Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Veiled Prophet

In the mid 60s Laclede Town, a utopian social experiment, used to look forward to the Veiled Prophet parade. The parade would climax with a float that carried a robed, hooded character on a throne that was the Veiled Prophet himself. This was a big event in St. Louis.

It wasn’t lost on us, even as kids, the guy looked like a clansman. He even held a pistol and a shotgun. Later we would learn that the business elite that threw the party had ties to the John Birch Society. As late as 1987 they would close The Eads Bridge so the black element couldn’t ruin their parade.

In Laclede Town we were very active in the struggle for civil rights. Percy Green climbed The Arch as it was being built to protest the absence of black workers. He was a key member of C.O.R.E. and later ACTION. I remember people thinking he was a militant whitey hater. He would dress in fatigues and wear a red beret. He was as sweet as he could be to us kids. Dick Gregory’s brother and sister were our neighbors too. Gregory was always coming to Laclede Town.

We ended up having a Black Veiled Prophet parade. It was just another parade for us and we loved it.

In those days the 4th of July fireworks were at a ball field at the bottom of “The Hill”. I had almost forgotten that back then it was called “Dago Hill”, St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood. Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra would always MC the party.

I’m not sure why the event moved, but it was taken to Washington University and eventually taken over by the Veiled Prophet people. The first VP Fair I remember was the bicentennial of 1976 under The Arch.

I think the organizers were aware of the bad reputation of the Veiled Prophet so they changed the name to VP. Kind of like KFC trying to get rid of any reference to fried food. Now they call the event “Fair St. Louis”. You’d never know the link if you weren’t from around here.

I played trumpet in the Southwest High School marching band in the early 70s. We were pretty good. We were always in the Veiled Prophet Parade. We played “When you say Bud”. I found it strange that our school band was playing a beer commercial. They must have donated money. The parade was always on a very cold day. I think my lips stuck to my mouthpiece once.

Photos are from my high school yearbook in ’72. I thought I was a hippy with my Prince Valiant haircut. On the band’s bus we used to put dry ice in the bell of a sousaphone. It made the most beautiful eerie moaning sound. Other pic is a more recent Percy. I couldn’t find one when he looked like a Black Panther.

1 comment:

Virtual Viscosity said...

Somebody I know is looking for the name of that first Black Veiled Prophet. Do you remember it?