Climbing to the top of the Compton Hill Water Tower can give an excellent view of the city, but near its base you can find a much more controversial sight: a 100-year old naked woman. Reservoir Park, at South Grand and Shaw, is home to the Naked Truth monument which honors three turn-of-the-century German-American journalists.
Host Don Marsh talked with preservation historian Esley Hamilton of St. Louis County Parks and Recreation and Karen Goering, a board member of the Water Tower & Park Preservation Society about the Naked Truth monument today on St. Louis on the Air.
According to Hamilton, the monument originated from an outpouring of appreciation for the three prominent journalists following their death. Adolphus Busch agreed to donate $20,000 dollars to build a monument if the community raised another $10,ooo.
Supporters raised the money, formed a committee, and chose Wilhelm Wandschneider’s design from seven proposals. It wasn’t until Wandschneider was en route to St. Louis that his design was unveiled, however, immediately striking controversy over the Naked Truth’s lack of covering.
Upon arrival, Wandschneider and his wife convinced city leaders that the monument was actually quite chaste and the statue was completed in 1914, with only minor changes. What was to be a completely marble monument turned into a combination of bronze and Missouri red granite.
“This was a time of a feeling of brotherhood,” said Hamilton. “There were Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant members of the committee. The mayor spoke, there were people on both sides of the German-American divide who were involved in this, and it gives you a glimpse of what could have been if World War I hadn’t broken out.”
The Naked Truth monument did not escape trouble long. During World War I, the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement called for it to be melted down and converted to munitions. Decades later, the construction of Interstate 44 called for the monument to be moved to its present location.
In addition to the statue, the monument originally included three 24-inch bronze medallions symbolizing each of the journalists honored. Shortly after the monument’s move, two of those medallions were stolen, and during the Occupy St. Louis movement, “class struggle” was painted across the monument. In addition, there have been numerous attempts to drape the statue who symbolizes Truth – with her arms outstretched she has nothing to hide.
The recent renovations took the better part of two years. The surrounding sidewalks and stairs were moved and replaced. The renovations also included new landscaping, cleaning the monument, and applying a fresh coat of a protective covering to the statue.
The two stolen monuments were recast by local artisan Vlad Zhitomirsky and the one remaining medallion, Pegasus, was restored and returned. It had previously been removed for safe-keeping by the city. Zhitomirsky recast the missing medallions by observing the one remaining medallion and viewing photos at the Missouri History Museum taken when the sculpture was first unveiled.
“I think it shows how the art in St. Louis can be appreciated from a number of perspectives,” said Goering, who also is an administrator at the Missouri History Museum. “It’s a major artwork, but it’s most important and appreciated in St. Louis because of the heritage.”
Rededication of Naked Truth Monument
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Reservoir Park, South Grand at Shaw
Water Tower and Park Preservation Society website