By: Caroline Newman, Editor-in-Chief
Let’s talk about history.
As a history major, I’m a little more passionate about it than most, especially buildings and bridges and plaques and statues. I’ve always been an outspoken advocate of historic preservation.
Recently, though, I’ve re-examined my views. As a native Saint Louisan, I’d describe myself as familiar with Forest Park, but I never knew that among the many statues and monuments within is a Confederate Memorial. Dedicated in 1914, the granite monument has recently been the subject of a whirlwind of attention.
It all started when Mayor Francis Slay came out in support of a re-evaluation of the monument. Is it in the best location? Should it remain in Forest Park, a lush green space that is the first stop for many of the millions of visitors Saint Louis welcomes each year? Should it remain, at all?
As of 2015, representatives from the Missouri History Museum stated that the monument should remain in its present location. According to Slay’s blog, “The History Museum proposes creating permanent interpretive material at the monument explaining the historical context in which a glorification of the Confederate cause could be established in our city in the early 20th Century.”
In December of 2015, the Riverfront Times reported that a committee (comprised of business and civic interests) formally recommended that the monument be dismantled and moved out of Forest Park and, preferably, gifted to the Missouri Civil War Museum. All of this would be funded through private fundraising efforts, and not with taxpayer money.
However, the monument still stands, and Saint Louis has a new mayor. Lyda Krewson, elected in 2016, has historically held a strong anti-confederacy stance. As an Alderman, she spearheaded an effort to rename Forest Park’s “Confederate Drive,” a 600-foot long road near the park’s Visitor’s Center. This effort is not the first time street names have been changed due to controversy; widespread anti-German sentiment during World War I led to many streets, like Berlin Avenue and Kaiser Street, being renamed to Pershing Avenue and Gresham Street, respectively.
There is still a continued push to demolish the monument entirely, and that push has been thrust back into the spotlight thanks to Stuart Keating, co-founder of Cherokee Street’s Earthbound Beer. Earthbound, which opened in 2014, has been expanding their brewing operation into a building just up the block from their current location; they’ve been doing a lot of construction, and just as much demolition. As Keating said, “We’re pretty good at demolishing things, we have the equipment. And we thought we’d like to be good citizens and do our part.”
And that’s when the internet went crazy. Enraged by Keating’s comments, confederate sympathizers across the country came together to make their voices heard. They picked the most appropriate venue to do this: the reviews section on Earthbound’s Facebook page. Numerous one-star reviews came flooding in from all over the country. “Over priced slop that is passed of [sic] as beer !!!!! Don’t waste your time or money!!!!!! Raspberry in beer ? Really bunch of no talent yuppies trying to become brewmasters!!!!” writes Rodger Sanders. Skip Jameson (hiding behind a fake profile photo), writes “Awful stuff. We were unimpressed. Tasted like additives and flavoring. For real beer, look to Pilsner Urquell or Staropramen. This is bandwagon brewing at its worst. Who puts fruit flavor like raspberry in Beer? We visited in the summer and now we are further unimpressed with what we hear in the news.” And those are the fake reviews that actually bothered to mention the beer. Numerous reviews were just versions of “Terrible! I wouldn’t give a dime of my money to this business, which subscribes to revisionist history and cultural genocide. Maybe you should relocate to New York City and leave the South alone,” which prompted many Saint Louis beer lovers to comment “How’s the beer, though?”
In response to this, local beer lovers of all kinds flooded the brewery’s page with over one thousand five-star reviews, citing their innovation, inclusivity, and consistency as reasons to return to Earthbound over and over again. Among the compliments? “Absolutely phenomenal people and outstanding beer.” “Earthbound constantly provides funky, delicious beers and has done amazing things for the St. Louis community. Their brewers are changing the game in the craft beer industry here in our beer loving (and anti-racist) community.” Craig Richardson, brewer at Public House Brewing Company, writes “Some of my favorite people in the beer world! Fearless brewers making bold and interesting flavors. Tax Evader and all the gruits*, please and thank you.”
So, should the memorial stand? In the opinion of this journalist, no. Demolish it or move it to the Civil War Museum (although I’m far more in favor of the former. Saint Louis, a largely Union-controlled city, does not need to continue to glorify slavery and sore losers). But what I find more intriguing about this whole affair are the questions raised by the social media economy. Sure, you can report false reviews, but what does it say about a culture when their go-to tactic is to use their keyboard as a weapon with which to sling vitriol and ad hominem attacks?
Those are questions for another editorial. For now, all I want to do is drink a beer- preferably Earthbound’s Rosemary Juniper Pale Ale.
*A Gruit is a beer brewed without the addition of hops, instead using other herbs such as yarrow, ivy, heather, or elderberry.