National Geographic : 1923 Apr
MISSOURI, MOTHER OF THE WEST color, music, and poetry. It was vibrant and restless with the gay, gallant life of that tumultuous ante-bellum epoch. But unspeakably desolate it is now, and depressing. Though St. Louis first drew her very life from the great river, to-day she has turned her back on it-and a shabby, weatherbeaten, forlorn old back it is! The 19 miles of waterfront, which might be parked-all grassy lawns and flower beds, with groves of shrubs and shade trees, as charming as New York's famous Riverside Drive or the restful roads that Washington has thrown along the Potomac-form in sad truth probably the ugliest river front in all America. The majestic river, the greatest on our continent, is actually shut off from view, invisible to the real St. Louis, by the old, dilapidated buildings that fringe it. A I)ISIIARTENING VIEW FOR T''IIE VISITOR Even entering the town by rail over any of its 23 roads (22 of which enter the Union Station), your train seems to go reluctantly, grumbling, as if sensing its mean surroundings. In uncomfort able intimacy you fairly hug the back doors of endless squalid two-story brick houses, through whose uncurtained win dows you glimpse the inner chambers of cheaply furnished homes, of crowded, unkempt flats where beds, sewing-ma chines, and dining-tables seem struggling for standing room. Across narrow courts lines are stretched, from which the family wash hangs wet and limp or pops in the wind like the myriad flags that dress a ship on gala days. On and on your train winds, twists, and squeaks, now passing grimy warehouses, abandoned livery and feed stables, brew eries that cannot brew, on past gloomy coffin shops, past breakfast-food factories flinging giant signs to a startled world, and yet farther along, over the elevated road, above rough, cobblestoned streets noisy with jolting trucks. Thus you proceed by jerks, jumps, and dusty, stifling waits, till you climb out under the vast, dirty, vaulted roof of a smoky, sooty Union Station. Grimy and worn it is, like some ancient temple in a holy city of India, crowded with listless men, with tired women and crying babies, and bundles, bundles, bundles. For 25 years I, too, have gone in and out of that station; yet always that list less, forlorn army is waiting there, wait ing for the day coaches to back in, so it can go home to Moberly, or Joplin, or Sedalia; to go home, so it can rest up, save money, and bring more babies back to St. Louis, to spend its money there and wait again for the day coaches to back in, to ride home again. From this dark, cavernous maelstrom of men and women, of din and mingled odors, more narrow, cobbly streets lead off, jammed with clanging street-cars, bouncing motors, and jolting trucks-lead off to Olive Street, to Delmar, to King's Highway, to the greater, better, real St. Louis, the mightiest city west of the Mis sissippi. Like Bagdad or some old inland towns of Europe, St. Louis, though she never smelt salt water, is the home of world traders, of men who traffic over the seas. Long ago St. Louis outgrew Missouri even the Mississippi Valley. Unique among western cities, St. Louis, with a population of some 8oo,ooo, has never enjoyed or suffered a boom. An indefinable air of permanence, of mellow age and ripe judgment, a stability like that of Antwerp or Copenhagen, is the spirit of the place-old, respectable, sure of her position. In 44 years her city limits have not increased. Though often called a "German" city, the total of foreign-born in St. Louis is only 13 per cent, as against 32 per cent in Boston, which "looks down" on St. Louis, and 35 per cent in New York. ALWAYS A CONSERVATIVE CITY It has never been a town of get-rich quick schemes, or "wild-cat" oil and land sharks; rather is there something of the conservative Liverpool or Manchester merchant in the deliberate planning of its traders. In reviving river traffic, tying St. Louis up by water with the ports of the world, these traders are looking ahead, not a year, or two, but ten, twenty, fifty years. So it is in their far-seeing plans to move some of the steel trade west, to St. Louis or its vicinity, where coal and iron ore meet.