By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Gellhorn was the third of Hemingway's wives to come from St. Louis. Hemingway attempted to justify this: "I think if one is perpetually doomed to marry people from St. Louis, it's best to marry them from the best families."
To which Gertrude Stein retorted, "A man who has married three women from St. Louis couldn't have learned much."
The Wednesday Club's annual poetry contest has been responsible for launching the careers of several St. Louis poets, including Tennessee Williams, Marianne Moore (who later became a judge) and River Styx editor Richard Newman.
But the Wednesday Club's finest moment may have come in 1899, when one of its former members, Kate Chopin, published her novel The Awakening, about a woman who abandons her husband and children to pursue a career as an artist and an affair with another man. Though the book created a scandal (and then disappeared, until it was rediscovered by feminist scholars in the 1970s), the members of the club did not expel her, as is widely reported; she had dropped out several years earlier in order to have more time to write.
The Wednesday Club stood by Chopin. In the middle of the controversy, they invited her to give a reading. Four hundred women showed up to hear her.
"Later on, in Chicago," she wrote, "it suited me to mope as if I'd lost a paradise when we moved away from St. Louis, and I began to dream of running off — if not to that one, then to some other. And St. Louis was, in fact, a pleasant place. There must have been other towns along the Mississippi with a similar charm — places where cement had not yet tamped down everything and nature still showed through — but I thought mine unique."
Her homesickness resulted in an abortive attempt to escape back to St. Louis, which didn't get her any farther than the home of a school friend. Hahn's later ventures would be more successful. As a college student in the mid-1920s, she and a friend drove a Model T from Chicago to Albuquerque. A few years later, she set off alone for the Belgian Congo because, as a little girl, she had looked at the atlas and decided it was the farthest place one could go. She stayed for two years, living with a dissolute American anthropologist and his two Congolese wives and volunteering with the Red Cross.
Hahn's further adventures included a long stint — she had only intended to stay two weeks — in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1930s and early '40s where she edited a magazine, filed dispatches for the New Yorker and fulfilled another childhood dream, this one of becoming an opium addict. (A short memoir about the experience began, "Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can't claim that as the reason I went to China.")
St. Louis doesn't figure at all in any of Hahn's essays about her later life, despite her many travels. A possible explanation: As a new college grad, she lived here briefly in 1927, working as a secretary for the Deko Oil Company although she had been trained as a mining engineer. The job bored her, and her hometown to her surprise, made her miserable. That spring, she made a bet with herself: If Charles Lindbergh could make it across the Atlantic, anything was possible, and it would be all right to leave her safe, comfortable existence in St. Louis. As we know, Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis landed safely in Paris. The next day, permission granted, Hahn was gone, off in search of adventure.
But run-ins with the police are not always fun. In 1991, Gerald Early, an essayist, cultural critic and a professor at Washington University, was arrested at Le Chateau Village in Frontenac, apparently for being black. The incident made national news; an article appeared in the New York Times. Here's Early's account, from his book Daughters: