Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Victorian Mourning at Chatillion-DeMenil House

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to faux mourn someone who died at some point at the Chatillon-Demenil House. Every year in October, the lovely volunteers of C-M stage an open house to teach us about Victorian mourning customs. We stopped by last weekend to pay our respects.

Mourning in Victorian times was serious business, especially for people of means. It could last up to three years, and there was a costume change to go with each year, as well as accessories and china and everything else. The front of the house was draped in black bunting to let the neighbors know there was a death in the family, and all the mirrors and statues and portraits in the house were draped in crepe.

Do you guys remember when I made fun of the vial of tears at the Museum of Broken Relationships? THAT IS A REAL THING. Victorian widows used to save up their tears, and then pour them over their deceased spouse's grave when mourning was over.

Another eyebrow-raising custom of the Victorian era: soul cakes. This dough was set to rise on the chest of the deceased, with the intent that the biscuits would be infused with the essence of the dearly departed. They were then given away at the funeral. You might open one of those wrappers to find an advertisement for a bakery.

Of course there was a large collection of hair art and mourning jewelry on display, as well as a demonstration of hair weaving. As you may remember from Leila's Hair Museum, these types of hair wreaths were usually  more of a family tree than an expression of grief. The lady speaking in this room had an extensive collection of jewelry, as well as mourning photography exhibited in another room.

Upstairs we have the sick room, where the nurse talks about some of the ways we might try to save someone before they expire. Most of it revolves around getting rid of "bad blood", whether by bleeding, cupping, or leeches.

Before we depart, I have to give a nod to the carpet. This carpet was woven on loom by a blind weaver, Penelope Strousser, assisted by Emma Jostes Keller (I'm reading off a photo of a plaque, so please correct me if I am misreading the names) for the Bicentennial (of St  Louis, I assume, as the house was built in 1850). Isn't this incredible? This is how carpet was done back in the day, on a household loom, and then sewn together. A lot of times you will see a reversible pattern, so it was taken out and beaten in spring and fall and then flipped over.

While you will have to wait until next year for A Death in the Family to return, you can tour Chatillon-DeMenil House, located at the corner of Cherokee St and DeMenil Place, Wednesday-Saturday year round. It is right down the street from Lemp Mansion, so make a day of it!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Mystery: 25c Brains!

I've had a lot of people ask about the postcard I used on the brain sandwich post. I bought it at the Missouri History Museum gift shop and scanned it in. Today, I can tell you where that sign was! Turns out it was at Carr Lane and Chouteau, next to Saint Louis University and mere blocks from my office, so I took a picture.

Thanks to BoingBoing for solving the mystery!

This also inspired a series of historical blends over on Francis's blog, South City Hoosier.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail

We've been working on updating some of this site's very first blogs lately, and the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail is one I've been meaning to polish up for years. Francis had never been, so last weekend I dragged him and his fancy camera to my favorite museum in Missouri. I think it was who came up with the name Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, and that has always been my favorite name for the site. You have to see it to believe it!

The proper name for this place is the Weldon Spring Site Remedial Action Project (WSSRAP). In the 40s, the site was used to manufacture explosives. In the 50s, it was used to process uranium ore ("yellow cake") and a nearby quarry was used to dispose of radioactive waste. In the 60s, the military considered using the site to make Agent Orange, but never got past some initial cleanup efforts, and no Agent Orange was actually produced here. In the 70s the army used the site for military training. In the 80s the Department of Energy took over and started the cleanup process, and cleanup continued through the 90s. By 2001, the toxic stew was piled up and buried under what I like to call a Post-Apocalyptic Cahokia Mound and then a museum was built to tell us all about radiation and 21st century mound building.

This time around, we spent some time getting a tour from Karl & Shirley Daubel, the couple who run the museum on the weekends. Karl used to work on site, and they know everything there is to know about the history, clean up, and construction of the cell. There have been some comments on this post over the years from concerned residents of the area, and I encourage you to stop by the museum some weekend to learn more about it.

While it is true that you probably should not have gone swimming in the lagoon back in the 60s and 70s, today it is totally safe. Even during the cleanup process, every possible effort was made to ensure not one radioactive particle left the site. The workers even had to put their hazmat suits in a barrel that was then put into the cell before it was closed up!

Today, the answer to the question, "How much radiation am I receiving at the WSSRAP?" is, "Not much." Less than your average day-to-day activities, presumably because they did such a good job of mound building. I always like to tell people that you get more "radiated" by sleeping in the same bed as another person. Now that we're confident on that point, let's check out the mound.

You might think this is just a mound, that you can maybe walk around it at the bottom and that's it. But just like the Big Mound at Cahokia, there are stairs up to a viewing platform. It's like being in a sci-fi movie up at the top.

This giant pile of rocks is the highest point in St Charles County, and totally surrounded by Weldon Spring Conservation Area and Busch Wildlife Area. Green all around. So crazy.

The next picture is Keith in 2008, to give you a sense of the scale of the viewing platform. Those concrete podiums have maps and information about the site, in case you are ever out there when the visitor's center is not open.

Once upon a time I heard that there was an actual trail with interpretive signage, hence the name Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail, but further research seems to indicate that someone misinterpreted the visitors center/museum. You can walk around the cell, and they have some native prarie planted, but there's no "Adventure Trail", per say. Still, much like Caveman BBQ, the name sticks.

We don't know what the big gravel fields are for. Shirley's theory is that they might be testing areas, as the site is still constantly monitored.

I am happy to add to this update that the Google Maps have finally been corrected! The address of the site is 7295 Highway 94 South, St. Charles, Missouri 63304. For cyclists, the WSSRAP is on the Hamburg Trail, which intersects the Katy Trail at mile 56.7 just west of the Weldon Spring Trailhead. The Interpretive Center is about 4 miles from the Katy Trail on the Hamburg Trail.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gateway Arch Riverboat Cruise

We did the Octoberfest two hour brunch cruise on Sunday afternoon and had a great time. The brunch included beef, knockwurst & saurkraut, purple cabbage, "knoodle" kugel (so delicious), rolls, fruit, and salad, plus they had Bloody Marys and mimosas for $4. It's a great way to see St Louis from a fresh angle, and with a German soundtrack!

If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably noticed that we live close to the Mississippi and that I love watching river traffic at Sister Marie Charles Park. I could sit on a bench watching tugboats all day.

It's getting to be a little late in the season for river cruising, but you still have one more weekend for a Skyline Dinner Cruise, a couple Magic 100.3 FM cruises (including Halloween), a Halloween Costume Party cruise, and a New Year's Eve Cruise. Make your reservations today on their website!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

St Louis Brain Sandwich

A few weeks ago, I had offered up a food challenge on Facebook: If I got to 650 fans, I would eat brains. Well, the kitchen at the bar near our house that serves brain sandwiches on Tuesdays (Highlights) closed at 7 on our first attempt, and then some other stuff came up, and now suddenly we are almost to 850 fans! When we passed up 800 yesterday, I told Francis that we needed to make good on the brains, so we headed to Schottzies.

Fried Brain Sandwiches became popular in St Louis in the late 19th century, when we still had a lot of stockyards. These days there are only a handful of restaurants that still serve them, and I wasn't able to find any place other than Schottzies that still has them as a regular menu item. As you can see, we went a little nuts on this tavern food bender, and also had to try the tavern eggs (wrapped in sausage and deep fried), broccoli cheese bites, and onion rings. The brains of a brain sandwich are sliced thin and battered, like a country fried steak, and then served on toast with onion & mustard. I like hot head cheese, so I actually found brains to be pretty bland, and in need of hot sauce. Next time I will put some Sriratcha in my purse!

If you're not already a fan of ours on Facebook, give us a "like"! 1,000 likes by Christmas and we'll visit the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO! I joke about this (I am not a Precious Moments fan) but there's a lot of neat stuff too do in Carthage, and I bet the Chapel is really something at Christmas.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


We got a little behind this month because of boring homeowner chores, so while we work to catch up, please enjoy this photo of a grizzly bear waiting for fish at the St Louis Zoo.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Taste & Tote in Walla Walla

If you follow me on Instagram or G+, you may have seen the news that I'm a real & true travel agent now! I will have a tab up at the top for travel details (next to that JewelScent tab, another awesome thing I picked up) as soon as I get that page built. For now I'm adding a new monthly feature, Travel Thursday, to tell you about neat vacation ideas that come across my desk.

I heard a story on the radio the other day (and I am sure it was public radio but cannot find the story online) about the booming wine industry in Walla Walla, Washington. Remember Walla Walla from Oregon Trail? Turns out the convergence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers (caulk & float!) creates an ideal environment for growing grapes, and Walla Walla has more than 100 wineries, and more than 30 tasting rooms in the downtown area. The awesome thing I learned today is that if you fly to Walla Walla on Alaska Airlines, your boarding pass will waive the tasting fee at participating tasting rooms, AND your first case of wine is checked free on your return! No messing with shipping!

Check out the Walla Walla Wine Website for more information about touring wine country, and email me at for help with your vacation planning!

Monday, October 7, 2013

St Peter & Paul Cemetery

Maria C Nicoletti
When we went to Old St Marcus a couple months ago, we had first stopped at St Peter & Paul on the other side of Loughborough. St Peter & Paul is HUGE, and they do not allow dogs, so we decided to save it for another day. In the few minutes we had wandered the back section, I noticed that they have a much higher than average number of ceramic memorials, which are one of my favorite things in a cemetery. I went back to do a portrait project of sorts, because I feel like having a picture really makes you think a little harder about who someone was. When I wander a cemetery, each memorial and monument I take note of feels like a small tribute, like each of those people was "remembered" that day. I hope that makes sense and that if anyone who comes across a family member in this blog entry will know that I share these with the utmost respect, and that I am including the names in the hopes that genealogy enthusiasts will have an easier time finding these photos in Google searches.

Carlo & Ernesta Puricelli
Guido, Rosa, Mario, and Mary Peoroli

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Goldenrod Showboat

I know how you guys love peeling paint and rust! This week's pictures come to us from Keith. This is a sad, sad case. You wouldn't know it from these pictures, but the Goldenrod Showboat is actually a US National Landmark. It was built in 1909, and was the last showboat to work the Mississippi River.

In the 1960s, after the Goldenrod had been partially sunk and salvaged twice and endured a catastrophic fire, she was restored to her original glory in a $300,000 renovation and became a National Historic Landmark in 1967. Through the 1970s and 1980s she was moored on the St Louis riverfront for shows and hosted the annual National Ragtime festival. 

The City of St Charles bought the Goldenrod in 1989 and spent almost $4 million on her in the twelve years she operated as a dinner theater. After suffering some expensive damage in the early aughts. St Charles first tried to find a buyer and then ended up giving the boat away.

Since The City of St Charles gave the Goldenrod away in 2002ish, the boat has been moved several times and has had several owners. Details for this post came from Wikipedia, where you can read more about where it is now. Keith did heed the signs, but got this picture through a hole.

Do you remember the Goldenrod Showboat? Would you like to see it restored? The Historic Riverboat Preservation Project is currently working toward this goal!