AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN UNIMPORTANT PERSON
BY MINNETTE SLAYBACK CARPER
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
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
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 fondof 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
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
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
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.
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