Another Removal of a Statue

The Confederate Memorial in Forest Park

If the city removes the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park, it won’t be the first time somebody moved a Civil War statue in St. Louis. Ironically, an earlier move favored the Confederates. This essay first appeared in this blog two years ago.   It has to do with the aftermath of Camp Jackson, a subject of my book, Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans.

The Retreat of Captain Lyon

Historians record that any chance Confederates would rule Missouri ended in an action on May 10, 1861 on what is now the Saint Louis University campus east of Grand Boulevard. That day, thousands of German immigrant volunteers commanded by Captain Nathaniel Lyon surrounded a state militia camp dominated by secessionists under General Daniel Marsh Frost and forced its surrender. So shall it always be that Lyon vanquished Frost at Camp Jackson. Or maybe not. There is one way that Frost came to be the final victor, but only one way.

After Frost presided over the surrender of Camp Jackson, he was pardoned and went on to be a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He later fled to Canada and declared his allegience to America after the Union victory in 1865. After Frost’s first wife died in 1872, he remarried in 1874 and had two daughters in his fifties, Edith and Harriet (Hatty). Frost died in 1900, the same year Hatty married Samuel Wesley Fordyce, who would become a wealthy lawyer. Samuel became a wealthy lawyer and died in 1948. Hatty became a major benefactor to Saint Louis University and in 1959 contributed $1,050,000 to help the university acquire 22.5 acres east of Grand Boulevard. The land included the site of Camp Jackson. In return, the university agreed to name the north campus on both sides of Grand after the man who surrendered Camp Jackson. From then on, it would be known as the Frost Campus, after General Daniel Marsh Frost.

On the newly-acquired part of campus was a statue of Captain Lyon on a severely bent horse. Critics called it a monstrosity after it was unveiled on December 22, 1929 at Camp Jackson Plaza at Grand and West Pine boulevards. The Camp Jackson Union Soldiers Monument Association gave sculptor Erhardt Siebert a $15,000 commission to create the work. Critics said the backend jutted north, while the front end pointed west; bent at the point where Lyon sat on it. The Rev. Frank G. Beardsley, pastor of Fountain Park Congregational Church and president of the Camp Jackson Union Soldiers Memorial Association, dismissed the criticism. “We knew that there was opposition to the erection of any sort of a monument or memorial to the taking of Camp Jackson. In view of the opposition, whatever the design of the monument, it was to be expected that there would be criticism.”

The statue remained at the site for three decades to remind all who passed by of what Lyon and his Dutchmen did on that spot on May 10, 1861. But then came a new owner, a university funded by Hatty Fordyce, the daughter of the man Lyon had forced to surrender. And someone decided that there was no room for Nathaniel Lyon’s statue on all of the 22.5 acres the university had acquired. So it was moved to Lyon Park at Broadway and Arsenal Street, in a virtual retreat back to the arsenal where the captain and his German volunteers began.

Was the hand of Hatty Fordyce in the move? One account that seems to back up that idea came from a Jesuit priest and Saint Louis University English and American Studies professor named Joseph G. Knapp. He was close to Fordyce and wrote a history of the Frost and Fordyce families in a 1979 book called The Presence of the Past. Saint Louis University Press was the publisher; it makes sense that the university wouldn’t allow the volume to go to press if it disputed the facts presented therein.

Knapp wrote this about the movement of the statue:

And yet, a statue of General Lyon, leaning a little off his horse, stood on the original site of Camp Jackson, the present site of Grand and West Pine. An analogy to a statue of Benedict Arnold at Mount Vernon is perhaps too dramatic, but the embarrassment was keen, especially since the university promised to rename the north campus Frost Campus in perpetuum . . . However, a public monument is not that easily moved, especially when it must be moved at night. Oral history reveals that it cost the University $1,600, through the kindness of a former mayor, who arranged, in bar after bar, for drinks on the house in return for signatures of citizens who ‘petitioned’ that the statue of General Lyon be moved to what is now Lyon Park.

In the end – almost a hundred years later – General Frost had finally triumphed over General Lyon, thanks to the devotion of his daughter Hatty.

Whoever ordered the statue moved, it seemed a figurative victory for General Frost. But only figuratively, nothing more. For there is a greater monument cast by Captain Lyon and his Germans that kept Missouri in the Union that day in May at Camp Jackson. That one no one can move.

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The Library Lends a Hand

LibraryI’m pleased to announce that the St. Louis Public Library is pitching in to help in my efforts to interview more than 100 people for my upcoming book Growing Up St. Louis.

The library has offered the use of four of its branches for preinterviews of people who wish to be included in Growing Up in St. Louis. From those I’ll call back a group for final 85-minute interviews. It’s an exciting opportunity to hear the childhood memories of a truly diverse group of St. Louis.

The preinterviews will be held all day on Saturdays in October and November at these branches:

  • Buder, 4401 Hampton Ave., Oct. 7.
  • Carpenter, 3309 S. Grand Blvd., Oct. 21.
  • Schlafly, 225 N. Euclid Ave., Nov. 4.
  • Julia Davis, 4415 Natural Bridge Ave. Nov. 18.

If you’d like me to consider you for an interview, send an e-mail to southsidemerkel@gmail.com. And stay tuned. This is getting exciting.

 

20 Interviews, With 80 to Go

Two of my interview subjects, Fred Blumenthal, born in 1946; and Dorothy Hunter, born in 1907. By coincidence, Fred Blumenthal was in a grade school class taught by Dorothy Hunter in the Kirkwood School District.

When you’re trying to find out how people in St. Louis grew up, you encounter all kinds of people. That’s what’s happened in my first 20 interviews for my upcoming book Growing Up in St. Louis.

In one case, I came across another Jim Merkel. My publisher at Reedy Press will tell you that there’s only one Jim Merkel, but there are others, including James Patrick Merkel of Affton. I encountered him while selling books at the recent Cherokee History Walk and decided he was a perfect interview subject.

Jim Merkel’s on the left and the right. The Jim Merkel on the right is me. The one on the left is from Affton.

The oldest person I interviewed is Dorothy Hunter, who was born on July 31, 1907. She grew up south of Tower Grove Park and remembers seeing her uncle go off to fight in World War I. She grew up and taught at the George R. Robinson Elementary School in the Kirkwood School District. In the early 1950s, she had a student named Fred Blumenthal, who grew up to make his living as a music teacher and choir director at synagogues and churches. By coincidence, I interviewed him, too. It shows, once again, that St. Louis is one big small town.

One special person I interviewed was Ralph Naslund. He was getting ready to graduate from Roosevelt High School when he was drafted to serve in the Pacific at the end of World War II. He never got his degree, but recently received an honorary one.

The common link is that everybody I interviewed has a story to tell. White, black, rich, poor, they made St. Louis what it is. I can’t wait to talk to the next 80 people to learn what they have to say.

If you want to be an interview subject, or you know somebody who oughta be an interview subject, e-mail me at southsidemerkel@gmail.com. I’m especially looking for those in their late 90s or who are 100 or older. Watch for updates from time to time, and get ready to read Growing Up in St. Louis in the fall of 2018.

Ralph Naslund and me