the blues might have an interesting past

anonymous asked:

in a history class at the uni we were discussing different cities in the 1920s, but no one could name any prominent events in St. Louis for that decade besides prohibition and maybe the Spirit of St. Louis. I was wondering if you knew of any movements or events, being a native and an aficionado.

Good question!

Not just Prohibition, but women finally got the vote too.  Of course, those weren’t St. Louis-specific events.
Probably the most prominent things to happen in St. Louis in the 20th Century in general were the 1904 World’s Fair and the 1904 summer Olympics.  It was the fourth largest city in the country at the time, the gateway to the great frontier, and everyone believed St. Louis to be in its ascendance.  That was not to be the case, however.  1904 was the city’s golden hour.

Though not a lot of what happened in St. Louis in the 1920s made world headline news, things were happening nevertheless, and might be of interest to you if you’re a history fan or resident to the area.

St. Louis figures quite a bit into early aviation history, and not simply because of the name of Lindbergh’s plane.  Lambert Field, (formerly a hot air balloon base where the Wright Brothers made an early demonstration flight, where the first experiments in parachuting took place, and which ultimately grew into Lambert International Airport) is where Charles Lindbergh first worked as a pilot before traversing the ocean in 1927.  In the 1920s, it was also host to the International Air Races, it was the first airport with air traffic control, and it became the first in the country’s network of city-owned airports.

In 1926, Route 66, the Mother Road, was initially established between Chicago and St. Louis - a big deal for travelers at a time before interstate highways existed.

A tornado destroyed part of the city in the fall of 1927.
The same year, Mississippi River flooded its banks, affecting the river valley between St. Louis and New Orleans.  It’s recorded as the most destructive flood the country has ever seen, and spurred a lot of working class migration out of the South toward cities like Chicago and Detroit.

The Cardinals won the World Series in 1926, displacing the Browns as St. Louis’ most beloved baseball team.  The Cardinals went on to win the National League pennant in 1928 too.

A major industrial hub since the mid-1800’s, St. Louis was suffering a huge pollution problem, largely owing to coal dust and rendering plants.  Major pollution regulation was finally enacted in 1923, but to provide an idea what conditions were like: Forest Park was losing its trees and evergreens could no longer grow here, the Missouri Botanical Garden was nearly forced to relocate, the city library had to replace parts of its smoke-addled collection of books, and at a point in the 1930s, people had to drive around with headlights and streetlights lit during the day to navigate the dark veil of smog.  (Decrease in reliance on coal energy in the later 20th Century probably had more to do with improved conditions than pollution regulation.)

Also in 1923, voters passed a bond issue to begin major city renovations, a sort of extension of the City Beautiful movement (which did a lot to transform our cities from dingy clustered heaps of industry to the more manicured icons we know today).  This including paving a lot of city streets that were previously cobblestone and constructing parks and hospitals.  It also marked the demise of many old buildings near the riverfront.  Under the bond issue, a sizable swath of land extending from the river was demolished and resculpted.  Decades later, the forefront of this location, the Gateway Mall, became home to the Arch.

Maya Angelou, Miles Davis, Shelley Winters, Jack Buck, and Chuck Berry were born in St. Louis in the 1920s as well.  Hehe, of course, no one knew these were events of particular note at the time.

At Washington University in 1922, the “Compton Effect” was discovered and documented, earning Arthur Holly Compton a Nobel Prize in physics

The St. Louis Zoo, frequently cited as one of the world’s best public zoos, unofficially began with the Flight Cage at the 1904 fair, but really grew into what it is now starting in the 1920s.

Unable to turn a profit under Prohibition, the Lemp brewery (originators of the Falstaff brand, and once the largest brewer in St. Louis before Anheuser-Busch earned the title) saw its downfall.  It was partitioned and sold off to other companies.  The Lemp family has an interesting and tragic history all its own, really - worth looking into if you want to know more about St. Louis.

A lot of cities like to claim to be the birthplace of jazz. Whatever you believe - with all the blues wafting in the air from the riverboat entertainment, the city’s prominent ragtime background, the large German population’s traditional music heavy with bass and drums, enterprisers like Charlie Creath, and the arrival of Jelly Roll Morton and his stride piano sound - St. Louis certainly played a part in the coagulation of musical styles into jazz.
In 1925, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong recorded one of the more renowned renditions of “St. Louis Blues” , an already popular song said to have inspired the foxtrot.

Also, though this falls just outside the 1920s and just outside St. Louis, the deadly and infamous 1917 East St. Louis riots might be of interest to you as well.  The turmoil was born of increasing antagonism toward black laborers in the belief that WWI servicemen would have no jobs to return to.  Sadly, as we’ve seen nearly a full century later, this area hasn’t much outgrown the demons of its past.

Well, there’s a bit.  I’m forgetting plenty, I’m sure…but I hope that answers your question to some extent. =)