippi is doable, and not complicated. It was apparent early on that because of this side trip, the visit to St Louis had to be done in two parts, one where a car was needed, and another where one was not. So here's the plan.
◊ While we still have the car, we drive up from Ste Gen and visit Outer St Louis, first the western periphery of the city, then we cross the river to see and stay in adjacent Illinois, to the northeast of the city. All of this is entirely new to me, since on earlier trips, we just visited downtown.
◊ The first part of the St Louis visit done, we drive to destinations in the KC area, then give up the car there.
◊ We take the Missouri River Runner from KC back to St Louis.
◊ We can then to the second part of the St Louis visit, seeing downtown on foot and by public transportation, and then finally embark on the American Queen upriver. Got that?


Day 5: Outer St Louis, West    We need more than one map of the St Louis area to show us where we're going. Copy and paste these two:


The first one, in shades of green, shows more of the region—actually, it shows more Illinois than Missouri--while the gray one shows an area a little more close-in. Some of our destinations are shown better on one than on the other.


Our first destination is not on most "must-see" maps--I read about it online. It's a destination that I at first thought had two stories to tell, that of a fabled highway and that of a ghost town. But later there turned out to be three, with the addition of the topic of decaying infrastructure. As it turns out, this destination is a story of the 20C: how a famous road appeared--then disappeared; how a town appeared--then disappeared; how infrastructure, a bridge, already having replaced an older one, could possibly now disappear by collapsing under its own weight. Each of the three stories is marked thus: ▲


On the green map, we'll come up from Ste Gen on our familiar I-55, get off at Barnhart, and take the line of county roads shown in gray way over to Eureka, then get on I-44 for one exit to the Route 66 State Park. The fact that Eureka is located on I-44 is significant for this destination, since that interstate usurped much of the local roadbed that ▲ Route 66 had enjoyed for many years, and so a bit about that is the first of our stories. Losing its roadbed was the fate of a highway like Route 66—it was instrumental in getting so many people to travel cross-country by car that it, and other highways, became inadequate for the task, and the interstate system of limited-access highways was introduced. Often, highways such as 66 had already taken the best routings, so much of their right-of-way, including that of 66, was torn up, as interstates and other upgraded highways replaced them. Usually, only small bits and pieces of the old road were saved where perhaps their original routing veered off the straightaway a bit. These bits and pieces have been renamed Historic Route 66 in each state it had passed through. That's the case with today's visit.

 We will not dwell on the interesting story of Route 66, as it was already told in 2007/12—you can go check out the details. But here's a thumbnail: it was finished in 1926; at first it was dirt all the way from Chicago (I've seen the first street it goes down, Adams Street, past Union Station) to Santa Monica (I've visited its western terminus); I've also driven on a good stretch of Historic Route 66 in New Mexico; its prestige caused Phillips Petroleum to name its product and service stations Phillips 66, a name which remains to this day; Bobby Troup wrote "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" in 1946 and it was made popular by Nat King Cole's recording, available in the earlier posting; we'll hear Bobby Troup himself sing it when we reach 66 in Illinois shortly.

But the second thing that Route 66 State Park commemorates is the ghost town of ▲ Times Beach, and we'll look into the unusual story of how it came about, and the even more unusual story of how it disappeared. [Aside from pre- and post-trip online research, the best notes on this topic I took down right at the excellent museum at the visitor center, which included Route 66 artifacts such as period gas pumps and neon signs, and which also gave full information on Times Beach.]


There used to be a newspaper called the St Louis Times. In 1925 the newspaper bought land on the Meramec River SW of St Louis, and subdivided it. As the above newspaper page shows, the paper sold lots, primarily to people from St Louis, on a "beach" along the river for an amazingly low $67.50 each. It was to be a nearby mountain getaway, a resort that was typical of the era, close to urban areas. It being a resort, people would reach Times Beach by train, bus, or cars on minor, back roads—confirm this at the bottom right of the ad (click). Also enjoy reviewing the ad for some of the period hype of the giddy 1920s, and for the easy payment terms.

 The Meramec River is one of the longest free-flowing waterways in Missouri, entering the Mississippi just south of St Louis. The spelling of its name is misleading. It's pronounced as though written Merrimack, just like the Merrimack River in NH & MA, the city of Merrimack NH, and the Merrimack, the Confederate ship that fought the Monitor in the Civil War.

As the woman at the visitor center told me when I further questioned her, there were two routings of Route 66 in this area. When it was first laid out in 1926, the year after the ad, it was on a more northerly course, where today's highway 100 (in yellow) is on the gray map. But in 1932, as traffic increased, it was rerouted to a right-of-way that included Times Beach (similar to I-44), which now gave the town a direct route into St Louis. This move was made despite the fact that now Route 66 would have to cross the Meramec, and so the present bridge replaced an older one that same year, in 1932. The Route 66 Meramec River Bridge, because of its design, is on the National Register of Historic Places.


But moving the road and opening the bridge coincided with the start of the Great Depression. There was less time and money for second homes, and so, as is typical in this situation, vacation homes were winterized, the resort converted itself into a town, a working-class commuter suburb of St Louis. Some 2,000 people now lived here, but the town couldn't afford to pave its dirt streets, other than Route 66 in the middle of town.


In 1935, a roadhouse appeared at the east end of the bridge. It had several names, first called the Bridge Head Inn, then Steiny's Inn (see above), later the Bridgehead Inn. At this point, all seemed normal. From all the above, you'd never imagine what element caused the downfall and eventual disappearance of Times Beach, would you? Any guesses?


It was those dirt roads. They plagued the town with dust. To solve the dust problem, Times Beach hired a waste hauler named Russell Bliss to spread oil on the town streets. That may sound odd, but remember that blacktop is, after all, itself a petroleum product. Between 1972 and 1976, Bliss sprayed waste oil on the roads, solving the dust problem.


Bliss had used the technique earlier, to control dust in horse stables. But when, in 1971, spraying resulted in the death of 62 horses, the owner accused Bliss, who assured him he was just spraying simple engine oil. What the city and stable owners didn't know was that Bliss had subcontracted to haul waste for the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO). During the Vietnam War, this company had produced Agent Orange, and the water and other waste from the plant contained levels of dioxin some 2,000 stronger than that of Agent Orange. Dioxin is a highly toxic compound and environmental pollutant. Bliss would later claim he knew nothing about dioxin in the waste, and he continued to spray roads and stables with the lethal material.


It was the stable owners who finally complained to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigated in 1979. When a NEPACCO employee confessed that the company handled dioxin, the government sued the company. It was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in the history of the US, and the toxic waste, combined with a flood that buried the town for over a week, made Times Beach uninhabitable. The government paid $33 million to buy Times Beach, dismantle it, and have the Environmental Protection Agency decontaminate it by incinerating the soil, which destroys the dioxin.


In 1985, the entire Times Beach population of 2,000 had to be evacuated and relocated, and the town was disincorporated. The population was then 0, and it was a ghost town. Although thousands of lawsuits were filed against Bliss and NEPACCO, Bliss was never convicted of a crime, and there were no laws in effect at that time that regulated the disposal of hazardous waste. When the cleanup job was done, Route 66 State Park was established on the former townsite, and the park's visitor center was set up in the former Bridgehead Inn, directly adjacent to the bridge. It's poignant to compare the below picture to the postcard above.


So Route 66 came and went, and Times Beach came and went. But what about our bridge? That is the ▲ third topic connected with the park. Reminiscent of the closed bridges in Cairo and on the Kaskaskia River we just encountered in Illinois, this Missouri bridge is closed and dangerous to use, even for pedestrians. I'd like to tell about this as it affected me on arriving in the area.


The directions I'd had said to get off I-44 at exit 265. I did, drove around the park, and found no visitor center, with no explanation. I had to ask locally, and was told to get back on I-44 for one exit to 266, and only then could I access the visitor center, as the map shows. Apparently the white pair of east-west roads on the map are bits and pieces of Route 66, and you can see that the Old Route 66 Bridge over the Meramec (Photo by Kbh3rd) is permanently closed, cutting off the visitor center from the rest of the park it serves. This is the bridge entrance I saw outside the visitor center:


I just checked MODOT, the Missouri Department of Transportation. The bridge is in desperate need of repair. Since Route 66 is no longer a regular road, MODOT cannot use its limited resources to fix the bridge. MODOT sees two options: (1) to find some organization that is willing to accept liability for the bridge and to repair and maintain it into the future, or (2) to remove the bridge before it collapses under its own weight. If the bridge either collapses or is removed, that would complete the full circle of three entities appearing and disappearing in the same location within the same few decades.


So we now get again onto I-44 and take it into St Louis. The gray map shows this well, and also our exit on Hampton Avenue for a southern approach to the center of Forest Park.


You can see our route even better on this new (top) map of the Central Corridor of St Louis, and the lower map shows the park in the greatest detail. And it's a beautiful park, and we're lucky with excellent weather in which to enjoy it. More than once it was pointed out to me in St Louis that Forest Park is larger than Central Park in New York. While I accepted that, I wanted to find out how much larger, so I did some math. It's close to two-to-one. Precisely, Forest Park is 176% the size of Central Park, or Central Park is 56% the size of Forest Park.


Forest Park hosts many institutions, most notably a zoo and the St Louis Art Museum, but we're here to see the Park as it fits into the urban fabric, as one element in a busy day, not to see individual institutions within it. And seeing this park on the historical basis we usually use will remind us that we are now where, in 1904, the St Louis World's Fair AND the Olympics both took place. So we'll be discussing four things here, all intertwined: the Park, the Fair, the Olympics, and related music. And regarding the Olympics, look back to the Corridor map to confirm that Washington University is directly adjacent to the Park's NW corner, but then come back to the Park map.


The Park long predates the Fair, as it was founded in 1876. After the Fair was held, the Park was changed. While most of the Fair buildings were temporary and were then torn down, there are some permanent remnants that remain to this day. Also, a lot more greenery was added to the Park once the Fair left.


I think it's easiest to bring all these topics together by first taking a drive through the Park, so continue observing the Park map. You can see many institutions here, whose names are self-explanatory, but which we will not visit. There are just three things I want to point out. As we drive in via the Hampton Avenue entrance, we can park at the open-air World's Fair Pavilion on Government Hill (Photo by Bluelion) and go take a look at it, and at the view that the map indicates the Pavilion has over the greensward and lakes. The Pavilion is used for events, and caterers are setting up for something while we are there. However, the name is misleading, since this building was not here for the Fair. It has the name because it was built afterwards, from Fair proceeds, in 1909.


The other building (follow on the map) that I find worth stopping at—though parking would be a problem, so we'll look from the car—is the St Louis Art Museum (Photo by Fredlyfish4). Shown here with the statue, also from the Fair, of Louis IX of France, who was Saint Louis, the structure was built of stone and steel in 1902-3 in Beaux-Arts style by none other than Cass Gilbert, and called during the Fair the Palace of Fine Art. This solid structure is in contrast to the many temporary buildings put up just for the season of the Fair, which were built of a material called "staff", a mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fibers laid on a wood frame. As at the earlier Chicago World's Fair, buildings and statues built this way deteriorated quickly and had to be constantly repaired, so it's no wonder they're gone. The museum an interesting history. It had been founded in 1881 as a separate entity within adjacent Washington University, when both were located downtown. After the move here, the Museum became independent of the University.


The Museum is on Art Hill, and, as the map shows, has a view over the Grand Basin, also left over from the Fair. As we drive around the Basin, we get the view back over it and up Art Hill:


The Grand Basin is a much simpler design than that of our third Fair-related icon, the former Cascades that were located here, falling 23 m (75 ft), which became symbolic of the Fair. This souvenir postcard also shows Festival Hall, a temporary structure, but also designed by Cass Gilbert. It seated 4,000, had a stage that could house a symphony orchestra, and had the world's largest organ. It's odd to think of it as the temporary building it was.


After these three stops, we continue along the drives on the north side of the Park, and leave at the NE corner, onto Lindell Boulevard, eastbound. We'll break our tour here for a moment to catch up on the history that took place here.


We will all find the story quite unusual, if not almost unbelievable, of the 1904 Olympics. Much of its unusual nature can be explained by realizing it was only the third modern Olympics ever played, after they started in 1896 in Athens, with 7 venues, and continued in 1900 in Paris with 14. In 1904 it did move to St Louis with only 5 venues, although this was the largest Olympics to date, and, obviously, the first one held outside of Europe.


How the Olympics came to St Louis we will consider incredible by modern standards. The games had been awarded to Chicago, not very far away across adjacent Illinois. But St Louis had scheduled the Fair and wanted all the attention, and so threatened to hold a rival international competition. At that point, the Olympic officials and Chicago yielded, and the games were moved to St Louis. There's no way this could possibly happen today.


That done, the Olympics were reduced to a side-show of the World's Fair, and competitions were overshadowed by other cultural events that were more popular. But actually, that was not new. Paris had done exactly the same thing when the 1900 Summer Olympics became part of the Exposition Universelle, which was the 1900 World's Fair.


European tension caused by the Russo-Japanese War, which ran for 18 months in 1904-5, and high travel expenses, kept many potential overseas participants away. There were 651 participants, 645 men and 5 women (who could compete only in archery), representing 12 countries, but only 52 were from outside North America, and only 42 events, fewer than half, included participants who were NOT from the US. Beyond that, the nationalities of many medalists are disputed, as many competitors were recent immigrants to the US who had not yet become citizens.


As to the 5 venues: ▪ rowing was on nearby Creve Coeur lake, the largest natural lake in Missouri (crève-coeur is French for "heartbreak", not too auspicious a name for a contest venue); ▪ golf was on a nearby golf course, which was the first one ever built west of the Mississippi; ▪ Forest park hosted only three sports, all aquatic: diving, swimming, and water polo; everything else, 13 sports, competed at two venues, ▪ a stadium and ▪ a gymnasium, both at adjacent Washington University, which had, in 1900, just started construction on the site in preparation of its move from downtown St Louis. Actually, the University delayed occupying the first buildings until 1905 because of the Olympics and the Fair. It almost makes one think that the 1904 Olympics took place at what is today called, for clarity, Washington University in St Louis, and only incidentally anywhere else.


What is to this day still popularly called the St Louis World's Fair was officially named the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, so in contrast to my confusion with the purpose of today's Arch, I can rest assured that the Fair was NOT based on westward expansion, but actually on the Louisiana Purchase. But that had happened in 1803, so the centennial would have been 1903, but the celebration was delayed to 1904 to allow more participation by countries and US states. As a result, there were exhibits by 62 other countries in addition to the US government exhibit, and by 43 of the 45 states that existed at the time. There were over 1,500 buildings and 120 km (75 mi) of roads and walkways. It was considered that a week was needed to see everything, even superficially. 19,694,855 admissions were counted over the seven months the Fair ran.


We have to point out here a huge irony. While the Fair was of significant cultural and historic significance to St Louis and to the United States, we also have to add that, even though it came at a time of very high prestige for St Louis, the 20C introduced by the Fair was the time of St Louis's significant economic decline and shrinkage of population. After years of 19C immigration, migration, and expansion, by the 1900 census, St Louis, with a population of 575,238, was the fourth-largest city in the US. It held on, and increased its population, for half of the 20C, and reached its peak population of 856,796 in 1950. It has declined since then, losing population to the suburbs, so that in 2010, St Louis had a population of only 319,294, and a 2013 estimate is 318,416, so that now it's ranks only 58th in population among US cities. It has lost 62.7% of its population since 1950, which is the highest percentage for cities over 100,000 population. The only other cities in the range of 60% were Detroit and Youngstown OH.


While the city has been in decline, due to suburbanization, the St Louis metropolitan area, which includes, with the city, a number of counties in Missouri and in adjacent Illinois, totals 2,905,893. This total approaching 3 million makes Greater St Louis one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US.


There are numerous claims as to foods first appearing at the Fair, but we have to understand something very important first, the difference between an origination and a popularization. We've just pointed out that, while Nat King Cole popularized the song "Route 66", Bobby Troupe wrote it. We'll see shortly with Winston Churchill famously popularized a certain expression, it had existed before he said it.


We can also localize this on World's Fairs. Most of us became acquainted with Belgian waffles and quiche, particularly Quiche Lorraine, after they were both popularized at the New York World's Fair of 1964, but they had existed before then. So let's go back to the St Louis Fair.


The most frequently heard story about new foods is that the ice-cream cone was invented at the St Louis World's Fair, which, while important to American culture, is, again, only a half-truth. The first ice-cream cone was actually produced in 1896 by an Italian immigrant, Italo Marchiony, in New York City, and he was granted a patent for it in December 1903.


What happened in St Louis, which is the popular story one usually hears, is this. A Syrian concessionaire, Ernest Hamwi, was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry in a booth next to an ice-cream vendor. When the vendor ran out of dishes, Hamwi found a solution that could benefit them both. He rolled one of his wafer-like waffles into a cone, let it cool, and the vendor put some ice cream into it. This pleased them both, and most importantly, caught on with the customers. While this is the event one usually hears of, it was an independent creation, sort of reinventing the wheel. But this was actually only the popularization of a previous invention.


There were other food claims, but they were much more dubious: hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter, iced tea, cotton candy. But the first two were traditional foods, and all of these were far more likely to just have pre-existed, but been popularized to a mass audience at the Fair. In addition, Dr Pepper soda and Puffed Wheat cereal were first introduced nationally at the Fair. But even if it was mere popularization, it's obvious the important part the St Louis World's Fair played in American, if not world, popular culture.


The Fair was a boon to Jack Daniel, the distiller who entered his Tennessee whiskey into a competition at the Fair, where it won a Gold Medal. Several attendees of note were John Philip Sousa, whose band performed on opening day and several times thereafter, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Geronimo. Helen Keller gave a lecture in the main auditorium. A lecture was also given by a well-regarded fruit specialist, JT Stinson, in which he first introduced the phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."


We said we'd also discuss music related to the Fair, and we have two selections, the first by Scott Joplin. We will later today be visiting the home of Scott Joplin, but it's appropriate to mention now that ragtime music was popularly featured at the Fair, and that in 1904, Joplin wrote the rag The Cascades in honor of the elaborate waterfalls at the Grand Basin in front of Festival Hall, as we saw in the above souvenir postcard. Incidentally, this picture of him is one of only three surviving photos, all on sheet music covers. This 3:10 YouTube recording of The Cascades was made from a piano roll for a player piano, or pianola, and it is Scott Joplin himself who is playing.


The question remains if Scott Joplin introduced The Cascades himself at the Fair, or, if he even ever performed at the Fair. I've spent a lot of time trying to find what people had to say, and the answer is inconclusive. One source says he introduced it. Another says he was a featured performer there. The article I'm most drawn to asks outright if he played there at all. It cites someone who claims he did, but who presents no documentation and someone else who reported no evidence that Joplin ever attended the fair. Finally, the article cites a biography that indicates that Joplin probably traveled to St Louis for the Fair's opening, where he surely viewed The Cascades that inspired him, then left to marry his second wife. But within three months, she got pneumonia and died, so for most of the Fair's run, Joplin would have been too preoccupied for the Fair. So the answer is: maybe, maybe not. However, it is known that other musicians and bands did perform The Cascades at the Fair.


I suspect that all of us could do a decent job singing, or at least humming, the other musical selection written in 1904 and closely identified to this day with the Fair. The full name is Meet Me in St Louis, Louis, though familiarly, it's shortened to Meet Me in St Louis. We shall discuss the pronunciation of this at a later time.


The song was recorded by many artists, including Billy Murray, shown here in 1911. I'd never heard of him, and it's astounding how fame can be lost. He was one of the most popular singers in the US in the first couple of decades of the 20C. He received star billing in vaudeville, but he was best known for his prolific work in the recording studio, making records for almost every record label of the era.


I suggest you try an experiment. Look him up on Wikipedia, and inspect his partial discography at the bottom (there are only songs that have separate Wikipedia articles). There are about five dozen songs, and I think I could at least hum over two dozen. This to me illustrates two things. How prolific a recorder he was, and how many early-20C songs most of us are still relatively familiar with.


This YouTube video (2:51) is of Billy Murray's Victor recording, made on 28 May 1904, when he was 27, of Meet Me in St Louis, Louis, where Louis comes home to his flat, but his wife Flossie is out and has left him a note that she's at the Fair. By July 1904 it reached #1 on US Billboard, and remained there for 14 weeks. (If you wish to follow the lengthy text, click "Show More" below the video.)


I shall now sheepishly admit that we've actually heard him sing before, and just recently, and I'd forgotten. Check 2015/8 and listen again to him singing Waiting for the Robert E Lee in 1912.


But not only does public taste change, but so does recording technology. He had recorded his songs—as had everyone, even Enrico Caruso—by essentially yelling the song into an acoustic recording horn, which reflected in his style. But when crooners became popular, and electric microphones came in, in the mid-1920s, he had to soften his voice for his later work.


And then in 1944, exactly 40 years after the Fair, the feature film "Meet Me in St Louis" was made with Judy Garland, and both the Fair and the song were focal points of the film. That same year she, too, recorded the song from 1904 (2:16).


But now we're back, driving out of the NE corner of Forest Park and down Lindell Boulevard (check corridor map). We're in the trendy neighborhood called the Central West End, and what do we see? Lindell Boulevard is part of Historic Route 66! This sign is typical, showing the original highway shield as a centerpiece of the historic one. But that would indicate that we have more or less been following the original right-of-way since the Route 66 Park, perhaps through, perhaps around, Forest Park, to here, and will continue to and across the Mississippi. We'll pick it up again later on the Illinois side.


Follow on the Central Corridor map how we drive just a few blocks down Lindell to the corner of Newstead, where we find the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis. That is to say, the newer one of the two, since, in the early 20C when the city was spreading west, just as Washington University moved, so did the Cathedral. However, its original building is still a landmark, and in use, which we'll visit when we're downtown. Work began on clearing ground for the new building in 1907, and it was dedicated in 1914, when the superstructure was complete. The building here is an absolutely magnificent piece of architecture. It surprises you on the outside, and it surprises you even more in the inside.


While I have several linkable pictures of the exterior, I fine the above one shows it best, on a clear day with leaves not obscuring the view. The exterior is a reserved, regal, distinguished Romanesque. It's symmetrical, with two towers on the sides and a huge dome in the center. The view is primarily gray stone, but the deep green tiles on the dome, tower pyramids, and roof give it a handsome mien. It has a beautiful presentation on Lindell Boulevard. In this view at an angle, with trees (Photo by Colin.faulkingham), while quite distinguished, the view of much of the stonework is blocked, yet the green tiles show up very well. Finally, this view emphasizes the stonework (click) around the portals and rose window (Photo by Nheyob).


But this sedate Romanesque exterior belies the breathtaking riot of color inside, as well as the style change, which is Byzantine. You see, the interior of this church contains the largest mosaic collection in the world. This, however, makes it difficult to select good pictures, because far too many are gaudy and actually nonrepresentative. On the other hand, the ones I've chosen might underwhelm you, which is a danger we'll have to take.


This first interior looks down the nave, then under the dome, to the altar (Photo by Andrew Balet). Every archway, every wall space, is decorated, including the interior of the 46.3 m (143 ft) dome. There are 41.5 million pieces of tile here in 7,000-8,000 colors, making it, again, the largest collection of mosaics in the world. The installation of the mosaics in the interior began in 1912, two years before it opened. However, the mosaics took 20 artists over three-quarters of a century to complete, and they were completed in 1988.


While the mosaics in the (click) main cathedral area (Photo by QuartierLatin1968) were designed by August Oetken, those in the side chapels (Photo by Andrew Balet) were designed and installed by Tiffany Studios. This is the ceiling of All Saints Chapel by Louis Comfort Tiffany.


All the above pictures are adequate, and not gaudy. However, this last one is by far the most illustrative. On the ceiling of the narthex, or entryway, is this mosaic (Photo by Daniel Schwen). While it shows the mosaic work spectacularly as is, you MUST click to enlarge it to see and admire the amazing detail work. Then contemplate again that there are 41.5 million of these mosaic tiles in the building.


Because our next destination is the Scott Joplin House, we need to talk more about him, known as the King of Ragtime. he wrote 44 original rags, one ragtime ballet, and two operas, his first one now lost. One of his first rags, the Maple Leaf Rag (1899), became ragtime's first big hit and brought him his fame.


He was born on the Texas side of Texarkana. He went to, and performed at, the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and that Fair played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897. The next year, in his mid-twenties, he moved to Sedalia, Missouri (we'll pass through it on the train leaving KC) to teach piano, but traveled extensively as an itinerant musician. He lived in St Louis in 1900-1903 where he lived and composed many of his famous pieces in the house we're about to visit. In 1907 he moved to New York, but by 1916, he descended into dementia because of syphilis—as the guide at the house explained, he had indulged too much in his early years in what was then known as "the sporting life". He died in a mental institution in New York in 1917 at the age of only 49, and was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in East Elmhurst, Queens. Thus, in later life, and in death, he became a New Yorker. His death is considered the end of mainstream ragtime, which then involved into jazz, swing, and similar successor styles.


His music was rediscovered in 1970 when Joshua Rifkin released a million-selling album of his music, followed by others. These were presented as classical music recordings. Rifkin's work as a Joplin revivalist is viewed as the turnaround for Joplin, so that, in 1971, the New York Times pointed out that many musical scholars considered Joplin a genius. Right after the Rifkin albums, Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin's The Entertainer for the 1973 film The Sting—and the rest is history.


As the Joplin revival progressed, there were other positive developments. ◊In 1970, Joplin was inaugurated into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. ◊Although Joplin's grave remained unmarked for 57 years, he was finally given a marker in 1974. ◊In 1976, the Pulitzer Committee awarded Joplin a special Bicentennial Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American music. ◊In 1983, the US issued a Joplin postage stamp. ◊In 1989, he received a star in the St Louis Walk of Fame. ◊In 2002, a collection of piano rolls from the first decade of the 20C, with Joplin himself performing, was included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.


Although we said we were just skirting western St Louis, in actuality, the Joplin house is relatively close to downtown, but has easy parking, so it works out to visit it today. We follow Lindell (see Corridor map) to where it merges with Olive Street, and just before Jefferson we cut up to Delmar to the Scott Joplin State Historic Site. The route and neighborhood are largely low-rise and apparently underpopulated, which is what makes parking here so easy. I've seen a number of vintage photos of St Louis that showed a lot more traffic, streetcars, people, and taller buildings in earlier years. One that I can show here is Olive Street in 1921, below. We were just on Olive Street, and this view is probably a little further downtown than where we are now, but a photo like this has to be indicative of how St Louis has shrunk during the 20C.'s_1921_St._Louis_-_Olive_Street.jpg


The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site (Photo by Kevin Saff) has been restored to how it looked when he lived there, despite the present low-density population and occasional vacant lots nearby. His address was 2658A Morgan Street. At a later date, the name of Delmar Boulevard to the west was extended to Morgan Street, so the house now has that street name, although Joplin didn't know it that way.


It's a twin building. The part on the right was always single-family, and is now used for offices relating to the historic site, and is the site's main entrance. The part on the left had been subdivided at the time; the downstairs B apartment is now where visitors see an introductory video, and later enjoy some Joplin music. It's the upstairs A apartment that was Joplin's and his new wife Belle's. Note the third window from the left, above the door. When we toured the apartment, we were told that, since so little is known about Joplin, there's no way there would be original furniture, so it's period furniture in the living room and bedroom, which are lit by gaslight. But it's been estimated that the only logical place he could have used as an office is in a small space at the end of the hallway, which would be behind that window, and it's there that the restorers put a desk. Therefore, it's assumed it was there that he composed some of his best-known ragtime works during this period. While it was the earlier Maple Leaf Rag of 1899 that brought him recognition, it was here that he wrote The Entertainer in 1902. It's a curious fact that in his lifetime, he was best known because of the Maple Leaf Rag, but since his revival period, because of the film The Sting, Joplin is best known for The Entertainer.


Joplin's appeal is universal; the half-dozen of us on the tour were racially diverse, and the guide, who was particularly knowledgeable of his subject, to the point of being an expert, was white. After the time upstairs, we all retired to the downstairs music area, which had seats facing a period player piano (pianola), since much of Joplin's oeuvre is available today as sheet music or as piano rolls—hence the piano rolls in the Library of Congress collection. And of dozens of piano rolls stored above the piano, the guide played exactly the two you'd expect.


He first played the Maple Leaf Rag, the rag that made Joplin's reputation and set the tone for subsequent ragtime music. The piano roll he played was actually done by Joplin himself, and, as luck would have it, I found on YouTube as well Joplin playing The Maple Leaf Rag (2:45).


And then, of course, came The Entertainer, which had been written upstairs from where we were sitting, a fact that gave a thrill. However, it wasn't Joplin playing on that recording, and the same for this recording of The Entertainer (3:34). Watch for views of his gravesite.


The selections played, the others in the tour group left. But I had a few questions, and the knowledgeable guide and I sat down for a while for a little chat. He'd said that, while little is known about Joplin, more information keeps on coming up, and I asked him to explain what would cause that. The answer was most satisfying. Essentially, it's the computer. As more and more files get digitized, more people have access to information that might have been in some dusty paper file somewhere. And most fun for me—no surprise--was an explanation of names I got from the guide, the names of Joplin's two best-known selections. And don't think that that maple leaf refers to Canada!


When he was living in Sedalia, one social outlet that was available were social clubs or lodges, and Joplin was a member of Sedalia's Maple Leaf Club. OK. One down, one to go. In addition, the guide was convinced that the other reference was to Joplin himself, since Joplin's business card for the Maple Leaf Club listed him as "Scott Joplin, Entertainer". Et voilà.


I have a favorite Scott Joplin story I told before, in 2005/9, but it bears repeating—and I think I can tell it better now. 2005 was the year of my Around the World by Rail trip, which included Tim Littler's luxury private train that runs the Transsiberian route. As is also done on major cruise ship trips, lounge entertainers would be brought on at one stop, do their thing, and get off maybe the next day. That was the case of a Russian pianist who entertained for a while somewhere in Siberia. I saw the pianist in the lounge one evening, and moved up to the piano. Over his shoulder I saw him take out a book of music, and was able to make out what it contained: Рэгтаймы Скотта Джоплина.


I was delighted by the title I read and figured out, and by the music he then played. Рэгтайм (Regtaim) would be the Cyrillic transcription of Ragtime; add ы (y) and you get a plural, Рэгтаймы (Regtaimy) which would have to be rags, or ragtime selections. Скотт Джоплин is you-know-who, and let me point out that, since Russian doesn't have the English J sound, it fakes it by putting together D and ZH, so it indeed says Skott Dzhoplin. To show possession ("of"), it changes even proper names, both first and last, into the genitive case, which in this case means adding As, so Skotta Dzhoplina corresponds to of—let's say by—Scott Joplin.


So he started playing several Regtaimy that were indeed Skotta Dzhoplina, and it was delightful. At first I thought the pianist's selection of this composer was by chance, then realized he was influenced knowing the majority of people on the train were from the US. But there are many 20C American composers he could have picked, some more show biz, others more classical. But while watching the lush green Siberian countryside pass by, it was to Scott Joplin that we were listening. Now how biculturally international is THAT?


It's been a busy day, but we have one more stop before our B&B tonight. It's St Charles, a neighboring city to St Louis. I will admit, I'd never heard of it, but Michelin suggested it, and the time there turned out to be very well spent. On the Central Corridor map, Jefferson and Salisbury will get us onto I-70 westbound. Now move to the gray map. After the airport, you see south of us Creve Coeur (Heartbreak) Lake, the rowing venue for the 1904 Olympics. We finally come to the Missouri River for the first of several times. Over the bridge, we're in St Charles, which lies directly on the river, and we get off at Fifth Street.


This map is a bit small, but it shows everything we need. You see the I-70 connection to Fifth Street; we pass Boone's Lick Road—with a name like that, you know we'll be discussing it momentarily. After four blocks, we make a right on a street with an equally interesting name, First Capitol Street. We want Main Street which is the center of a charming historic district, which is why the blocks on both sides are marked in blue. But we'll park in the ample lots on Riverside Drive, next to the large Frontier Park. All these names alone tell you that St Charles is going to be interesting.


The town was established by French fur traders in 1769, four years after St Louis was founded. That makes St Charles the third oldest settlement in Missouri, since, of course, Ste Genevieve is the oldest. It should be noted, but is not surprising, that all three of the oldest settlements are way in the east, either on the Mississippi or not very far up the Missouri, which, by the way, makes St Charles the oldest settlement on the Missouri. Obviously, in addition to the westward expansion through the state, Missouri itself was settled east to west, most likely on the heels of the expansion.


It's so easy to say the French settled the area, as though a boat came from France and dropped people off. It gives the wrong impression. The entire area was a southwestern extension of Québec, and it was the Québecois who moved down to this area and settled it. Canada didn't exist yet, so it would grossly incorrect to say Canadians settled the Illinois Country crossing into Missouri, but saying it that way does give a joltingly clearer impression of who the people were.


In any case, the founders gave St Charles the charming name Les Petites Côtes, The Little Hills. Thus you can understand that the summertime Festival of the Little Hills / Fête des Petites Côtes is one that takes place in St Charles.


But it was under Spanish rule that the first church was built in 1791 and dedicated to the Spanish saint San Carlos Borromeo. With that, the town took on the name San Carlos del Misuri / St Charles of the Missouri. After the Louisiana Purchase, the name reverted to St Charles.

 Let's be more accurate, because the above is misleading. It looks like two names, but it's three. The first name was French: [Saint] Charles (SHARL), the second was Spanish: [San] Carlos, the third was English: [Saint] Charles (CHARLZ). Just because the name is spelled the same in French in English makes it the same name only to those who put far too much faith in standard spelling and not to the real language that spelling can mask.

The Spanish felt they had to extend their version of the name to include the river, so let's discuss that. English uses the French name, but again, only in the spelling. In French it's Missouri ( and in English it's Missouri (mi.ZU.ri). They're different, so again, don't put too much faith in the standard spelling. [Incidentally, in English, while a Z can be spelled as an S, such as in Charles, it's highly unusual to spell a Z as SS. Aside from "Missouri", "scissors" comes to mind.]

As for Spanish, the French spelling has been used alongside the beautifully simplified Spanish spelling Misuri (mi.SU.ri), but I'm glad to say that as of 2005, the RAE (Real Academia Española), or Royal Spanish Academy, recommended "Misuri" within the confines of Spanish over the French version.

In sum, we have three words, mi.ZU.ri, mi.SU.ri,, masked over with only two spellings (Missouri and Misuri). Can you tell which of the three is which without peeking?

After we park the car on Riverside Drive across from Frontier Park, we walk back one short block to the St Charles Historic District on both sides of Main Street (no attribution), which includes over a hundred historic structures. The Newbill-McElhiney House (Photo by Smallbones) is on the National Register of Historic Places independently of being included in the Historic District. The leafy sidewalk below gives even a better feeling for the atmosphere along Main Street:


Let's now explain the name of the street we entered on, First Capitol Street. Where it crosses Main Street on the town map, you'll see the letter G, which is the location of the First Capitol Building of Missouri (Photo by Smallbones), now a State Historic Site, a strikingly handsome set of Federal-style brick buildings, and these buildings come with an interesting story.


In 1821, Missouri became the 24th state, and a central location in the state was chosen to be the capital, to be named Jefferson City. (President Jefferson arranged for the Louisiana Purchase, and his name is also part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial connected with the St Louis Arch.) But while Jefferson City was under construction, space was needed for a temporary capital to conduct governmental affairs. The solution found was quite charming. The Peck Brothers Dry Goods and Hardware Store on Main Street in St Charles offered their upstairs level free of charge to be the temporary capital, and their offer was accepted, beating out eight other cities for the honor. In this way, St Charles was the first capital of the State of Missouri for four years and three months between 1821 to 1826. Thus while major debates were held upstairs on states' rights and slavery, downstairs the Peck Brothers continued to sell dry goods and hardware. I love that story!


Take another look at the above picture, and imagine government upstairs and commerce—and a residence—downstairs. A reasonable guess as to the two archways would be that they served horses going to what must have been stables in the back. Here's a detail of an archway (Photo by Michael Pittman), through which you can see (click), with the gate opened, the back yard, Riverside Drive, Frontier Park, and the Missouri River. Rather than wait for the next tour, we're told we can climb the wooden stairs in the back to inspect the governmental chamber through the windows, just as we can see the dry goods store through these windows.


Whenever a road in a town runs counter to the established grid (such as Broadway in New York), it can be assumed that the road predates the grid, so when we look at the bottom of the map and see Boone's Lick Road doing just that, starting at the river and pointing west, picking up traffic from all streets, including Main Street, we find it's an older, historic road, originally referred to as Boone's Lick Trail. It was a 19C transportation route crossing Missouri that played a major role in westward expansion.


The first map shows the trail in red, with the original 1820s variation in gray. It was blazed or traced by the sons of Daniel Boone. If you recall our discussion of the Natchez Trace, you may remember we said that to blaze or to trace a trail was to literally cut notches in trees along the way so that people could follow the route—picture Hansel and Gretel and the breadcrumbs. The trail ended in Franklin MO, where both Boones had a salt lick where they manufactured salt, today Boone's Lick State Historic Site. The trail runs not far from the Missouri River, and parts of it were eventually improved or developed by paving over as the forerunner of US-40 and I-70. Thus we see this type of upgrading on a 19C road, just as was done with the 20C road, Route 66. On the map note Fulton, where we'll be stopping at the Churchill Museum, and Jefferson City, where our return train will be stopping.


The second map is an older one, dated 1908, so don't look for US-40 or I-70, but is nevertheless quite informative. In the east, you see a connection added to St Louis, but more important, you see in the west that Franklin, the terminus of Boone's Lick Trail, was at the time the start of the famous Santa Fe Trail. Follow that to the Kansas border, and again, you'll see how the combined route followed the Missouri River. More importantly, note how the trail passed through Independence MO (click), and then a town south of KC you never heard of, Westport. When Independence and Westport became the major provisioning points for wagons crossing the Great Plains, on a practical basis, the Santa Fe Trail was then considered to start there instead of in Franklin, along with the Oregon Trail and others. Also note that the Kansas River is here called the Kaw River, which is a reference to the same tribe of Native Americans.


We're almost ready to leave town, so as we go to get the car, we step into pleasant Frontier Park (first picture), and stroll down to the edge of the Missouri River, for the first of several visits in the coming days. But as our town map shows, this is also the location of the Louis & Clark Monument (second picture), where they're portrayed with their Labrador named Seaman. Virtually every place they stopped seems to have put up a monument to them, and this is St Charles's. And this is particularly appropriate.


Before they started out, they had to stay on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, at their Camp Dubois, because legal transfer of the Louisiana Purchase hadn't taken place yet. But when they started, St Charles was their first stop in the new area, and so in that sense, they did set off from here in 1804 up the Missouri River. It's interesting to think that they considered this "first" stop their last "civilized" stop, the last established American town the expedition would see for more than 2 ½ years.


As we leave St Charles to the north, move to the green regional map, since we're going to spend three nights in the Illinois part of the St Louis metropolitan area. Note the back roads leading from St Charles towards Grafton IL across the river. Through farmland, we approach a quite, remote, dirt landing for the Grafton Ferry, where a few other cars are waiting. This is our third ferry crossing of the Mississippi in just a few days. As this picture shows, the ferry is of the same style as the others, although the three ferries are of different sizes. This third ferry will be our last on the Mississippi, although we'll take one more ferry, a free one on the Illinois River. In Grafton, we turn right for a short distance to spend three nights in Elsah, a village hidden away in a rift in the river bluffs.

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