The Muny Saga has been a long time coming. Countless quarters have been spent at the St. Louis County Library, printing out old newspaper stories from crumbling microfilm. Months have been devoted to poring through a century’s worth of newspapers on the invaluable website, newspapers.com. I’ve purchased books from England and Australia, all in an attempt to unpeel the proverbial onion that is the Muny saga … and to unpeel that story accurately.
As you might imagine, when an institution is nearly 100 years old, there is much misinformation circling about. In such instances, the surest bet is to rely on primary sources. For instance, one of the most enduring Muny legends insists that back on opening night in 1919, the debut performance of Robin Hood was washed away by floods. It makes for a good yarn. But had such a drastic event occurred, one might assume that our local newspapers would have mentioned the incident. To the contrary, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Globe-Democrat and St. Louis Star all published glowing reviews of opening night. You can rely on The Muny Saga to be as accurate as possible.
But my real goal has been to get past the dates, the facts and the statistics (of which there are too many for consumption by mere mortals) and instead introduce you to some wonderful human beings that I have loved getting to know over these past several months. I now am eager that you get to know them too. If you come to know these people as more than distant names in a dusty history, when the 100th anniversary is celebrated next summer, those celebrations will mean more to you, because you will have come to realize the extent to which you are a beneficiary of the actions of some truly remarkable people.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this online history is that I never asked to write it, nor did anyone at the Muny ever ask me to write it. I began to do some research on my own. From time to time I shared the sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, stories I uncovered to receptive ears. Before we quite knew what had happened, it was a given that I would write something for the 100th anniversary.
This is what that something became. – Dennis Brown
1913-1919: NOTHING BUT A PARK AND A BEAUTIFUL IDEA
For all practical purposes, the roots of the Muny saga were planted in 1913 with the formation of the St. Louis Pageant Drama Association. Comprised of prestigious civic leaders like John Gundlach and Luther Ely Smith, whose combined vision and unflagging energy would lead to the building of the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi Riverfront, the Pageant Drama Association came into being for one purpose – to host a massive celebration of the city’s 150th birthday.