|Graf's "The Heart of St Louis"|
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Graf depicts a thriving downtown St. Louis [gmap] in her salad days. The fourth largest city in the United States at the time, and two years removed from hosting a World's Fair and Olympics; it's easy to understand the confidence projected by the slogans in the lower-left and lower-right corners of the map.
In a map published twenty years earlier, a printmaker named Henry Vogel writes of St. Louis in ornate scrollwork: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way; The Future Great Metropolis of the New World. Wealth for Millions. Upward and Onwards.". It is in the contrast with these aspirational boasts that this map's mottos: "To the Front, Saint Louis" and "Nothing Impossible!" take on a matured, cocksure swagger — perhaps even a hubris.
If hubris it was, then the events that followed could be said to have been predictable; what came next was certainly a type of long-running tragedy.
I live in the city of St. Louis and can tell you that there is a certain type of St. Louisan who never tires of speaking of these past glories. I rather prefer discussions about what happened over the next hundred years; even while admitting that those conversations may lack some of the "feel good" qualities of the era previous.
No Venitian canals in St. Louis, today; no world acclaim or attention, either. Still pride to be had, though, without robbing one's great-grandfathers of theirs and living in that pathetic fugue. I live in present-day St. Louis — and while looking at old maps is a thing I really like to do, I'm conflicted in that I think that we as a city walk dangerously close to the ledge of terminal nostalgia... while it certainly can't do any more damage; posting this map probably ain't helping things, either. So St. Louisans: Behold, and promptly forget, your former glory.
[Here's where one might reasonably expect me to become some sort of civic booster and list 6–10 great things happening here. Little do you know that my enormous pride and affection for my city doesn't stem from any rational assessment of merit or suitability, but instead from a clannishness, a distrust for outsiders, and a regional chauvinism.]
For more information about this period in St. Louis' history, visit the Missouri History Musuem.