Friday, August 05, 2005

The Place Where Giant Puppets Sleep

One block south of Forest Park Boulevard, near the corner of Spring and Clark, there is a non-descript warehouse that harbors the Fair St. Louis floats of the annual parade formerly associated with the secret Veiled Prophet organization. The Veiled Prophet has its orgins in the post-Civil War era, when two Southern businessmen who had moved to St. Louis, decided to create a celebration akin to the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Over the course of the next century, the pageant grew into a huge civic event that was marred by the exclusive nature of the organization, an organization dominated by wealthy, white males. Each year, the Veiled Prophet, whose legend revolves around an historic Middle Eastern potentate, is selected from among his elite peers who control power in St. Louis. The masked man then briefly oversees his mythic kingdom and a selection of a queen, a debutante who hails from the same social class. The ball that honors her is a private affair that created controversy during decades past. But the parade was always a suitable diversion for the masses, having been first staged in the wake of a general strike by immigrant workers in the 1870s.

Today, the giant puppets that festoon the annual parade floats sit comatose, with glazed eyes, in there little-known-about hideaway, waiting patiently to prance through the streets once again.