AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN UNIMPORTANT PERSON

BY MINNETTE SLAYBACK CARPER

Part I

 

As It Happened.

I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on Tenth and Olive Streets, at that time

a fashionable neighborhood, in a modest six-room brick house, set a bit back in

a yard with a fence around it. We moved from there to Twenty-ninth and Olive

Street, and from there back one block to Twenty-eighth Street, still on Olive.

The house on Tenth Street was torn down to make way for business buildings

and then for sky-scrapers. The house between Twenty eighth and Twenty-ninth

Streets was a very comfortable residence, later transformed into two semi-detach-

ed houses that still remain, but 2827 Olive Street, the house of my first memories

is so covered up and changed that it really is no longer there.

My first recollection is of lying on my tummy at the top of the back stair-

way and calling for my nurse Mary to bring me downstairs for some supper. The

stairway was steep and had a turn at the bottom, where there was a door. It was

a dark tunnel and I dared not risk going down alone, so must have been very

young. My nurse was a sweet, pretty creature, who, with her mother as cook re-

mained in the family for thirteen years. Mary came to us when she was fifteen,

having just emigrated from Ireland. She was a brown-eyed, fair skinned girl

with auburn hair to her knees, a wonderful sense of humor, a soft tone of voice,

and I never saw her angry. A twinkle in her eye, a vibration in her voice, a gentle

touch, a fund of stories made her an ideal children's companion. The mother

was a dour body, severe and quiet, entirely dominant in the culinary depart-

ment. The kitchen was a large, square room, and woe to the child who tracked

across it after a scrubbing. As time and the stork brought six children into that

domicile, Ellen was put to it keeping her premises clean.

Mary took me along when she did the marketing, and the shop is still a

vivid picture, saw-dust floor, fat butcher in his white apron, bins for fruit. We

crossed two side streets to arrive. It was St. Louis in the early seventies, and the

roadbeds were of Macadam, which means mud with an occasional dressing of

crushed limestone. A youthful excitement was hanging on the front gate while

men unloaded the wagons of rock. They were wagons of planks that came

apart to let the rocks fall out. At the street corners were smooth walks or paths

of limestone, to cross upon. My second distinct remembrance was once when

we were on the way to the store, on the stony street crossing I dropped a doll

with a large china head. It socked me very much when it broke into many

pieces.

Olive Street had a carline. That was probably the reason we lived on it.

It was a direct route to Fourth Street, which was the shopping district, and my

father's offices were there. The car of that period was a " dinky ", one-horse car,

later driven with two mules. The car had a tiny platform at the back entrance.

You put your money in a long slot, sloped toward the front where the driver

sat. The coins rolled down into a box near him. If you were slow about contri-

buting your fare he rattled the box to attract your attention. In bitter cold

weather a foot or more of straw was laid in the aisle to keep your feet warm.

Small boys (and sometimes small girls) just loved to catch a ride on the small

platform where they hid from the driver and hung on till he suspected some-

thing and came through the car with his whip. Then the small boy was very

apt to drop off in a hurry and thumb his nose at the driver.

The house had a square front yard, fifty feet frontage. Its grass was

divided by a walk paved with bricks, and was completely fenced in. The front

fence, the gates, railings of upper and lower porches were of the French or

Spanish style, iron, representing curling vines and grapes, probably brought up

from New Orleans. The gates opened into a square of stone with one step up.

We could sit there and watch the street and be safe. My mother taught me to

love all beautiful things, and she early gave me a plot of ground and allowed me

to raise flowers of my own. I have never gotten away from the enchantment of

flowers. Two long borders edged the sides of the yard. There were four maple

trees across the front, and half-way back, two large catalpa trees. These trees

are important in this report, because as I grew I climbed in them like a monkey.

I walked along the top of the board fence as a cat walks, and though I was

always having accidents of some sort, I never fell from doing that.

Another early memory is of a deep snow fall, of about eighteen inches,

and my father removing the snow with much happy assistance from us children.

It was the only labor about the place I can ever remember my father doing.....

He must have enjoyed it. My mother said if a nail was needed to hang a

picture he would send for a man to come and do it. But because I showed an

aptitude for tools my mother gave me a set of them for Christmas when I was

ten years old.

The house, because it was bought from a family named Paris was always

known as "the Paris house". It had a wide hall running through its middle, and

the rooms at either side were large and well - lighted. A curving staircase led

from the lower hall to a similar hall in the second story. The drawing - room

was at the right, only they did not call it that, they called it the parlor. But it

was a long apartment, the size of two rooms, and with an air of elegance only

known in the Victorian period. There was a tall oval mirror at either end, rest-

ing on the marble slab of a gilded base, and decorated with golden cupids

and garlands of flowers. The mirrors reflected two chandeliers which had

dozens of glittering glass danglers around the globes, and one had a feeling

of endless miles of dazzling lights. The carpet was of pale gray velvet, spread

with festoons of roses. There were two suites of furniture in the room, one

satin, one velvet upholstery, of crimson color. There were two marble mantle-

pieces, with appropriate bric-a-brac upon them. On one were two tall Sevres

vases, between them a French ormolu clock covered by a glass bell. On the

other mantel were two Dresden vases with a statuette of Venus and Cupid

between them. One thing I adored on that mantel was a small casket of

tortoise-shell containing miniature objects in pearl and Ivory. There was a

lovely card table of black lacquer inlaid with mother-of pearl- flower designs.

Between the two doors of the room was a piece of furniture called "The

Etagiere," which had many mirrors and several shelves, each shelf holding some

small object of value or beauty. There was a square piano of carved rose-wood.

There were several pictures, two by Thomas Moran, one by Meeker, and

others. Over each mantel was an oval golden frame holding portraits of my

father and my mother. The woodwork of the room was painted white, and the

place was kept in perfect order, so we children were not supposed to go in there

we were allowed to go in for practising.

Papa and Mama both sang, my father was a luscious baritone, my mother

with an alto voice. I learned to play by ear at the age of four, before I had any in-

struction. I can remember Mary and Ellen bringing a friend to the door of the

room to show me off. Music came to me as my earliest art, and it has remained

my consolation through years of changing fortune. It was as natural as my

breathing, and as much a part of me as my blood. The entire family indulged

in it. We gathered around the piano and sang while Mama played the accom-

paniments. The songs my father sang as solos are fashionable again today

over the radio. He loved "Beautiful Dreamer," "Star of the Evening," "Rocked in

the Cradle of the Deep" and all of Stephen Foster's list. He had a charming way

of stealing silently into the house at evening, and after divesting himself of

outer garments would strike a few chords on the piano or begin an accompani-

ment on the guitar. Then the tribe would fairly throw themselves down the

long stairway, and engulf him.

My father was Alonzo William Slayback, a lawyer, rapidly gaining renown

and respect at the St. Louis Bar. Twice he was Vice-President of the Bar Associa-

tion, twice President of the Law Library Association, and he seemed to have an

acquaintance with everybody in town. When we went driving on Sunday after-

noon he was kept busy tipping his hat. An exceedingly handsome man, he also

had a courtesy and poise from his French ancestors that won him friends where-

ever he went. A mane of sandy hair waved back from a fair brow, he had brown

eyes, a red moustache and goatee. He could have posed for "the Kentucky

Colonel." And, in truth, he had been a colonel in the Confederate Army. His

father was a lawyer, and a famous Mason of high degree. His grandfather was a

physician, descending from those Slaybacks who helped start Princeton and

Trenton in New Jersey.

My mother was the daughter of William B. Waddell, one of the firm of

Russell, Majors and Waddell who started the Pony Express. Mama was born in

Lexington, Missouri, where she met my father, who had come there to live and

be educated at the Masonic College, to which he was eligible because of his

father's activities. They had fallen in love while at school, but had become es-

tranged and parted when he went to St. Joseph to practise law. When she was

nineteen he came back to Lexington for a visit and he boldly said to her:

"When are we going to be married?"

When she was twenty and he was twenty-one they were married, in 1859.

A year later my sister Susan was born, and the following year the Civil War broke

out. My father organized a company of lancers and calmly went off to war, send-

ing back word to my mother that he had gone. True to the times, she fainted.

But she recovered and became one of the most loyal and faithful adherents of

the Confederate cause. To the day of her death, at eighty - two, she was an

"Unreconstructed Rebel." She was fond of saying she had looked down many

a minnie rifle.

While Papa went through the war she remained at Lexington till he was

taken sick in the south. A false comrade stole his money from beneath the

pillow, and my mother went to his bedside, traveling in Army ambulances to

reach him, and being obliged to accept banishment papers to go through the

lines.

He was very ill with typhoid fever, and a doctor Newman from Caddo

Parish, Louisiana, took an interest in him and invited him to visit at his home till

he recovered. Mama and Papa went there to that hospitable southern home

and remained till he was well.

He continued in the fortunes of war, which included an expedition to

Mexico after the close of hostilities, and not till 1866 did he take the oath of

allegiance and settle down to being an American citizen again. They decided

to live in St. Louis, and he became a very successful and popular counselor at

law in that city.

There I was born on March 7, 1868. My mother told me that they wel-

comed me with great joy. My sister was seven years older and they were not

sure they would have another child. From far back in a memory of my father

walking me to sleep, I was a nervous creature and had muscle indigestion.

A bond of deep sympathy and understanding lay between my father

and me, and although I stood in awe of him, I was not afraid to approach him

and be with him. He was a fountain of knowledge that I could draw upon. He

knew Latin and Greek, a smattering of French and German, and while in Mexico

he had studied Spanish and still kept a diary in that language. Above all else he

understood the speech of English literature. He taught me how to "say my pieces"

at school. Now-a-days we would call it expression. I would go to his room while

he was completing his toilet, and recite the lines of poetry while he corrected me.

I am still using that training, for I am the official reader of the poetry club to

which I belong, and I have always found use for it, particularly in singing where

enunciation is so important. In the evening he worked on his law-briefs, and

still I would go to him for help in my arithmetic. I would sit at the table by his

side, waiting for the pen to stop scratching, and then I would ask a question or

present my problem. The lamp to his table had a dark shade that reflected the

glow of the flame down upon his hand as he wrote, and was what they call

"Argand Burner," a tubular flame fed gas by a tube from a fixture and having a

glass chimney. On the dark shade was a picture of the colosseum with tiny

holes pricked to represent lights in the windows. The glow of the flame fell

down upon his hand as he wrote. I was about twelve years old when I wrote

a poem to his hand and bashfully tendered it to him. It closed with the wish

I might never see that hand cold in death. He took it in silence and I thought

he did not approve of it. But he had been much disturbed by that last sentence.

It created a premonition of what was to come, and he showed it to Mama and

told her of his misgivings.

We never had anything but gas lights in that house. My mother was

very progressive and we had the first gas-stove in the city. Mama's people had

been that way. They had the first sewing-machine in the west, and the first oil

lamps in Missouri. My grandfather Waddell went east to Philadelphia every

year to buy merchandise, and he saw what was new and bought the best. My

mother had exquisite point d'Alancon lace veil and flounces for her wedding

dress, which Grandfather had brought back from Philadelphia in his saddle-

bags. She was very fond of telling that.

The only things in our dark cavern of a cellar were the gas-meter and the

wine. The cellar was a place to fill children with terror. There were no heating

plants in those days, no furnaces and no basement laundries, only a huge, black

hole that they had to enter with a lantern or a candle, with queer diamond-

shaped shelves to hold the wine-bottles. There must have been casks stored

in it also, for at times a man came to bottle the wine in the entrance to the

dungeon, while we looked on and peered into the blackness behind him.

The wine came from a farm owned by father and mother. When Mama

was married, besides the furnishings of her house, she was given two young

slaves, a horse and buggy, a trousseau that contained nine silk dresses, and

twenty thousand dollars. My father had invested some of that dowry in the

farm. It was about nine miles from our house, and we occasionally drove out

to inspect it - oftener than Mama liked. It bored her terribly. She had no

affinity with the German tenants. She was a person of deep prejudices, that

sometimes operated for her undoing. She did not like the farm, and when

Papa died she allowed it to be sold for the mortgage on it. That farm after-

ward became the fashionable Cabanne district. (The mortgage had assisted

Papa to run for congress, but he was defeated). During the time it was hers

she was driven to look it over of a Sunday afternoon behind a spanking team

and a barouch full of lively youngsters.

As we drove along Papa would point out certain vines and trees to us,

would slow down when we came to a beautiful vista, and stop entirely to let

us admire a scene. He loved beautiful sunsets and taught us to watch and

expect them. His was a soul of temperament and impetuosity, already to

appreciate the wonders of nature.

Mama had always owned horses, and while a child, her own pony. On

week days she drove the family barouche with a single horse, taking the family

for a short drive every afternoon. Papa later took to riding horseback to and

from his office. He had a superb, coal-black charger with a white face, a beauti-

ful animal named Prince. As he had ridden for four years during the Civil War,

he looked grand on a horse and rode it like a Centaur.

I was the second child. My father had a sister named Minnie, (although

her real name was Amelia). When I was born he wanted to name me for her,

but he did not like the name Minnie. My mother's middle name was also

Amelia. He side-stepped the complications by using the French diminutive and

calling me Minnette. It seemed to be an unusual name in St. Louis, and as I

grew older and my name appeared in the society column, mothers, hunting

for something odd, adopted it and several St. Louis girls were named for me.

After me in the family came Katherine, Mabel and Grace........, and yet no boy.

Finally, just before a Veiled Prophet's Parade my mother gave Papa a boy, and

I can still see him strutting around that ball-room floor with a grin of supreme

joy on his face. Alonzo, Junior made the sixth child in the family, and a fine

lot they were. In appreciation of the son and heir Papa gave Mama a pair of

large solitaire diamond earrings.

In the summertime St. Louis is a town of high temperature, so we were

generally taken out of it. We got started going up the Mississippi River on a

steamboat trip, and we ended at Lake Minnetonka beyond St. Paul and

Minneapolis. The first year we stayed at the Weaver House in Wayzeta. After

that we went further across the Lake and stayed at the Hotel St. Louis. We fell

in love with the spot and repeated it year after year. Papa bought some real

estate there, hoping to build a cottage, but his untimely death defeated that

plan.

We children loved the journey up the river on the steam-boats. Some-

times we would get stuck on a sand-bar, and the whole outfit would be trans-

ferred to another boat and go on as before. One summer we were on seven-

teen different boats. I got to be quite an authority on the difference between

beside wheeler and stern-wheelers. I loved the cool white bunks in the little

cabin state-rooms, and enjoyed the constant change of scenery, the singing

of the roustabouts, the flow of the eddying current, the shifting of the cargo

as the men labored by day or night. At night the lights were so interesting,

and the shore signal lights that guided the pilot were always a source of

wonder to me. Occasionally I would be allowed to go up into the pilot-

house with my father to talk to the pilot.

Lake Minnetonka was very beautiful. The water was of a clear, deep

greenish blue. It was a wonderful place for fishing, which was probably why

my father went there, for he was a fine fisherman, and seemed to know just

what he had to do to catch fish. I often went out with him when he went troll-

ing, when he rowed and I held the string until he had a bite. But I was not

allowed to go when he went on expeditions where he took a guide with him

and spent the day, coming back in the evening with a wash-tub full of fish,

pickerel, large "crappies" (elsewhere called "calico bass") sun-fish, blue-gills,

black bass, all of large size and probably no longer there in such quantities. He

would turn them over to the hotel management and we would revel in them

for several meals. In the evening we would have dancing in the ball-room, and

as I had been sent to dancing-school at six, I was at home on the dance-floor.

My sister Katherine (Well, in those days we called her Katie, but when

she grew to be a young lady she would no longer permit that), was twenty

months younger than I was, and people took us for twins. As much as possible

we dressed alike. She had blue eyes and wore blue, I had brown eyes and

wore red or pink. At the lake we wore dark blue sailor-suits and percale shirt-

waists of white or print. We were always together and where I led she had to

follow. Because I was always the leader where there were other children. Even-

tually there were thirty-three children on our block in St. Louis, and I led all the

games. At the lake we had to learn to swim and to row, and although our

bathing-suits were the most hampering things imaginable we managed to learn

to swim. I can still feel the cling of heavy flannel about my ankles. During the

following winter we went to a Natatorium and took lessons. They had a regatta

and I got a prize for "Grace and Beauty of Motion," but beyond that I never was

much of a swimmer. It was my weakest accomplishment. Please remember that

the prize I received was a silver ring, with a fashionable "bangle" on it, the bangle

being a tiny pistol.

But at first we hadn't the slightest idea how to swim, and they placed

Katie in the water in her nighties. She howled lustily and said:

"Oh! They're getting my night-drawers all wet!"

How we escaped being drowned is a mystery. There was one occasion

when I had a narrow squeak. The picnic barge was moored at our shore and I

went down to investigate at a time when no one was about. I inspected the

dance-floor and soon finished with that. I climbed up on the edge of the hull

and stood with my arm about one of the roof supports, and ended by going

round and round the two by four. Of course I eventually slipped into the water.

I recall feeling my way along the bottom and gasping for breath as I finally

put my head above water. Someone rescued me and I was guided up to the

hotel and my sailor suit hung up to dry.

My father rented a boat for the children's use, and it was fastened by a

rather generous rope to the shore. We learned to row by handling one oar at a

time, forth to the extent of the rope and back again. He took us for rambles

along the shore and taught us how to find carnelians and moss agates and even

occasionally amethysts, with which the sands were enriched. He was interested

in everything. In the evening he would take us out in a boat and we would sing,

his beautiful baritone floating over the lake in an occasional solo, and people

would speak of it when we were again at the hotel. My elder sister, Susie, mean-

time was enjoying herself with a crowd of young society people, and we all had

some delight in the Minnesota holiday, and were sad and subdued when the

time came to drive through the woods to Minneapolis and go to St. Paul and

start down the Mississippi river to St. Louis.

Again my lessons in reading came into use. I was not very old, maybe

eleven or twelve, when I sat on the upper deck reading aloud to a group of

people who went into chortles of laughter over the comedy volumes that were

the fashion. "Mrs. Caudles's Curtain Lectures," "Peck's Bad Boy," "Tom Sawyer."

The recollections of those summer twilight’s as we steamed along the beautiful

upper Mississippi is one of my happiest pages. The only cloud in the horizon

was in getting back to school and to our humdrum city existence.

When I was first sent to school I did not like it. I must have objected a

lot, for they let me stay at home another year. I had learned to read at four,

seated in my father's lap as he read the morning paper, and demanding to

know what the letters meant. I suppose I was progressing at home so that

schooling was not very important. I know when I went back the next year I

was put up with the class I had left. The teacher in this room was as cruel a

female as you would like to know. When she encountered a boy she could

not easily manage, she had a cute little trick of sticking him with an instrument

shaped like a cobbler's awl, only sharp enough to go through his clothes like a

pin. The picture of a boy squirming around under her hands is still vivid. In the

lower grades reading is a very important number, so I got on well at school, and

of course was soon reciting on their exhibition days and being picked out for

singing.

At eight years scarlet fever claimed me, and while it was not serious, it

was memorable, because during that illness my Grandmother Slayback calmly

walked into the sick-room with her father my great grand father Jeremiah

Minter. He was eighty-six, of French descent and lived on a farm in Marion

county. He was amused to watch me traveling about the room on a faulty

rocking-chair that progressed as it rocked.

My nurse during this illness was a family auxilliary named Granny Adams,

no relation in any way, but my mother's faithful practical nurse when she had

her babies, and always called upon in emergency, and this was both occasions,

for my sister Grace was born in the next room while I was sick with scarlet fever.

Germs were not mentioned in those days, but how they managed to keep

things asceptic I don't know. All the toys I played with at that time were burned.

They burned the mattress I used and a perfectly stunning doll-buggy that had

cost seven dollars was laid on the flames. I had very handsome books always,

and the first editions I lost that time would make me weep if I could remember

them. No harm came to the mother and baby, but my sister Katie contracted the

disease in due time and it left her with dropsy. I remember a man coming to

"cup" her back, burning a taper under a glass to draw forth the water. It made

me very nervous to watch him.

The new baby was the fifth child, and she had red hair and brown eyes

like my father. As she grew older I found that although eight years younger than

I was, she was my pal in the family. We were very sympathetic, and had many

tastes in common. She had a lovely singing voice and sang at church and

school celebrations when quite young.

 

Living in St. Louis at the time my father had two brothers and a sister,

Mrs. Y.H. Bond. Charles Slayback and Preston Slayback, the brothers also had

families, and at family gatherings we numbered twenty-two. Our Christmas

entertainment’s were on an elaborate scale. Of course there was always a tree -

a magnificent one - with candles of wax, lighted by hand and watched for fear

of fire during the Christmas celebration. There were so many of us, and the

exchange of presents so generous, that we returned to our domiciles carry-

ing the gifts in clothes baskets. My mother and father were not content with

bestowing one or two gifts, but they showered a multitude of toys and books

and useful gadgets upon us. We took turns in having the tree and dinner at

the various families, and I can recall fairly suffering from the abundance of

what we ate. I think the climax came when I was thirteen, the Christmas be-

fore my father died. He gave me a small diamond ring, and because Katherine

did not whimper or show any jealousy, he went down town late on Christmas

Eve and bought one for her, too. At the same time he gave us each a fine

portable table desk, inlaid in colored woods. And my mother gave me my last

doll (I loved to sew for them by that time,) and several sets for embroidery and

handiwork. I had shown a fondness for tools, so she gave me a jig - saw and

several patterns and the wood to be used. She was really a very canny person

about such things and I realized from her that children must be kept occupied.

She gave us paint boxes and painting books. They did not have the crayons for

children we have now, but she always gave us something we could use in a

handicraft way, and taught us to use them.

As for books, we were given sets of books at a time, and all the single

volumes that came out. I was an omnivorous reader until I came to the decision

that I must either take in or give out. I would read like one in a trance till I had

finished the book. Then I would put it up, go outside and play just as hard.

Boys were scarce in the Slayback tribe. Alonzo had five girls and one boy.

Charles had one girl and no more family. Preston had two girls and a boy.

Minnie had four girls. We were a happy and friendly family, and for years en-

joyed a loving companionship. Elizabeth Bond and Bertha (Birdie) Slayback

were my particular pal cousins. Birdie was the daughter of Charles Slayback

and Anna Newman of New Orleans. Governor E.O. Stannard, in the grain

business, became interested in Charles and sent him on a business mission to

New Orleans. There he met his future wife, and he made money. At one time

the young man was worth two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Unfor-

tunately that business is not very steady, and he lost his fortune. But he and

his wife remained two of the most devoted and serene young couples I have

ever known. She was a lovely girl, ideally refined and charming, a real

beauty. My grandmother Slayback lived with them, and the harmony between

Anna Newman Slayback and Anna Minter Slayback was deep and impressive. I

was permitted to go to their house alone to play with Birdie, and I often spent

the night there. There was so much happiness in that household, so little

friction of any sort that I think religion must have had something to do with it.

My grandmother was a straight-laced Presbyterian, the kind that believes in

predestination, and fortunately Aunt Annie belonged to the same church. They

were very devout church goers, and in addition my grandmother devoted much

of her time to services for the various guilds or societies in connection with the

church. And I understand that she was noted for her kindness and charity and

the good deeds she performed for the poor and needy that she heard of. And

in that family circle it seemed to be a principle not to say anything unkind or

impatient or derogatory. My Uncle Charlie used to say to me:

"If you can't think of something kind to say, don't say anything."

He understood my tendency to be critical and caustic, and he tried to

make me more tactful and considerate.

While Uncle Charlie and Uncle Preston were in business in New Orleans

they became fascinated by the pageant of the Mardi Gras festival, and when

they moved their business to St. Louis they began a propaganda to have a

similar celebration in that city. Thus began the Autumnal celebration of the

Veiled Prophet, and the three Slayback brothers were the originators of the

custom. My sister Susie was a very beautiful young woman, and she became

the first queen of the ball. Much to her disgust my father permitted Katie and

me to go to the ball, and we were always on the ball-room floor at the Veiled

Prophet's Ball. As we could dance, and we found other children there, we en-

joyed it very much. I particularly enjoyed watching my father. He was so well-

bred, had such beautiful manners and knew so well how to be gallant, that it

thrilled me to watch his handsome, courtly figure walking about with the ladies.

He did not dance, and neither did my mother.

It used to make my sister Susie quite provoked because Papa took me

everywhere he thought I would profit by going. He took her to the theater to

see genius and talent, but he spoiled her joy and glory by taking me also. In

this way I saw or heard Adalina Patti, Edwin Booth, Madame Alboni, Adelaide

Neilson, and many famous singers whom I have forgotten. One evening in a

fine concert the singers had to pass back through the audience, and as they

went by me as I stood aside in the crowd, one of the great singers, Madame

Nillson, leaned down and kissed me. It took away my breath.

It was not to be wondered at that when my father announced he was

going East to try a case in the Supreme Court at Washington, and would take

both Susie and me with him, that she objected very strenuously. He was going

to New York as well, and would call upon some wealthy people while we were

there. I do not blame her one bit. But it didn't do any good for he took me

anyway. And to this day I can remember the scene in the Supreme Court room

when he made the judges laugh, and everyone was so surprised. The trial was

of course the main object of our journey, but we went through all the sights of

Washington, went to New York, bought me some smart clothes - among them

a dark blue bowl-shaped felt sailor, and a dress of blue green and black plaid

which we bought at Macy's - and visited some wealthy relatives and friends.

I had a wonderful time. On the journey over East we were surrounded

by a group of college boys who had also been on the journey up the Mississippi

in the summer time, and I continued to sharpen by wits against theirs. I remem-

ber one remark that I made. As we went over the Eads bridge I said, softly;

"This is a bridge of size." I was twelve years old, but I could keep up my

conversational end of things.

After leaving New York we continued our journey by way of Niagara

Falls. The aforesaid College boys had been returning from Christmas holidays.

It was bitter cold weather, and the Falls had on a coat of shining armor made

of ice, through which ran the green water. We went about seeing all the points

of interest that we could, and ended by standing near the edge of the chasm

where great pillars reached from top to bottom of the walls, formed like enor-

mous icicles. My father and Susie were viewing and discussing the interesting

sight , and I was a bit apart from them when I felt myself slipping gently toward

the edge of the abyss. Child that I was I determined I would not cry out for help

because I was afraid if I did so my father would rush toward me and he might

slip and fall himself. I kept as quiet as possible, but I continued to slide and I

wondered if I would not better sit down. But then a small button of ice caught

my foot and held it, and I said very quietly;

"Papa, will you please take my hand and help me back?"

What a relief I felt as his strong hand clasped mine! We moved back to

safety, but a feeling of agony always grips me whenever I think of that moment.

My father won the case he took to Washington. It was a case that involv-

ed many river boats, and the fee was fifty thousand dollars. However he had

two partners and he would not get all of that. The name of the firm was

Broadhead, Slayback and Haeussler. Mr. Broadhead was a fine old gentleman,

his family socially prominent in St. Louis. Mr. Haeussler was a South side

German, very animated and nervous in his manner and taking life very seriously.

Papa belonged to the old school of gentlemen. He expected a lady to be

a lady. That meant that she must never do anything that would excite comment

and her language must be sedate and refined. He could not tolerate slang. My

poor sister, a girl full of natural gaiety and impulse, was always being reprimand-

ed for some breech of proper speech. She was not permitted to use slang at all.

As she went about a great deal with young people it was almost impossible not

to pick up such expressions. She went to "Miss Cuthbert's Seminary," and grad-

uated from there at seventeen. She was really a very beautiful young woman,

and her clothes were handsome and fitted her marvelously, setting off a figure

that conformed exactly to the ideals of beauty in those days. Papa would do

anything to entertain her and to help her enjoy herself, but she was expected to

behave always with perfect propriety. He took her to balls and dances and as

he went with the best people in the city and belonged to associations that were

exclusive and elegant she had a brilliant future before her in society. She made

her debut at the Veiled Prophets Ball, and was the first queen of that association.

He was very particular about the companions we went with, but parents

cannot always regulate affections and affinities. Early in my school life I became

attached to a little Irish girl with red hair. My father had red hair and I thought

she was grand because she had red hair. She taught me to hang on behind

wagons, and to go two blocks away to meter car-line where we could catch on

behind the little dinky horse-cars and steal a ride. I was very discreet and did not

mention my new activities at home. But she acquired the habit of calling for me

on her way to school. And so, one morning my father met her in the library of

our house. I can never forget the look of sharp scrutiny he gave that girl. He

was so well versed in reading character, so fastidious and selective that he knew

at once she was no fit companion for his little daughter. When we had departed

for school he gave Mama instructions not to allow the girl to go with me. And

in the evening he informed me I was not to associate with her any more.

I suppose they kept their eyes on me for awhile after that. I was apt to be

a bit independent, and I was a terrible tom-boy. The boys represented the war

between the sexes, with me. They thought it very funny to call me "Sixty Seconds

make a Minnette." That was just the heighth of cleverness, and some times they

cut it short and called me "Sixty Seconds". It apparently made me quite furious,

and then I would chase them and if the little boy was my size or smaller I would

knock him down and pummel him! I suppose they were pursuing the theory

that if a small boy admires a small girl he has to torment her in some way. And

I was having to show them I wouldn't stand for it!

Katherine was much more retiring and dignified than I was. Mary, the

nurse, would dress me first and send me out to play, and when Katie came out I

was ready to have my sash tied over again. But everybody was my friend. I was

a very democratic person. Once a young chap who was a high school student

was too lazy to carry his books into his house and asked me if I would take them

to his door, ring the bell and hand the books to the servant. In those days a

door-bell was a pull affair attached to a long wire that went to the back regions

and clanged a bell on a coiled spring. I dashed up the steps with the books and

gave the bell-handle a pull and out came the knob in my hand, and I went down

against an iron picket fence by the side of the steps. It made a gash in my head

very near my temple, and the blood spurted from the wound and went all over

my nice little black alpaca dress. The young man picked me up in his arms and

ran for my home and the doctor who lived at the corner and who soon arrived

to put some stitches in me.

I was always having accidents like that. At one time I was dancing up and

down on a shed roof, assisted by the branch of an oak tree. But the shed had a

slanting roof, and gradually the board I was jumping on slipped down and it

finally fell. I went through the roof and tore an eyelid open as I did so. That

necessitated some stitches, and I bore a small scar there for years.

My most favorite occupation was walking the second story joists of a new

building. But I never fell through, and I never broke a bone.

Then there were certain events that had no serous consequences and some-

times made me wonder how I escaped. I know I was chastised frequently with a

switch or a hair-brush, and I would go off by myself and try to swear. But it was

not very successful. Gentlemen did not swear before ladies in those days, and of

course ladies did not swear at all. So probably a neat little dammit was all I

could command, picked up when my mother gave father the monthly bills.

There was one occasion when I escaped and I have often felt sorry that

I was not caught. My mother used to drive out every day and having two or

three servants at home she thought we were well taken care of and all was well.

But the large parlor was full of fine chairs, and by placing these in a long circle,

one could jump from chair to chair and play follow my leader on satin and

velvet. We brought in cronies from the neighborhood and had a grand time.

We never were caught, but just about the time I was grown and needed the fine

furniture it was worn out and had to be recovered and was never so beautiful

again.

I was never in trouble at school. I had no difficulty with my lessons while

I was at the grammar school - Stoddard School. But one Katie had a teacher

whom she could not get along with, and my father went to school to see what

could be done. Papa always rode his fine black horse to business and was in

riding breeches and carried a whip when he went to the school, early one

morning. The teacher reported to the principal that my father had threatened

her with a horse-whip. It was very absurd, so my father had to go back and talk

to the Principal, Mr. Caldwell, and explain the situation. It happened that they

were good friends anyway, and Mr. Caldwell did not spend much time talking

about the teacher, but he did speak with great enthusiasm about me and my

singing voice. He told my father that my voice must certainly be cultivated.

And that was that.

It was toward the end of my life at the Stoddard School that I earned five

dollars doing without butter. I was always suffering from indigestion because

my parents did not know how I should be fed. Certainly children are better and

finer now-a-days because their mothers know how to direct their diet. But I was

allowed all the spending money I could wheedle from my father and we had a

rich and abundant menu. I ate a great deal of candy; and one of my favorite in-

between meals was a huge slice of bread, thickly buttered and then sprinkled

with sugar. I was said to have "Dyspepsia" occasionally the doctor was consulted

and for a time I was dosed a nauseous liquid from a bottle. But no one ever

thought of regulating my diet. Finally my sister Susie decided I ate too much

butter for my good. She offered me five dollars if I would do without butter for

a month. I took up the bet, but I am convinced that if she had bet against candy it

would have done me more good.

For a month, therefore, I abstained from butter. In the meantime my

father went on a trip to his native Marion County in Missouri and asked Susie and

me to go along. We visited relatives and had a jolly visit and in due time returned

home, and all the while I had no butter. Of course Susie was obliged to pay me the

five dollars I had so pluckily won. But after I had received it I did not know what

to do with it. I always had all the nickels and dimes any small girl could spend.

It took quite a bit of ruminating to decide just what I could do with it. And then I

had an inspiration.

I was not in the highest grade of the school but two grades below it. In

that top grade was a teacher who always noticed me and spoke pleasantly to me,

and I developed a decided crush on her. I bought her a fifty cent bouquet once

a week, a bouquet of the French style, made carefully at the florists, with a lace

paper back to the flowers, and a silver foil covering to the handle. I gave her one

of these offerings each week till my money was exhausted. I felt an intense

satisfaction in the presentation, and if she had been pleasant to me before, she

now spoke to me with a proprietary air as if I belonged to her. Unfortunately I

never had the pleasure of being teacher's pet in her room. Before that was

possible I was entered at Mary Institute, the Girls' school of Washington Uni-

versity, and life became more difficult.

I had an easy time at Stoddard School, and had gained a certain renown

for my singing and my compositions. My small essays were carried from room to

room and read as models. I get along well with the teachers and life was pleasant.

But when I entered the Mary Institute I was obliged to take written examinations

that paid a great deal of attention to mathematics and seemed to make every

thing more difficult than it had ever been before. From that moment my

childhood was left behind.

It was at some time during this period, although I cannot fix the exact date,

that our house was robbed of three thousand dollars worth of jewelry. the jewels

were taken while we were at supper, the deed was as mysterious as any detective

story, and the identity of the thief was never established, although Mother and

Susie and I had our opinion about it. Mary our attractive and very lady-like

nurse was engaged for eight years to a young man who was a plumber, but who

did not have a shop of his own. It seemed strange that after the jewel robbery

he established his own shop and they were married.

One afternoon according to her custom, Mama took all the children out

in the barouche, driving. When we returned home, old Ellen was standing at the

front fence waiting for us and giving us the impression that we were very late.

So we hurried up into the house leaving the horse tied to await the coming of

the man from the livery stable. Mama's room looked very untidy. The bed was

covered with coats from a down town store, which Mama had brought home

for us children to try on. Instead of taking us to the shop, she brought a number

of garments home and then could decide what she wanted at leisure.

But Ellen seemed in a hurry for us to eat supper, so we trooped down to

the evening meal. During supper someone said:

"Hush a moment. Is someone up stairs?" It had sounded like a loose

board squeaking , but we laughed off our fears and resumed our eating. No

one went to investigate.

After supper we went up to Mama's room to look over the cloaks. I

noticed a small bit of coral jewelry on the floor and picked it up.

"Look what's on the floor. Someone might step on it."

"What's it doing out of the drawer?" asked Mama. For during that day she

had gone about the house carefully gathering up the jewelry, her own watch and

Susie's, various rings and necklaces and trinkets and had taken them to the

jewelry drawer locked it and put the key in her pocket. So now she handed me

the key and said:

"Put it in the box, lock the drawer and give me back the key." Between us

we had a great many bits of jewelry. Children's dresses were made with puffs on

the shoulders that were caught together by small clasps of gold or coral or tur-

quoise beads. We wore necklaces of twisted turquoise or coral beads or carved

coral. It was one of these small trinkets I had picked up from the floor. The

jewelry drawer had in it a set of four Chinese lacquer boxes, cunningly contrived

with one round corner at the outside. "There's nothing in there," I said, and

opened another, then another. All were empty. The thief had carefully replaced

the tricky lids and had probably emptied the jewelry into a bag, and in doing so

had spilled one on the floor. The new coats were still lying on the bed.

My mother had some very nice diamonds. A round brooch crusted with

thirty-five diamonds, two rings one with five and one with seven diamonds.

Her solitaire diamond earrings had drops with thirteen diamonds each. She

had taken off the dangling part of the earrings when she came home and put

them in the drawer, leaving the solitaires in her ears. The two watches were

gone and a varied lot of bracelets including two plain wide bands of Roman

gold, and more miscellaneous decorations than I am able to remember. My

own heart was broken over a carved coral necklace with a small book of gold

which was a locket.

My father called in a lot of detectives and they searched the country over

for the robbers. But Father played true to form when he refused to allow them

to search the belongings of our two maids. The detectives must have been

rather disgusted at that. They never found a clue. Of course the thief may have

gotten in the back door while old Ellen was out in the front yard; or he may have

climbed up our porch supports in the form of iron vines while we were at supper,

we never knew.

Minnette's Journal

Scott's Time Portal to Old St. Louis

Copyright 2001, Carol Jane Belding, All right reserved.  HTML and graphics edited by Scott Williams. Transcription by Deanna Adams Holm