Fairground Park: What the Signs Say

The signs in the first two images reveal one of the first challenges to conversations about Fairground Park.  The first image is on a grassy island in the middle of Kossuth Avenue at its intersection with Prarie Avenue. Only half a block west, visitors will pass the pillar in the second image, at the intersection of Fair and Kossuth Avenues. It reads “Fairground Park”.

Depending on the source that you consult, the park is called either Fairground or Fairgrounds Park. The largest sign that identifies the park is at the entrance at the intersection of Vandeventer and Natural Bridge and it reads “Welcome to Fairground Park.” The city’s website for the park identifies it as Fairground, but the identification of the park as Fairgrounds, as opposed to Fairground, in first image above and the city’s signage for the lake below reveal official ambivalence about something as seemingly straightforward as the park’s name.

Why does this matter? A name carries with it an identity. Without the certainty of one name that people can associate with one location, a place can lose its identity in the public’s uncertainty of what to call it. How can we talk about the park as a shared piece of our city’s heritage when we can’t even agree on the name?

{official city park sign for Fairgrounds Park lake – photo by author}

One aspect of the park that longtime residents do agree on is the role of the lake in the life of city residents. The sign for the Fairground Park Lake highlights one of the most popular and most utilized features of the park. In 2009, The Riverfront Times identified the Community Lake in Fairground Park as St. Louis’s best fishing hole. The lake’s popularity is part of the park’s legacy in St. Louis as you can see in the 1948 photograph of a fishing derby under one of two majestic 1930s-era bridges that remain in the park today.

{fishing derby in Fairground Park, 1938 – courtesy Missouri History Museum}

{one of the lake’s two 1930’s-era bridges – photo by author}

While these bridges implicitly remind visitors of the park’s long history, the only recognized monument in the park no longer honors Louis Kossuth as the plaque bearing his name, image, and biography has disappeared while the stone pillar still stands. The city’s website for the park still claims the Kossuth monument as the park’s only monument despite its glaring absence. The bare pillar proclaims disruption and erasure, qualities that determine the place of the park in the city’s memory.

{undated photo of Louis Kossuth monument – courtesy of City of St. Louis}

{Kossuth monument as it stands today – photo by author}

The former Kossuth monument is not the only currently unidentifiable historical marker in the park. In the middle of the expansive green space between the park’s swimming pool and the bear pit facade is another bare monument. The image below reveals the awkward placement of the former monument; it stands alone in the center of an open, grassy area. The missing placard suggests a sense of destruction. It is unclear who or what was originally memorialized here, but the remnants of the honor only perpetuates the belief of metropolitan area residents that the park is an abandoned site.

{unknown monument in Fairground Park – photo by author}

Finally, during my most recent visit to the park, I couldn’t help but notice the sign pictured below. This, more than any of the other signs that visitors can find in the park, explains the lack of the park’s use by metropolitan area residents.  Though both Fairground and Forest Parks are within city limits, it seems likely that the remnants of crime scene investigations would not linger in Forest Park as they are allowed to do in Fairground Park because of the central and vital role that Forest Park plays in the life of the city. As a reminder of the potential for a lack of security in the park, this yellow strip of plastic sends the loudest message about the role of this park in the life of our city today.

{crime scene tape in Fairground Park – photo by author}