ABOVE PHOTO: Slave sale on Courthouse
By Renée S. Gordon
St. Louis is celebrating its 250th anniversary throughout 2014 with a series of signature activities and events culminating on February 13, 2015. Visitors and residents alike get to choose from a wide variety of celebratory experiences and the city’s historic significance plays as central a role in the anniversary activities as it did in the building of the nation. Events are added regularly and updated schedules are posted online. www.stl250.org
One of the most important and far-reaching aspects of St. Louis’ biography is its impact on legal history and the best place to explore that story is the Old Courthouse. The first permanent courthouse was completed in 1828 and was outgrown by the mid-1830s. Architect Henry Singleton added four wings and a dome in a Greek Revival design. The building was in use by 1845 and the Italian Renaissance-era cast iron dome was completed prior to the Capitol dome. The courts were relocated in 1930 and in an odd twist the heirs of the individuals who gifted the land for its sole use by the courts sued the city to have the land returned. They lost and in 1942 the National Park Service obtained jurisdiction and the courthouse became a museum.
A number of groundbreaking trials were held in the Old Courthouse including Carstang v. Shaw in which Effie Carstang sued, and won, for breach of promise in 1860. She was awarded $100,000. The William v. Bellefontaine case involved an African American couple that sued the Bellafontaine Railway Company because the pregnant wife was prohibited from boarding the streetcar and actually pushed onto the sidewalk. The couple won $.01 in damages.
Hundreds of slaves sued for their freedom there, but the most groundbreaking trials by far, were the Dred Scott cases held in1847 and 1850. The Dred Scott case was credited with being one of the sparks that ignited the Civil War. Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom based on the fact that they had been held in servitude while residing in a free state. The case went to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the majority opinion that said the Scotts were not United States citizens and therefore had no rights.
St. Louis was a major slave-trading center with more than 24 agents, and slave auctions were routinely held on the courthouse steps. In 1862, the last documented slave auction in the state was held there. A crowd of more than 1,000 people forced the auctioneers to halt the sale. The Old Courthouse is a site on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/och
Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker and confidant of Mary Lincoln, lived at 5 N. Fifth Street. She was brought to the city as a slave but managed to purchase herself and her son for $1,200 with money earned with her dressmaking skill. She moved to D.C. in 1860 and quickly gained fame. She published an autobiography in 1868, “Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.”
Roman Catholicism was the religion of the majority of the original inhabitants and in 1764 Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau set aside land for a church and cemetery. In 1770, a log church was constructed with a larger, 60’ by 30’, structure being built in 1776. The current Old Cathedral was built from 1831-1834 for $63,360. The steeple is 122 ft. tall and no mason wanted to climb to the top and complete it. William Johnson, an African American, finished the job and was paid $5. The Basilica of St. Louis, King of France was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi. A museum is located on the lower level. www.oldcathedralstl.org
The Shrine of St. Joseph merits a visit because it is the location of a “verifiable miracle” of the Spanish Saint Peter Claver. Claver spent his life working with enslaved Africans. He was canonized in 1888 and eight years later was designated the patron saint of the enslaved. A relic of the saint is housed within the church. www.shrineofstjoseph.org
On May 17, 1849, the White Cloud steamboat burst into flames causing the devastating “Great Fire”. Damage included hundreds of buildings, 15 riverfront blocks, the wharves and 23 steamboats at an estimated cost of $6 million. The majority of the oldest surviving structures were destroyed. The Old Courthouse and Cathedral were saved through the efforts of volunteer firemen.
Soulard, a community of brick structures, became the city’s oldest neighborhood after the fire. It dates from the 1830s and was originally known as Frenchtown. This charming area is filled with restaurants, clubs and eclectic architecture. The Soulard Market was established in 1779 and is the oldest farmers market in the nation. U.S. Grant sold cordwood here prior to the Civil War. www.soulardmarket.com
Arguably the most distinctive neighborhood in St. Louis is “The Loop”. This six-block area along Delmar Boulevard features unique shops, 55 restaurants, 14 entertainment venues, an inimitable hotel and the Loop Planet Walk and St. Louis Walk of Fame. Presiding over it all is an 8 ft. statue of Chuck Berry captured in mid-motion. This is definitely the place to see and be seen. www.visittheloop.com
The Pin-Up Bowl is an Art Deco bowling alley and martini lounge that is frequented by rapper Nelly whenever he is in town. www.pinupbowl.com
In 1870, root beer was perfected in Philadelphia as a medicinal drink incorporating birch bark and licorice. Fitz’s Root Beer made its debut in St. Louis in1947 and Fitz’s American Grill & Bottling Works opened in 1993 in a 1928 bank building on Delmar. Patrons can dine and watch the 1940s bottling line in action but be certain to check the bottling schedule. www.fitzsrootbeer.com
Blueberry Hill Rock and Roll Restaurant and Pub is a mandatory stop when you are in town. Blueberry Hill, opened in 1972 and regularly schedules live concerts in an intimate setting. Chuck Berry performs his famous duck walk once a month in the “Duck Room” to a standing room only crowd. The venue is a museum filled with artifacts, memorabilia, posters and hundreds of photographs of celebrities who have spent time there. The displayed items are part of the collection of owner and lifelong fan, Joe Edwards. www.blueberryhill.com
The St. Louis Walk of Fame is another lovechild of Edwards’s and it is a perfect stop on our STlo250 tour. Stars and interpretive plaques are imbedded in the sidewalk on the boulevard. In 1988, the idea was conceived and in 1989 the first induction, Chuck Berry, Vincent Price and Tennessee Williams, took place. Inductees must either have been born in St. Louis or spent their formative and creative years in the city. There are 140 stars, each accompanied by a biographical plaque, which represents how artistic, historic and culturally diverse St. Louis has always been. Honorees include Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, Miles Davis, Grace Bumbry, Bobby McFerrin, john Goodman, Michael McDonald, Clark Terry, David Sanborn, Katherine Dunham, Redd Foxx, Scott Bakula, General William T. Sherman, Charles Lindbergh, Yogi Berra, Cool Papa Bell, Elijah Lovejoy, Ulysses S. Grant, Josephine Baker and Scott Joplin. Nelly is the youngest inductee. www.stlouiswalkoffame.org
Delmar Loop Planet Walk takes you for a stroll among a different type of stars. Visitors cover 3 billion years in 2,880-ft., from the Sun to Neptune, from the Moonrise Hotel to Cicero’s Restaurant. There are nine stops, each with an icon and information. The displayed solar system and the icons are proportionate to the actual size of the planet. www.loopplanetwalk.com
Moonrise is a luxury boutique hotel that showcases all that is great about The Loop. The hotel offers all the modern and innovative amenities. It has the only rooftop “made” of solar panels, automobile electric charging stations, lobby stairs that change colors, and packages that include “His and His” and “Hers and Hers” stays. There are Walk of Fame Suites that are named in honor of inductees and are designed around their personalities and photographs. Showcases feature rare memorabilia, including a patch worn on the moon, throughout the hotel. www.moonrisehotel.com
St. Louis’ Little Italy is home to the family-owned Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Company renowned citywide for creating delicious chocolates by hand using all natural ingredients. The recipes are historic, dating from the late 1800s, and 30-minute tours are offered daily. www.chocolatechocolate.com
City Museum opened in 1997 as 20 percent museum and 80 percent playhouse for children and adults alike. The entire structure is comprised of reconditioned materials that beg to be touched, climbed on and generally enjoyed. www.citymuseum.org
One of the most interesting spaces in the repurposed International Shoe Company is Circus Harmony. The goal of this “social” circus is to perform and teach life and social skills through circus arts. This spring the Circus Harmony Flying Trapeze Center will open at Union Station. Lessons will be available for guests so they too can soar like the spirit of St. Louis. www.circusharmony.org
StL250’s signature exhibition is being held in the Missouri History Museum in the 1,300-acre Forest Park. In a series of galleries, complete with interactive kiosks, movies and videos, the history of St. Louis is encapsulated in the exhibition of “50 people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments, 50 objects”. The museum has the largest Lindbergh collection in the world and one of the highlights of the presentation is his flight suit. Additional unique articles include Katherine Dunham’s dress, colonial portraits of the city’s founders, and a traveling case gifted to explorer William Clark by the Marquis de Lafayette.
“Seeking St. Louis” is a permanent exhibit that allows visitors to stroll along the levee, visit an early home and learn about the African American experience. The famous depiction of Dred Scott by Louis Schultze and “The Last Slave Sale” by Thomas Noble are both on view in this area. www.mohistory.org
Throughout the years St. Louis has been known for its cuisine, a blend of the cultural influences of all of the people who have settled there. Many of the dining establishments are featuring special dishes and entertainment. What better way to celebrate?
Bixby’s at the Missouri History Museum is the place to experience Sunday Champagne Brunch. A la carte and buffet dishes are crafted from seasonal produce. The food and the view are outstanding. www.bixbys-mohistory.com
Tony’s is a St. Louis favorite. It has been chosen the winner of a Mobil Travel Guide Four-Star Award and is Italian cuisine at its best. Reservations are required. www.tonysstlouis.com
Travelers came to St. Louis from the East, but also from the South, bringing culinary delights. Broadway Oyster Bar serves Cajun food complete with rousing entertainment. Every dish is wonderful but I am a sucker for the “po’ boy.” www.broadwayoysterbar.com
Miss Robbie Montgomery opened Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust as her second St. Louis location. After performing as an Ikette she opened her first restaurant using her mother’s recipes. Sweetie Pie’s serves soul food so mouth-watering that I thought my grandmother was in the kitchen. All the southern favorites are here, and you should be too. Be certain to catch her on her OWN Network reality show, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s”. www.sweetiepieskitchen.com
StL250 is a yearlong celebration so there is no excuse to not be a part of it. Where else can you eat, drink and be merry for 365 days? Plan now. www.ExploreStLouis.com
I wish you smooth travels!
Recently, I came across one of those wonderful travel items that, once you find it, you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. The Secret Sweater is just such an item. It is wonderful for everyday use and outstanding for travel. The sweater is available in two colors, soon to be four, is made of cotton and modal blended interlock, is washable, wrinkle -resistant and 100 percent American made. Best of all, it fits into a small case of its own and fits in your purse or suitcase and is ready for those chills that come your way unexpectedly. I highly recommend the Secret Sweater. www.secretsweater.com/shop
Grand Cayman’s 500-acre Camana Bay is a mixed-use, planned community, established in 2007 as an outstanding example of the Caribbean’s New Urbanism. It is an ever-expanding culinary destination that, beginning March 12th, will host the weekly Farmers and Artisans Market. The market will provide a platform to feature all that is produced in the Caymans including food and handcrafts. Entertainment and activities will be offered for both children and adults, many focusing on traditional Caymanian pursuits such as thatching, conch blowing and soldier crab racing. www.camanabay.com/events.
Official Central Park Tours, led by Central Park Conservancy, will begin March 14, 2014. Tours will feature information on the history, design elements and horticultural highlights of the 843-acre park. A variety of tours are offered including self-guided tours. www.centralparknyc.org/tours
From April 11 to 12, Harrington, Delaware will host the state’s first Triple Threat Barbecue, Beer and Music Festival. Music, food and fun are on the agenda. Prizes will be awarded in individual competitions for best beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken and pork. Children 12 and under are free. Applications are currently being accepted. www.triplethreatbbq.net
Wales is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas and New York is honoring his connections to the city with a newly created Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village that is available as a free app and a pocket guidebook. Thomas’s granddaughter Aeronwy Thomas Ellis and poet Peter Jones developed the 90-minute, 10-stop tour. Information is available online at www.moil.in/dtnytour and www.dylanthomas100.org.