Common Pleas from Dome to Dungeon

Eric McGowen and Don McQuay led Friend Shari and me on a tour of the Common Pleas Courthouse. Like everyone else, we had heard the stories of the dungeon in the basement and the secret tunnels leading to the river. So, let’s get to the bottom of this, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The basement is semi-finished in one area and used for record storage, phone and networks equipment, Christmas decorations, miscellaneous junk and three framed aerial photographs, one of which was of Pfisters and Central High School in the early 1950s.

“Dungeon” has dirt floor

I’m still trying to figure out this room, which is located north of the storage room. It contains a heavy steel door and an iron lattice opening that must have been for ventilation.The dirt floor is just as it was during the Civil War.

Which side is the lockup?

The passageway through the door doesn’t lead anywhere today.

The locking mechanism had to be on the “outside”, making this room the secured area. The only problem is, we couldn’t figure out how you would get to it unless it once opened to the outside.

Forget about the tunnels

Let’s get rid of the tunnel theory first off: The Common Pleas Courthouse is located on one of the tallest hills in Cape. If you tunneled out from the basement, you’d come out in thin air. Digging straight down would take more work than anyone would have undertaken.

An excellent resource for history buffs interested in the courthouse is the National Register of Historic Places registration form. It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t mention tunnels. (It’s a large file, so it might take awhile to download.)

Rebel guerrilla lynched

It does have the background of a grave marker I spotted at the Bloomfield’s Stoddard County Confederate Memorial.:

An infamous case centering on the Court of Common Pleas occurred in February of 1864 when a notorious guerilla, John Fugate Bolin, was captured by Union forces near Bloomfield, Missouri. He was brought back to Cape Girardeau and according to local tradition was kept in the basement of the courthouse. Army telegraph messages back and forth to St. Louis discuss whether to hold Bolin for trial or to just kill him outright. General Clinton Fisk in St. Louis advised Colonel J. B. Rogers, the regimental commander stationed in Cape Girardeau, to hold him for trial. However, on the night of February 5th a large crowd of citizens and soldiers took Bolin from the courthouse, placed him on a wagon, rode him to a tollgate on the Bloomfield Road south of Cape Girardeau and hung him. Fisk afterwards commented that it would “hardly be necessary” to give Bolin a trial. Suggesting Fisk’s reply might be seen as “winking” at the illicit act and to allow him to “better be able to restrain my men” in the future, Rogers requested, and received, a reprimand for allowing mob rule to govern the day. This is one of the few situations in Missouri where the impromptu execution of a guerilla leader was discussed in official correspondence.

Stairway gets narrow, twisty

The stairway to the dome felt solid, but it got narrower and more twisty the higher I walked. This is the level where I shot photos of the courthouse grounds and surrounding neighborhood.

I’m glad I hadn’t read up on bird droppings and histoplasmosis when I made this journey.

County seeking grant

The Missourian had a story July 24, 2012, reporting that the county commission will seek a historic preservation grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to support repairs to the building. I don’t know if the money will go for replacing charred timbers in the dome.

Iconic landmark

I’d have to say that the courthouse, Mississippi River bridge (old and new) and Academic Hall are Cape’s most iconic landmarks.

Common Pleas Courthouse photo gallery

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

 

Civil War Soldier

When IT director Eric McGowen, Friend Shari and I were on our way up to the Jackson County Courthouse’s bell tower, public works director Don McQuay mentioned something about a figure standing in a dark corner. To be honest, I was more interested in getting up to the dome where the neat stuff was before it got too hot, so I didn’t stop to look at it. (I’ll show you the neat stuff later.)

On the way back down, Don pointed him out again, prompting me to take a closer look. “Know who he is?” Don asked.

Sounded like a trick question to me, so I said, “Not a clue.”

“He’s the Union soldier who used to on the fountain at the Common Pleas Courthouse.” Don said.

A tree limb hit the statue May 12,2003, and broke it into more than 200 pieces. “I picked up most of them in a five-gallon bucket, he said.” At first it looked like the old soldier, erected by the Women’s Relief Corps, and dedicated on Memorial Day 1911, was a goner.

Alan Gibson to the rescue

Alan Gibson, a Dexter sculptor, said he’d try to put the martial Humpty Dumpty back together. Once he did that, he made a mold of the original and recast it with polyester resin and bronze.

Here is a Fred Lynch gallery of photos of the soldier being lifted back up on the fountain.

Shari and I were amazed at the job Gibson did. We couldn’t feel a single joint or seam where the pieces had been put back together.

Tree shadowed statue

When I shot the statue as part of a story on Common Pleas memorials in October 2011, there was a large tree behind the statue. It might have even been the Killer Tree itself (not to be confused with Jackson’s Hanging Tree).

Grounds look naked

When I shot this photo July 13, 2012, the tree was gone, leaving a gap like a missing tooth. You wouldn’t think a missing tree would cause the grounds to feel out of balance, but it did. I guess I just got used to seeing it there even if I never really noticed it until it was gone.

 

High in the Common Pleas Courthouse

When you look at the Common Pleas Courthouse from Spanish Street, you hardly notice the windows in the dome. (You can click the photos to make them larger.)

Looking east from the courthouse

If you’re lucky enough to hook up with guys like IT director Eric McGowen and public works director Don McQuay, folks who have the right keys and know where the hidden passageways are, you can see some impressive sights. I’m glad Friend Shari and I picked a day when it wasn’t 107 outside for our tour. Even on a relatively cool (sub-100) day, it was hot and dusty. The tiny and winding staircases were made for smaller people than me.

Here’s a view down Themis Street. The greenish building on the left side of Spanish and Themis was Doyle’s Hat Shop. One of the Teen Age Clubs was in the building across the street from it. The tall, red brick building that was the Sturdivant Bank may not be with us for long. It’s on the Endangered Building List. A steel cable is keeping bricks from the top floor from raining down on Main Street.

View to the west

This is the view in the opposite direction. The Civil War fountain and statue is to the right of the roof. Don shared an interesting story about it when we were at the Jackson Courthouse. We’ll save it for another day.

DR. C.E. Schuchert’s bandstand

The bandstand dedicated to Dr. C.E. Schuchert and the KFVS tower can be seen to the northwest. The view from the 11th floor of the KFVS building is pretty spectacular, too. There’s a photo looking back toward the courthouse that provides an interesting counterpoint to this one.

 

They Opened the Time Capsule

When I think of the Common Pleas Courthouse markers and memorials, this 1967 photo of the Civil War memorial is the one that comes to mind. I’m pretty sure it ran, because it won a minor prize somewhere. All I know is that the negative sleeve is marked “Cook kids & Courthouse Statue 6/29/67.” When I wrote about it in 2009, I was hoping that someone would provide details, but I didn’t have the readership I do now, so I’m hoping I’ll have better luck this time.

It wasn’t until I walked across the courthouse grounds on the way to lunch downtown with Missourian reporter Melissa Miller that I realized that the park is peppered with memorials, stones and markers. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Monuments to Civil War, Vietman

Bloomfield’s Stars & Stripes Museum has a great quote about the Civil War: “Missourians did not have to await the arrival of an invading army to begin making war – they just chose sides and began fighting each other. Although the First Battle of Bull Run is usually accorded the distinction of being the first land battle of the Civil War, Missourians formed their battle lines at Carthage on July 5, 1861, a full 17 days before the so-called ‘first’ battle was fought.”

Maybe that’s why Cape Girardeau has both a Union and a Confederate memorial within yards of each other. A third memorial honors those “WHO ANSWERED OUR NATIONS CALL” in Vietnam.

Time capsule wasn’t forgotten

I posed the question “Did they open the time capsule” that was buried during Cape’s Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1956 with an inscription “to be opened during Bicentennial YR 2006?”

Shy Reader came up with the answer:

“This is a cringing embarrassment both for me and for my beloved Cape Girardeau. No, the capsule wasn’t opened in 2006, because it had already been opened in 1993. The city wanted a celebration. It was based on Lorimier’s establishment of a trading post here in 1793.

“An observance was held, but it was nothing like the big Sesquicentennial in 1956. The bad thing was, by celebrating early, they spoiled the chance for a really big doin’s in 2006. There were a few things that year, too, but not like 1956.”

Here’s a long story about how most of the stuff in the capsule was water damaged.

There’s a zoom button at the top right of the Google News page to make it large enough to read.

Confederate monument vandalized

The CSA monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1931, has been in the news recently because of vandalism. A high-powered solvent removed most of the paint, but some seeped into the pores of the marble.

A Missourian story by Patrick T. Sullivan said “‘Go south’ was written on the front of the shrine that sits along Lorimier Street near the fountain. That apparently was a request that the marker be moved, not a pro-South message. ‘We are in the union,’ read the words on the back. ‘Obscene. Remove to [illegible] cemetary in the south.'”

Common Pleas history

1806 – 1854
COURTHOUSE AND PARK

IN 1806 LOUIS LORIMIER CEDED THIS PLOT
TO THE CITY FOR A CIVIC CENTER. THE
PRESENT BUILDING DATE FROM 1854. IT
HOUSES CITY OFFICES AND COURT OF
COMMON PLEAS. THE CELLAR WAS A CIVIL
WAR PRISON. THE PARK ACCOMMODATES
A UNION MEMORIAL, BANDSTAND, AND
PUBLIC LIBRARY AND AT ONE TIME A FIRE
STATION AND PRODUCE MART. IT HAS
FOSTERED MANY ACTIVITIES THROUGH THE
YEARS – FROM SLAVE AUCTIONS TO
RELIGIOUS WORSHIP.

William F. D. Batjer sundial

IN MEMORY
OF
WILLIAM F. D. BATJER
1864 – 1937
AND
IN GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF
HIS FAITHFUL SERVICE AND
HAPPY INSPIRING LEADERSHIP,
THE
PEOPLE OF CAPE GIRARDEAU
DEDICATE THIS SUNDIAL
THIS
MAY 22, 1938

Mr. Batjer was former secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club president, secretary of the Cape County Fair Association and an overall do-gooder and social activist. He first came to Cape as a trouper playing with stock companies which gave performances in the old Opera House. He died at 73 when he was struck by a car near Texarkana while he was adjusting his car’s headlights on the side of the road.

I shot a vertical photo of Outstanding Seniors Russell Doughty and Bill East leaning on that sundial in 1966. What I most remember about the photo is that the vertical was turned into a square because of a reason I wrote about in Why Pictures Don’t Run.

Naeter Cypress from Mexico

MONTEZUMA CYPRESS FROM SANTA MARIA
EL TULE, MEXICO

DONATED BY MR. FRED AND MR. GEORGE
NAETER, FOUNDERS AND PUBLISHERS OF
THE SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN

“Our Steel Magnolia”

IN MEMORY OF
CAROL UNNERSTALL
“OUR STEEL MAGNOLIA”

AUG. 12, 1937
DEC. 21, 2004

Police Officer Memorials

The stone on the left reads:

IN MEMORY
OF
N. J. HUTSON
CHIEF OF POLICE, A MAN WHO
STOOD FOR LAW AND ORDER
FOR WHICH HE GAVE HIS LIFE
LION’S CLUB ARBOR DAY 1923

The one on the right:

IN MEMORY OF
CAPE GIRARDEAU POLICE OFFICERS
PATROLMAN DONALD H. CRITTENDON
WHO DIED MARCH 21, 1961, AND
AUXILIARYOFFICER HERBERT L. GOSS
WHO DIED MARCH 10, 1961,
BOTH OF WOUNDS RECEIVED
IN THE LINE OF DUTY ON
MARCH 10, 1961, IN DEFENSE
OF LAW AND ORDER
EXCHANGE CLUB OF
CAPE GIRARDEAU 1962

Two memorials for Jeffrey Maguire

This tree is dedicated to the memory of
JEFFREY S. MAGUIRE
May 8, 1955 – June 9, 2004
Outstanding husband, father, attorney, friend and volunteer.
You are Missed.
COOK, BARKETT, MAGUIRE & PONDER, LC.
Attorneys and Staff

[Note: the tree must have died.]

IN MEMORY OF
JEFFREY S. MAGUIRE
MAY 8, 1955
JUNE 9, 2004
A GREAT LAWYER
AND A FRIEND TO ALL

Concrete Street Award

CONCRETE STREET
50 YEAR
SERVICE AWARD – 1962
FIRST CONCRETE STREETS
IN CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO.
BUILT 1912
AWARDED BY
PORTLAND CEMENT ASSOCIATION

Bandstand and Courthouse

Dad spoke often of attending concerts at the old bandstand.

Dr. C.E. Schuchert, Bandmaster

Dedicated TO DR. C.E. SCHUCHERT

1869-1931

BANDMASTER

SCHUCHERT’S CONCERT BAND

1905 TO 1907

1913 TO 1917

SIXTH REGIMENT BAND, N.G. MO.

1908 TO 1912

140TH INFANTRY BAND U.S.A.

1917 AND 1918

CAPE GIRARDEAU MUNICIPAL BAND

1919 TO 1930