Short Cuts

THE LION THING: Proof that the real impetus for any civic improvement is to snub the next municipality over comes in the form of a news release from the city of University City. Bob Cassilly -- founder, with his wife, Gail, of the downtown City Museum; sculptor of the turtles in Turtle Park; the man from whom St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon would not take $250,000 for the Arena -- has been commissioned to create two benches for the medians at Delmar and Trinity. Continuing with the theme of the Lion Gates at the western entryway to the Loop and the snarling lions at U. City's City Hall, Cassilly is creating some more whimsical felines for the recently created medians -- which already contain what look like concrete candlepins that you can't see around if you're trying to get onto Delmar -- with a lion playing saxophone on one bench and a lion playing guitar on the other. University City city manager Frank Ollendorff says, in the press release, "We wanted to create something that would reflect U. City's love of arts and music," in a reasonable boast of civic virtue, but he goes on to chide his city's neighbor on the east side of Skinker. In bold type, the press release announces: "After St. Louis Shut Him Out, U. City Embraces Sculptor, Public Art While Preserving Its History." In the body of the announcement, Ollendorff is quoted as saying, "While St. Louis is sending Cassilly away, we are commissioning him to create public art. We are committed to public art and preserving our public places."

Ollendorff makes it sound as if Cassilly had found his way to refined Athens after being exiled from uncouth Sparta, rather than just having the good sense to take a $40,000 commission. But the snide comments inspire some thoughts about public art in St. Louis. Instead of wrapping the Arch in neon, as some have proposed, how about hanging from its center an enormous wrecking ball? (ES)

MY MIND'S PLAYIN' TRICKS ON ME: If hip-hop or rap or whatever-you-call-it is so gol-darn big, how come it keeps losing power in St. Louis? The station that passes as the market's hip-hop purveyor, Majic 105 FM, has swapped formats with what's now KATZ (100.3 FM) -- or, at least, a version of that shift is in the works. Majic 105 (actually 104.9, for the digitally inclined) is now playing a variation of the "quiet storm" format, which, loosely described, is old and new R&B or slow, bump-and-grind, freakin'-between-the-sheets music. That stuff has its audience, but the tunes are far afield of any decent definition of hip-hop or rap. (Of course, definitions vary; KTVI (Channel 2) last week did a piece on Lauryn Hill that lumped Hill and the pubescent'N Sync to-gether and described them as "hip-hop." Puh-leeze.) Jacor Broadcasting promises that 100.3 will be all hip-hop and rap. Trouble is, 100.3 has a weaker signal than 104.9, at least in many parts of the area. (On car radios, the "seek" function may pass right by 100.3.) Majic 105, at one time, was Majic 108, which was a stronger signal. So hip-hop/rap has lost power as it's slid to the left on the FM dial: from 107.7 to 104.9 and now to 100.3. The logic presented before was that the audience was largely "urban," (gee, could that be code for "African-American"?) and didn't need that strong a signal. So is the next step to put the broadcast tower in North St. Louis? (DJW)

RIOT ACT: An Illinois Power Co. crew cut down Collinsville's hanging tree in 1962, but a reminder of the World War I-era lynching can still be found in South St. Louis.

Robert Paul Prager, the victim of a "patriotic" mob, is buried in the St. Matthew Cemetery at Grand and Bates. The young German immigrant died in the early hours of April 5, 1918, after being abducted from the Madison County Jail by a group of drunken vigilantes. The rabble believed Prager to be a German spy who had intentions of sabotaging a coal mine in nearby Maryville, Ill. Fueled by alcohol and the federal government's anti-German propaganda, they forced Prager to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" and march barefoot down Collinsville's Main Street, draped in an American flag.

The procession headed out of town on St. Louis Road until it reached an old hackberry tree atop Bluff Hill. The first attempt to hang Prager failed because he tugged at the noose with his hands. At this point, members of the mob lowered him and bound his wrists together. He was allowed to kiss the flag, say his prayers and write a farewell note to his parents. The mob then hoisted and dropped Prager three times for the red, white and blue.

Twelve men were indicted for Prager's murder; one fled the county without ever being apprehended. Authorities discovered that another of the suspects was wanted in connection with inciting a race riot in East St. Louis the preceding year. During the closing arguments of the trial, a band played martial music within earshot of the courthouse. It took only 45 minutes for the jury to acquit the defendants. (CDS)

SIC TRANSIT NEWT: What a short shelf life. For just two lousy quarters, a revolution was for sale at the Carpenter Branch Public Library, 3309 S. Grand. On the shelf under a sign saying any hardback book there could be had for just 50 cents, there it was: To Renew America,by Newt Gingrich. The 260-page book, copyright 1995, detailed Newt's "Vision and Strategies," his "Ongoing Revolution" and -- who could forget? -- "The Contract with America." Quick -- name two of his "Six Challenges." (No, Larry Flynt was not one of them.) Perhaps the most ominous chapter title was "Term Limits and the Defeat of the Democratic Leadership in the House." Next to the Gingrich book was another bargain: Plausible Denial, by Mark Lane, the 1991 book that asked the question, "Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK?" Too bad there's not a Dewey-decimal category for fringe politics. (DJW)

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