“Hey, Don’t I Know You from Somewhere?”

9, February 2010

Story by Barnes M. Bradshaw

Community Education and Events, Missouri History Museum

It seems no matter where we are in St. Louis City or County there is a good chance that we will run into somebody we know. So for most people, hearing the question, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?” often has only one of two answers: We went to high school together or my sister knows your brother or something similar. But in my case it is not that simple. You see, I have been giving costumed presentations about the history of St. Louis, and other places and people, for about 15 years now, so I seem to run into somebody at least once a week who “knows” me from somewhere. I am always happy to be remembered because it means that something I said or did made a lasting impression. Now I just have to find out what it was.

My first question to folks who recognize me is about what I had on when they saw me—was I wearing a big white coat and carrying a gun, as I do when I portray Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb Martin? Or maybe I was all in blue and wearing a hat with a bugle on it, as I do when I portray a Union recruiting officer. No? Well, did I have on a suit that looked like it was from the mid-1800s and was I talking about how bad the prisons were during the Civil War? Yes? Oh, you saw me as Absalom Grimes, Confederate spy. Those presentations are my Big 3, the ones I have presented the most. But folks have also seen me as Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist martyr who was murdered right across the river in Alton, Illinois, in 1837. Some have seen me as J. Adam Lemp, master brewer, and others still as a salesman on the docks, selling goods to the wagon trains heading west along the Oregon Trail.

It is always fun—and rewarding—to play this guessing game with folks. I know they cannot remember all that I have said to them while in character. Most have no reason to retain the fact that men took several hundred pounds of bacon with them on their trip along the Oregon Trail, looking for a better life; or that Nestlé Purina’s world headquarters now sits on the infamous Gratiot Street Union prison, where disease and bad treatment helped put more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery; or that the winter spent at Monmouth, New Jersey, was actually colder and had more snow than that terrible winter at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. I know that. But knowing that I have left at least a big enough impression on someone that after months, or sometimes even years, they would recognize me—that’s why I am in this business. So while most people may get a little panicked or even agitated when someone comes up to them and asks, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?” for me, it is the biggest compliment I could ever receive.

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