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Hey Heidi: What's the history of the Veiled Prophet?

This week's Hey Heidi question from Mary Hare takes us back in time. She wants to know the history of the Veiled Prophet and its connection to high society right here in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS – This week's Hey Heidi question from Mary Hare takes us back in time. She wants to know the history of the Veiled Prophet and its connection to high society right here in St. Louis.

Veiled Prophet is an organization that's been around since 1878, and is a subject the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center has boxes and boxes of information about.

"A man by the name of Charles Slayback was the person who kind of came up with this idea," said Sharon Smith, curator of civic and personal identity at the museum.

Slayback and several other prominent businessmen met at the Lindell Hotel to discuss ways to promote the City of St. Louis.

"They were around harvest time when the farmers were coming into the city, they wanted a way to have farmers find excitement when they came to the city," said Smith.

They decided to do a pageant similar to the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration.

"They started to look around for their person who they could sort of put out in front of this pageant and it became the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan," said Smith.

Khorassan is a character from a poem, and wants to bestow good fortune on a city.

"And so every year the veiled prophet comes to St. Louis in this sort of masked way to take care of his city," said Smith.

Col. John Priest, the first Veiled Prophet of 1878 is the only veiled prophet to show his face. He was a police commissioner in St. Louis. They remained veiled after that to keep the focus on the good being done rather than individual members. But 16 years after the first Veiled Prophet pageant, they started crowning a queen.

The first queen was Hester Bates Loughlin in 1894. And on a shelf, behind locked doors, wrapped in tissue paper, sits her crown.

"Crowns eventually became tiaras. The VP Fair became Fair St. Louis, but the basic premise remains the same to serve and promote the St. Louis community," said Smith.

Many other queens are names you may be familiar with. In 1999, actress Ellie Kemper, best known for her role on "The Office" was a queen.

"The Busch name shows up here, Miss Alice Busch," said Smith. "So the names tell a lot too, you could just look through here and see the history of the city in some way."

Members of the Veiled Prophet organization have donated tens of thousands of volunteer hours to help construct Habitat for Humanity Houses and two elementary school playgrounds just to name of a couple of projects.

Next week's question comes from Daniel Hof, who wants to know why certain movies don't play in St. Louis until later than other places. Heidi is working on an answer and will let us know next Thursday.