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Commentaries

Mary Meachum and the Underground Railroad
Aired October 19, 2012
There are a very few written records that refer to the underground railroad and its courageous “conductors.” Yet the Underground Railroad is one of the most persistent stories from our past, demonstrating the strength of memory and an enduring aura that courage maintains.

In the early hours of a spring morning in 1855 several slaves made a dash for freedom. Led by Mary Meachum, a free woman of color, they boarded a skiff just above where the Merchants Bridge now spans the Mississippi.

Civil War Diary
Aired September 21, 2012
We have reams of official information about the Civil War. Perhaps the most revealing are the personal journals of the participants. In these papers we find an intimate picture of a soldier’s experience and gain a perspective not available in official documents.

Griffin Frost, a captain in the Confederate Army, was a prisoner of war in the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis and in Alton, Illinois. A former newspaperman, he had a good sense of observation and an eye for detail which he employed in the notes he kept throughout the war.

Trollope's St. Louis
Aired August 17, 2012
When the British writer Anthony Trollope visited St. Louis, we were in the early days of the Civil War. Trollope, like his mother more than twenty years before, was on an extensive tour of America. Unlike his hypercritical mother, he was tolerant of his American cousins—or perhaps we had grown more civilized by 1861—but he cast a critical eye and wrote with a blunt honesty about our faults and failings.

Would Anthony Trollope find us a better place today?

Dr. Terry's Memories
Aired July 20, 2012
I live in a relatively quiet part of town, but we can hear the noise of the city, especially as we enjoy an hour in the garden. A physician named Robert Terry remembered the sounds of his St. Louis in a memoir he wrote in the 1950s. Dr. Terry was by then an elderly gentleman, but his memories were quite vivid.

John Neihardt and "Black Elk Speaks"
Aired June 15, 2012
Neihardt was the literary editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch for several years beginning in 1926. During his tenure he wrote thoughtful essays and reviews of the work of such figures as Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce. It was also during this period that, on a leave of absence, he journeyed to the site of the battle of Wounded Knee and found an old holy man among the Oglala Sioux named Black Elk. The old man not only agreed to tell John his story but announced that he had been expecting him.

Tom Alston and African-American Baseball
Aired May 18, 2012
If you know the name Tom Alston, you are probably a very knowledgeable Cardinals fan. Nearly forgotten today, Alston was the first African American to sign with the St. Louis team. His first game with the Cardinals was in 1954, seven years after the great Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier.

Draining the Pond
Aired April 20, 2012
One of my favorite spots in St. Louis is a dim memory in our lexicon of long-gone places in our city.

Howard Johnson's Sit-Ins
Aired March 16, 2012
It’s been a long time since the distinctive orange roof of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant graced the St. Louis skyline, but long-time St. Louisans still talk about the several restaurants in the local franchise. My African American friends, whatever their age or residence, did not ever mention the restaurant. I found an explanation.

The Big Freeze
Aired February 17, 2012
I was raised on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where blizzards often arrived in October and the snow drifts sometimes endured until late in April. Hence I was more than surprised when my first St. Louis snowfall — a mere inch or two, as I recall — brought groans and wails and even a minor car smash to my colleagues at the History Museum. Some of my friends, native St. Louisans, recall that winters used to be colder here in this river city. Of course none of us remembers “the winter of the big freeze,” a spectacular period in 1856 that Walter Stevens wrote about in his Centennial History of Missouri, published in 1921.

The Planter's House
Aired January 20, 2012
During the 1860s the Planters’ House on Fourth and Pine was the choice for a conference of several powerful men who were vying for Missouri in the war that had just exploded in South Carolina and was rapidly engulfing the entire nation.

Joe McCullagh
Aired December 16, 2011
On the last day of the year 1896 Joseph B. McCullagh jumped from the window of his third-floor bedroom in the Central West End and ended fifty-four years of a full and interesting life.

Charlotte Rumbold
Aired November 25, 2011
The daughter of a successful physician, Charlotte Rumbold grew up well-educated and secure. Yet she knew from intense observation that too many of her fellow St. Louisans lived in unacceptable conditions. Eager to make a difference, she compiled a report on housing conditions for the city’s Civic League, rallied support for public bathhouses, organized the enormous Forest Park Pageant and Masque in 1913, and supervised the neighborhood playground movement for the city. The list of her accomplishments goes on.

Millstone'
Aired October 28, 2011
I. E. Millstone was a wonderful gentleman with the skill of a storyteller and a keen memory of nearly a century of life in St. Louis. I was privileged to listen to many of his stories, and I can still hear him reminiscing about growing up near Forest Park.

Floating School
Aired September 23, 2011
As a professional historian, I know about unimpeachable sources and irrefutable evidence. But as a member of this community, I know the importance of the stories that we treasure, even if their authenticity is questionable. And so I continue to tell the story of John Berry Meachum’s “floating school.”

Piece of Memory
Aired August 19, 2011
I was riding with a friend to an appointment out in Chesterfield when she asked me to check the map in her glove compartment. I retrieved the map, and something was entangled in its folds. She must have sensed my puzzlement, because, with her eyes firmly on the road, she laughed and said, “You found a piece of my memory.”

“It’s from the summer I was seventeen."

Cookbooks
Aired July 15, 2011
I am no stranger to the kitchen. Indeed I am rather proud of my dinners. My cooking skills come from my student years in New Mexico, not from any time spent in my mother’s kitchen. My methods for fry bread and green chili stew are products of experiment and experience, not results of studying cookbooks.

So I tend to look upon cookery texts as historical documents, not instruction manuals; and the History Museum agrees.

Benton Barracks
Aired June 17, 2011
In the summer of 1861, with the Civil War rapidly spreading from the first volley at Fort Sumter that spring, recruits from all over the upper Midwest began arriving in St Louis. Originally housed and trained at a small encampment five miles north of the city, they soon outgrew the space provided. Colonel John O’Fallon offered a hundred and fifty acres at a nominal rent, and very quickly barracks, warehouses, stables, and more were erected. The complex was named for our late senator Thomas Hart Benton.

Wendell Pruitt
Aired May 20, 2011
Pruitt-Igoe housing is something of a blot on St. Louis, but Wendell Pruitt is a name that shines in our local firmament.

Titanic
Aired April 15, 2011
On a winter day in 1998 Frances Hurd Stadler came to my office with two boxes of documents for our archives. I’d known Frances for a long time and known her father’s story, too; but now I had the privilege of examining physical evidence that marked a triumph in Carlos Hurd’s early career.

Frances’ father was a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In April of 1912 he was on vacation with his wife aboard the ship Carpathia.

Sara's St. Louis
Aired March 18, 2011
Sara Teasdale wrote only one poem specifically about St. Louis. Even her early poems, written when she was a student here and when she was a member of that talented group of young St. Louis women called The Potters, even these poems recount or evoke places other than this western city dreaming by the river.

But a poet's perceptions can give us a story that transcends her circumstances – and our own.

Lyle's Journals
Aired February 18, 2011
Two little leather-bound volumes came into the collections of the Missouri History Museum by a circuitous – and a fortuitous – route.

Amputation
Aired January 21, 2011
In the collections of the Missouri History Museum we have lovely objects, intriguing objects, historically important object … and a few that can give you a shiver and a chill.

Lyle's Journals
Aired December 18, 2010
Two little leather-bound volumes came into the collections of the Missouri History Museum by a circuitous – and a fortuitous – route. Oscar Lyle wrote one of these personal journals in 1901 and the other in 1906. By that time he was in his sixties and long removed from the St. Louis where he had been born. But many of his entries are recollections of his childhood in the St. Louis area.

Birthplace
Aired November 19, 2010
Tinged by the red ore dust of the Michigan mines, I’m also colored with the coal dust and the brick residue of St. Louis’ industrial past. I am washed by the powerful waters of the Mississippi. I have added that pungent odor of brewery hops to my list of evocative odors. Clouds of chrysanthemums that grace our city’s autumn are sights that have seeped into my soul. Yet by some standards I’m a newcomer.

But this place belongs to all of us, and we belong to this place.

Chouteau's Pond
Aired October 15, 2010
One of the reproductions in an upper hall of the History Museum shows a pastoral scene on Chouteau’s Pond: a small, clear lake, a sailing craft on the water, a handsome house up on the hill, a woman in kerchief and apron driving her cattle along the bank. An itinerant French artist named Barbier painted this picture in 1844. Just a few years after the painter did his work, his lovely scene was only a memory.

Deerskin Coat
Aired September 17, 2010
The founding family of St. Louis had an elegant supply of household and personal goods that in many cases made their way into the collections of the Missouri History Museum. A deerskin coat is one of the more interesting garments.

Langston Hughes in St. Louis
Aired August 20, 2010
He saw Negro streetcar conductors and bus drivers and lovely Negro homes in what had been all white sections of town. "The sun do move," he thought, quoting from a favorite sermon of an old preacher. And he wrote:
"St. Louis! The town where Scott Joplin and Tom Turpin played ragtime...the town where Josephine Baker started out as a fifteen-dollar-a-week waitress and ended up in Paris...the town where the river boats ran from New Orleans with Louis Armstrong's horn blasting the night away.

St. Louis, that old city of river boats and ragtime, Old Man River and old Jim Crow, and a sun that "do move."

Elijah Madison
Aired July 16, 2010
The past is inscrutable in many ways.

In the collections of the Missouri History Museum, we have a framed sketch of a solder in a Civil War uniform. We know his name is Elijah Madison and that he was born a slave in 1841, lived on a plantation near St. Louis, and joined the Colored Infantry of the Union Army at Jefferson Barracks in 1863. His descendants, who gave us the sketch, told us, and available documents and our curators’ research added other facts to their story. We can learn more.

Grocery Store
Aired June 17, 2010
Every picture tells a story, and every story becomes a part of our own.

The 1907 St. Louis City Directory lists over two thousand Grocers. From Abbetmeier to Zwibelman, most of these grocers lived above their stores, knew their customers by name, and worked long days in a modest but satisfying career.

One of those stores was the George Wackerlin Grocery, on Broadway and Hickory.

Pony Express (Cityscape on May 17th)
Aired May 14, 2010
No horse could compete with the speed of those telegraph wires. But no telegraph pole had the flair of that galloping Pony Express horse with its tail furled out behind and its rider bent over the reins in an eager race with time.

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Bob Archibald

Bob Archibald

Commentator

Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society

More Bob Archibald Commentaries