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More than an ordinary history, my book talks about Music, Sports, and the Arts, even the criminals, in addition to the mayors and businesses that make St. Louis great

Many books have chronicled the exciting and complex history of the Gateway City, but none have taken a wide-angle view while capturing its most pivotal moments, until now.

Through fascinating vignettes, illustrated with hundreds of photographic treasures, St. Louis: An Illustrated Timeline (Reedy Press), reveals how a fur-trading outpost grew into a major American city. This tour through the past, guided by award-winning author and historian Carol Shepley, delivers more than the typical highlights.

Missouri.com:  What inspired you to take on a project with such an enormous scope?

Carol: Previously, I had written a book of biographies of people buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.  Because so many of them were leaders of St. Louis, that book made me think a great deal about the history of our city.  When Josh Stevens, the publisher of Reedy Press, asked me to write a history of St. Louis for the 250th anniversary of the founding, I had a lot of ideas about where I wanted to take it.

Missouri.com:  Can you talk us through a bit of your creative process and how you organized such a vast amount of St. Louis history with corresponding imagery?

Carol: There is a kind of magic to the creative process.  I made an outline, but then I just started writing and the ideas bubbled up.  I enjoy research so when I get an idea I like to track down documents that support my idea.  My parents and grandparents are all from St. Louis, so many of my ideas came from conversations about their lives as children.  Josh Stevens suggested the timeline approach and that suited my concept perfectly.  I believe a city is made up of so much more than politics and real estate.  I could fit in the cultural history that I believe is important by putting down the facts on the timeline.  Beautiful pictures to illustrate my ideas are very important to me.  I was fortunate to have lots of enthusiastic help accumulating the images.

Missouri.com: What surprising or little-known facts did uncover during your research?

Carol: So many come to mind.  For example, the smoke abatement program that Raymond Tucker initiated was a national leader in pollution control.  That the World Series champion Cardinals team of 1964 were leaders in the civil rights movement.  That Josephine Baker gained her commitment to civil rights thanks to horrific events she witnessed as a child here in St. Louis.  That the colonial city of St. Louis had no stockade around it because the French colonial leaders enjoyed such amicable relations with the Native Americans.

Missouri.com:  Can you share some highlights of a milestone that was pivotal to St. Louis history and had a far reaching impact on its development?

Carol:  At the Battle of Camp Jackson, May 10, 1861, less than a month after Fort Sumter, Union forces succeeded in putting down a Rebel attempt to capture the U.S. Arsenal at St. Louis.  As a direct result, Missouri remained in the Union and became crucial to the U.S. strategy for winning the war. ( As a matter of a fact, both William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant witnessed as civilians the Camp Jacksons Battle.)  St. Louis became an important troop center and increased its manufacturing strength.  Always key to the nation’s transportation systems because of its location near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, St. Louis also became a railroad troop center as well as a destination for wounded soldiers with its many hospitals.

Missouri.com:  Can you tell our readers a about your research on the Civil Rights movement in St. Louis and the predominance of the County over the City?

Carol:  I think that my research on the Civil Rights movement and on the growth of the County break new ground as far as studies of the history of St. Louis.  I believe St. Louis has been a crucible for the Civil Rights movement because we are a blend of North and South.  Because of our Southern influence, the city has institutionalized segregation.  Because of our Northern bias, blacks have always had the right to vote since Reconstruction; this was not the case in the former Confederate States.  Thus, there are wrongs to butt up against, yet political power to put them right.  A string of Supreme Court decisions that advanced civil rights were initiated in St. Louis.

With the advent of automobiles and highways, inner cities throughout the United States lost population and wealth to the surrounding suburbs.  This situation is not unique to St.  Louis.  The figures here are perhaps aggravated because of the fact that St. Louis has the second smallest geographical area of any of the major cities in the nation.  In addition, St. Louis County benefitted by outstanding and visionary leadership in the figure of one man – Lawrence K. Roos who served as County Supervisor from 1963 to 1975,  a period of outstanding growth.

Missouri.com: What was the most challenging aspect of this particular project?  What did you find the easiest or most rewarding?

Carol:  The most challenging aspect of writing this book was thinking up what was important to a cultural history of St. Louis.  While my book contains all the facts about politics and real estate that a conventional history would have, I also include sports, music, writers, crime – all the aspects of life in a big city that make the city memorable.  I had no model to draw upon.  I had to think them all up myself.  I had help with the sports from my husband and the editor.

Missouri.com:  What do you hope that the average reader walks away with?

Carol:  I want the reader to walk away with a sense of what a great and exciting place St. Louis is.

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