Saturday, October 30, 2010

St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence for Halloween.

This week of Halloween there has been a story each day from the leftover research of the book. These are rewritten from reports made by witnesses. There are some very popular and often repeated unexplained incidents from St Louis' history, but these are the less well-known stories.


The old McDowell Medical College at Eighth and Gratiot was a large brick structure with two wings and an octagonal tower, three stories tall with sixteen foot ceilings. Joseph McDowell was an eccentric doctor* who built the college in 1847. Many in the city said that he was mad and there were many stories that seem to prove that he was. 

It was true that he had cannons pointing out of the windows of the college. And it's likely true that the anatomical lab and the dissection room had human bodies preserved in alcohol-filled copper tanks. The autopsy and amputation procedures of a working hospital surely explain why body parts were found in waste pits and why several wagon loads of human bones were hauled out of the building. And lastly, it seems that it was true that when his 14 year old daughter died, he had her cadaver stored in a cask in a cave in Hannibal, Missouri.** 

Those facts are certainly creepy and probably true, but up to where he pickled his daughter, it all seems perfectly logical for a doctor and a medical facility. So yes, he was unhinged and there were skeletons in his closet. But it's kind of hard to separate facts from superstitious fervor in the historical record of the McDowell Medical College because much of what was written about Dr. McDowell and the facility came out after the town had turned against him and his school. Sure, the neighbors seemed fine with cannons pointed at their houses and piles of bones and viscera filling the potholes around the block, but when accusations arose of body snatchings of the recently deceased from St. Louis cemeteries, well, then that crosses a line.

The questionable story that spurred the town into mob action in the later 1800s concerned a young waif who died of unknown causes and whose corpse was taken from the grave by McDowell and some students. It's said that a mob stormed the citadel but didn't find the doctor or the girl's body. They said that the old doctor was warned of the coming rabble by the ghost of his mother who told him where to hide himself and the frail corpse. 
See there? All of the accounts of this St Louis legend seem like gossipy rhetoric with a touch of Mary Shelley, but then so do the facts. Nonetheless, fear and outrage swept the neighborhood. 

Oddly, (if that still has any meaning here) there seems to have been little mention in the media and no official action by the city authorities, so the accuracy of the resurrectionist charges appear flimsy and could be discounted - except for a short paragraph in the school's 1868 catalog that was intended as a boast of the quality of the school's educational materials:

(Nice. Our great-great relatives' corporeal remains were "cheap and abundant.")

Furthermore, a convincing piece of evidence was found in the newspaper in 1895. It was decades later when a well-respected senior medical doctor confessed to the methods used by the McDowell medical school. He revealed that in the early 1850s stealthy disinterment and burking were indeed the Victorian ways of gathering school supplies in St Louis. 

"There were some such laws but the supply of bodies for dissection was always short. And it was filled by private enterprise" he stated bluntly. "There was a great deal of grave-robbing in St Louis."

When old Doctor McDowell died in 1868, the building lay vacant for many years and wouldn't you know it, the townspeople living nearby Castle Private Enterprise began to say the old place was haunted. Well then the newspaper ran a series of outlandish articles that told of sensational hauntings in the Goth tower. Civic responsibility was one thing, but yellow journalism was a circulation booster. The first article of five described a midnight drama of sound effects in the tower beginning with a scream, then the trampling of many feet, the sound of "a soft body" being dragged and the slamming of a heavy chest lid. An explanatory narrative was supplied that told the tale of beautiful young Dora Wescott who died a pauper and her body was obtained by the college for dissection. As students were carving through the pallid corpse, the poor maiden awoke from her trance. She did not speak, only gasped and rose to a sitting position on the table. The article series included walk-ons by the local professional spiritualists and necromancers and each night the mob got bigger at the intersection near where Purina stands today.

The McDowell Medical school and tower was demolished within two years after the tabloid stories and when a reader wrote to ask if the stories were true, the paper's reply was, "We can only say in all truthfulness that the Dora Wescott yarn is as worthy of credibility as any story of the kind that has been published this year - Editor."

* I'm not making this up - Dr. McDowell got his medical degree from Transylvania University in Kentucky.

** Mark Twain wrote about the Hannibal cave with the girl's corpse.


Part 6 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

This week of Halloween there will be a story each day from the leftover research of the book. These are rewritten from reports made by witnesses. There are some very popular and often repeated unexplained incidents from St Louis' history, but these are the less well-known stories.
Two very old areas of the city were the locations of numerous supernatural occurrences. Lafayette Park has a history dating back to the mid 1800s, and the suburb of Maplewood was the western edge of St Louis in those days.


The Lake
In 1888 a small boy drowned in the lake in Lafayette Park. The boy's mother was overtaken with grief and sat watch by the lake every night for many weeks. Some park visitors told of seeing a misty figure of a boy over the water and some said that they had seen the woman alone by the lake, talking as if in conversation with her child.

The Investigative Reporter
One evening in December, 1889, Charles Uhde sat down on a bench in Lafayette Park and fired a bullet into his head.
By the next night there were reports of an apparition in the park. George Wilson said he was chased by it late one night. The milkman driving up Mississippi Avenue said that he saw something white inside of the fence. Two boys entered the gates late at night on a dare and saw it coming across the grass. Uhde's ghost was the subject of many conversations and several neighborhood meetings held at the Park Methodist Church. A newspaper reporter was assigned to investigate the story and he went to the park late one evening. The garden was dark and empty and he sat on a bench and waited. He was a bit nervous but would not admit to himself that he was afraid. Wait, is this the bench that Uhde killed himself in? He moved to another one, even though that one was just as liable to be the one. So he stood up. No scenery is more suited for a ghost than Lafayette Park. There was a white shape moving in the bushes, but before he got too worked up about it, he realized that it was one of the swans. Satisfied that he had given sufficient opportunity to any spirits, the reporter went home to type up his story denouncing the sightings of ghosts in Lafayette Park.


The Ten Foot Lady
On Monday night, the first of June, 1910, two men walking along Manchester Avenue in Maplewood saw a seven or ten foot tall woman in a long white flowing robe. She turned and floated south on Sutton Avenue. The startled men followed for six blocks as she glided down the sidewalk many paces ahead of them. At the train tracks she stopped and seemed to be looking for a train to arrive. The men kept their distance while she paused for a good five minutes before turning down Greenwood Avenue. Scrambling across the tracks, they followed the figure to the far end of the road and lost sight of the specter where there are no street lamps. The entire police force and most of the townspeople spent Tuesday night vainly looking for the towering matron.

Urgent Call For The Undertaker
At 9 am one May morning in 1908, Mrs. Bernard Fleming of Maplewood answered a knock at her door and found her neighbor, Charles Ames, who asked to use her telephone. Of course he could, and Mrs. Fleming went back to her chores in the house. She heard him dial and ask for an embalmer to come to the Ames residence. The shock of such a call stunned Mrs. Fleming and by the time she got hold of her thoughts again, Mr. Ames had hung up the phone and left the house. She saw him stalking back to his house a few doors away. She was in a fit of worry for the Ames family and trying to remember if Mrs. Ames' elderly mother had been staying with them.
An hour or so later, a newspaper reporter knocked on Mrs. Fleming's door. He said that he had gathered all of the important information but wanted to get the reaction of the neighbors. What was her reaction when she heard the news? "And what news would that be?" Mrs. Fleming inquired. The reporter read his notes to her: "Despondent over the repeated failure of his newspaper, the Maplewood Mirror, editor and publisher Charles Ames drew a razor across his throat, severing his windpipe and carotid artery at 3 am last night."

Devil At The Confluence is available at Subterranean Books in the Loop.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Part 5 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

In the book Devil At The Confluence, the stories behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween there will be stories from the leftover research of the book. 

The Ghost Of The St Louis Blues.

Jennie Sims lived at the first house on Linden Street at Twelfth, now Tucker Blvd. Her boyfriend was Alec Roal.  On Thanksgiving night 1895, She and Alec had a quarrel and with the butcher knife used on the evening's turkey, Alec slaughtered Jennie inflicting wounds numbering more than a dozen. The following is most of the legible part of the newspaper story from the nights following the murder.

A terrifying tale.

Twelfth and Linden will soon be a neighborhood that would meet the views of the most drastic of Connecticut reformers, for everybody with anything on his or her conscience, from craps to murder, is packing up to go away. Of course, it needs a ghost to get it right, and the ghost walks at 1201 Linden Street. This ghost is as discreet in death as she was indiscreet life, for she is scattered all over the place, and turns up in parts and sections here and there when folks least expect manifestations. Some of her has been seen in one place and other parts of her in others until she pervades society like measels. "She" is that poor girl, Jennie Sims, who was so cruelly murdered on the night following Thanksgiving Day by Alec Roal, now in the City jail, a candidate for the gallows. The focus about which the haunts seems to cluster is the house on Linden where the girl was butchered by the brute in the gray of that recent November morning. But Jennie defies all the rules laid down by the Society for Psychical Research in its book of etiquette for ghosts for she pulls off an appearance in two or three places simultaneously instead of haunting the one spot where she was done to death.
The witnesses are neither credible nor creditable, but they are, most of them, thinking very seriously of joining the church, as soon as the water is warm enough, and leading different lives.  
It began with Pearl Wilbur who lives in a court behind Linden Street in a house that never should have been allowed outside of a novel by Dickens. It is a cluster of moldy stairways, creaky passages and dank cupboards. Pearl woke up the night after the Sims girl was murdered and saw lying on the floor of her room a bleeding leg. The blood kept pouring out of the severed limb until it seeped underneath a doorway and began to drip, drip down the stairs. She could hear each drop falling on each step and gathering into a pool until it reached a point where it could break bounds into the next fall. It was a leg cut off just above the knee and it had a woman's shoe and long stocking on it, so that Pearl knew it was Jennie's, who was even then lying dead in the corner house.

Pearl's experience narrated to sundry friends the next morning prepared everybody for further manifestations that next night, and it does not take much stage-setting or costly properties to get phantoms to go abroad in a community like this.
Mrs Bentley, who lives over the grocery store on Gay Street near Fourteenth, had been sitting up waiting for her son who was due home Saturday night and she went to sleep in her chair. It was about ten minutes past two when there was a thumping at the door that startled her and a human head came rolling and bouncing into the apartment without anybody with it, only just a torn and bleeding neck and throat. The head kept on rolling and rolling till it got by the corner of the room and round to the dresser, and it rolled up the side of the dresser, in defiance of all known laws of gravity, until it reached the shelf, where it rolled all over the supper that Mrs Bentley was saving for her son and began to bleed all over the food. Then Mrs Bentley fainted right there and when she came to they were throwing water in her face and asking her whatever was the matter - and there wasn't a sign of the head or the blood to be seen anywhere - and the provisions seemed unhurt, although she would not let her boy eat them, no, not for a thousand dollars.

Mrs. Cane, a very practical woman residing a city block to the west, was awoken late one night by Jennie's form. In exasperation Mrs. Cane said to the spirit: "God's sake Jennie, what you want to be walkin' way up here on Thirteenth street for? If you has to haunt something, whyn't you haunt the place you was killed at?"

Devil At The Confluence is available at The Archive on Cherokee Street.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Part 4 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

In the book Devil At The Confluence the stories behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween there will be a story from the leftover research of the book.

The Collins Street house

Described as an "ancient brick 2-story" in the 1880s, the house on Collins Street was less than a half century old. The second owners of the house were a young man and his wife and no one ever knew why she committed suicide a year after they moved in. The next family, a man and wife with two young children, were the first to report strange noises in the upper rooms. Dissatisfied for that or another reason, the family put the house up for sale and packed their belongings. On the day they were to leave, the wife took sick and died. The coroner's report found no cause for her death. Talk around the neighborhood of demons and ghosts and a series of tenants that never stayed in the house very long caused the rent to drop to $75 per month. Then $50 per month. Five or six years went by without occupation and the house began to show disrepair. 

A man and wife with two grown daughters, a niece, nephew and servants took the bargain priced lease and it seemed for some time afterwards that the house was rid of the curse. The family was happy and life in 1866 St Louis was good. But at supper one night the noises began. The husband took his revolver with him when he went upstairs to investigate the rattling windows and slamming doors. Finding nothing and seeing no one, he headed for the door to the stairs.  The door refused to open and it took much of his strength to get it slightly ajar. When partially opened, just enough to get his foot out, he felt an electrical shock go through him. He bolted through the door as it slammed at his heels and he ran down the stairs.
The next night his daughter was awoken at 11 o'clock by the sensation of a cold hand over her mouth. She could not hear her scream although she tried with all her might. In panic she tried again and again and eventually a scream was released as she bounded out of the bed and down the hall to her parents room. There she said that she thought she saw a white spirit form bending over her in her bed. The father returned her to her room with his lamp and made a search of the room to calm her. He was in the hall bidding her goodnight when he heard a mocking hollow laugh. The family gathered downstairs after that and stayed awake until morning when they packed and left the house.

Although necessary repairs were made, the next few years went without occupants because the house had become known as haunted to just about everyone in the city. But the new paint and repaired windows and the long uneventful period made it seem like the evil had moved on. Assuming that the hauntings were over and the rental price of $30 enticed a woman with five children and a servant girl. Within a month all five children took ill suddenly one night and died. This time the coroner found a cause of death: there were sufficient levels of arsenic in their systems. The police investigators went to question the servant but she could not be found.

The woman moved out and a period lapsed before a man his wife and four children moved in. The couple were awoken one morning having heard a groaning in the house. Doors and windows opened and shut while groans, voices and laughter echoed throughout the upper floors. This couple were not annoyed much by these occurrences that happened every other day or so and they might have stayed in the house if that was all the spooks were going to do to them. But one day the wife saw a figure of white in the mirror on the second floor. Only in the reflection could it be seen and the invisible hands forcibly grabbed hold of her and lifted her into another room. Her husband found her unconscious on the floor in the back of the house.

So many manifestations and six deaths within the house were proof to the neighbors of a great evil within the dwelling. Of course, most of the murders were caused by human hands but many believed that the spirits had possessed the killers. The house on Collins Street was well-known and talked about around the city. And the facts above were from the witnesses, the neighbors on Collins Street. The young bride's suicide, the couple chased out by the ghosts and taking the life of the woman before she could get away, the tormented families and the murder of the five children, these were the first-hand accounts. But there was another death that no one knew anything about. When the laborers were hired to repair and make changes to some rooms they made a grim discovery while cleaning out the basement. In the dirt of the stone wall cellar they found the body of a woman and a year old child. The identities of those remains were never determined. 

It seems that it was a gamble to live in the Collins Street house. A chance that was only worth taking if the price was low and if the odds were in your favor. The odds work out to be a 1 in 3 chance that one would live to walk out of the house. Like every good ghost story, it's the irony in it that guarantees it a supernatural basis. And it's ironic that the Collins Street house is now a parking lot for a casino. A place where the odds are in the house's favor.

Devil At The Confluence is available at the Chesterfield Arts and The Illustrated Art Museum in Crestwood ArtSpace.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Part 3 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

In the book Devil At The Confluence the stories behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween there will be a story from the leftover research of the book.

The blues area of St Louis centered around Morgan and Biddle Streets. This story occurred on Biddle before the turn of the century and was reported in the newspaper.

The Midnight Gambler

Biddle Street has many open areas and empty lots today, but in 1884 the street was crowded with old brick houses packed tightly and filled with people. Near the Eighteenth block of Biddle there was one such old brick house where an old man had lived. Old Dan was a well-known river gambler and the only friends he had were old time gamblers as well. He had died ten years before and the house remained vacant for most of those years.

A gentleman had called the newspaper with a story of a ghostly performance that he witnessed from his second floor window across Biddle from the old house. A reporter accepted his invitation to show him where the apparition was seen.

First, the reporter visited the family that was living in the house, but they said they knew nothing about it being haunted nor had they seen or heard anything unusual. So the reporter assured them that he gets many of these kinds of calls and they usually turn out to be wild imaginations or whiskey fueled dreams and he bid them goodnight. Across the street the reporter was greeted and led to the second floor window and by a quarter past ten, the moon was shining brightly. Then a figure in a stove pipe hat appeared trudging up the far side of the slanting roof. Removing the hat and setting it upon the tippling chimney, the figure seemed to set upon the shingles at the apex. Opera glasses were required to make out the actions of the shadow on the roof across the street. The hazy specter seemed to remove from its coat-tail pocket a deck of cards wrapped in a bandana or handkerchief, and continued through motions that seemed to be shuffling and dealing and placing money from a pocketbook on the table - the pantomime of a cardgame, although the opponent was not apparent.

"That's the way it goes every night," said the host. "They play there until after midnight. Pretty soon you'll see old Dan ring in a cold deck on the other fellow." During the play it was observed that the figure dropped a couple of cards in a casual movement of his arm and pull cards out from the back of his coat collar in the same sweep. Once he stuffed a whole hand under a shingle and pulled a complete set of five new ones out of his boot leg. There must have been some protests made by the unseen player because play halted occasionally and the figure gestured wildly.

At about ten minutes after night had reached its meridian the final hand was played. Dan took a single card on the draw and palmed it while pulling another card from his opposite sleeve. He pushed his pile of money and a pocket watch and chain to the center of the table and laid out his cards. But while clutching for the pot, he froze, staring across the table. In the next instant he was up and drawing a revolver from his hip. His forearm recoiled as if he fired. The gleam of the weapon and the lash of the discharge could be seen but no noise was heard. Sweeping the stakes into his hat he turned hurriedly and scrambled over the roof in the moonlight.

"And that's the way it ends every night" said the man across the street from the old gambler's house on Biddle Street.

Devil At The Confluence is available at the better bookstores including Border's books.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Part 2 of St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

In the book, Devil At The Confluence, the stories behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween there will be a story from the leftover research of the book. This story concerns a haunting event that occurred around the time of the "Frankie And Johnny" incident in old St Louis.

The Bloody Third

The Third District police station in the 1890s was famous for being the headquarters of law and order in the most dangerous area of St Louis: The Bloody Third. The district encompassed Kerry Patch, Wild Cat Chute and the saloon playgrounds for the roustabouts known as Robber's Roost and The Bucket Of Blood. The characters of the bad part of town included members of the notorious gangs like the Limehouse gang. In the later 1800s the old station building had seen many murderers and criminals of all sorts within its doors and the walls had stories that could make a serial killer squeamish. But one story was beyond all of the rest and was discussed only once and afterwards denied by everyone as bunk.

Station Clerk Officer Daly, reported that many nights after midnight the sound of rushing water could be heard followed by a rumbling sound that would rattle the old windows. The sound of water flooding the building was especially frightening for the incarcerated locked in their cells and the policemen on duty inside of the barred and secured quarters.
Strange voices and blood-curdling moans accompanying a dragging sound along the asphalt flooring would echo in the halls. Clerk Daley had confided this to a reporter. Other officers had heard the noises but scoffed away the idea that the station was haunted.  But that was only what they would say on the record.

Daley had let slip the details of a story that was never discussed in the open. A story of a vow of vengeance that was made by one of the meanest criminals in the city. A notorious street tough who had spent more nights inside of a cell than he had spent outside of one. He had been brought in drunk and belligerent a couple of months before and locked up for the night. But this was not typical of the repeat offender, this time was without the usual tooth-and-nail combat with the arresting officers.

"Some day, maybe after I'm dead, I'll get revenge." he said as he was thrown into the cell ending his spree that night that typically would have involved someone getting carved up by his razor. The following morning when the turnkey came to awaken him, he was dead. And it was that following night that the noises began. 

Other than the clerk's off-record conversation, no mention of these incidents were ever made. The station house was sold years later and no further reports of noises were made by the new tenants.

Devil At The Confluence is available from all the better St Louis bookstores including The Central West End and Downtown locations of Left Bank Books.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Antique St Louis folklore and ghosts from the research of Devil At The Confluence.

The early blues music of America was primarily a folk music in that it was musical folklore. In the book Devil At The Confluence the stories and places behind the songs from St Louis are revealed. But not all stories had surviving songs for them and so for this week of Halloween this blog will publish a series of the folklore stories from the leftover research of the book.

The blues were called the Devil's music mainly by the folks who didn't like the music. And that made the folks who played it, enjoy it even more - knowing it was bothersome to the older generation or to the people who felt that it was beneath them. In St Louis, the taboo themes of ghosts, violence, death and other subjects were sometimes the subjects for songs.

These first posts are not songs but are St Louis legends concerning graveyards.


This story can only be qualified as trivia even though it concerns one of the biggest names in pre-rock and roll music. It was not included in the book because Louis Jordan is not a St Louisan and his career was after World War II, but it is a fact that his grave is in St Louis.

Louis Jordan was born in Arkansas in 1908.  He was married five times and his fifth wife, Martha, was a showgirl from St Louis who he had met in New York when she was performing at a club there. Louis had performed in St Louis many times and was friends with many of the local musicians. In 1966 Louis and Martha were married and lived at his home in Los Angeles. He died in 1975, and his body was brought to St Louis to be buried in Martha's family grave in the county.

The quiet graveyard is outside of the city limits, marked with a nameless stone and fulfills Louis' promise made in 1941:
"I'm gonna move way out on the outskirts of town. I don't want nobody, oooh, always hangin' around."


In his research of folklore of St Louis, Judge Nathan Young recorded the unwritten tale of Staggerlee who had traded his soul to the Devil in exchange for gambling luck. It happened very late one night when a young man named Lee Shelton walked past the old graveyard at Grand and Laclede Avenue. He had lost all of his money in a crap game and was disappointed with his life of bad luck.

Approaching the cemetery gate, a voice from out of the darkness asked, "What's your touble?"
Startled but not frightened, Staggerlee looked up at the figure of a man in a stetson hat just inside of the graveyard. The hat was very expensive looking and Staggerlee assumed the man to be wealthy. Stag was a natural born gambler and a hustler and was always looking for an easy mark. "I've got one more silver dollar left and I was looking for a game. I'm on a losing streak so if you have some dice this may be your lucky night.
"Perhaps." The dark shadow replied, "Or it could be a very lucky night for you."

The figure in the graveyard was the Devil of course, and the game turned out to be the legendary Faustian bargain for Staggerlee's soul. Ironically, the site where folklore says that Staggerlee surrendered his mortal soul and his moral integrity in exchange for unlimited good luck and worldly pleasures is now the property of St Louis University.

There were no notes from Mr Young's research, but the corner in the early 1900s was a ballpark for the St Louis Terriers baseball team. It seemed far-fetched that there was ever a graveyard there, but records exist showing that in the mid-1800s the ground had been a small German Methodist cemetery.

Devil At The Confluence is available from all the better St Louis bookstores and the Missouri History Museum as well as BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The book Devil At The Confluence profiles the musicians of St Louis and the songs they wrote about events in St Louis. Blues music's peak of popularity was the late 1920s and 1930s, and in the late summer and early fall of 1927, St Louis and its musicians had plenty of reasons to sing the blues.

On August 1, 1927 the Mississippi river flood crest reached the confluence of the Mississippi at St. Louis and pushed the river to a new record crest. The flood and the hardships caused by it inspired Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie and Blind Lemon Jefferson to make music about the event. St Louis bluesman Lonnie Johnson recorded “South Bound Water” within days of the flood, and later he recorded “Backwater Blues” and “Broken Levee Blues.” Bessie Mae Smith made “High Water Blues” as her response to the flood that year.
On the last days of September of that year a tornado struck St. Louis killing nearly a hundred people in the few minutes that it tore through the city and Johnson again recorded a song about the disaster within a week afterwards. 

“St. Louis Cyclone Blues”
"I was sitting in my kitchen, looking way out across the sky, I was sitting in my kitchen, looking way out across the sky. I thought the world was ending. I started in to cry.

The wind was howling, the buildings beginning to fall, wind was howling, the buildings begin to fall. I seen that mean old twister coming, just like a cannonball.

The world was black as midnight, I never heard such a noise before, world was black as midnight, I never heard such a noise before. Sounded like a million lions, when they turn loose their roar.

Oh, people was screaming, and running every which away, people was screaming, and running every which away. Lord have mercy on our poor people! I fell down on my knees, I started in to pray.

The shack where we were living, she reeled and rocked but never fell, the shack where we were living, she reeled and rocked but never fell. Lord, Have mercy, how the cyclone spared us, nobody but the Lord can tell."

Four songs were released about the event including Reverend J. M. Gates' sermon titled “God’s Wrath In The St. Louis Cyclone,” Elzadie Robinson, who did a version of Lonnie’s “St. Louis Cyclone Blues” and St Louis' Luella Miller who described the plight of the survivors in her song, “Tornado Groan.”

“Lightning flashing, wind rambled round my door. Lightning flashing, wind rambled round my door.
Ever since that time, I haven’t seen my house no more.

It ruined my clothes, blowed my bed away. It ruined my clothes, blowed my bed away.
I ain’t got no place to lay my worried head.”

Thousands turned out for the Veiled Prophet parade in October of 1927 despite it being postponed because of the tragedy. One float was constructed to represent the city of St Louis rising from the ruins.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Duncan and Brady

There was an enthusiastic crowd at the Big Read event over the weekend and beautiful weather. I noted that the Virginia Publishing booth at the fair was less than a block from the site of Harry Duncan's hanging at the St Louis County courthouse over a hundred years ago. 

In fact, it was 120 years and two days ago when Harry Duncan shot and killed Officer James Brady in St. Louis. The story is in the book, Devil At The Confluence and I discussed it with a number of the people who came to get a copy. The tale of the incident developed into a song and became an early country, or hillbilly standard. Here is the first recording of it: 
from 1930 [at]

Over the years there have been many songs that were created in St Louis and many of them became international standards. It's important to notice that some of the songs became jazz titles or blues or Tin Pan Alley classics or, like the ballad of Duncan and Brady, folk/country classics. St. Louis' music cannot be categorized within a single style or genre because St Louis has always been the city of confluence. 

Devil At The Confluence is available at
and Amazon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The 2010 Big Read

Devil At The Confluence author Kevin Belford will be at the Virginia Publishing table this weekend at the St Louis Big Read festival in Clayton. Mo., October 9 from 9am to 4pm. The book festival is a free event with author readings, panel discussions, book signings, workshops, storytelling, and hands-on activities. Joining the Big Read will be the Greater St. Louis Book Fair with new and used books for sale. 
The Big Read takes place on N. Central Ave. between Forsyth Blvd. and Maryland Ave. in Downtown Clayton, MO.