Anne wrapped up her long-term substitute transition period yesterday, with a 3rd-grade field trip to the Missouri History Museum. The students went to see, “#1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in Saint Louis”. Anne and I had already visited this exhibit. A docent met them at the curb, when the buses pulled up. This large group was split, half viewed the exhibit first and half had a classroom activity. Anne’s group started in the exhibit, where curators emphasized three aspects of the show: the 19th-century struggle against slavery, the sixties civil rights movement and the Ferguson demonstrations. Classroom activity involved making demonstration signs. I can hear the eye-rolling out there, but the kids were really engaged and not all of the signs were race related.
A September 22, 1964 headline in The St. Louis American proclaimed St. Louis as the “Number One City in Civil Rights.” In the article, Judge Nathan Young argued that St. Louis—more than any other city in the U.S.—was preeminent in the country’s struggle for civil rights based on the number of Supreme Court cases [four] that originated in St. Louis and the city’s long history of protest that led to significant change.
The claim that Saint Louis is the most important city in U.S. civil rights history may seem surprising, but that’s because so much our city’s activist past has been forgotten. America’s civil rights history has too often been dominated by stories about a limited number of places, during a limited time period. Until Ferguson, Saint Louis had been largely left out of civil rights history. #1 in Civil Rights attempts to reclaim the role that Saint Louis had in U.S. civil rights history.
The Missouri History Museum’s, #1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis examines the local civil rights movement and the city’s role in advancing the cause of racial justice. From activism to high court rulings, Saint Louis has been contesting racial inequities. #1 in Civil Rights uncovers a history that’s compelling and complex, but that all too often has been overlooked in the telling of the larger national narrative. That narrative includes four precedent-setting Supreme Court civil rights cases that originated in Saint Louis—possibly the most to ever reach the High Court from one source. It also includes events and battles that had significant impacts.
Love is in the air everywhere I look around.
Love is in the air every sight and every sound.
– John Paul Young
John Paul Young’s lyrics attribute sight and sound as the two main vehicles of love and in musical theater that may be true, but he has forgotten the important sense of smell and its effects on love. Last week, on the day after Valentine’s Day, our holiday dedicated to romantic love, I attended a lecture by Tim Holy (Washington University) entitled, “Pheromones: The Science of Love”. By way of definition, pheromones are chemicals released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behavior or physiology of others of its species. The proximity to Valentine’s Day may have led Dr. Holy to take some latitudes in his introduction, but the overall fundamentals of his talk seemed solid enough.
He quickly brushed past the effects of pheromones in humans, with an ‘I don’t know’ and did speak about pheromones and their effects in insects, but the focus of his research is pheromones in mice. He described an experiment where he stacked two cages. In each cage he placed one mouse. In all of the possible combinations, only when he place a female mouse in the upper cage and a male mouse in the lower cage did he obtain results that were positive for transmission of pheromones. He measured this transmission using an electron microscope that was used to examine the olfactory nerves in the male mouse’s nasal cavity.
I suspect that this examination did not go all that well for the male mouse. I am reminded of a Garrison Keillor story that describes an analogues situation in the Minnesota woods. It is fall and there is a certain crispness to the air. The male deer, the buck is in rut. As he prances through the woods his nostrils are filled with the scent of female does in heat. Unexpectedly their scent is soon masked by the smell of cigars and coffee. The muzzle flash of the hunter’s gun soon puts an end to all of this young buck’s thoughts of love.
But I digress, let’s get back to the science. Under the electron microscope Holy has identified 17 different types of olfactory nerves in these mice. Only in the girl on top and boy on the bottom situation does one of these 17 nerve types light-up. Holy hypothesizes that its excitation is due to pheromones. In fairness to Dr. Holy, I’m not sure that I have adequately communicated his results. If so, then I apologize. Anyway, it was an interesting lecture.
These three bathing themed photos are from the Missouri History Museum’s exhibit, “Capturing the City: Photographs from the Streets of St. Louis, 1900–1930”. During the first few decades of the 20th-century, the Saint Louis Streets Department generated one of the most extensive image collections (18,000) ever made of this city. Led by Charles Clement Holt, his photography division’s original intent was simply to document municipal challenges and needed improvements for the Streets Department, but these photos also captured scenes of everyday life. In this exhibit a selection of these images have been collected that capture the city as it once was and allows the viewer a glimpse at historic Saint Louis. I have chosen to concentrate on this one small slice of the show.
At this time Saint Louis was the fourth largest city in America and as with any large city of that day, public health was a primary concern. The institution of clean water and sanitary sewage treatment did more to reduce infant mortality and increase overall life expectancy in America than any other subsequent advancement. On the back of the photo of the two children bathing is written the title “The Saturday Bath”, 1909. Holt or one of his staff probably took this photograph for the city’s water department to promote advances in water treatment. In the second photograph, girls in a swimming class entertain an audience of neighborhood residents at the Mullanphy Pool, 11th Street and Cass Avenue, 1914. The signs prohibiting spitting in the water reminded people of the ever-present threat of tuberculosis. The third picture shows an interracial group of children playing in a wading pool at the intersection of 9th and O’Fallon streets in the Carr Square neighborhood, circa 1916. The building in the background with two large entry doors is a public bathhouse. In an era without air-conditioning, playing in the pool would have been one of the few escapes from Saint Louis’s notoriously oppressive summers.
In the hundred-plus intervening years, the ravages of time have not been gentle. Nothing of these depicted scenes still remains. The people are all gone. Even the structures are gone. All that remains are these photographs. They are like tinted windows that allow us to peer at how life once was, but these images never really revealing those lives in their entirety.
It was too cold today for a bicycle ride, so I went walk-about instead. When I walk, I like to listen to audio books through Hoopla. They help to exercise my mind, while I’m working on my body. Lately, I’ve been switching off between two different American history books. The first one is “1776” by David McCullough and the other one is “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg. As the two titles infer McCullough’s book if focused upon a single year during the American Revolutionary War, while Isenberg’s is much more wide-ranging. It just so happens though that I have waded far enough into Isenberg’s book that now she too is dealing with the revolutionary time period.
McCullough hews much more closely to the sanitized public school version of American history than does Isenberg, but even he is not averse to illuminating some of the more unseemly aspects of this pivotal point in our country’s story. For example, he explains at length how if not for a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rum, Washington would not have been able to hold his rag-tag army together, during his prolonged siege of Boston. Meanwhile, Isenberg seems to revel in the seedier side of American history. Our founding fathers with all of their talk of freedom and equality, were little more than hypocrites. They were speaking only of their freedom and only the equality between them and their peers. The rest of us rabble be damned.
After having heard sullied twice-over our political origin story, I returned home, unplugging my ear buds and thereby also returned to the present. A perusal of today’s headlines reveals that little has changed in the intervening years. Our leaders are still vaingloriously treating we the people like trash. Through the mechanism of divide and conquer, we have been split neatly into two warring tribes, color-coded red and blue. We used to be blue and grey, but now that color scheme must be passé. Subdivided, we are left to furiously punch and poke each other like demented automatons, dancing around the ring like little marionettes at the direction of our puppet masters. I say enough. I am tired of all the political games, the incessant tit-for-tat, the unending one-upmanship. At the end of the day, none of it signifies anything and all of it affects even less.
Gumby, Barbie, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Wham-O, Spirograph and Hot Wheels are all iconic brand names that were indelibly impressed upon my psyche during my childhood. They are all also elements of the current exhibit, “Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” that is at the Missouri History Museum. Created by the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit is organized around three imagined American living rooms, with one from each decade. This show is highly interactive, with many of the toys made available for play. It is also highly nostalgic for children from those years. It is the perfect vehicle for a trip down memory lane and is especially apropos for the Christmas season. These old toys that are seemingly untouched by the intervening years help to rekindle the magic of Christmas past, for those of us who played with them when we were young.