St Louis - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 25, 2014

St Louis

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MEET ME in St Louis, the song said. Was that about the big fair they had here that also incorporated the Olympic Games when they were held for just the third time?

It was a highly odd Games, I know that. The Olympics hadn't grown into much more than a novelty and they were still at the stage when almost anyone could take part. Remember that an American won the golf in Paris one year without realising anything of importance was going on and that two of the medals in the cycling at Athens were won by servants at the British embassy who had bikes and didn't see why they shouldn't have a go.

Most of those competing in St Louis were Americans. Few from far afield thought the Games worth the long ocean trip needed to get there.

I asked where the Games had been and I was told that the site is called Francis Field and that the stadium, or at any rate the area, is now part of Washington University and that it's still used by the university's sports teams.

St Louis caused a big scandal, although more afterwards than at the time, because the city ran a parallel event in which unfortunate people of other races were told to do unfortunate things for the amusement of rich white people in fine clothes. I forget the details but pygmies had to put the shot or have a go at the high jump and there were no end of embarrassing and certainly racially regrettable things that were then, I suppose, seen as normal.

They were called the Anthropological Games - you can look them up if you want to know more - and the side-shows included "natives" obliged to live a suitably colourful if unauthentic life as Africans doing the sort of thing that Africans were supposed to do.

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As for the arch, that's been irresistible to people who see a challenge. It's the tallest man-made monument in the country and it has a big hole in the middle, being an arch. So 10 people have flown, perfectly illegally, through it and in 1973 a woman called Nikki Caplan flew, legally, a hot-air balloon through it. In 1980 a man parachuted on to it, got blown off and fell to his death. And in 1992 an adventurer called John Vincent climbed up it with suction pads on his feet.

I didn't spend long enough in St Louis to get a proper assessment of the place. I rode in, got frustrated because of the street numbering, had an enjoyable time at the hostel, which had the air of a hippie commune and where the man in charge was known as Simple, then rode out next morning. I never did find out who answered the phone to the receptionist at the police station.

My overall impression, though, is of the arch and a busy commercial centre and the gladiatorial pit of the baseball stadium and then suburbs which, if not depressed, were certainly depressing. I don't think I'll be meeting anybody there, somehow.

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