Mapping the Weird: The 9 Strangest Things on Pictorial St. Louis
While researching A Walk in 1875 St. Louis, I spent more than a year poring over Pictorial St. Louis, the incredible map that is a focal point of the exhibit. With more than 40 square miles of 1875 St. Louis before me, I was certain I would find some interesting details hidden on the pages. While there was no shortage of surprises, there were a few I just couldn’t get over…
1. An Alien Symbol?
To us, the big dark shape plopped down near Benton Park on Plate 27 might look like an extraterrestrial formation, but 1875’ers would have known what it was right away. This is the remains of Fort #3, one of 10 small forts built around the perimeter of St. Louis during the Civil War. Fort #3 originally had a block house at the center, and armed guards were stationed on the wings to keep watch westward across Jefferson Avenue.
2. The Lonely Grave
Camille Dry numbered nearly 2,000 different features across the pages of Pictorial St. Louis, but only one was a gravesite. Marked with a “1” and hidden deep in a grove of trees on Plate 108 is the final resting place of Captain Robert McClellan. In 1875, he had already been resting there nearly 60 years! McClellan was a trader who came to St. Louis after the Louisiana Purchase. He died in 1816.
3. The Circus Comes to Town
What in the world was going on in these tents along 12th Street on Plate 22? Circuses regularly set up on this high-profile spot, and newspaper advertisements give us hints about their wild shows. The traveling Great Eastern Menagerie featured a museum, aviary, and circus. Just two months later, Old John Robinson brought his “Mammoth Show,” the feature of which was a live hippopotamus.
4. The Brewmaster’s Secret to Success
Everyone has heard stories of St. Louis brewers using caves and chopping ice off the Mississippi River to cool their beer, but Pictorial St. Louis gives us proof. On Plate 14 near the river’s edge are the ice houses of the William J. Lemp’s Western Brewery. Chunks of ice were carved out of the frozen river and placed on conveyor belts to be lifted into the storage houses. Two blocks away in the brewery’s caves, this ice helped keep temperatures chilly year-round.
5. A Run on a Bank?
The People’s Savings Institution, at the intersection of Carondelet and Park avenues on Plate 6, has gathered quite a crowd on Pictorial St. Louis. With gawkers pointing, horses galloping away, and people crowding the doors, it looks like a panicked run on the bank! It wouldn’t have been surprising—in 1875 the nation was two years into a financial crisis known as the “Long Depression,” and many banks and businesses had been ruined. We may never know what was really happening, but it doesn’t look good.
6. Taking the Cows Home
Near the entrance to the Grove today, you might spot cars, bicycles, and even the MetroLink train in the distance, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a cow. Plate 90 shows a man driving an entire herd of cattle down Manchester Road in 1875. Cattle herds could be driven down St. Louis streets in 1875, but only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. If you were caught any other time you could receive a fine up to $500.
7. The Biggest Hat in St. Louis
On Plate 24 of Pictorial St. Louis a giant top hat is perched on a North Broadway building. Although it seems like a mapmaker’s joke, this giant hat was real. Keevil’s Hat Store was well known in St. Louis for its rooftop decoration, which was painted bright red and featured an American flag.
8. A Secret Entry
When the Civil War divided opinions in Missouri between the north and south, the United States Arsenal along the south St. Louis riverfront needed every security measure possible. It held more than 60,000 guns and 1.5 million cartridges during the tumultuous years of the war, and Pictorial St. Louis gives us a glimpse at one special way they kept shipments safe. Down beside the Mississippi River a tunnel went underneath the arsenal directly to its main building.
9. Two Men and a Dog
For all the weird and wild sights on Pictorial St. Louis, it is small details like these that give the map such a human, relatable quality. On Plate 66, just north of Tower Grove Park, two men stroll down a path with their four-legged friend running just ahead of them.
—Andrew Wanko, Public Historian