Tag Archives: John Sarkis

Driving Me Dazy

Driving on highways is different wherever one travels.  The US has large expanses of land, and most major cities have many miles between them, hence national highways are sort of laid out and numbered in a grid pattern.  Look at national maps for even the largest European countries, like France and Germany, and it can look like that pot of spaghetti you spilled on the kitchen floor while trying to “help” your mom when you were 9 years old.

United States Interstate traffic carries ~25% of all vehicle miles, and ~80% of all commercially transported product, by value

It’s OK.  You felt bad when you spilled dinner, but mom made it a learning experience and you are a better person for it.  Now we’re going to make a little sense of those European “spilled spaghetti” highway maps.

Although these countries individually generally do not lend themselves to a US-style grid and grid-number system, both because of history and geography, they do indeed have patterns.  These are not very useful, if you want my biased opinion.  Well, perhaps useful for rote memorization.

European countries all have several “levels” of highway, just as in the US.  And each level will carry different amounts of traffic, depending on demand and the level.  For example, in the US, the Interstate Highway system has very high demand, and has the highest standard.  Although comprising only about 1% of all US highways by mileage, the Interstate highways carry 25% of highway traffic by vehicle miles.  That’s astounding.  A little more on this later.

I’ll use the two largest European countries, France and Germany, as examples here (um, “largest” not counting Russia).  Each also, naturally, has multiple levels of highway.  Or Classes.  Each has an “A”, or top level “motorway.”  In Germany the A stands for Autobahn.  Of course.  In France it is A for an Autoroute.  These are limited access, high speed, and high standard roadways; in France there is often a toll involved – and they are quite expensive. 

Each has a second-tier highway as well. In France, it’s the N highways, or Route Nationale.  Germany’s second-tier are “B” (which makes more sense, B following A), for Bundesstraßen – or Federal Roads.  These are often quite nice as well.

Speaking of expensive. Beware of radar speed detectors, especially on the B or N roads.  Speed limits rise and fall rapidly around mid- and smaller-sized cities.  Where it falls suddenly – often with scant warning – there is almost sure to be an automatic radar speed detector. If you flinch when you see a sudden flash (usually blue), you’ve been nicked. Your car rental company will make sure you get all of these resulting traffic tickets, while the ticket processing fees are inevitably pinned to your credit card.  Sneaky European bastards. You can generally ignore the tickets themselves; they make nice wallpaper, or fire starters, tools to study another language, whatever. (I hear Italy is the absolute worst). The money grabbers, er, ah, traffic officials will try to collect for about 6 months.  Ignore them. They will give up…eventually. But the processing fees for the car hire company are unavoidable. Those cost about $25 a pop.

As much of the highway patterns initially look like spilled spaghetti to an American European-car-vacation beginner, one cannot imagine at first that there is a numbering pattern.  The routes generally link larger cities and often follow – or run roughly parallel to – centuries’ old trade routes.  Often newer, higher standard “A” routes run near the “B” or “N” routes, but bypassing the snarled urban areas. But … an actual numbering pattern?

France’s Autoroute (A) network. Spokes leading to/from Paris

Well, of course there is a pattern.  We are talking Germans here.  How could Germans not have a pattern? And the French would hate to be outdone by their European rival brother. 

Germany’s single digit Autobahn A highways are border to border (except 2, apparently)

In both countries highway number sequences are assigned by region.  It’s that simple.  In France, the major highways near Paris seem to get most of the lower numbers; and they sort of radiate out from there, like crooked spokes on a banged up old bicycle wheel.  In Germany the single digit “A” autobahn highways have single digit numbers if they run across the entire country – border-to-border, so to speak.  The rest are assigned by region: for example, any Autobahn in Bavaria has an ID number in the 90s.

Yet, the Europeans have demonstrated a sort of “Highway-Pattern-and-Numbering-Envy”.  “Envy of whom?” you ask.  Of course, the United States.

In September 1925 – nearly a century ago – a small committee of national highway officials met at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown St. Louis. One of their tasks? To assign numbers to the new federal highway system. Other related tasks involved national highway standards: e.g. widths, grades, surfaces, signs and markings. This would become the US Highway system.

Until then, as in Europe, major roads – and later highways – followed older trails: in the US either old Amerindian, pioneer or fur trade routes. And, to make it complicated, each state had their own system for numbering highways (sometimes letters or names), even if  they “linked up” with a highway in an adjoining state.  They were twisted too; they often directed motorists on less than efficient paths, in order to promote commerce in remote, but politically well-connected, towns and villages. [many US highways retain these rather anachronistic vestiges, wandering through downtown and business sectors of towns, villages and cities].

Well, in what seems to have been accomplished in a single day, September 25th, a small committee of five Chief State Engineers (from Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina) devised the US Highway numbering system.  With few exceptions, it’s still in use today. 

Ah, the beauty, power and efficiencey of small but powerful committees.  China, anyone? Anyhow …

These mighty five decided that highways leading mostly north/south would be assigned odd numbers, with the lowest starting along the east coast. These odd-numbers would increase as you moved west, with the highest odd-numbers being along the west coast. The longest and/or most important N/S routes would end with the number five.

Routes that went mostly East/West would be assigned even numbers; with lower numbers in the north, and increasing to larger numbers in the south.  The longest and/or most important E/W routes would end with the number zero. For example: the first transcontinental highway, also called the Lincoln Highway, was US Highway 30. 

The beloved and ballyhooed highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, which we know as “Route 66”, was originally to be numbered Route 60.  But Kentucky governor William Field wanted the more important sounding 60 to run through his state. Route 66 is officially retired, but signs and the famous song still commemorate “66”, and its representation for our attraction for the open road.

This is the US Highway numbering system still in use today.

A few decades later, in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower got the nationwide super highway system approved (the so-called Interstate Highway System, officially called the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”) the numbering scheme for the new system was kept more or less intact.  With one major twist.

Key to Interstate Highway numbering: these shown end in 5 or 0; to they go border to border, or sea-to-sea, or sea-to-border. See extra figure in footnotes.

To avoid number confusion with the US Highway numbers, the lower numbered North/South Interstate routes would be in the west, instead of the east, increasing as the numbering moved east.  And the lower numbered East/West routes would be in the south, instead of the north, increasing as the “grid” progressed north.  [They wanted no number ambiguity or confusion, which was possible in the middle of the country: fly-over country. So they made a rule that there are no duplicate US numbers and Interstate numbers within the same state. This is the main reason there is no Interstate 50 or 60. And the north/south number confusion was solved by having so many highways in the more densely populated east.]

Although mainly sold as something to facilitate national defense, the Interstate system by far has had its greatest effect on commerce, and next tourism. Up to 80% of the nation’s commercial product (by value and mile) is moved to market, or between suppliers and factories, along Interstate highways. Its effect on individual or family travel: Driving across many states, or the entire nation, has been a summer vacation right-of passage in many families for decades. Many commuters use it as well.

US Highways (left) and Interstate Highways (right) have different markings and colors. US 40 (or Route 40) runs near Interstate 70 (or I-70) across much of the country, from the east coast, across the Rocky Mtns to Utah.

A few asides on the numbering systems. [Recall there is a difference between US Highways (often called “Routes”) and Interstate Highways.]

(1) The US coastal highways do not follow the “5” designation for major N/S routes: US 1 runs along the entire east coast, with US 99 and 101 running along, or near, the west coast. Neither end in a 5. [See add’l map in footnotes].

(2) Three-digit US highway numbers show highways that are sort of alternates to the original: for example, US 287 which passes through my neighborhood, goes north/south through the same regions as US 87.  Both go from the CAN-US border in Montana down to the Texas gulf coast. Both US 85 and US 285 also pass near our home. 85 goes from the US-CAN border in North Dakota all the way to the Mexican border in El Paso; 285 branches off from 85 in Denver and winds down to dusty west Texas as well.

(3) For the Interstate system, three digit numbers generally indicate loops or by-passes if the first digit is even (I-405 loops around Seattle, but otherwise is on the I-5 path) or, if the first digit is odd, it denotes spurs that shoot out to facilitate transport and commerce (I-190 in Chicago connects I-90 to O’Hare airport).


The United Nations was formed in 1945 at the close of World War 2 to help countries peaceably work together.  Well, in short order the UN had a commission for pretty much everything.  One of those was the UN Economic Commission for Europe (or UNECE). 

Around 1950 the UNECE looked first at the many highways in Europe, noting that they – like in the US before the 1925 St Louis Commission – often changed identification as they crossed boundaries. National boundaries in the case of Europe.  They noticed the numbering systems were messy and inconsistent. They also anticipated economic growth as recovery from war progressed, which would require more and better roads.  The vision was vast, eventually reaching from the UK and Ireland (island nations!) to Central Asia, and beyond … almost to China. A potential for a vast grid and simple, consistent numbering based on the cardinal directions! To wit: Copying the US approach.

These are the “E” highways shown on maps.  It is a separately numbered set of highways, much more often than not simply using existing highways. The “E” numbers were just placed alongside the “A” — and in some cases the “B” or “N” — numbers on signs and maps.

With some exceptions, they followed the US example for the “E” highways.  Generally North/South are odd; East/West are even. They have secret codes for loops and spurs and local funkiness, just as in the US. The “E” highways are generally “A” class: that is, limited access and high speed.  Yeah, there are exceptions, and lots more tedious details, but it’s kinda cool that this system extends from Ireland to Kyrgyzstan. In fact, the E 80 goes from Lisbon to Tokyo!

E highways even span the the North Sea (although the UK refuses to implement them; the M, for Motorway, system is quite satisfactory — you know: Brexit, not using the Euro and all that).

The E network throughout Europe and much of Asia, with numbering patterns based more or less on the US highway system

A consistent and logical numbering system for a huge grid of highways. Says the US: You’re welcome.  Bitte sehr.  Prego.  De nada. Molim.  Hey, have fun with it.  It’s working for us. Hope it continues to work for you.

Until next essay, I wish you safe travels with simple and uncomplicated maps and highways. Yes, even with simple easy to understand highway numbering, keep your GPS/SatNav on and up-to-date.


Joe Girard © 2020

Note of thanks to John Sarkis for his St Louis history blog, which provided many details and inspired this essay.

For my European friends and family — feel free to make corrections, additions or suggested edits in the comments on the A, B, E, N parts of the essay.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Extra figure showing US vs Interstate Numbering scheme.

US routes have low numbers in north and east.
Interstate numbers have low numbers in south and west.
US 10 used to run to Seattle, but was gradually replaced and de-commissioned as I-90 was completed in segments.

Young Champ

Guest essay, by John Sarkis

July 7, 1962 – 56 years-ago today, Karen Hantze Susman, a teenaged bride from St. Louis, won the Women’s Singles Championship at Wimbledon. She had also won the doubles title at that year’s Wimbledon, along with her partner, 17-year-old Billie Jean Moffitt. A year earlier, they had become the youngest team to ever win the women’s doubles championship. Moffitt would (of course) become better known by her married name, Billy Jean King.

Karen Susman in July 1962, after winning Wimbledon; and six years ago, at her home, on the 50th anniversary of her victory.

Karen Hantze, a native of San Diego and just eighteen years-old, moved to St Louis, the hometown of her husband, Rod, who had attended Ladue’s Horton Watkins High School before becoming a professional tennis player. Marrying against the advice of her family and friends, she and Rod just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary at their home in suburban San Diego.

Karen would win three Grand Slam Doubles titles in her short career, but gave up playing competitively because there wasn’t enough money in women’s tennis to earn a living at that time.

Wimbledon didn’t award prize money until 1968. The winner of this year’s Wimbledon Women’s Championship, which is currently underway, will take home 2.25 Million British Pounds, the equivalent of just under $3 Million. Each of the Doubles Tournament winners this year will win 450,000 Pounds, or about $600,000.

[editor’s note: gently edited essay by John Sarkis, a Saint Louis native and retiree, who posts and writes regularly as a hobby about St Louis history]


Baseball: Reflecting on some April History

I guess every baseball fan knows that this past weekend, on April 15, the sport “celebrated” Jackie Robinson Day — the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in a major league baseball game.

I put “celebrated” in quotes, because it is also a muted acknowledgement that baseball’s major leagues shut blacks out of participation for some 80 years until then … much to both their great loss and their fans’ loss.

Last summer my wife and I visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  I knew many of the names, but seeing them displayed Hall of Fame-style was very powerful.  Rube Foster, Satchel Paige, the two “Bucks”, Buck Leonard and Buck O’Neil, Josh Gibson.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum entry

Josh Gibson, oh my gosh Josh.  Gibson hit so many home runs, about 800, that fans and sportwriters who had seen them both play often referred to Babe Ruth as “The White Josh Gibson.”  And he accomplished that while playing catcher, without a doubt the most physically demanding defensive position. And quite likely the most mentally demanding, as well. It was with a bit of a heavy heart that Robinson, and those blacks who soon followed, broke into the majors in those years.  Josh Gibson got a brain tumor and eventually died quite young, aged only 35, of a stroke from complications in January, 1947 … just months before Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  As the tumor started affecting him several years before — well …. there’s no telling how many more home runs he could have hit.  Or if he’d even made it to the Major Leagues, too.  <Sigh.>

As the current baseball season is already some three weeks old, modern baseball fans might wonder what took the Dodgers so long to play Robinson. Well, April 15th was Opening Day back then.  And anyone watching the weather throughout the Midwest and Northeast this spring will understand why.  Baseball is a summer game and it is pretty stupid to be playing all those games with temperatures in the 20s and 30s and snow flying around — in nearly empty stadiums.  Not to mention making for dangerous travel (lots of team buses back then).

Even with a “later” mid-April start, they pretty much had the entire season wrapped up — World Series and all — by the close of the first week in October; when the weather was usually still quite pleasant.  Compare that to today when the threat of snow and freezing weather is almost as bad at the close of the season (often the first week of November) as it is at the season’s opening.

Baseball is a summer game. How did they do it? Back then they only played 154 games a season (162 now) and had scheduled double-headers throughout the season. Most teams played as many as 25% of their games as double-headers well into the late 1950s. And playoffs weren’t the four or five week elimination ordeal they are now, with nearly one-third of teams making it to the playoffs instead of only two.

I well remember the joy of double-headers as a boy, two games in the hot sun with dad, lots of hot dogs and peanuts, yelling and screaming.  Trying to keep a score card. Watching scores from other games around the country on the outfield scoreboard. Game one in the early afternoon — noonish — and game two only 30 or 40 minutes after the last out of game one, barely long enough to re-chalk and drag the infield — in the late afternoon.  Falling asleep on the way home…. memories.

Well, speaking of history, April 17, 1945 is quite a famous day in baseball history, especially for St Louis Cardinal fans.  I’ve borrowed the following from a post by John Sarkis, who has given me permission to “lift” his work. He writes regularly regarding St Louis regional history.


April 17, 1945, Albert “Red” Schoendienst played his first game in a Cardinal uniform. The Hall of Fame second-baseman from nearby Germantown, IL would play for the Redbirds for 15 seasons, the New York Giants for two years, and the Milwaukee Braves for four seasons before returning to the Cardinals for three years of limited action. As a player, coach, or manager he wore a major league uniform more than 70 consecutive years, and is currently the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On that same day native St. Louisan Harry Carabina, who became known as Harry Caray, made his debut as a Cardinal broadcaster. With the Cardinals and Browns sharing Sportsmans Park, the schedule provided that one of the teams would always be home, which allowed Harry to broadcast both Cardinals and Browns home games that season. He became a full-time Cardinals broadcaster in 1947. After being fired by Cardinal owner Gussie Busch, Caray spent 1970 calling Oakland Athletics games, then joined the Chicago White Sox in 1971. After 11 seasons on Chicago’s Southside, he moved to Wrigley Field in 1982. Harry suffered a stroke on Valentine’s Day, 1998, and passed away two days later.

Also on that day, the Brown’s legendary one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, made his major league debut, getting one single in four at-bats off Les Mueller of the Detroit Tigers. As the MVP in the Southern League, Gray’s contract was purchased for $20,000 from the Memphis Chicks and he was called up as many of the regular major-leaguers were serving in the war. He had his best day in the majors on May 19, playing in Yankee Stadium and collecting five hits and two RBI as the Browns swept the Yankees. He was sent back to the minors when regular players began returning from overseas. Playing left and center field for the Browns, he appeared in 77 games, batting .218 with a .958 fielding percentage. Pete Gray, the only one-armed person to ever play in the major leagues, died on June 30, 2002. His glove is in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

(Thanks John!)

[Editor notes.

There have been a very few other players who were similar to Gray, but having most of an arm yet no hand.  Most notably I remember one-handed Jim Abbott throwing a No-Hitter!!

Checking the almanac, the Browns played that game at home.  So Harry Caray called the game. ]


Joe Girard © 2018


by John Sarkis

November 12, 1946 –


Albert Bond Lambert — aviation pioneer, champion golfer

Seventy years ago today, Albert Bond Lambert died in his St. Louis home at the age of 70. As the Missouri state golf champion, he competed in the (Paris) 1900 Olympics, finishing 8th in the individual event. Returning home, he won several local and national tournaments before competing in the 1904 Olympics, held in his hometown of St Louis.

The event was held at Glen Echo Country Club, which was owned by his father-in-law, Col. George McGrew. Lambert finished 8th once more, but his team won the Silver Medal. [1] [2]

The 1900 Paris Olympics had been held in conjunction with the Paris Exposition, and it was here that Lambert first saw men soaring aloft in balloons. So he returned to Paris in 1906, where he learned to become a pilot. [3]

In St Louis, he became one of the leading members of, what at that time, was considered a sport. Competing in many national events, he would often have his balloon filled by Laclede Gas at South 2nd St and Rutger St, and later at Chouteau and Newstead.

On one occasion, the wind took him over the mountains near Chattanooga and into northern Georgia where he was taken hostage by moonshiners, who thought he was a Revenue Agent.

Realizing he needed a field better suited for balloon ascensions, several sites were considered. One was on Olive, just beyond the city limit, and another was near Creve Couer Lake. A third location, north of downtown, between the river and North Broadway, was also a serious contender.

In 1910, the St Louis Aero Club leased a farm near Kinloch [4], and this would be the site of many aviation “firsts”. Kinloch Field would have the first aerial tower, and was the site of (some of) the first aerial photograph(s). [5]

Taking off from there, Teddy Roosevelt would be the first President to fly in a plane. [6]

In 1912, a plane took off from Kinloch Field carrying Albert Berry, who would make the first parachute jump from a plane (landing at Jefferson Barracks — just outside the city’s southern boundary — from an elevation of 1,500 feet).

Albert Lambert bought an airplane in 1911 from the Wright Brothers, and, becoming accomplished in this field, he began promoting St Louis in aviation circles. In 1920, he leased an additional 160 acres at $2000 a year. Buying the property in 1925, he spent his own money on improvements, and then offered it to the City of St Louis at the price he paid for the unimproved land. The City bought it in 1928, and “Lambert Field” became the first Municipal Airport in the country.

Albert Bond Lambert was able to pursue his many hobbies because of the wealth he inherited from his father’s company, Lambert Pharmaceutical. His father, Jordan Lambert, was a St Louis druggist who invented a product called Listerine. Now known as a mouthwash, it was originally marketed to sterilize medical equipment.

Editor’s notes:

a) John Sarkis is retired, residing in the St Louis Area. He posts regularly on the St Louis, Missouri. History, Landmarks and Vintage Photos Facebook page. All content is his Intellectual Property. Screwups are my fault. This essay is gently edited, mostly as denoted by parentheses.  Footnotes below are the editor’s.

b) ==>Can you imagine filling a balloon with natural gas to fly??.

c) ==>Lambert was the first major donor to Charles Lindbergh’s efforts for a non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, and the publicity helped LIndbergh raise quite a bit of money from St Louis.  His plane was named after the organization that Lambert helped found to help Lindbergh: The Spirit of St Louis.


[1] In 1900 the Olympic Golf competition was a simple stroke play event.  In 1904, there was a 36-hole qualifier.  Sixty-four players went on to a single elimination competition, where Lambert was defeated in the quarter-finals.

[2] Contestants represented their various athletic associations and clubs.  Lambert was on the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association team. Golf teams had ten players each, and their score was the summation of all 10 players over the 2-round qualification.

Although golf returned as a medal sport in the 2016 Olympics – it had not been an event since 1904 – the team event has not returned.

[3] The 1904 Olympics were also held concurrent and alongside a World’s Fair: the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis

[4] Kinloch is just Northwest of Saint Louis, between Ferguson and I-170. At the time, known as Kinloch Park. This area is now part of the city of Berkeley, although Kinloch (in a much reduced state) still exists as a municipality.

[5] First aerial photographs.  This is of course contested and subject to interpretation.  The first true aerial photograph was from a hot air balloon, by Frenchman Gaspar-Felix Tournachon, in the 1850s.
Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel successfully designed and launched a rocket with a camera aboard that took aerial photographs in 1897.

Aerial photographs were also being creatively taken from kites as early as 1888. And by birds about the same time.

Wilbur Wright is most often credited as taking the first aerial photographs from a plane, in 1909. He also made “moving pictures” at this time, while in Italy. Actually the shots were made by his passenger, an Italian military officer.

[6]  At the time, Roosevelt was former president – the flight was in 1910).

[Sources] [Another Source]

Dewey felt Bluey

When Dewey Felt Bluey (And Harry Didn’t)

Guest Essay. By John Sarkis 2015 ©

November 3, 1948 – 67 years-ago today, President Harry Truman boards his train at St Louis Union Station, and is handed a copy of the Chicago Tribune, bearing the headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

Probably the most famous election headline ever -- Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948

Probably the most famous election headline ever — Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948

As the incumbent President, Truman covered more than 22,000 miles, making 271 speeches in his “whistle-stop” election campaign. But FDR’s previous Vice-President, Henry Wallace, had decided to enter the Presidential race on the Progressive ticket. And Democratic Governor, Strom Thurmond (SC), was running on the “State’s Rights” ticket, also known as the Dixiecrats. So with the party divided into factions, most polls and political pundits were predicting an easy Dewey victory. As a U.S. District Attorney, and later as special prosecutor, Dewey came to prominence by his pursuit of organized crime figures, Dutch Schultz and “Lucky” Luciano, as well as white-collar crime figures, including sending the former President of the New York Stock Exchange to prison. [editor’s note: Take that, current DOJ).

For those of us not alive at the time, it might be hard to understand, but Thomas Dewey was the American Hero of his day, considered second only to Charles Lindbergh in popularity. Several movies, and a top radio show of the day,”Gang Busters”, were modeled after his career. Having been the Governor of New York since 1943, he had been the Republican nominee in the previous election, which had been FDR’s narrowest victory.

After voting in the city of Independence, MO, the Truman family spent the night in Excelsior Springs, where Harry went to bed early. Based on the results available at that time, Truman assumed he would lose.

Editors of the Chicago Tribune assumed the same, and with their regular staff on strike, the first-edition deadline was even earlier. Managing editor J. Loy “Pat” Maloney had to make the headline call, and he relied on the record of Arthur Sears Henning, the paper’s longtime Washington correspondent. Henning said Dewey would win. When they realized their mistake, the papers were recalled, but it’s estimated 150,000 made it into circulation, including those headed to St Louis.


John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

Editor’s further notes: I know about the fractured ticket, the Dixiecrats and Dewey’s “Rock Star” status.  However, the strike at the “Trib” makes the story of the headline more understandable.  — JG

Beautiful Miss Audrey

Beautiful Miss Audrey

Guest Essay.  By John Sarkis 2015 ©

Few today are familiar with the name Audrey Munson, but depending on your age and location, it’s likely you’ve seen her image hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Audrey Munson, the "American Venus"

Audrey Munson, the “American Venus”

In today’s terminology, Audrey would be considered a supermodel, and quite possibly, the first in America. Born in upstate New York, her divorced mother moved the two of them to New York City when Audrey was fifteen. After a chance encounter with a local photographer, she soon found herself modeling for the top civic artists in the country. And as a result, her likeness can be found in museums and municipal buildings around the country, on canvas and in sculpture. But it was Adolph Weinman who immortalized her. A sculptor by trade, Weinman produced two of the most iconic coin designs in U.S. history, using Audrey Munson as his model.

1916-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar, obverse (w/ Audrey Munson as Liberty)

1916-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar, obverse (w/ Audrey Munson as Liberty)

The Walking Liberty half dollar, minted from 1916-1947, shows Lady Liberty, draped in the American flag, striding toward the rising sun and a bright future. His other coin, which many mistakenly called the Mercury Dime because of its wings, was actually a Winged Liberty, with Lady Liberty wearing a hat with wings, symbolizing one of our basic rights, freedom of thought.

Utilizing her fame, Audrey went to Hollywood, where she starred in four silent films [1]. This was before the industry adopted the Motion Picture Code, and many films of the day, including Audrey’s, featured nudity. Which finally leads us to the local [St Louis] connection of this story.


1916 Mercury Head (Winged Liberty) Dime, Obverse

1916 Mercury Head (Winged Liberty) Dime, Obverse

October 1, 1921 — 94 years-ago this month, Audrey Munson was appearing at the Royal Theater, 210 N. Sixth Street, St Louis, Missouri, where her movie, “Innocence” was being shown. The movie began by showing many of the statues for which she had posed nude, including some which had been exhibited at our 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. [2] Following each statue, were scenes of Miss Munson dancing, fully clothed. But in her personal appearance, she wore a gauzy drapery, posed on a platform under spotlight, in front of the screen. She remained fully covered until the last pose.

Seated, with her back to the audience, she lowered her drapery, exposing her back. She and the theater owner were arrested; the film confiscated. They were charged with conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals. Unbelievably fast by today’s standards, the trial was held later that week. After viewing the film, and hearing testimony, the Jury was only out five minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty. Afterward, Munson said, “Clothes we began to wear only when guile and evil thoughts entered our heads. They do harm to our bodies and worse to our souls.”

Sadly, Audrey’s life unraveled when she could no longer find modeling work, and the following year she attempted suicide. Spiraling into depression, she was committed to a psychiatric facility at the age of 39, where she remained for the last 65 years of her life. She passed away in 1996, at the age of 104.


John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

Editor notes:

[1] IMDB lists only three movies for Miss Munson, failing to include Heedless Moths, a sort of autobiography of Miss Munson herself (although she doesn’t play herself) and in which she appears in several scenes in various stages of undress.

Audrey Munson in "Innocence"

Audrey Munson in “Innocence”

The movie cited here (Innocence) does not show up on IMDB or her biography. But surely it was filmed and presented, for here is an advertisement I found from a 1922 Duluth, Minnesota newspaper, the Duluth Herald.

So, perhaps she was in at least five movies.

[2] Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
Audrey Munson could not have posed for the actual statues seen at the 1904 Fair; she was only 12 or so as the sculptures were being made, and hadn’t yet been “discovered.”  As most statues were made of temporary materials, including staff, she had likely posed for re-sculpturing of many of them.
Munson did model for statues at the 1915 San Francisco world’s Fair, the Pan Pacific Exposition.

That’s the $pirit!

That’s the $pirit!

Guest Essay.  By John Sarkis 2015 ©

October 17, 1974 — 41 years ago this month, The Spirits of St Louis basketball team played their first home game, marking the return of professional hoops, after the St Louis Hawks had moved to Atlanta in 1968.

Logo — Spirits of St Louis, ABA basketball franchise

Logo — Spirits of St Louis, ABA basketball franchise

I could mention the team’s budding young stars, as well as their misfits, or how it helped launch the career of their play-by-play broadcaster, recent Syracuse University student Bob Costas [1]. But in the stories I write, I try to tell of lesser known facts, that most aren’t aware of. So this isn’t so-much about the team, but rather, their owners. And what most — not only in the sports world, but throughout all businesses — consider to be the best business deal of all time.

Many who are younger, or aren’t basketball fans, might not remember when there were actually two professional basketball leagues operating in the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the American Basketball Association (ABA). The ABA was started in 1967 as an attempt to end the NBA’s monopoly on professional basketball, and at the time, posed a significant challenge to the NBA’s dominance. ABA team owners started an all out salary war by offering young players larger contracts than their NBA counterparts could afford, and introduced new ideas since adopted by the NBA, like the three-point line and the All Star Game dunk contest.

Brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna were sons of Latvian immigrants who had settled in New Jersey in the 1930s. Their father ran a textile business which both brothers later took over, until they sold the company in the early 1960s. Ozzie and Dan then started their own business that eventually became one of the largest manufacturers of polyester in the world. Dan Silna, a lifelong basketball fan, attempted to purchase the Detroit Pistons for $5 million, but their offer was rejected. So instead, they purchased the ABA’s Carolina Cougars in 1974, moved the team to St. Louis, and renamed them the Spirits.

At the time, most ABA teams sensed there would be a merger with the NBA, and by moving the team to St Louis, the largest market without professional basketball, the Silnas felt this enhanced their chances of joining the enlarged league. But with attendance averaging about 2000 a game, and the highest salary structure in the sport, the team was losing money.

After the 1975-76 season, four of the former ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA, but St. Louis and the Kentucky Colonels weren’t included. Kentucky owner John Y. Brown took a $3 million settlement. But the Silnas bargained for more. To keep the St. Louis owners from fighting the merger in court, the NBA and the St. Louis team owners forged what turned out to be an incredible deal. The Silnas agreed upfront to a $2.2 million cash payment, and a one-seventh share of the TV revenue from the four ABA teams going in the NBA – the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. These payments would be made “in perpetuity”, meaning – FOREVER.

At the time, the TV contract was worth almost nothing. But with the sport growing in popularity, broadcast rights are now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

They have no association with the sport, and most don’t even know who they are. But for nearly 40 years, the Silna Brothers have walked to their mailbox nine times a year to pick-up checks from the NBA totaling nearly $300 million.

Always a thorn in the side of the NBA, they have repeatedly tried to reach a cash settlement with the brothers, and last year, an agreement was reached. It was reported that the NBA would give the brothers a one-time cash payment of $500 million, to end the contract. [2]


John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

editor note [1] — Bob Costas did not earn a college degree, dropping out of Syracuse university, first to do broadcasts for the Syracuse Blazers, a minor league hockey team. His drop out was complete, when, at age 22, he got the opportunity to do play-by-play announcing for the Spirits.  A native of New York city, born and raised, he also considers St. Louis warmly as his co-hometown.  [St Louis Magazine, July, 2013: Q&A with Bob Costas, by Wm. Powell –> http://www.stlmag.com/Q-A-A-Conversation-With-Bob-Costas/]

[2] Silna-NBA Deal reached: http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/nba-silna-brothers-settle/2014/01/08/id/545903/