After some seriously cold arsed days in St. Louis (we had wind chills of -11 and that’s cold for us) it seems spring has finally arrived in the city known world wide as The Gateway to the West. This morning I took my sorry behind out to soak up the beauty of Mother Earth in my neighborhood. For those who don’t know I live in what is known as the Shaw Neighborhood, a historic neighborhood in South St. Louis, next to Tower Grove Park, one of the last original Victorian Walking Parks in the world.
Something else you might not know if you’re new here is that I’m a solitary pagan. Living in this neighborhood keeps me in touch with not only my spiritual side, but my past as well being as I’m a country girl living in the city. Although, at this point I’ve lived longer in St. Louis (nearly 24 years) than in my hometown (18 years) I still think of myself as a country girl. Don’t get me wrong, St. Louis is definitely home and always will be, but I still respect where I came from and I still have family back in the boonies as we called it.
Fifteen years of that I’ve lived next to Tower Grove Park and I adore this place with every beat of my aging heart. Each and every day I try to get out to walk my neighborhood and the beautiful slice of nature that calls to so many people; bikers, joggers, dog walkers, children, and soon concert goers who will gather by the Concert Pavilion to listen to the Compton Heights Band in the summer months.
There is a magic to this place unlike anywhere else, not even Forest Park (and it’s beautiful as well) that calls to both the pagan and the country girl in my heart and soul. I can step through one of many of the gates leading into Tower Grove and it’s like stepping into another time or place. The city that surrounds it is blocked out and the towering trees that rise around you give you the feeling of a primeval forest that is until a biker whizzes by you and you’re snapped out of your revere.
One of my favorite places in the park are The Ruins, just a hop, skip, and a jump from my front door. The Ruins were designed by Henry Shaw, the man who not only created Tower Grove Park for the City of St. Louis, but also created the Missouri Botanical Gardens that are just down the street. He was born in Sheffield, England and through a twist of fate working for his father’s iron business ended up in the small French village of St. Louis in 1819.
Henry built his wealth through the hardware business and became a philanthropist and amateur botanist after his retirement, traveling all over the world.
The Ruins were constructed from the limestone remains of The Lindell House, a hotel and commercial space building, destroyed in a fire on March 31, 1867. It was described in The New York Times as being “…the greatest calamity to hit St. Louis since the great fire of 1849.” The stones still bear the marks of the fire if you look close and for me they hold even more.
There is for me an energy there much like that I feel when rambling about a cemetery. It is peaceful and sad in the same breath, but beautiful nevertheless. A reminder of days gone by and losses unlike anything most of us ever open ourselves up to.
Stone benches surround the pond and fountain where ducks and Canadian geese pause to drink and rest. Artists can be seen on occasion with their easels at the edge of the water trying to capture that eerie beauty in water colors or photographers with their cameras; many who I doubt know the sad history of where these stones originated.
Amidst this historic monument of disaster and loss are the reminders of rebirth and spring herself. The grass is a fresh green, the trees budding, some in full bloom, and the sweet scent of magnolia blossoms drift on the warm spring air. Daffodils, crocus, wild violets, and strawberries creep from the rich black earth and the song of nature surrounds you. In the distance the sounds of the city try to pierce the veil, but manage only to be a white noise hidden by nature herself.
It is here I find inspiration for my writing on many levels. Just beyond The Ruins is the Piper Palm House, the oldest green house west of the Mississippi, now a place where weddings and Sunday Brunches take place. Just on the other side is the Superintendent’s House, hidden by vegetation and trees, and surrounded by a cast iron fence, the gate posts topped by pineapples, a symbol of welcome used in the architecture of the Victorian era.
It is this house, looming over the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Tower Grove, that bisects the park that inspired Evans House, the haunted house in my first book Shadows Beneath published in 2008. It’s tower rises over the tree tops and stares out with shuttered windows. I imagine the original park superintendent might have watched over the newly planted trees and the visitors to the park, in carriages, and hidden beneath silk parasols from this tower. There is something quite enticing that whispers in my ear as I walk past the house and the spiked fence that speaks of another age and a world I can only imagine through photos and paintings.
Further into the park and going south is an oddity that I have yet to find any information on. Up a winding path through a cluster of oaks that tower high above my head, through ivy covered earth, where bright yellow daffodils rise from the dark earth to sway in a light breeze is a single gravestone.
Shaded in spring and summer by a canopy of green the face of the stone is so weathered as to give the observer very little to identify its occupant. Her first name was Eliza, last name possibly Moore, and the date reads 1865.
Despite the tombstone being in an odd place and the name and date being nearly indecipherable someone is aware of Eliza’s final resting place. More than likely a park employee or ranger. The reason I know this is that on the occasional walk to Walgreens (on the southern end of the park) I have noted at various times of the year that a single rose is placed on the grave. One time I walked by to see that someone had placed a rosary on the top of the stone in the snow.
I know that some folks might think it odd that I go out of my way to stop by this lonely grave and offer a small prayer to the soul that was laid to rest there. What I find odd is that she is there at all. Why leave a solitary grave in a public park and not relocate her remains. Considering the date she’s been there since before the inception of the park. Even odder is the fact that I tried to bring up the close up photo I took of the grave and it refused to load so all I can show you is a distant picture.
Then again Shaw himself is laid to rest in the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Hell, he’s even rumored to roam not only the Garden’s themselves, but the park as well. Perhaps Henry and Eliza roam the grounds together enjoying the same beauty that I enjoy on a spring day except by moonlight. If I were to haunt anywhere after my death I couldn’t pick a more beautiful place than Tower Grove in the spring. 😀