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‘Lynch’s Slave Pens’ In Shadow Of Busch Stadium Will Get Historical Marker

Two Democratic lawmakers want to commemorate one of the most sordid chapters in local history at one of downtown St. Louis’ most visited sites — and they say the St. Louis Cardinals are on board for the project.

More than a century before it became an entrance to Ballpark Village, the entertainment complex at Busch Stadium, the corner of Broadway and Clark held one of several sites known as “Lynch’s Slave Pens.” The pens took their name from Bernard Lynch, a notorious trafficker in enslaved people. They held men, women and children on their way to the slave markets in downtown St. Louis.

State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a Democrat representing St. Louis, said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air that he is now working with the St. Louis Cardinals on a plaque to acknowledge the site’s terrible history. Along with Rep. Trish Gunby, D-Ballwin, Aldridge first publicized the request for a historical marker earlier this month.

The team did not respond to two requests from St. Louis on the Air seeking comment. But Aldridge said the Cardinals responded quickly to his release and had a productive meeting with him and Gunby last week.

“Sometimes you put out press statements and you get no traction,” he said. “But they reached out to us and scheduled a meeting to talk to see what ways we can come together to make this happen.”

Aldridge said the lawmakers are now talking with historians and hope to get something erected by year’s end.

Angela da Silva is the director of the Mary Meachum commemoration, which honors the free Black woman who led enslaved people to freedom in Illinois. An expert in local history, she said the pens at Broadway and Clark were seized by Union troops in 1861 and later used as a jail for Confederates. “As far as I’m concerned, it was justice,” she said.

After the war, though, the pens’ history was largely forgotten. Da Silva explained that the pens’ brick-lined basement was only discovered in 1963 when the site suffered a partial collapse before the construction of Busch Stadium’s second iteration.

“That’s when it came back in mind that this had been the site of Lynch’s slave pens,” da Silva said.

Da Silva said the area near Busch Stadium is rich with history far beyond the pens. She noted that the site once held the largest Chinese community east of San Francisco, called “Hop Alley,” along with many sites significant to African-American history.

“It’s by the inch down there,” she said of downtown. “Not even by the block, but by the inch.”

She said she’d like to see not isolated plaques, each with a different caretaker, but a St. Louis Black History Trail.

“There used to be sites with Black history markers all over downtown,” she said. “Without a coordinated effort to string these together under the watchful eye of someone, they have all been systematically removed.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio /
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio /

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.