Dodging the Tax Man

tax dodging headline 2“But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

April 15, as we all know, is tax day.  The dreaded writing of checks, the rush to find stamps and hit the post office after work (for those of us who procrastinate) and the joy/disappointment that comes with receiving our tax refunds.  St. Louisans in the 1870s were none too fond of tax day either, as it turns out. Some sleuthing on the part of Campbell House’s senior researcher, Tom Gronski, turned up a couple of St. Louis Post-Dispatch articles from February 1879 showing not only that wealthy folks in St. Louis weren’t fond of paying their taxes, but that they actively hid money, often avoiding paying anything at all when tax season rolled around.

The investigative piece exposes a common practice among St. Louis’ upper echelon:

“One favorite way of evading the tax is to place their money in the hands of some real estate agent for loaning, and the money is turned over by notes to some confidential clerk by the agent, who signs the note and back it ‘without recourse.’ This clerk may not have a dollar of property and it is very easy to transfer notes of this kind, so that no on has any at the time the assessment returns are made.”

The articles go on to highlight some of the dodgy dealings of a few prominent St. Louisans, including J.B.C. Lucas, Charles Chouteau, Rudolph Bircher, and others.  Check out the gallery below as the author works his way through each person’s legally declared property (or suspicious lack thereof) when the assessor came calling.

Soooo, you might ask: “Where did Robert Campbell fall in all of this?”  An excellent question.  And, as far as we can tell, he was at least somewhat up front with the City of St. Louis about his wealth when he filed his 1878 state tax return (federal income taxes were not collected until 1913).  The Post-Dispatch reports a list of the wealthiest St. Louisans and what they declared in terms of real estate and personal bank account holdings.  Robert (highlighted in yellow) seems to be pretty up front about what he has in the bank, listing $319,000 in real estate holdings and just over $32,000 in his own personal bank account.


Some of his counterparts, however, have suspiciously little listed (highlighted in red).  One has to wonder how such high rollers managed to roll so high with $0 in the bank.  That’s not to say Robert comes out of all of this scot-free, though.  As up front as he seems to be in this report, he had to have been doing a bit of finagling of his own.  Just a few years earlier Robert had sold the site of the former Southern Hotel for hundreds of thousands of dollars and at the time of his death one year later in 1879, his estate was worth millions by today’s estimations.

So, the moral of this story is that some things never change and tax-dodging and exploiting loopholes are an age-old American art.  Have a happy April 15th!

To view the full text of either of the articles cited in this post, click HERE and HERE.

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Ulysses S. Grant – A St. Louis Treasure

US Grant symposium

There are few people in St. Louis history as revered as Ulysses S. Grant.  The Civil War hero and Reconstruction-era President visited St. Louis often (many times as a guest at the Campbell House) and married his wife, Julia Dent, here in St. Louis – you can still experience the Dent Family home today at the U.S. Grant National Historic Site at White Haven.  This weekend and continuing into May, St. Louis will be playing host to the Ulysses S. Grant Symposium, with special exhibitions, lectures and discussion on the life and legacy of America’s 18th President.  In that spirit, we thought we’d feature a fun but relatively unknown nugget of local U.S. Grant history dredged up by Campbell House Senior Researcher Tom Gronski.

After Grant died in 1885, efforts were begun here in St. Louis to raise money for a large-scale memorial, one that would achieve nationwide attention and respect.  The Grant Monument Association raised funds and eventually chose a design from sculptor Robert Bringhurst (who also sculpted the Elijah Lovejoy monument in Alton, Illinois).  His design was described in an April 1887 excerpt from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“The design is for a 9-foot figure in bronze.  The figure, attired in full military uniforms, is standing at ease, resting on the right, the left foot slightly advanced. The left hand rests on the hilt of the sword; the right, holding a pair of field glasses, hangs easily at the side.  The head is thrown back, the eyes looking out over an imaginary battlefield.”

-St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 27, 1887

So they cast the enormous statue in bronze in 1888 and then placed it in the middle of 12th Street (today Tucker), halfway between Olive and Locust.  Yep, you read that correctly – smack dab in the middle of the street.  The City also built up pillars and an elaborate canopy that read “Let Us Have Peace”.

Grant Statue 1888

U.S. Grant statue in the middle of 12th Street (today Tucker) in 1888, with pillars and and an elaborate canopy. Not too shabby, eh?

Less than ten years later, they moved it.  As it turned out, having a giant memorial to President Grant in the middle of 12th Street wasn’t great for traffic flow and it was moved to the south side of the newly-constructed St. Louis City Hall facing Clark Street in 1898 (without its grand pillars and canopy). Public reception to this new location was

Grant Statue 2014

The statue of President Grant in its current home at the corner of Market and Tucker, without its grand pillars and canopy.

overwhelmingly negative and people expressed concern that such a grand monument had essentially been “buried in the back yard” of City Hall. In 1921, the 9 foot statue was moved once again to its current location at the southwest corner of Market and Tucker.

Most St. Louisans, including some of us here in the CHM office, had no idea of the place of prominence this tribute to the 18th President once occupied, and many probnably have never even noticed the statue in its current location. Have you?

Join us this weekend, continuing into May, for the U.S. Grant Symposium.  This Saturday features a Civil War traveling exhibit at St. Louis Soldiers Memorial and Military Museum, followed by a talk by renowned author and U.S. Grant expert Ronald C. White, Jr.  (there’s also a reception at Campbell House following the talk, come meet Dr. White and have a glass of wine on us!)

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Magical Mystery Tour, CHM style

Campbell House has its fair share of mysteries, ranging from odd architectural quirks of the building to questions about the intricacies of the Campbell family’s history.  But there are a couple recurring modern mysteries that rear their puzzling heads every few months here at the Museum.  Not that we’re complaining, in fact we look forward to them!  But that hasn’t stopped us from trying to get to the bottom of who’s behind them!

The Half-Dollar Donor

Every couple of months, we’ll go to open our big beautiful double front doors and find a silver surprise hanging out on the front steps.  Sometimes there’s just one, sometimes as many as three or four, but the gift is always the same: a Kennedy 50 cent piece.  The years on the coins range from 1971 all the way up to 1995 and, to date, this mystery person has left more than thirty of them!  A couple of weeks ago, two of the coins mysteriously appeared in the middle of the afternoon, between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.  Thanks to some nifty features of our security system, we could look back at video of our front steps during the time period and we found… absolutely nothing.  So the mystery continues…


Part of our mysterious collection of Kennedy half-dollars… they’re too cool to deposit!

Birthday Card Bewilderment

We’re always a little extra excited to get the mail when a Campbell birthday is coming up and we watch our calendar pretty closely as a result.  We obviously aren’t alone in our birthday vigilance, because on the birthdays of Robert and Virginia Campbell and their sons Hugh, Hazlett, and James (there were TEN MORE children, but unfortunately none survived past their 8th birthdays) a mysterious birthday card arrives without fail, marked with a return address of  “Somewhere in Time”.  Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated James’ (the baby of the family) 154th birthday and, like clockwork, we got a charming card in the mail.  What’s extra neat is that this mystery birthday card-sender takes care to get the cards in the mail so that they arrive right on the birthday itself- that’s dedication, folks.  Here are just a few of the cards and some of our particular favorites.

So there you have it.  Campbell House has oodles of mysteries, old and new.  Swing by and see us sometime, we’d be happy to give you the Magical Mystery Tour: CHM style.

Sorry, we couldn’t resist.

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Happy Pi Day from Campbell House!

Let there be great rejoicing throughout the land!  Pi Day (3.14) has arrived, and in honor of this most esteemed of mathematically-centric holidays, we have a little something special to share with you.  One of the crown jewels of the collection here at CHM is Virginia Campbell’s handwritten cookbook, with hundreds of recipes ranging from the delicious (Almond Sponge Cake and Baked Macaroni and Cheese) to the, uh… other stuff (Pickled Oysters and Mushroom Catsup).  So we thought it would be neat to share Virginia’s recipe for mincemeat pie filling, something you don’t see too much of these days.  You’ll have to come up with the pie crust yourself, but we’ll get you most of the way there.

Here’s the original handwritten recipe…


“Mince Meat” recipe in Virginia Campbell’s hand

As you might notice, her recipe calls for THREE POUNDS of beef suet and 12 apples.  In the interest of time and so you don’t end up with enough mincemeat to feed a small army, we cut the batch down for you and put in some helpful 21st century cooking terminology and techniques.  Also, for those of you wondering what exactly “suet” consists of, click here.  (hint: beef and mutton fat, yum!)

What a perfectly perfect mincemeat pie SHOULD look like...

What a perfectly perfect mincemeat pie SHOULD look like…


1 and 1/2 cups suet, finely chopped.
6 apples, cored and finely chopped
2 cups currants
2 cups raisins
1/4 cup chopped citron
3 lemons, zested and juiced
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon cloves
1/2 tablespoon allspice
11 and 1/2 cups brandy


  1. Using a food processor place the suet, apples into the bowl.  Pulse to combine together.
  2. Remove the suet/apple mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. (For a finder texture mince return to food processor and pulse until the desired texture is reached.)
  3. Tightly cover and refrigerate mincemeat for at least a week before using until ready to use in pies.  Will store refrigerated for up to six months.  Makes about 6 cups of mincemeat.

Many thanks to food historian and author Suzanne Corbett for putting the recipe in 21st century terms, keep an eye out over the next year as we publish a new, expanded edition of Virginia’s cookbook!

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Meet the Interns – Shannan & Jenny

We thought we’d take a moment this week to introduce you to the two EXCELLENT interns that are working with us this Spring.  You’ll probably get the chance to meet them on your next trip in, but giving tours and being all around great ambassadors for Campbell House is just a small part of what they do and who they are.  Here’s the down-low…


**Shannan has actually been with CHM since SUMMER 2013!!  She must really like us or something…

What are you studying and where?
I’m working on an MA in History and Museum Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Why Campbell House?
I had to do an internship for my Museum Studies certificate and remembered a tour I had taken of the House during the previous summer and thought it could be a great experience.  And a year later, I can say it has been!



What are you working on at CHM?
I’ve done some research for the upcoming Campbell House cookbook, gave tours, and right now am working on completing my thesis by going through the Museum’s archives as examining the Campbells’ roles as consumers and buyers of fancy furniture.  The working title is “Respectability through Consumption: Furniture Selections of Robert and Virginia Campbell”. (Editors Note: This thing is legit.  Like, hundreds of pages legit.)

When you aren’t slaving away at Campbell House, what are you doing?
Scrapbooking, soap and jewelry making, and softball.  But usually I’m writing my thesis while drinking a nice glass of wine.

What has been your favorite thing about Campbell House?
I love that CHM is constantly learning new things about itself.  We’ll never know all there is to know about the Campbells, and I think the pursuit of this knowledge is what’s been most enjoyable for me.

PC or Mac?
Apple everything except my computer.  So about 50/50.

Favorite Sandwich?
Cuban from Caruso’s Deli (Check them out.  They’re delicious and our go-to lunch place here at CHM).

Little Known Fact About Me:
I have a library of over 2,000 books.  Yikes.

If you were stranded on a desert island what’s the one book you would want to have with you?
Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury… or Harry Potter.


Where have you studied and what are your plans for the future?
I’m currently in the process of applying for an oral history assistantship on Acadian culture with the Maine Humanities Council and hoping to start the Museum Studies program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis next Fall.  I have a Masters Degree in Public History and Humanities from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelors Degree from Southeast Missouri State University in Visual Arts and Communications.



Why Campbell House?
Mainly because a small institution like CHM allows me to get a wide variety of experiences and try lots of different things rather than working in a specialized individual department in a large museum.  I also enjoy the immigrant experience aspect of the Campbell family history because of my background in French language and culture.

What are you going to work on at CHM?
I’m hoping to work with the collection, cataloging, and PastPerfect museum software as well as examine the Campbells’ French connections.

When you aren’t slaving away at Campbell House, what are you doing?
I teach French language lessons and am a member of a few different French heritage societies.  I also like to bake.  (Editors Note: She’s also a GREAT cook that can make a mean chili.  She treated us last month.)

PC or Mac?

Favorite Sandwich?
Grilled cheese.

Little Known Fact About Me:
I’m an old soul in a young person’s body.

If you were stranded on a desert island what’s the one book you would want to have with you?
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert (that’s “Flow-BEAR” those of you that are a little rusty in the French department).

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