Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

If the Image Makers Could See Us Now . . . since Turn of the Century, the City Has Lost Considerable Luster with the Nation's Press

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

If the Image Makers Could See Us Now . . . since Turn of the Century, the City Has Lost Considerable Luster with the Nation's Press

Article excerpt

ONCE UPON a time, St. Louis could do no wrong. The city wore a magic armor of press approval.

The overview of the city's public image from the beginning of the century to now raises one major question: What happened?

At the beginning of the century, St. Louis had the sort of impervious luster that San Francisco has now. Nothing disgraceful or ugly that occurred here had the slightest impact on the national press's adoration. In 1902 and 1903, McClure's magazine published a series by Lincoln Steffen s called "The Shame of the Cities," about big-city political corruption. St. Louis got the rosette for being the worst, beating out New York and Philadelphia. Steffens recorded that bribery was so common "that one legislator consulted a lawyer with the intention of suing a firm to recover the unpaid balance on a bribe. . . . St. Louis, the fourth city in size in the United States, is making two announcements to the world: one that it is the worst-governed city in the land; the other that it wishes all men to come there (for the 1904 World's Fair) and see it." And everyone did come. "Most hospitable city in the world," lauded Edward Harriman, leader of the New York delegation to the fair. The impact of Steffens' excoriating articles was like dropping a leaf in the Grand Canyon. The press chose to ignore the bad and focus on the good, stage-managing the city's elevation to a public relations pinnacle just as later in the century they would give it a public stoning. For years after the fair, the city's public image remained untarnished, even by: Reports in 1923 that 870 tons of soot from bituminous coal rained on St. Louis annually, the most of any city but Chicago. The 1933 news that we got second place for the most deaths by pneumonia in a big city. The maurauding of the Shelton gang. Actually, those boys had an alluring notoriety, and tourists often visited East St. …

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