Support Ken

Click here to support Ken Steinhoff through your Amazon purchases.

Purchases made at Amazon.com from that link put 6% of the total transaction price in Dad's pocket at no additional cost to you. You're going to shop online anyway, right? Do it through Amazon.com to support this web site.

Or, if you'd rather just send him a random amount of money, you can do that too...







Cape Central High Photos

Ken Steinhoff, Cape Girardeau Central High School Class of 1965, was a photographer for The Tiger and The Girardot, and was on the staff of The Capaha Arrow and The Sagamore at Southeast Missouri State University. He worked as a photographer / reporter (among other things) at The Jackson Pioneer and The Southeast Missourian.

Come here to see photos and read stories (mostly true) about coming of age in Southeast Missouri in the 1960s.

Please comment on the articles when you see I have left out a bit of history, forgotten a name or when your memory of a circumstance conflicts with mine. (My mother says her stories have improved now that more and more of the folks who could contradict her have died off.) Your information helps to make this a wonderful archive and may end up in book form.


43 Years of Cairo Photographs

I watched the Bird’s Point levee being blown last night via the magic of the Internet. We’ll start seeing soon if the water levels drop in Cairo and other cities at the expense of some valuable farmland.

Just in case Cairo DOES flood, I’ve pulled together a collection of photos taken from 1968 through recently. I apologize for focusing so much on the seamy side of Cairo – there are some truly nice buildings in the town – but I’m a seamy side of town kind of photographer.

Commercial Avenue in 1968

Cairo’s downtown was still a busy place in the late 60s. There were car dealers, appliance stores, banks, eating establishments, a $2-a-night hotel – even a corset “shoppe.”

Commercial Avenue in 2008

The buildings on this side of the street are still mostly intact, but they are empty. By 2010, most of the buildings on the west side of the street were knocked down.

Other Cairo stories

I’ll probably do one more Cairo story, touching on the racial violence in 1967.

Cairo Photo gallery

This is a huge gallery – nearly 100 pictures. Some of the photos may look like dupes, but look closely. They were taken in different years. The black and white photos were shot in 1968. The color shots cover from about 2008 on.

Take your time. All of us who learned to drive in the 60s had it drilled into us that you DON’T speed through Cairo.

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

 

46 comments to 43 Years of Cairo Photographs

  • 0/10

    Ken,
    This is your very finest work, you know.
    Number 37 is tremendous, but perhaps not significantly more so than #9, #24, #16, and, actually, many others.
    Steve Carosello

    • Steve,

      Thanks for the compliment. It’s funny that you picked mostly what I call “peeling paint” photos that I see as photographic finger exercises.

      They’re fun to do, but they’re like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s hard to miss.

      In fact, when you are in a photo-rich environment like Cairo, there’s a good picture every direction you look. It’s just a matter of walking slowly, looking for detail and nice light, then pushing the button.

      It helps if you have a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) like my Nikon D40, because what you see is exactly what you get, unlike point ‘n’ shoots that have to be composed at arms-length looking at an LCD screen.

      A more sophisticated camera will allow you to change your exposure settings, too, which will let you emphasize tones. Most simple cameras want everything to be the same flat tone.

      Finally, a polarizing filter will make your photos better, too. It’ll make skies bluer, foliage more color-saturated and let you use (or discard) reflections on glass. They were a pain to use on film-based cameras because they made calculating exposures a bit more complicated. They’re a piece of cake with the new digital bodies.

  • 0/10

    Ken,
    Since I am a non-techie, I’m drawn purely to the visceral. In these cases, the more they give me the “Rauschenberg punch”, the greater my enjoyment. That said, I’ve used a polarizing filter in the (analog) past as well as an unusual speed of slide film that also produced super-color saturation. As with most rank amateurs who have a decent eye and very limited tech knowledge, I naturally only did this when in so-called once-in-a-lifetime travel destinations.

    I want to buy one of your b/w prints of the Teen Center. Do-able?

    (Apologies to your regulars for “talking across the table” :
    SC

  • Millie Hall

    Hi Ken,
    Just wondering what you think about the levy being blown to save Cairo and destroy the farmland in Missouri. Not much left in Cairo to save very sad. I drove through Cairo when we went home to Cape Girardeau in 2002 for my mother’s funeral (I am living in Florida now) and I was astonished at how it has gone to waist.

    • I don’t really want to get in the middle of the mean-spirited MO vs IL Civil War that’s being carried out in The Missourian’s comment sections, but here’s my take on it.

      1. Blowing the Bird’s Point levee wasn’t just about “saving Cairo.”

      2. Flood levels are reaching record levels because man has tried to control Mother Nature. 75 years ago, the rivers weren’t hemmed in by levees, dams and floodwalls, so the waters could spread out, making the flood stages lower.

      If water can’t spread out, then it has to go up, making the river stages higher than in the past.

      3. At some point, something has to give. You have a choice: do you let nature decide where to break through or do you activate the Bird’s Point floodplain plan? When that section of levee was built, it was built lower than the surrounding levees and folks protected by it understood that they were living in an area that could be flooded if the need arose.

      I have a utility easement behind my house. I could plant trees, flowers and a garden in that five-foot strip, and there’s a good chance I could enjoy them for a long time. If and when the utility company needs to dig up that ground for repair work or for new facilities, though, I can’t complain.

      I see the folks farming in Mississippi County the same way. They’ve enjoyed the protection of that levee since 1937, but now it’s time to activate the plan to to keep an uncontrolled break from happening where it might cause even more death and destruction.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t feel sorry for the farm families. It’s just that it shouldn’t come as a surprise. That flood was just like earthquakes and hurricanes: it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.”

      I’m really dismayed at some of the published comments I’ve read on the regional media websites. This is a time when people should be pulling together because they are, literally, all in the same boat.

      I’ll entertain comments on this topic, but I reserve the right to delete illiterate sniping at folks on either side of the river.

  • Russ Doughty

    I remember the racial problems Cairo had in the 60’s. I think that was the beginning of the end. I don’t ever remember it coming back from them.

    • Russ,

      I had a piece on the Cairo riots and the history of the city queued up, but decided that folks may have overdosed on Cairo stories. I’ll finish it off one of these days and publish it.

      In a nutshell, though, you’re right. Blacks got tired of being treated as second-class citizens. The city tried to make the public swimming pool “private,” then closed it rather than desegregate it, for example. White businesses that wouldn’t treat blacks equally were boycotted. Before long, the businesses dried up. The suspicious “suicide” of a young black soldier in the city jail touched off rioting that accelerated the town’s decline. It’s a town that imploded for a number of reasons, many of them race-related, many of them not.

  • Jim C

    I am checking out the town and its history after picking up on a documentary from UK, and shown here in Australia, regarding Charles Dickens visit to USA in 1842 and a “in his tracks” journey by a UK actress (Miriam Margolyles) a year or two ago.

    What a crying shame this place seems to now be – perhaps typical of small town mid America – dying on its feet.

    What is the answer – or perhaps there isn’t one. Is the US on such a downward curve that recovery is now impossible, both physically and financially? The new World Order, if there is such a beast, certainly seems to be shifting to the Asia-Pacific region and even here in Australia the boom times seem to be here for the foreseeable future. How much longer can the US throw billions of dollars at an(other) war which cannot really be won whilst watching its own towns decay and die.

    But back to Cairo, Ill. How does a town finally expire, when there is no one left living there, when the buildings either fall down or are bulldozed ?

    It really is all so sad.

  • Hey hope you got a good buck for selling your pictures to the video crew…

  • This was a visual cornucopia, Ken! I may not be familiar with ALL your work, but this is definitely the best I’ve seen. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to your most loyal followers.
    The feeling of tragedy and melancholy is so pervasive that it hurts! Waste, waste, waste! Stubbornness on all sides destroyed a town that had such promise! It’s impossible for me to tour Cairo without crying!

  • Brian

    These are great photos that tell a real story! I wasn’t familiar with the town or its story before, but now I’m intrigued.

    Have never been to Cairo, and don’t live in the area, so forgive my ignorance– but is the city open? I’ve done a quick tour of the web and can’t tell what the fallout from the flood was and if anyone still lives in Cairo. Can anyone fill in an outsider?

    • Brian,
      Cairo is very much open. There is one downtown street that has a block closed because of a sinkhole, but you can walk around anywhere I shot those photos. Parking is NOT a problem.

      Despite the image of Cairo as being a lawless, dangerous place, I’ve never felt threatened or been treated badly in the city. There are parts of Cape or any large city where I would feel much more uncomfortable.

      I’ve spent hours at a time in the area where these photos were taken without seeing a single person on the street. There’s no reason for anyone to be there.

      The town was built to support 20,000, but the population is down to about 2,000. The west side of the city has some of the finest old houses you’ll see anywhere. The east side, particularly the former commercial area, is mostly crumbling.

      If you want to see it, better go now. About half the buildings shown here have been town down in the past two years. In another two years, less than a handful will remain.

  • Brian

    Thanks for the info! I hope to see it before it’s all gone.

  • Michelle Dzi

    Thank you for sharing these! We recently drove through Cairo while wandering our way back to Atlanta, and were fascinated and curious about it’s history.. Which led me to your photos.
    I am intrigued by Cairo – such an interesting confluence of rivers, history, and socio-economic change. Makes me wish I were a writer or movie maker as to try and capture it’s story and do it justice.. Would make an amazing subject, parable, and perhaps caution for the changes we find our culture in currently. (Just what do we bypass when we make our choices of convenience and economy over quality and soulful humanity? What manifests, ultimately, from divisiveness and fear amongst our population? So many questions to ask that arise within Cairo’s story..)
    Anyhow.. I wish you luck in your photography/photo journalism, and wish Cairo luck in it’s transition into the future.
    (and do hope Cairo does not bulldoze it’s old commerce district completely.. Can some of it be resurrected? Atlanta certainly made this mistake in it’s anxiousness to leave it’s past behind. So sad.)
    Peace and cheers..

  • troy

    i lived in cairo 4 10 yrs i loe that town she is in need of help wher is the goverment oh there rebuilding other countries lol we need to pull together for cairo

  • murie king

    God Bless those who ant to save Cario Ill, It is my very first look or even hearing about it, I am a Canadian, I took a long look at the photos I really pray that it can be saved there is so much beauty and history in one Us farm town > I am amazed

  • jerry morgan

    live in maysville ky , a civil war history town on the ohio river east of cincinnati,, plan a trip to st louis soon (never been there want to check it out for a couple of days) then to cairo,, heard of it forever,,you know the ohio and mississippi meeting thing. also in search of an ancient mound i heard was in that vicinity from the anazazi,,? any help there? thanks
    Jerry Morgan

    • You might be thinking of the Ancient Buried City at Wickliffe, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cairo.

      There’s enough to see down in this part of the world that you may never get to St. Louis, depending on what you are interested in.

      There’s Thebes Courthouse, where Lincoln and Douglas debated, Cairo, Wickliffe, Cape Girardeau (you can get a taste of it by reading this blog), the German settlements of Altenburg and Frohna

  • Richard Kearney

    I was born and raised in Cairo, Il avnd it will always be home to me.
    As far as the Birds Point Levee is concerned, the reason it was built wasso it could be used for the purpose it was used for a d the farmers knew that when from day one.
    Now that it has been used for it’s intended purpose, they are crying Wolf.
    It was there choice to build and farm the y were sure not forced tomake tat choice.

  • Margaret koch hagan

    Fortunately i can still remember Cairo in the good ole days .

  • Terry Lentz

    FYI…I was one of the managers of Burkart Randall Co. when it was the largest employer with often over 1000 employees. My office was in the 2nd floor opposite the plant manager’s and I was responsible for all engineering(had 4 engineers), maintenance (3 shifts 60 people,3 shift managers and one maintenance superintendent)plus I had all of purchasing and even the steel rule die support group(about 30 people with one manager). It was a terriffic place to work although they went through 9 plant managers in 5 years. Produced huge “buns” of polyurethane foam cut in 200 ft lengths enough to reach from Cairo to New Orleans every month plus the huge quantity of door panels, car seats, dash boards, carpet underlay, etc. I know so much of the history of that place. Everyone was wonderful to work with…blacks and whites…I never had issues with any of them. Over $10,000 was donated every month to various Cairo groups. I was there during the rebuild after the huge fire. I thought they would fire me because the day after without any Textron corporate approval I went ahead and contracted and had the burned buildings bulldozed to make just a huge concrete slab, ordered instant next day delivery of all the conveyor I could locate in St.Louis, Memphis, Evansville, Paducah etc., had Phil Pace (personnel) hire additional workers, had maintenance install the conveyor and we manhandled the buns of foam using the additional workers until a temporary building could be put up and no workers lost their jobs and on Monday it was business as usual. 21 buildings in the 4 square city blocks, also had manufacturing in the Bowser building a few blocks away and leased the Bruce lumber huge buildings for warehousing, had our own truck fleets and also shipped by rail car…curing the fire had fork lifts push rail cars on our siding to serve as fire break to prevent burning additional buildings. After the fire I negotiated with Cairo and American Waterworks to allow us to automatically remotely turn on the city pumps to prevent a future fire desaster. During the fire the buildings roofs collapsed breaking off the 8″ fire system riser pipes gobbling up the city water so fast the water tower went dry and city pumps lost their prime. There still exists on the property a nice artisian well with 65 degree water I fed in summer through the steam piping to give some simblance of cooling to employees. I was there when we converted back to blended coal for the refurbished boiler and we met all EPA emissions requirements by blending high sulphur southern Illinois coal with low sulphur western coal and kept operating costs down. It was a real fun job for me but pay was not so great so I went to Phelps Dodge Co. in DuQuoin, worked for them for 15 years as they became CABLEC owned by Harry Shell, then BICC, and now General Cable…and later worked again for Phelps Dodge’s international group in charge of building new factories in Bangkok, Thailand and Yantai, P.R.China…now retired living in Fort Wayne and also in Carbondale. Southern Illinois has so much to offer and it NEVER was developed as could have been done under the right circumstances. I stll have fondness for it as I was born in Mounds…even was a disc jockey for a while at WKRO, had an HR Block office in Mounds etc. and seemingly was always where it was happening so to speak…was at Woburn, MA working for Sylvania when they made the first production integrated circuits and was at Poughkeepsie (Wappingers Falls), NY with COGAR Corp. when they built the very first personal computer and read write memory chips as well as upgrades for IBM 360 main frames…was also at Western Electric in KC,MO making transisters…was at Sylvania in Burlington, IA where we made over 50,000 vacuum tubes every day…it has been a great life with so much going on and seemingly now at 71 with all my faculties not needed…oh well…my son in his 20’s now works at Redmond, WA HQ for Microsoft…it is his time…as is others…go to it…Cairo…drove through it with him last week during his visit to me for Christmas and it was so sad to see how poor it is now. As we drove around the factory I told him about testing the 3500 gallon per minute deisel fire pump with Textron management, Factory Mutual Insurance engineers, Cairo mayor, and others there as we connected 6 fire hoses from the pump to test pressure/volume and directed them toward the property fence and the test was a huge success because it not only passed pressure/volume tests but the streams shot over the fence, across the street, onto the still existing house front porch and the people living there came running out wanting to know what was going on.

  • Terry Lentz

    Posted earlier…did not mention that the story should not be just about Cairo but about all the surrounding towns of southern Illinois in Pulaski county. As a boy in Mounds I worked for Carl Bode, sr. at his Rexall drug store while in grade and high school delivering prescriptions by bicycle until he let me drive his car delivering all over between the Mounds and Mound City locations…now his son has continued the business in Mound City with a new drug store. I recall Jim Crane and his nice business in Cairo of making fiberglass measuring rods for surveying…I wonder if it still exists. We always had such sports (basketball) competition between all the surrounding towns. At one point I bought 30 acres on the Mounds blacktop, built a small trailer court there…made undergound feeds of TV signals way before cable TV bacame popular. I made my own parabolic antenna picking up stations from St.Louis,Evansville, Memphis, Cape etc. and had to convert some to different channels before feeding them because they were bradcast on the same channels. I was also working for KFVS when they built the nearly 2000 ft high tower with elevator off Cape Rock Drive…funny thing was the owner Ralph Hirsch was virtually forced by his tax consultants to build it or lose some money at the time. Now of course it is owned by CBS…bought for $25 million. I was also chief engineer for KCGM Columbia, MO; WLEM Emporium, PA; and WEOK Poughkeepsie, NY. but my most fond memories of radio was as a boy in Mounds operating my ham radio in code in the wee hours of the morning sending and receiving telegrams for our soldiers in Korea during the Korean Conflict (were not allowed to call it a war). I often would complete my radio log during spare time working at Bode’s Rexall drug store. Formed my own Midwest Novice Network on 7152 KC (later changed to KHz in honor of Hertz famous in early radio days). Intersting too that Oscar Hirsch started his broadcasting days in Cape while running a battery store for electric cars…they were before gas cars and now we are going back to electric…that’s progress…I own an all electric car but DMV in illinois will not allow licensing because of oil lobbists passing laws against it…so…I license it in Indiana and drive it sometimes in Illinois…ha. Also recently built trailers but Indiana will not allow licensing without archetect plans, bill of materials where each purchased, police inspection, etc. so I walk into Illinois DMV and they license with no info requried and then I transfer title to Indiana..crazy the way government is run nowadays….or not run at all.

  • Susan Haslauer Bryant

    I grew up in Cairo, graduated from Cairo High in 1960. My Dad was owner of MIKCO Grain, later bought by Bunge Corp and he was the manager until he retired in 1975.Cairo was a truly magical place then. Good schools, great places to shop, and restaurants, a world class library, wonderful churches and a fabulous park, St. Mary’s. Sadly, it is all gone. I want to cry when I go to my hometown, to see such promise go to waste. There are many reasons Cairo has gone downhill, but from my perspective, the main one is the people not willing to compromise and sadly, we are seeing that on a national level today. Your pictures are truly remarkable in showing the demise of what was a wonderful and magical place.

  • Susan Haslauer Bryant

    Your pictures are so realistic in showing the demise of a truly magical place….I grew up in Cairo and my father was owner of Mikco Grain, later bought by Bunge and he was the manager until he retired in 1975. Cairo was a wonderful town, great schools, stores, restaurants, parks and a world class library.Not to mention, some truly wonderful people. Sadly, through lots of problems, mostly lack of cooperation by the townspeople, it has become a shell of its former self.My heart aches for what might have been…I now live across the river and our farmland is in the Spillway…everyone knows what happened to that.

  • Sue (Hornback) Gulley

    I was born and raised in Pulaski County. I worked at McKesson & Robbins Wholesale Drug House from 1954 to 1962. Cairo was a booming town at that time. I still remember eating lunch every day at the resturant on 8th st. They had the best Apple Pie you could ever find. I also still remember the Hamburger Wagon that set there on the streets. I just set and cry when I go back to visit. It is so sad. I also remember during the 70s when we had the bad racial problems, driving thru Cairo and making my children lay down in the car because of the shootings. That was the thing that killed Cairo. It really started going down after that.

  • patricia eakins newmam

    did you miss the slave caves, underground railroad? I didn’t see any pics.

  • Gordon Millard

    I was born and raised in Cairo and have been back a few times and it always brings me to tears.I went through all the racial tension but being who we where we overcame the racial discord.Cairo died when Burkhart closed the decline was almost insant.Cairo should have been as big as Chicago but the leaders of the town had no vision it was located perfectly for growth but people decided that as long as i OWN the river there my business will run everything and hence greed destroyed that aspect of growth except for the big house by the park.So Cairo has died by greed its not even a sad story because this is not the first place that greed has destroyed

  • Wendell Johnson

    Yes good work Mark it brings back memories.

  • Linda C.S.

    I don’t live in Cairo. I’ve never visited Cairo. I looked at your pix because I wanted to learn more about where the Ohio meets the Mississippi. The old architecture is awesome. Fix it up!!

  • Rosemary

    I say build it and they will come.

  • Mike McAllister

    Used to be a nice town, now I don’t even like driving through it!!!

  • I have lived in Cairo for over 50 years. I have a small business on 8th street in one of the remaining buildings. I love Cairo. Regardless of what she was in the past, she is still a very comfortable and affordable place to live. The people are friendly if you are. We are all a little tired and suspicious of do-good ears who want to fix us. Think of how you would feel if every body thought there was something wrong with you and wanted to tell you what you needed to do. We have problems as do most small towns in America. But I for one love Cairo and I am happy I still there.

    • I’ve been impressed with the reception I’ve gotten from folks I’ve approached in Cairo. Like you said, if you’re friendly, then they are likely to be friendly.

      The biggest problem is that I’ve walked what used to be a vibrant commercial district for two or three hours at a time without encountering a single person.

      Where on 8th Street are you? I’d like to stop in to see you when I’m in Cairo.

  • About 12 years ago leaders from all over the region met at the Shawnee College to present development plans for a multi-trillion chemical processing plant that could produce its own fuel, etc. I don’t recall the exact nature of the products; however, that could have and was to be the beginning of the re-birth of the entire S. IL region and would us the rivers, air, hiways, and RR for their transportation needs. It’s sad that this effort was nearly completed and died for some, unknown reason. Part of the reason the site was chosen, beyond the tremendous transportation capacities, was the ready labor force and potential for population growth.

    • The problems with getting companies to locate in places like Cairo or the Bootheel is the lack of services. It’s 30 miles to the nearest hospital or shopping center. There’s a handful of nice houses in the city, but even they would require a lot of restoration. The town has an infrastructure that was built to support 25,000 people, but the population of roughly 2,500 doesn’t generate enough tax revenue to keep it working. The city relied on speeding tickets to make payroll, which helped give Cairo the reputation of a speed trap. At one point, they couldn’t even rely on that income because there wasn’t enough money to buy gas for the cop cars.

      The school are substandard, so getting educated workers would be a problem.

      I’d love to see Cairo come back to life, but I find little hope that it’ll happen.

  • Cathy Reilly

    Ken,

    Really enjoyed your pictures and the comments. My father and his younger sister were born in Cairo-Dad in ’21 and my aunt three years later. Sadly both gone now. I have never been to Cairo but I enjoyed envisioning what it might have been like in their youth. Thank you.

  • valerie johnson

    My parents were born & raised in Cairo and there entire family , i stayed with my Grandmother on weekends as a child from 1961-1970. in 2009 i found out i was adopted and my biological mother also from Cairo. The names of my family tree from both sides are Claxton / Ellenwood/ Miller/ Fulcher / Degenhart / Henderson. I have not been back in over 14 years when i buried my grandparents in Villa Ridge, it looks like a ghost town, so sad . I would love to have photos of there cemetary plots as i live 6 hrs south now

  • I was born in the same room that I still lay my head down in every night in Cairo, IL” I grew up here in this city that lost it’s way long, long ago due to corruption in our town. It went so far down that it may never be able to come back. It was a beautiful old southern town full of mansions, parks, churches, schools and shaded avenues. Predicted to be the “Chicago” of Illinois. Well…we failed here and now the whole state is failing. All for the same reasons! I probably will live out my life here because of the good folks that, like me, love this old town and love one another still here. Look at our history and you find many famous people have come from Cairo. Authors, song writers, actors, Olympic athletes and our latest NYC Broadway Grammy winner and now TV actor (Chris Jackson). Thank you for the photos, I wish you could have seen Cairo in its glory.

    we

  • Lori Smith

    I especially appreciate photo #34, because that’s our house! In all the photos people have taken of Cairo, it seems that they usually stood in front of our house to take a picture of the library, but never turned around to photograph the house, so thank you for doing so! I wish I could find photos of it from 50 or 100 years ago. I’d love to know what it looked like when it was originally built, before the back of the house was added on and the back screen porch was enclosed.

  • jimmy wango

    cairo was once a proud gem in Illinois crown cities …now its just a disgrace of the state

  • jimmy wango

    cairo is nothing but a disgrace to the state of Illinois …….disgusting & nasty & literally falling down all around you .

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>