Oct. 27 Memorial events to celebrate hidden piece of St. Louis history
By Jim Merkel
Anti-German hysteria during World War I shut the door on German culture in the Gateway City. During World War I, patriotic German Americans were made to choose between their heritage and their nation. Schools ended their German language education programs. Churches were pressured to stop holding services in German. In Collinsville, Illinois, a mob went farther by lynching a German alien named Robert Prager.
Now the German American Heritage Society of Saint Louis (GAHS) and author Jim Merkel have developed a citywide memorial to this time of anti-German hysteria in street corners around the city.
They’ll celebrate these memorials on Oct. 27, fifteen days before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. “These honorary designations are an important historical artifact for St. Louis. When someone walks by these signs, they will learn the stories behind the old names and the new names, and the important lesson underneath,” said James Martin, president of GAHS. “On this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, these signs provide a concrete reminder of our past, and will hopefully provide insight and wisdom for future generations.”
For five years, GAHS and Merkel have worked to mark the six streets whose German “enemy” names were changed during World War I. So far, they have completed the time consuming process of obtaining city approval for honorary designations noting the original German names for four streets. The city also has granted the honorary designation of “Robert Prager Way” on Bates Street between Morgan Ford Road and Gravois Avenue in the Bevo Mill neighborhood. It’s next to St. Matthew Cemetery, where Prager is buried.
On Oct. 27, honorary street signs in German colors for Robert Prager Way will be dedicated at 9 a.m. at the corner of Bates and Morgan Ford. The Bismarck Street signs will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m. at Seventh and Lami street. Depending on city and neighborhood approvals, there will be additional ceremonies on Oct. 27 or later.
The Oct. 27 ceremonies will conclude with a reception and program open to the public at a place to be designated. Details will be posted at https://germanamericancommittee.org/ as they are finalized.
Anti-German hysteria during World War I shut the door on German culture in the Gateway City
The three honorary streets that have already been dedicated are: Knapstein Place (now Providence Place.) in the Dutchtown neighborhood; Kaiser Street (now Gresham Street) in the Princeton Heights neighborhood; and Habsburger Avenue (now Cecil Place) in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood. Two streets that are under review for designations or markers are Von Versen Avenue (now Enright Avenue) in the West End neighborhood and Berlin Avenue (now Pershing Avenue) in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.
Merkel began the campaign to give the streets the honorary designations after learning of the anti-German hysteria while he was writing his book, Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans. In 2013, he teamed up with GAHS to promote the concept. Under city ordinance, a street or a portion of a street may receive an honorary name designation if
at least 60 percent of registered voters in that area sign a petition requesting it. Then the alderman for that area may introduce a bill calling for the designation. Alderman often request support from neighborhood organizations first. The actual street name stays the same.
The city requires an organization to pay for honorary street signs. GAHS is paying the cost for signs in bright German colors. Organizers see the citywide series of honorary street signs as more than a memorial to what happened to German Americans in World War I. They view it as a reminder that any person, group or nationality can be targeted under certain circumstances.
For more information contact: Jim Merkel 314-799-5117, or firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit GAHS on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/gahs.stlouis/