By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
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By Dennis Brown
By Chris Parker
By Sam Levin
Laurie, Missouri: Where the Squirrels Hide Their Nuts
Maybe it's a lesson as to why you should never set up Christmas decorations before Halloween. Or maybe it was just a senseless act of pagan vandalism.
Whatever the case, the good people of Laurie, Missouri, are left questioning who stole the hand-painted wooden cow from the town's nativity scene.
According to an account of the crime on a Lake of the Ozarks website, volunteers installed the nativity scene October 26 at the town park, known affectionately as the Laurie Hillbilly Fairgrounds.
Coming back to do more work the next day, the workers discovered that the cow had been broken loose from its mounting and was gone. Whoever took the cow had also tried to take the sheep. In the attempt to loose the sheep from its moorings, its head was broken off.
Town officials estimate that the amount of damage could reach triple digits ($100), but they're willing to drop any charges against the vandals if they simply return the cow.
"It's just plain orneriness," says Laurie's parks and events coordinator, Susann Huff. "Why would you just steal a cow? Bring it back, and we won't ask any questions. Just bring it back where you found it."
The 80-year-old Ruhrwien works as a volunteer guide at the park, giving walking tours to hundreds of visitors each year. Until last month, Ruhrwien never had much to say about one particular landmark: the oxidized copper cannon near Lindell Boulevard.
Etchings on the gun in Spanish reveal the word "Examinador" and tell that it was forged in 1783 for King Charles III of Spain. Beyond that, little else was known about the gun.
Last September Riverfront Times chronicled Ruhrwien's quest to learn more about the mysterious cannon. We even tried researching it ourselves. No one with the city or parks department could tell us the history of the weapon, and a library search turned up only one vague newspaper clipping.
In January of 1900 the now-defunct St. Louis Republic reported that Missouri Congressman Charles Edward Pearce had procured a Spanish cannon and that the gun was on its way to town.
Was that our cannon? Maybe. Maybe not.
While we gave up the search, Ruhrwien did not. He consulted with Spanish-weapons experts in New York and even sent a letter to the defense department in Spain seeking answers.
So it was that last month Ruhrwien again found himself at the Missouri Historical Society Library. As he did last year, Ruhrwien again asked archivist Dennis Northcutt to help him research the artillery. This time around, Northcutt was armed with a research tool that would crack the mystery.
St. Louis County Library now offers users an online database of archived clippings from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1874 to 1922. And unlike old microfiche machines, the newspaper clippings are searchable by keyword.
Northcutt put in the words "cannon" and "Forest Park" and voila! Two stories — both from 1901 — about the cannon "Examinador."
The stories reveal that the cannon "Examinador" — a trophy from the war department (presumably from the Spanish-American War) — arrived in the park the previous year.
The first story, from April 1901, states that the cannon had not immediately been installed due to budget cuts and was currently being stored in the police stables inside the park. The second story, from July 1901, is headlined "Spanish Cannon Has Been Forgotten." The story is written in first-person from the point of view of the cannon and ridicules park commissioner Ridgely for not installing the ordnance after more than a year's time.
Ruhrwien thinks he now knows why the cannon has no official plaque.
"When Commissioner Ridgely saw that first-person cannon story in the paper, he called one of his guys a couple days later and said, 'Get that thing out of the shed and mount it!'" Ruhrwien speculates. "He probably needed the Post off his back. So, the Forest Park maintenance guys mounted it one day with no brass bands playing, no speeches, no reporters to report and probably only a few worker bees standing around."
But don't worry, Examinador. You'll get your plaque if Fred Ruhrwien has anything to say about it.
Concludes the letter: "I sincerely hope that you agree that it is long past time to give our grand old cannon its due respect."
Headless in St. Louis
Next February will mark the 27th anniversary of the discovery of the headless body of a young black girl. Police have never been able to identify the child who was found in the basement of an abandoned building in St. Louis. The murderer (or murderers) remains at large — that is, if they're still alive today.
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