The Naked Truth, November 2021

I looked at The Naked Truth back in 2007, and I thought it was due time to go back and more carefully examine this famous sculpture that was moved around Reservoir Park with the construction of Interstate 44. It commemorates the three editors of the Westliche Post, a German language newspaper that I can attest is an excellent source on St. Louis history. It was also a champion of abolition and other progressive causes at a time when English language newspapers in St. Louis promoted the suppression of civil rights for African Americans.

William Swekosky, The Naked Truth Monument, Reservoir Park, 1914, Missouri History Museum, N05261

I learned recently from a friend that like many ancient Greek and Roman bronze statues, the eyes of the woman were originally intended to have glass eyes. Just like today we’re often shocked at the bright, primary colors that white marble sculptures were originally painted in the ancient world, many of us would probably be shocked by the bold eyes of their bronze counterparts. Many St. Louisans might be familiar with the creepy baby Hercules in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum with his preserved eyes for comparison.

Looking back at my photo from 2007, I realized the three bas-relief medallions or tondos, as they are called in Italian art, were still missing, having been stolen decades before. They’ve been carefully replaced, crafted by a talented sculptor based off historic photos. The medallions represent the three German American journalists commemorated in the monument.

Carl Schurz is represented by the myth of the Rape of Europa, where Zeus/Jupiter turned himself into a white bull and when Europa climbed on his back, jumped into the sea and carried her off to Crete. Perhaps one of the most famous depictions of this (problematic) subject is the Venetian artist Titian’s version in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s collections.

For Dr. Emil Pretorius, the Christian subject of St. George Slaying the Dragon is depicted. The patron saint of soldiers, St. George appears early in Christian hagiography as a Roman legionnaire martyr, and it was not until the Middle Ages that the famous story of his slaying a dragon appears.

Finally Carl Danzier is commemorated by Cupid riding on Pegasus. Cupid’s theogeny is confusing; some sources say he is the child of Aphrodite/Venus, while ancient sources, including Hesiod, state he was among the oldest gods born in the primeval past. Pegasus, unlike what you might have seen growing up watching a certain movie on KPLR, was actually born from the blood of Medusa.

We discussed the significance of the seahorses, which anchor both ends of the monument. Nothing on a German American monument is going to be placed there just for decoration. I would love it if any readers out there know what they might signify.

A final note: it irritates me to no end how this monument seems to be vandalized every time there are protests in St. Louis. The men who are honored here were actually revolutionaries, who fought for the civil rights of people around the world, risking their lives for freedom. Why would you vandalize their monument? Pick up a book or Google their names for once before you pick up your can of spray paint.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Everett says:

    I share your frustration regarding the vandalism of this particular monument, (I’m not in favor of any public monument being vandalized but this one in particular). I have read historical accounts about how the German immigrant population in St. Louis, which was considerable in number, was the primary reason why the city sided with the Union during the Civil War. The men who are honored by this monument were instrumental in bringing about a consensus of local opposition to the Confederacy. They were very much in favor of the abolition of slavery. Many people of extreme views on both the left and the right of the political spectrum are rarely scholarly enough to read a book or take the time to research the history behind public monuments. In this case, the mantra seems to be that if it is old, (and particularly if it is aesthetic in anyway), it must be bad.

  2. Charles Tandy says:

    Reality does not go away when it is ignored.
    ? Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

  3. tgeman says:

    This memorial was vandalized and harshly criticized from its inception. There were miffed local artists, offended that their work was not selected for the monument, puritanical sentiment about the statue’s nudity, xenophobic disgruntlement over such public glorification of the German culture in St. Louis, and even outcry from temperance groups who saw the figure as representative of a dissolute, boozy, vulgar exoticism. This became perhaps more pronounced with the U.S. involvement in WW I and the advent of Prohibition. One local Carrie Nation type even publicly demanded that local Germans show their patriotism by melting the statue down to assist in the war effort.

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