Here’s the tale of three interlinked German-American newspapermen. They’re featured at the statue of The Naked Truth at Grand and Russell, and all three lived in Lafayette Square.
St Louis is often thought of as a town with French roots. Although I’m not one to argue the point, this city is an always interesting amalgam of many cultures. One of the most influential, with echoes coming down from both our long brewing and journalism pedigrees, is German. The first wave of Germans ventured to St Louis in the mid-1830’s. Pamphlets from the Geissen Emigration Society were widely circulated in Germany and painted Missouri as the American Rhineland. Emil Mallinckrodt founded the Bremen area (now Hyde Park) in 1844. It ensured emigrants a friendly like-minded enclave in which to live. After failed military efforts to unify Germany in the late 1840’s, many middle-class nationalist rebels were forced out, bringing a wave of politically active emigrants to America. By 1888, 40% of St Louis children in public schools were German. The German American community established community center/gymnasiums called turnvereins, and formed the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church here in 1843. Germans proved industrious, assertive, and highly successful in St Louis, with several becoming community leaders.
Dr. Emil Preetorius (1827-1905) was born in Germany and well-schooled there, earning a doctorate of law degree. After fighting for the unsuccessful movement to unify that country, he was forced to leave. Preetorius arrived in St Louis in 1853 and worked in leather mercantile with his brother until the Civil War. During that period he devoted time to recruiting and organizing German-American troops. Gaining stature through his efforts, he was elected to the Missouri state legislature in 1862.
In 1864, he became editor of the German language newspaper, Westliche Post. Preetorius drew attention for his crisp clear writing, and often lectured on aesthetics, philosophy, and history. His paper became nationally influential.
In 1867, Preetorius invited General Carl Schurz to join him in managing the paper. With an eye for journalistic talent, Preetorius and Schurz gave a young Joseph Pulitzer his first job as a reporter.
Emil Preetorius was a major civic leader in St Louis during the 1890’s, and president of the Missouri Historical Society from 1892-1893. When his Westliche Post merged with Carl Daenzer’s Anzeiger Des Westens in 1898, both men retired. The paper itself carried on until 1938.
Preetorius died in his Lafayette Square home at age 78. Here is the headline of his obit, from the New York Times:
He had never returned to Germany, stating that when he would, he could not, and when he could, he would not.
His house at 2013 Park in Lafayette Square was built for him in 1867. The graceful French Second Empire style residence was sold by Emil’s daughter Edwina in 1918, turned into a boarding house, and finally demolished in 1958. A fairly faithful replica was constructed on the same site in 2008. Here are a couple photos to compare:
Carl Daenzer (1820-1906) was also associated with the German revolutionary movement in 1848. Sentenced to ten years in prison, he escaped and fled to America. In 1851, he came to St Louis and secured a position editing Anzeiger Des Westens. With that experience, he, established the German language paper Westliche Post in 1857, becoming its first publisher. Emil Preetorius acquired a financial interest in Daenzer’s paper in 1864, and was appointed editor in chief. Three years later, Carl Schurz was named a partner and worked with Preetorius in the editorial management of the Post.
Daenzer worked at publishing the paper until consolidating it with Anzeiger Des Westens in 1898. At that point, both he and Emil retired, and Carl Daenzer moved back to Germany. He had built a house in Lafayette Square, at 1730 Missouri Avenue, back in 1874. After Daenzer left, his home went through a procession of eleven owners and was an abandoned rooming house when bought and demolished by the state in 1961 for development of I-44.
You may also remember Carl Daenzer from an earlier essay from the Archives: https://lafayettesquare.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=10189&action=edit. He was responsible for establishing our very static population of Eurasian tree sparrows in Lafayette Park in 1870.
Carl Schurz (1829-1906) escaped Prussia after the same unsuccessful German revolution of 1848-1849. He settled in Wisconsin in 1852. During the Civil War he rose to the rank of General, and led troops at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. After the war, he established a small newspaper in St Louis in 1867. The following year, Schurz was elected to the US Senate. Losing a re-election bid in 1874, Schurz took a role as editor and joint proprietor with Preetorius at the Westliche Post. He stayed on as editor until 1877, when he was named U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Schurz lived at 2013 Park Avenue, the Preetorius home, in the late 1860’s, and used the address for his taxes until his death.
A significant amateur photographer and tireless advocate for restoration, William G. Swekosky stated in his letters that Schurz would deliver speeches from the house at 2013-2015 Park Avenue. From the “top of the bay windows which also serves as a porch….. overflow crowds that stood on (the) sidewalk and street heard Schurz talk on various subjects when the occasion demanded it”.
In 1876, he retired from the paper, moved to New York City in 1881, and became lead editorial writer for the renowned Harpers Weekly. He died in New York City at the age of 86.
All three men, with their life lines intertwined as can be, were known as “forty-eighters” – a name given to young German rebels from that time. Passionate nationalists and, once in America, abolitionists, they preached and practiced a form of liberal Republicanism. They were seldom at a loss for firm opinion. As Schurz put it, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right”.
With tensions between Germany and the U.S rising in the days leading up to World War I, a Preetorius-Schurz-Daenzer Memorial Association was formed in 1913. Adolphus Busch chaired the group and gave $20,000 toward a sculpture competition, won by German William Wandschneider for his proposed Naked Truth monument. After a civic brouhaha over the nudity of the Truth figure, Busch attempted to rescind the award. Wandschneider and his wife came to America and charmed everyone into accepting the statue as depicted. Somewhat ironically, Busch blamed the press for a misrepresentation he had read. He declared the actual statue “pretty fair”. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union attempted to have it melted into scrap for the war effort in World War I, but cooler heads prevailed.
So these three men, vital to the German community both here and nationally, once lived in Lafayette Square, and are memorialized today, just a short jaunt down Russell at the Compton Heights Reservoir. Have a look at the back of the statue. Some florid prose extols the three, and each has been given a representational logo. It’s always a pleasure to see The Naked Truth, although she looks like foolishly cold metal in late January.
Many thanks to my research sources, including:
Dictionary of Missouri History – Christianson, Foley, Kremer, Winn; U of MO Press; 1999
Encyclopedia Of History Of Missouri; Conard; 1901 p 573-574
Landmarks Association; Ryan J. Reed; https://www.landmarks-stl.org/news/naked_truth_and_the_restoration_of_the_compton_hill_reservoir_park/
Correspondence Of William G. Swekosky; mohist.org
Regional Arts Commission Of St Louis: https://racstl.org/public-art/the-naked-truth/
New York Times Obituary; September 23, 1906 p.9
St Louis Media History; http://www.stlmediahistory.org/index.php/Print/PrintPublicationHistory/westliche-post
St Louis MO Cultural Resources Office; https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/planning/cultural-resources/preservation-plan/Part-I-Peopling-St-Louis.cfm