Closer to Our Goal

PragerSaturday’s dedication events for two honorary German street signs increased our conviction of the importance of pointing out how patriotic German Americans were the victims of a farcical patriotic orgy during World War I.

Those words, “a farcical patriotic orgy,” aren’t mine. They’re from a fine book about the 1918 lynching of Robert Prager, Patriotic Murder: A World War I Hate Crime for Uncle Sam. The book by Peter Stehman talks about how the hanging was the result of a patriotic frenzy during the war. During the dedication service for the the honorary sign for Robert Prager Way at Bates Street and Morganford Road, Stehman talked about how the danger of a similar frenzy is just as great now as it was back then.


The St. Louis Board of Aldermen recently voted to grant the honorary designation to Bates Street from Morgan Ford Road to Gravois Avenue. Prager is buried in St. Matthew Cemetery next to Bates at that point. Among those who attended the event were 13th Ward Alderwoman Beth Murphy, who sponsored the bill making the designation, James Martin, president of the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis (GAHS); Gwendolyn Murray of the Better Bevo Now neighborhood organization; Kevin Sterett and others from the cemetery; and residents of the street.

The honorary sign for Bismarck Street at Lami and Seventh Street in the Soulard neighborhood also was dedicated on Saturday.  The name of Bismarck Street was changed to Fourth Street in 1918. That street no longer exists, so the honorary street for Bismarck was located from Barton Street to Lami Street on Seventh Street. Seventh Ward Alderman Jack Coatar sponsored the bill approving the designation.

The day finished at a reception sponsored by the German American Heritage Society of Saint Louis at the Schlafly Tap Room downtown.  I’ve been working on this project for the last five years with the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis.  They’ve been an essential part of this work. More than that, I could have done anything. I love working with James Martin, Lansing Hecker and the whole group.

There’s still work ahead. The city has approved five streets. We have two streets to go. We’ll keep going until we reach our goal.  Meanwhile, my deepest gratitude for all who offered their help and encouragement.

Prager crowd
This group turned out for the dedication of Robert Prager Way
This street going west on Kingshighway Boulevard just north of Gravois Avenue was originally Kaiser Street. Renamed Gresham Street during World War II, it now has its original name in honorary form.

Honoring the Original Names

These street signs note a thoroughfare going west on Kingshighway Boulevard just north of Gravois Avenue. The streets was originally Kaiser Street. Renamed Gresham Street during World War II, it now has its original name in honorary form.

     I’m overjoyed to share this news release from the German American Heritage Society of St. Louis. It tells about the culmination of five years of hard and sometimes discouraging work. I hope to see you at the events on Oct. 27.

During World War I, patriotic German Americans were made to choose between their heritage and their nation.  Schools ended their German language education programs. Churches were pressured to stop holding services in German. In Collinsville, Illinois, a mob went farther by lynching a German alien named Robert Prager.

Now the German American Heritage Society of Saint Louis (GAHS) and author Jim Merkel have developed a citywide memorial to this time of anti-German hysteria in street corners around the city. They’ll celebrate these memorials on Oct. 27, fifteen days before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“These honorary designations are an important historical artifact for St. Louis.  When someone walks by these signs, they will learn the stories behind the old names and the new names, and the important lesson underneath,” said James Martin, president of GAHS. “On this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, these signs provide a concrete reminder of our past, and will hopefully provide insight and wisdom for future generations.”

For five years, GAHS and Merkel have worked to mark the six streets whose German “enemy” names were changed during World War I. So far, they have completed the time-consuming process of obtaining city approval for honorary designations noting the original German names for four streets.

The city also has granted the honorary designation of “Robert Prager Way” on Bates Street between Morgan Ford Road and Gravois Avenue in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. It’s next to St. Matthew Cemetery, where Prager is buried.

Habsburger Avenue at the corner of Gravois Avenue and Cecil Place was given the name Cecil Place in World War I. The yellow sign at top indicates that it again has the honorary title.

On Oct. 27, honorary street signs in German colors for Robert Prager Way will be dedicated at 9 a.m. at the corner of Bates and Morgan Ford.  The Bismarck Street signs will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m. at Seventh and Lami street. Depending on city and neighborhood approvals, there will be additional ceremonies  on Oct. 27 or later.

The Oct. 27 ceremonies will conclude with a reception and program open to the public at a place to be designated. Details will be posted at as they are finalized.

The three honorary streets that have already been dedicated are: Knapstein Place (now Providence Place.) in the Dutchtown neighborhood; Kaiser Street (now Gresham Street) in the Princeton Heights neighborhood; and Habsburger Avenue (now Cecil Place) in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood. Two streets that are under review for designations or markers are Von Versen Avenue (now Enright Avenue) in the West End neighborhood and Berlin Avenue (now Pershing Avenue) in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.

Merkel began the campaign to give the streets the honorary designations after learning of the anti-German hysteria while he was writing his book, Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans. In 2013, he teamed up with GAHS to promote the concept.

Under city ordinance, a street or a portion of a street may receive an honorary name designation if at least 60 percent of registered voters in that area sign a petition requesting it. Then the alderman for that area may introduce a bill calling for the designation. Alderman often request support from neighborhood organizations first. The actual street name stays the same.

The city requires an organization to pay for honorary street signs. GAHS is paying the cost for signs in bright German colors.

Organizers see the citywide series of honorary street signs as more than a memorial to what happened to German Americans in World War I. They view it as a reminder that any person, group or nationality can be targeted under certain circumstances.

Knapstein Place
The name of Knapstein Place from Michigan to Minnesota avenues was changed to Providence place in World War I. This sign shows its honorary names.




Everybody Loves The Arch

Costco 1
At the Manchester Costco signing on Sunday, Aug. 26, I take a selfie with Denise Coleman, whose dad scoffed when the Arch went up. Notice the one-of-a-kind cover.

Whenever I’m out signing books, doing a presentation, or speaking on the radio, I always enjoy talking to people about my writing. It’s been especially so with the first and second editions of The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch. I’ve found that just about everybody around here is passionate about the Arch, for all kinds of reasons.

I saw that when I did a couple of signings this past weekend at the annual Celebrate Wildwood fair and at the Costco in Manchester. Everybody had a story about it, Denise Coleman, who was 8 when the Icon went up, remembered hearing her dad scoff, “Why are they spending all that money on a piece of metal that means nothing?” Lots of baby boomers who were there at the time shared stories about watching it go up.

I’m always amazed at how many people say their father or some other relative worked on it. I don’t have any reason to doubt any of them. On the other hand, if all those people helped build the Gateway Arch, then 50,000 must have assisted in the project. Hmm. I also often hear a wild story about that Arch that can’t be true. I heard one this weekend. It’s like what you read on Facebook. Just because somebody says it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Celebrate Wildwood1
At my book signing at the Celebrate Wildwood event on Saturday, Aug. 25, I stand with Linda T. Crothers, an engineer who’s originally from Houston.

Then there are the math types and engineers who love to talk about the equations and numbers that went into the shape of the Arch. One of them was Linda T. Crothers, an engineer originally from Houston and a  consulting project manager with Glotel USA supporting Verizon’s 1Fiber (ODN) Optical Distribution Network in St. Louis Mo. I ran into her at my signing table at Celebrate Wildwood. It was wild talking with her about the math behind the Arch. She understood all of it. I understood none. But it was still fun.

This weekend, I talked to a guy from China who said the first thing he does when a friend comes from his native land is to take him to the Arch. The same thing for locals. Everybody has a story about the Icon. It’s the best thing we have.

costco 4
Jay and Niki Chi, who came to St. Louis from Taiwan, show off “The Making of an Icon” at a signing I did Sunday, Aug. 26 at the Costco in Manchester.

Back in Business – Reedy Press and Me

New books
Back in Business – Real Soon

It’s been lonely since a fire last November destroyed all the books in the Reedy Press warehouse, including my own. Suddenly, I had nothing to sell and nothing to do. Without any books, I stayed at home, bored. Thankfully, though, the folks at Reedy Press didn’t like that idea. They helped me come up with a fantastic second edition of one of the books destroyed in the fire, The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built The Gateway Arch.

Now they’re getting ready to reprint my other three books: Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’ South Side;  Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis’ South Side; and The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. I’ll let you know when it happens and post links to buy them.  When that happen, I’ll be completely back in business.


Signing Books in a Favorite Place

Arch window 3
The view from inide the window of the new Gateway Arch westward looking entrance.

I’ve been to all kinds of places promoting the second edition of The Making of an Icon since it came out about a month ago. I’ve been on radio and television, have spoken at a Rotary meeting and a senior living apartments center and signed books at a gift shop. It’s all been fun, but I had a special thrill on Sunday, when I signed books at The Arch Store in the Visitor Center of the Gateway Arch.

I’ve been too busy to go down there since it opened just before Independence Day. Sorry for repeating a cliche, but it’s amazing. The entrance is spectacular, and the new museum does a much better job of telling the story of the westward expansion and the Gateway Arch than before. I’ll write about it more some time. A mockup of the middle of the observation deck gives a good sense of what it’s like to be at the top of the Arch, down to the view from cameras at the top.

What I liked the best on Sunday, of course, was talking to visitors from everywhere, including one guy from Australia. I talked to a lot of people from Indiana, for some reason, and explained when St. Louisans mean when they say “Hoosiers.” More than anything, I liked signing books and telling people why the Arch is the best thing St. Louis has.

I liked almost all of it, except for the wait to get in. I came at a really busy time. It took more than an hour standing in line before I passed through security. They have three metal detectors, but only used one. Fortunately, lines are inside where it’s cool rather than outside where it’s hot, as it was with the old entrances. Maybe they should run all three metal detectors when crowds are heavy.

Meanwhile, we can come when there aren’t many people. Regardless, everyone should see the new visitor center and museum, and everyone should buy The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built The Gateway Arch, 2nd Edition. If you want to support a struggling freelance writer and get an autographed copy, click here.

Too Busy

Slow down, world.

A writer’s life is never slow, but it really zooms after a book comes out. That’s what I’m going through with The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built The Gateway Arch, 2nd Edition. 

Between now and Sunday, I’m doing two interviews, two presentations and two signings. It would be nice to stretch it out. But it’s worth it if I can talk up my favorites subject.

Wednesday at 10, I’ll be at the studios of STL TV on Oakland Avenue for a taping of Steve Potter’s City Corner, a current events program of the city’s informational cable TV station. Then at noon, I’ll give a presentation to a Rotary Club in the county. Thursday afternoon, I’ll do another presentation at a senior living facility in Webster Groves.

This morning, Jim Doyle sent an e-mail asking me to come on his program “Friday Morning With The Arts,” at 9 a.m. Friday on the Radio Arts Foundation. I can’t turn him down, no matter how busy I am.  You can listen to him at , at 107.3, at KNOU, 96.3 HD2, or on line. 

From noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, you’ll see me signing my books at Circa STL Restaurant and Tavern at 1090 Old Des Peres Road in Des Peres. Come in, have an STL BBQ Pork Steak Dinner and a beverage and have me autograph a book. What could be better?

What could be better is four hours outside the Arch Store at the Gateway Arch Visitor Center. That’s where I’ll be signing books from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Come see me and then see the museum and go to the top. 

I’ll be busy in the next few days, but I’ll love it. I hope to see you some time from now to Sunday. If you’re too busy to see or hear me in the next few days, press here to buy a book.




Fun Facts About the Arch

Let’s Celebrate!

As we celebrate the opening of the reconfigured Gateway Arch grounds, museum and visitor center, it’s a good time to think about some of the odd, weird and fun facts about our town’s treasure. Here’s a few of them, along with the pages where you’ll find out more in The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch, 2nd Edition.

51) Eero Saarinen's Amazing Weather Machine-GS
Eero Saarinen’s Amazing Weather Machine 
  • An enduring urban legend holds that bad storms veer away from St. Louis because of an “Arch Effect.” Supposedly, an iconic pulse in the icon’s legs, originally developed for a doomsday weather weapon against the Nazis, nudges the storms away. (Pages 176-177)
  • The Missouri Secretary of State’s online database of corporate names lists more than 4,600 corporations, past and present, whose name includes the name “Arch”  or “Gateway.” There is no list of businesses with different names that include a figure of the Arch in their logo, but there surely are many of them. (Page 170-172.)
  • When a small plane flew through the legs of the Arch less than nine months after it was topped out, the Federal Aviation Administration promised it would punish the offending pilot most severely after they caught him. It never did. Then in 2016, Donna Dorris of Madison, Il. went to the Post-Dispatch and said her late father Earl Bolin made the fly-through on June 22, 1966. That was the first of 11 confirmed fly-throughs from 1966 to 1984. (Pages 165-167)
  • The company that sent a team of building climbers down the Arch to check out unsightly stains and smudges on the surface offered a list of low-tech products to clean the icon. They include Zud Heavy Duty Cleanser, Avesta Cleaner 401, Barkeeper’s Friend and Scotchbrite Lite Duty Cleaning Pad. (Pages 202-207)
    How to Clean the Arch (Top and middle pictures by Bryan Werner)

    To find the whole story of the Arch, you can buy The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hat Who Built The Gateway Arch, 2nd Edition here.  

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