Early in the evening on the Winter Solstice my wife and I went to Central Fields in Forest Park and directed our attention to the southwest sky. It was a clear night and we were not disappointed. As we had hoped, we were able to see the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn with our naked eyes. This celestial phenomenon, which some scholars believe may have been the basis for the “Star of Bethlehem” in the Gospel of Matthew, appeared brighter than it had at any time since March 4, 1226, when it would have been seen by Genghis Khan, who was leading his marauding army across the plains of Asia. Khan’s warriors, who were called his “Golden Horde” because of their yellow tents, were known for the brutality with which they obliterated cultures, civilizations and populations that stood in their way.
In striking contrast to Genghis Khan, St. Francis of Assisi has been long revered as a man of peace. He died on October 3, 1226, seven months after the last great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than two years later, on July 16, 1228.
One month after the death of St. Francis, King Louis VIII of France died on November 8, 1226. His son Louis IX, aka St. Louis, became king at the age of 12 and had his coronation on November 29, 1226 in Reims Cathedral. He died on August 25, 1270 and was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297.
While most alert readers (ARs) probably already knew something about these historical figures who were prominent for one reason or another in the year of the last great conjunction, I’m guessing that not everyone knew that two of them had been commemorated with statues in Forest Park within walking distance of Central Fields; nor that both of these statues, respectively of Saints Louis and Francis, had been the sources of controversy.
I’m sure that all ARs are familiar with the iconic statue of St. Louis at the top of Art Hill in Forest Park. Many probably know that it was donated to the Park after the 1904 World’s Fair. Some may even recall its official name: Apotheosis of St. Louis. Most ARs will also recall the demonstrations in June of 2020 calling for the removal of the statue. The primary grievance against St. Louis was that he had led a crusade against Muslims. He had embarked on his crusade to recapture Jerusalem from Muslims, who had previously captured it from Christians.
The story of the statue of St. Francis, which is in front of the Jewel Box in Forest Park, is less well known. It was commissioned by Alice Martin Turner in memory of her late husband Harry Turner, who had died on Christmas Day, 1931, which was also his 57th birthday. The statue was installed more than 30 years later, in 1962. As was reported by an AR named Jeannette Cooperman, writing in St. Louis Magazine, this installation sparked a protest that the presence of this sculpture would somehow violate the separation of church and state. Presumably this principle of separation would also be violated by all of the counties and towns in the region named for saints, including Charles, Clair, Francois, Genevieve and, of course, Louis. Most of the other surrounding counties are named for men who owned slaves (Madison, Monroe, Franklin, Jefferson and Washington) and would probably be regarded by some as equally objectionable, if not more so.
In 1976, 750 years after the last great conjunction, Tom’s Bar & Grill opened near the corner of Euclid and Forest Park Boulevard. Two years later, in the summer of 1978, I started playing on a softball team called The Pink Flamingos. Our games were on the same Central Fields from which I later watched the great conjunction and we frequently repaired to Tom’s afterwards.
At some point an iconic mural was painted on the south wall of Tom’s. It depicts the glories of civilization in St. Louis: King Louis IX on his steed, holding a mug of beer instead of a sword; the Gateway Arch, an internationally acclaimed work of artistic and architectural genius; Eads Bridge, an engineering marvel that helped fuel the growth of the City by facilitating railroad traffic; McDonnell Planetarium, a center for the study of astronomy, including such events as the great conjunction; baseball (or possibly even softball in honor of the establishment’s summer clientele); and Schlafly Beer.
Earlier in 2020, Tom’s became another victim of the pandemic and closed its doors. In September of 2020 the building was sold to Holistic Missouri, which is expected to convert it to a dispensary for medical marijuana. As far as I know, there has been no announcement about the fate of the iconic mural.
It was also in 1976 that the famous firestorm destroyed much of the neighborhood around 21st and Locust Streets, where The Schlafly Tap Room stands today. Our building was then owned by John S. Swift Printing Company. After we purchased the building in 1991 we made the decision to honor the Swift legacy by leaving the inscription on the front of the building intact. Perhaps Holistic Missouri would like to do the same.
Genghis Khan, on the other hand, would have had no qualms about destroying this tribute to the culture of St. Louis.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery