Lost Paintings in St. Louis Now Found Treasures
Astounding discovery of lost paintings in St. Louis
By John Davis
It quite literally characterized St. Louis, Missouri. “Commerce on the Landing,” a giant mural by Louis Grell, graced the wall over the railroad ticket booths in the Great Hall of the magnificent Union Station of St. Louis. It depicted here the iconic, mammoth Eads Bridge over the Mississippi, and there a steam train blasting out smoke as it crosses the busy riverfront. Visible along the great mural’s panels are sailing or docked steamboats. These were the grand transporters of southern cotton, Yankee merchandise, Midwestern wheat and corn and a nation of other goods which made St. Louis the very center of commerce for the United States in 1880, which this scene immortalizes. Busy people are everywhere.
In 1985, it was determined the train station’s ticket booths and Grand Hall needed repairs as Union Station moved into its second hundred years. Down came the paintings from their perch above the ticket booths. Out from the women’s room came a gigantic art nouveau bronze statue of a woman whose outstretched arms held a bronze clock. The workmen were busy with renovations, repairing and replenishing. So, many incidentals were moved out of the way. Shortly thereafter, the murals, and the bronze lady, disappeared.
Everyone who’d ever gone to the train station since 1942 remembered the huge riverfront mural unveiled that year. You could not escape it as it loomed above the place everyone got his ticket to ride. Where had it gone? Who took the lady? What happened?
In March 2014, a forgotten closet once accessed from the ticket hall was discovered. A false wall had been plastered over it. There were found behind the wall, just as I imagine at the opening of King Tut’s Tomb in 1924, ‘Wonderful things’. The murals rested upon one another, awaiting their discovery.
In a celebratory spirit, Irek Szelag, a top drawer professional artist in his own right, and magnificent art conservator, was commissioned to bring the mural back to life. He performed a phenomenal job; his work defines expert professionalism. His restoration cleared away decades of grime and smoke, and brought a poorly maintained painting back to vivid color. He won the hearts of a great city and all who see his restoration of Grell’s original today. It hangs in the Grand Hall of Union Station, proudly showing ‘Commerce on the Landing’, a hallmark of the great city of St. Louis.
Oh, and what happened to the bronze statue of the wonderful lady, with ‘time on her hands’? We don’t know. That’s a mystery still waiting to be solved.
~By MW Team Writer: John Davis
John William Davis is a retired US Army counterintelligence officer and linguist. As a linguist, Mr. Davis learned five languages, the better to serve in his counterintelligence jobs during some 14 years overseas. He served in West Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands during the Cold War. There he was active in investigations directed against the Communist espionage services of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. His mission was also to investigate terrorists such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Combatant Communist Cells (in Belgium) among a host of others.
His work during the Cold War and the bitter aftermath led him to write Rainy Street Stories, ‘Reflections on Secret Wars, Terrorism, and Espionage’. He wanted to talk about not only the events themselves, but also the moral and human aspects of the secret world as well.
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