Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spotlight: Caves, Tunnels Run Rampant under St. Louis Ground

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spotlight: Caves, Tunnels Run Rampant under St. Louis Ground

Article excerpt

A woman looking for her wandering cat walked out one night last week near the old Lemp Brewery on St. Louis' Near South Side and almost fell into a hole.

About 2 feet wide and 3 feet deep, the hole seemed too perfectly round to have occurred naturally, and she also noticed what appeared to be a small tunnel blocked partially by a wooden plank, extending off in one direction.

"There's always been rumors that a house in this area, the 3300 block of Lemp (Avenue), had been part of the Underground Railroad," said Jo Rukavina, who did eventually find her cat, Mr. Cat.

So she called her alderman, Kenneth Ortmann, D-9th Ward, and filled him in.

Ortmann said no determination has been made about the origins of the hole-slash-tunnel opening that Rukavina found, but he wanted to assure residents that it was not part of the Underground Railroad.

"Back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, there was some demolition going on in that area, and a neighbor complained that this area was part of" the system by which escaped slaves made their way to free states, he said.

So Chip Clatto, a teacher at Gateway Institute of Technology, conducted an archaeological dig on the lot of a demolished home at 3314 Lemp, Ortmann said.

Clatto and his team of high school students found items that were consistent with traditional African religious rituals. They also found a cowry shell, once used as currency in parts of Africa.

But they did not find a tunnel to Cherokee Cave, which has long been believed to be a main gathering point for runaway slaves who made it to St. Louis.

Ortmann said it's likely that black people may have lived in the tiny one-room cottages (one still remains at 3318 Lemp), but that they inhabited the area after the Civil War.

"Evidence points to these little cottages being built for people who worked at the breweries around here, Lemp, Falstaff and Anheuser- Busch," Ortmann said, adding "most likely blacks and German immigrants. …

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