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Tag Archives: history
Bob recommends seeing as many of the following six documentaries being shown this month as a part of the SLIFF (St. Louis International Film Festival) program this fall.
You can download the schedule of documentaries being shown by clicking this text.
• Saturday November 10, 1:15 PM, Plaza Frontenac: BETTING THE FARM
• Sunday November 11, 4 PM, Tivoli: GETTING UP: THE TEMPT ONE STORY
• Wednesday November 14, 7 PM, Hi-Pointe: ENVISIONING HOME
• Thursday November 15, 7:15 PM, Tivoli: THE PREP SCHOOL NEGRO
• Friday November 16, 6:30 PM, Wash U / Brown School: DIGNITY HARBOR
• Saturday November 17, 12 noon, Wash U / Brown School: THE SECOND EXECUTION OF ROMELL BROOM
NOTE: The following post was created in Fall 2011 during Community Building. Some of the text refers to specific things that occurred in class at that time, however the overall point remains apropos.
Reflecting on the music and discussion we had in yesterday’s class. The drawings the students’ worked on were representations of The Ville and The Hill. It almost seems too cute in the way they rhyme but there’s certainly a logic involved in making the comparison.
One of the things about the two tours that strikes me is that I felt our visit to The Hill tended to preference the built fabric and the vernacular sense of continuity that makes for a very compelling and cohesive neighborhood. The insistent repetition of the overall house forms had an almost numbing effect in some areas despite the individuality of each home not just architecturally, but also in the way each family ornamented and presented their homes to the public.
My suspicion is that it would have been possible to visit The Ville and take a tour with a similar sense of architectural continuity. Our tour tended to favor the larger institutional buildings and organizations over the urban fabric of the residential community. When we did look at homes, they tended to be unique for historical reasons and due to the residents who grew up there rather than for their architectural or urban content.
There’s nothing wrong with this difference between the tours, but it does lead to a varied perception. Clearly much of the difference that was noted related to the general comfort and ease with which we generally felt in visiting The Hill. Part of that has to do with the “branding” of the neighborhood as a source for Italian culture and food that is widely known and appreciated in Saint Louis. Also, the neighborhood itself has made a particular point of reminding visitors (and residents) that they are in the “Italian” section of the city.
Bob’s explanations have made it clear that while Italians were among the original residents of the area, it wasn’t a monolithic culture that dominated the area in the way that I think is suggested by the constant reminders (flags, banners, fire hydrants, etc.). In fact, the branding has so successful as a strategy for attracting restaurants and bakeries, that there seems to be a much higher concentration of such businesses in the area than could be supported by the local economy. The great number and variety (and expense) of many of the restaurants clearly seem to be in business because they attract customers from a relatively wide area.
It seems that this dominance of branding neighborhoods has been so successful in certain respects that it tends to suppress many other features of the community that are beneficial, but not publicly understood to be connected with The Hill. It would be interesting to take photographs of less typical sections of The Hill that might be suggestive of other cultures, practices and locations and to present them to a group and ask them to identify the neighborhood in which they were taken.
I suspect that it would be possible to find buildings and sites and locations just within The Hill that could be suggestive of the industrial riverfront areas, Soulard, Wellston, The Ville, Clayton and West County. In a similar way, I suspect one could take photographs of various locations around the city to could be considered to fit into the image that is commonly accepted for The Hill and have people identify them as having been taken there, when in fact they represent restaurants, homes, churches, parks and businesses in other parts of the city.
So what does this mean? Does it mean that the representations of The Hill that we have ingrained in our minds is false? I don’t think that’s the case, however it does suggest that we’re somewhat brainwashed in the way we understand segments of the city. I wonder to what extent our preconceptions determine our reactions?
Another thought experiment might be to take students on a drive blindfolded and then arrive somewhere without knowing where they are going in advance. Then they would be forced to really “read” the city they find themselves in for clues and information about its condition, history, demographics, prosperity, density, etc.
Our conversation about the drawings was instructive, but also revealed some things about our own ideas and how we project them onto situations. Someone commented that, “Well of course we feel more comfortable going to The Hill, since we all have a European background.” I felt this statement was, at a minimum, insensitive.
My sense is that part of the intentions behind the class has to do with overcoming stereotypes and preconceptions that we have about people and places that cause us to distort reality and block us from really seeing things as they are.
After writing this post, I decided to go ahead with my thought experiment and take still frames from the video I shot during our visits to the Hill and the Ville. Can you identify which are which?
Following are two movie posters, a series of film stills and two images depicting the construction of the city.
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|