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I live in a relatively quiet part of town, but we can hear the noise of the city, especially as we enjoy an hour in the garden. A physician named Robert Terry remembered the sounds of his St. Louis in a memoir he wrote in the 1950s. Dr. Terry was by then an elderly gentleman, but his memories were quite vivid.
“This,” the doctor wrote, remembering St. Louis in the 1870s, “was the heyday of the huckster, in from his truck garden on the Gravois Road, proclaiming fresh vegetables from his wagon in the street. The tinker calling ’tin lobs to mend,’ the merchant of rags, bottles, and old iron, and the men who hauled away the ashes were heard in the alley. The scissors grinder drove his tinkling wagon close to the curb. Once when I was quite small,” he recalled, “I witnessed a drove of Texas steers in clouds of dust, being driven by with an uproar of bellowing and shouts from the cowboys who accompanied the herd.”
Our offices at the History Museum in Forest Park look out over an intersection of Lindell Boulevard. We can see all sorts of vehicles from skateboards to service vans, but nothing like what Dr. Terry described.
He remembered the "bob-tail," a car pulled by one horse that stopped accommodatingly at the signal of a passenger waiting on the sidewalk. Another of the horse-drawn vehicles, he recalled, “was used for hauling cut stone and consisted of a broad, square floor carried on four wheels that elevated it a foot off the ground.”
"Once (Dr. Terry wrote) when I was riding on a bob-tail car, a stone barge drove across the car track before the respective drivers could rein in their steeds. The bob-tail crashed full into the low-slung barge, the alert horse saving his legs by leaping on to the barge and there standing, awaiting orders from his driver. Ladies in the car naturally screamed, but no one was hurt, and no damage was done. The horses were praised for their horse sense, and everyone was laughing at the close of the incident."
No stone barges or bob-tail cars pass by the History Museum, although on occasion a horse-drawn carriage arrives for a special event. In the near future, the Loop Trolley will travel around our building, much like the ones Dr. Terry might have ridden in his adult years. From the past we try to take what will serve us well here and now. The rest, we, like Dr. Terry, can remember and preserve.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society