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Category Archives: St. Louis
R. Buckminster Fuller worked with Washington University Professor of Architecture James Fitzgibbon. Here is a portion of text by Fuller discussing the project:
Having undertaken the solution by artifacts of the world’s great housing crisis, I came to regard the history of cities. Cities developed entirely before the thought of electricity or automobiles or before any of the millions of inventions registered in the United States Patent Office. For eminently mobile man, cities have become obsolete in terms of yesterday’s functions-warehousing both new and formerly manufactured goods and housing immigrant factory workers. Rebuilding them to accommodate the new needs of world man requires demolition of the old buildings and their replacement of the new and now obsolete real estate, streets, water and sewer lines, and yesterday’s no longer logical overall planning geometries. I sought to take on this challenge and developed plans for an entirely feasible and practical new way for humans to live together economically. Old Man River’s City is one such design.
Old Man River’s City, undertaken for East St. Louis, Illinois, takes its name from the song first sung by Paul Robeson fifty years ago, which dramatized the life of Afro-American blacks who lived along the south-of-St. Louis banks of the Mississippi River in the days of heavy north-south river traffic in cotton. Cessation of the traffic occurred when the east-west railway network outperformed the north-south Mississippi, Mexican Gulf, and Atlantic water routes, which left many of its riverbank communities, such as East St. Louis, marooned in economic dead spots. East St. Louis is an American city overwhelmed by poverty. Its population of 70,000 is 70 percent black.
I originally came to East St. Louis to discuss the design and possible realization of the Old Man River’s City, having been asked to do so by East St. Louis community leaders themselves, being first approached by my friend Katherine Dunham, the famous black dancer. At the community leaders’ request I presented a design that would help solve their problem. It is moon-crater-shaped: the crater’s truncated cone top opening is a halfmile in diameter, rim-to-rim, while the truncated mountain itself is a mile in diameter at its base ring.
African Americans living in St. Louis housing projects may have been subjected to radiation-laced spraying by the U.S. military during the Cold War.
In an effort to study how biological and chemical agents might spread, the U.S. Army conducted “Operation Large Area Coverage.” The project consisted of spraying zinc cadmium sulfide, which was not considered harmful, across various parts of the country.
But in the housing projects of St. Louis, which the Army considered a “slum district,” the spraying included radioactive particles, according to sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor. The spraying took place from February 1953 to January 1954 and 1963-1965.
Martino-Taylor uncovered the information while working on her doctor of philosophy dissertation for the University of Missouri-Columbia, which studied how “ethical lapses” can allow members of a large organization to ignore the harm they are doing to innocent and unwitting people. In the course of her research, she obtained Army documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
The government admitted in 1994 that it used St. Louis as a testing ground because its architecture and climate were similar to cities in the Soviet Union. But it never revealed anything publicly about irradiated materials. Instead the Army claimed that the tests had been experiments to see if smoke clouds could be created to hide American cities from Soviet attacks. In reality, the military was testing offensive measures, not defensive. The tests, among other goals, were meant to discover “the penetration of the aerosol cloud into residences at various distances from the aerosol disperser, and to determine whether there is any residual background or lingering effect of the cloud within buildings.”
The experiments were meant to begin in Minneapolis, but met with resistance from residents. When the program moved on to St. Louis, they chose a low-income area because, according to historian Leonard Cole, “poor people were less likely to object to strange happenings in their neighborhood, and if they did, the police would be there to control them.”
In 2009, researchers in St. Louis discovered cardboard boxes filled with 85,000 individually labeled baby teeth that had been collected in the late 1950s and early 1960s to study the effects of radioactive fallout. Children born in St. Louis in 1964 had about 50 times the amount of strontium-90 in their baby teeth as those who were born in 1950.
Missouri’s U.S. senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, have asked the Army to produce more information on the testing in St. Louis.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Sick: Government Sprayed Radioactive Chemicals on Poor People in Science Experiment, Study Claims (by Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet)
Missouri Senators Demand Details on Military Testing in 50s and 60s (by Bill Lambrecht, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
The Manhattan-Rochester Coalition, Research on the Health Effects of Radioactive Materials, and Tests on Vulnerable Populations without Consent in St. Louis, 1945-1970. (by Lisa Martino Taylor, University of Missouri-Columbia) (pdf)
In response to recent plans to “revitalize” the Arch Grounds and modify streets in downtown St. Louis, blogger Rick Bonash (of STL Rising) wrote a post entitled, “Staggered Lanes for the Home of Stagger Lee?” which refers to a notorious event in St. Louis history commemorated in American music throughout the 20th century (in blues, folk, rock, R&B, pop and more). Based on the true story of a legendary encounter of violence that encapsulated the kind of incident that St. Louisans wished to dispel.
|Depiction of Stagger Lee in graphic novel.|
“Lee Shelton (March 16, 1865 – March 11, 1912) was an African American taxi cab driver and pimp convicted of murdering William “Billy” Lyons on Christmas Eve, 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri. The crime was immortalized in a popular song that has been recorded by numerous artists. Stagger Lee (also “Stackalee,” “Stackolee” and “Stagolee”) ultimately becomes a folk figure of the trickster type as numerous legends accumulate around him.”
|Mississippi John Hurt’s original 1928 recordings.|
From an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat from 1895:
William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station.
It seems that the earliest recorded version of the song may have been by Mississippi John Hurt from 1928. He tells the tale in this recording and a later recording of the legend (beautifully sung and played).
|Bluesman Mississippi John Hurt|
|Taj Mahal, folk, blues and rock musician.|
“Stagger Lee” topped the pop and R&B charts, sold over a million copies. Dick Clark insisted the violent content of the song be toned down when Price appeared on American Bandstand but it was still the “violent” version that was on top of the R&B charts of 1959.
|Grateful Dead in concert in the late 1960s.|
Post-punk alternative group Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (2004).
|Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds|