Is This a Stagger I See Before Me?

The shot heard round the world

There should be a plaque. That's all -- just a plaque -- in honor of the spot where a homicide unleashed a myth that unleashed a song that unleashed a thousand variations. Surely some monied St. Louis deadhead has the hundred-odd bucks it'd take to mark the downtown spot where "Stag" Lee Sheldon shot Billy Lyons in the gut. You know, Stagger Lee, the renegade devil who shot a man who took his Stetson hat? That murder happened in downtown St. Louis on Christmas night, 1895.

Over the years, blues scholars and myth hunters have searched for the genesis of the song, covered by, among many others, the Grateful Dead, the Clash, Mississippi John Hurt, Neil Diamond, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan and Beck. The research, based on newspaper reports, old-timer recollections and obsessive digging, has pinpointed the corner of 13th Street and Morgan (now 13th Street and Delmar Boulevard) as the hallowed spot.

All the proof and much more can be found in the revelatory new book Stagolee Shot Billy by Cecil Brown, recently published by Harvard University Press. In fact, no book in recent memory has provided such a vivid account of St. Louis at the turn of the nineteenth century, a time when St. Louis was a thriving and chaotic place, a boomtown that saw the black population increase almost sixfold in a decade -- and "85 percent of black St. Louisians lived in only 2 percent of the area," according to the book.

Read the book. Learn that Stagger Lee was a pimp, and learn about Deep Morgan, the area within the "bloody Third Ward" where the murder occurred. Learn about the insanely overcrowded downtown; the notorious whorehouse called "the Bucket of Blood"; the ragtime scene that helped parachute the song from St. Louis to all parts of America, and ultimately the world. It's a Harvard book, so there's lots of brainiac muscle-flexing designed to shed light on the consequences of that single-bullet zeitgeist, and you'll exit the read with a hefty dose of knowledge about St. Louis, its musical heritage and how the city spawned one of America's most important archetypes. -- Randall Roberts

Bitchin' at Any Speed
The Corvettes come out of storage

FRI 6/20

Empty nest? Biological clock ticking? The Corvette, America's favorite sports car, is a cure for both. Why baby a baby when you can baby a Corvette? Driving off the lot is more pleasurable than giving birth, and Corvettes waste fewer natural resources than humans do -- and Drive Your Corvette to Work Day is less of a hassle than the take-your-kid version. Join hundreds of Corvettes and their parents at the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park as early as 5:30 a.m. (donuts and coffee arrive at 7:30 a.m. and the free gathering ends at about 9 a.m.). DYCTW Day is observed nationally; here, members of the Original Corvette Club of St. Louis ( welcome you to ogle their babies or drive your own, if you're so lucky. -- Mallarie Zimmer

Raise the Woof

SAT 6/21

"Hey! Get your damn dog off the sidewalk/the jogging trail/my leg/etc.!" If you hang out with canines, this caveat, or some fastidious version of it, is not foreign to you, for sure.

But on Saturday, even those with the most flirtatious of furry companions can escape this sort of abuse at the second annual Dog Days of Summer event in University City (6200-6600 Delmar Boulevard,, where dogs will be welcomed at various participating Loop restaurants (patios only) and stores from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Twenty percent of the lick-laden sales benefits the U. City dog-play area at Vernon and Pennsylvania avenues ( For the scoop, call 314-727-8000. -- Tom R. Arterburn

Hip Triv

Pssst. Remember the names "Janice, Dian and Holly." They're the answer to the question, "Name Bob Barker's three beauties during the 1980s on 'The Price Is Right.'"

That's vitally important trivia -- an oxymoronic obsession -- for those who follow the burgeoning bar trivia scene on weeknights across town.

You'll find crafty competition vying for prizes trivial and otherwise, as well as bragging rights, on Tuesday evenings at Joanie's Pizzeria (2101 Menard Avenue, 314-865-1994) or on Wednesdays at both Llywelyn's Pub (4747 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-3003) or CBGB's (3163 South Grand Boulevard, 314-773-9743).

Rules and attitudes vary with the venue, but it always helps to be smart and to work well with others. -- Thomas R. Raber

Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles

Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.