The Slayback Brothers and the Origin

of

the St. Louis Veiled Prophet Parade

       

 Immediately following the war, Charles Slayback (the Colonel's brother), became quite wealthy in the grain business in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was here that he became well acquainted with the Mardi Gras festivities of that city. After Alonzo returned to the United States (from exile in Mexico), Charles moved his grain business to St. Louis, where Alonzo was establishing his law practice. Both brothers took an active interest  in developing St. Louis' economy which had been damaged due to its occupation by Union forces during the late war. Charles Slayback noted that while the annual Mechanical and Agricultural Fair was very beneficial in bringing tourism St. Louis, it lacked the splendor of the Mardi Gras festival that attracted countless more down in New Orleans. Unhappy with the city's entertainment, Alonzo and Charles went to New Orleans to get ideas, to purchase floats and decorations to enhance the St. Louis festivities.

     At the Lindell Hotel in St. Louis, (on March 21, 1878) the Slayback's gathered, twenty of the leading citizens of the city to plan activities, create a committee and decide upon a proper theme. It was Alonzo Slayback that coined the organization as the "Order of the Veiled Prophet". While the existing Mechanical and Agricultural Fair honored young ladies of the city with its "Court of Love and Beauty", but the maiden's names were always kept secret. This was seen as a significant drawback, as these belles were the jewels of St. Louis, certainly the main attraction of the festivity. Not only would newspapers of the city be encouraged to print the names of the Veiled Prophet's selections as the "Belle of the Ball" ("Queen"), but photos were published revealing her beauty as well.  Instead of  being an event controlled by trade unions, the V.P.  committee made it possible for ladies with a non-union white collar parentage to be  recognized. When the Mechanical and Agricultural Fair ceased in 1894, the Order of the Veiled Prophet adopted the "Court of Love and Beauty" into its phraseology. Charles Slayback wrote that "The Veiled Prophet was conceived as a social organization with a broader vision of citizenship---a purely altruistic order" compared to its predecessor. In addition to the Veiled Prophet Queen, other ladies are honored by being selected as Maids of Honor and Special Maids of Honor.

    The very first arrival of the Veiled Prophet arrived at the St. Louis riverfront by barge at twilight on Oct. 8, 1878. The event was timed to immediately follow the arrival of the "Robert E. Lee" riverboat, which certainly reflects the widespread admiration the people of St. Louis had for the noble Confederate leader of the same name. Thousands turned out for the event, reportably not a cobblestone could be seen on the river front pavement due to the size of the crowd. Bands played as rockets exploded and bright torches illuminated the event. Colorful floats and prancing horses thrilled the crowd composed of children and adults alike. Riding on the floats including the hooded members of the "Order of the Veiled Prophet", their identities kept secret for fifty years. [The first prophet being John G. Priest, with later ones being: Col. A.W. Slayback, Capt. Frank Gaiennie, John A. Scudder, Henry C. Haarstick, George Bain, Robert P. Tansey, George H. Morgan, Col. J. C. Normile, Wallace  Delafield, John B. Maude, Dr. D. P. Rowland, Charles E. Slayback, Leigh I. Knapp, David B Gould, Henry Paschell, H.I. Kent, Dr. E. Pretorious,  Win. H. Thompson, Win. A. Hargadine]
 
 
 

During the Ball, which often has as many as 10,000 invitations, the Veiled Prophet "descends from his lofty seat to the dance floor, finds his partner and escorts her from her seat to the floor where e presents her with a very pretty pearl necklace." The dance has become known as the "Royal Quadrille". While in the beginning, the honored queens only received a pearl necklace, later recipients (Special Maids of Honor and the Queen) were awarded "silver diadems centered with platinum crowns bearing diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls." Later these became "treasured family jewels", passed down through the generations.  Also, through the years the celebrations surrounding the event increased considerably. In more recent years the "V.P. Fair" as it became known,  has attracted crowds in the tens of thousands and has including air shows, amusement park rides, vendors from across the country, lavish firework displays, and concerts by well known muscians. Most recently the fair has been renamed, "Fair St. Louis", but the V.P. parade continues to be one of St. Louis most popular events in the Soulard neighborhood and is celebrated for its french Mardi Gras connections that the Slayback brothers imported from New Orleans. Over the many years of its existence, the V.P. festivities have brought untold millions of dollars to the St. Louis economy. With all this in consideration, St. Louis owes much to Col. Slayback and to its rich southern roots, all of which have been forgotten by recent generations.
 
 

A Partial List of the Early Queens:

         Miss. Susie Slayback, daughter of Col. Alonzo Slayback

          (College photo). Susie received the honor of being the first Veiled Prophet Queen.

         1878 Miss Susie Slayback
         1885 Miss Virginia Joy
         1886 Miss Louise Scott
         1887 [No Queen nor Royal Quardille due to visit of Mr. and Mrs.Grover Cleveland (U.S. President)]
         1888 Miss Louise Gaiennie
         1889 Miss Wain (from Cleveland)
         1890 Miss Kate Hill
         1891 Miss July Thompson
         1892 Miss Ellen Sturgis
         1893 Miss Florence Lucas
         1894 Miss Hester Bates Laughlin (the first of the crowned queens)
         1895 Miss Bessie Kingsland
         1896 Miss Louise McCreery
 
  

Miss Louise McCreery, 1896 Queen of the Veiled Prophet
[Daughter of Wayman Crow McCreery and Mary Louise Carr.
Miss McCreery was a niece of Maj. Atreus J. McCreery of
Gen. Sterling Price's staff. She later married Mr. Oscar H. McVeiths.
She is a McCreery kin to page author, Scott K. Williams.]

 

Sources: "The Prophet's Pearls", by Katherine Darst; The St. Louis Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4, Sept. 1963. "St. Louis The Fourth City, 1764-1909", by Walter B. Stevens, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909.