To the Tower (and the Gypsy Caravan)

There is something magical about the start of summer. I rejoice in the first extended weekend of the season with the promise of bar-b-q, various unique events and of course remembering those who served our country. This year I wanted to do a few different things over the Memorial holiday; stuff that’s been on my bucket list that I didn’t accomplish due to weather, having to work, or even sheer laziness. This time I was motivated and ready for fun. I’d like to share a couple of experiences that have ignited my Steampunk creativity and some stunning photos of why you might want to try these events if you’re ever in the St. Louis area.

With work in the rearview mirror at 4pm on the first Friday night of summer, I headed to my initial destination, The Compton Hill Water Tower.  A few quick basics: it’s located at South Grand and Russell Boulevard in St. Louis, MO. Designed by architect Harvey Ellis, it was completed in 1899 to cover an unsightly water standpipe. In 1904, it was open for the World’s Fair and had over 5,000 visitors each Sunday. It stands over 700’ above sea level, surrounded by “The Naked Truth” sculpture by Wilhelm Wandschneider, a small pond, a dog park and the water reservoir and tanks. It’s a quick 198 ornate metal spiral steps to the bell shaped top. You can view historical photos at little landings along the way should you need a break on the journey. While it’s not open all the time, it is totally worth the $5 to go up on event nights.

It was a Full Moon Opening. There were food trucks, a band and a really wonderful laid back crowd. I had arrived with perfect timing at 7:15pm, paid my fee and headed up to Victorian historical nirvana.

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The 360 degree view from the observation deck is spectacular. Looking East you can see downtown with the Arch, far into Illinois, and the Anheuser Busch and Lemp Breweries. To the North you see SLU’s campus and hospital and Grand Center. In the Northwest, the New Cathedral and the stunning Chase Park Plaza Hotel are easily seen. The view South includes the Jefferson Barracks Bridge spanning over the Mississippi, located 20 minutes away in the St. Louis suburbs.

There were more historical photos and free binoculars at the top. The windows were open all around and the most fantastic breeze blew through. Not a cloud was in the sky. The sun set and bathed the circular observation deck in a golden hue just as the full moon rose. The hour I stayed at the top was simply breathtaking. The other tourists were polite and jovial. Everyone was a pleasant shutterbug.

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I finally came down and took more photos. The Tower glowed golden yellow in the deep blue of the approaching night. I’d planned to eat something, but the food trucks were almost out of everything. That was OK though; my historical and dreaming appetite had been completely sated. Another shutterbug walked me to my car. I hesitated giving out my number though. I’m kind of enjoying a bit of vagabond independent life after the end of a four and half year relationship.

Which leads me to my next adventure of the weekend; Memorial Day trinket hunting at the Gypsy Caravan. The Gypsy Caravan is the Midwest’s largest Antique and Flea Market, held every year on Memorial Day on the UMSL campus. If you can’t find it here, you didn’t look hard enough is what the regulars say. It costs $10 at the gate to get in the day of the Caravan, presale tickets are $8.50, and early birds/extreme pickers can get in for $20 two hours before the official opening. It may sound a bit steep, but all those proceeds have gone to support the St. Louis Symphony for over forty years.

The fantastic weather held up for most of this day too. It was slightly cloudy when I arrived with a huge straw hat atop my head to protect my fresh sunburn (another Memorial weekend tradition). I gratefully scored a parking space in the garage. For those who’ve resisted going due to the 10,000+ crowd, the parking is much improved, Metrolink is a stone’s throw from the gate and some of the vendors are now in one of the garages.

I was immediately entranced by the multitude of vendors and their fabulous wares.  I instantly found a fantastic antique book “Invention and Discovery”. Price? $1!  Yippee!

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I went in search of Steampunk finds and didn’t have to go far. One vendor dealt almost exclusively in watch pieces. Antique Victorian furniture was sold by at least ten booths. I found the most precious postcard reproductions mounted onto shabby chic plaques. I bought a few and got one free.

I debated heavily over several pocket watches. I found one exquisite ladies piece, but for $300, I had to pass. Had to leave behind a stunning set of Victorian opera glasses from Monaco too; $425 was not in my budget. I also passed on a $40 cross-stitch foot stool. The dealer is local though, so that will most likely be a future adventure. However, I did find a USCE compass for $20. It was marked for WWII, but upon further research, I found it was from WWI. And the same vendor threw in a decent “copy” pocket watch for free. SCORE number three for the day. NOTE: I will be giving this pocket watch away next week from my Facebook page, The Countess, Official Fanpage of Victoria L. Szulc.

I finally surrendered to an ice cold Coke and a curb for a while. I hit the last group of vendors and really wished I was wealthy enough to buy all the junk I wanted, but sanity prevailed. I sincerely debated going back for the footstool, but an approaching severe thunderstorm guaranteed the reserve of my cash. Three plus hours was enough. I went home satisfied with my purchases. Enjoy the photos!

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Squirrel, you’re drunk, go home! Courtesy of antique-oddities.com

For more information:

-The Compton Hill Water Tower, www.watertowerfoundation.org

-The Gypsy Caravan, www.stlsymphony.org