Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Snapshot of Photo, Snap, Shot

In Photo, Snap, Shot (the third book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series), Kiki's daughter Anya stumbles over the body of a dead teacher at school. While Kiki worries for her child's emotional health, Detective Chad Detweiler has a more pressing concern. He fears that Anya might have actually seen the killer, even if she doesn't realize it. Despite all Kiki's carefully constructed plans to avoid Detweiler, the two must work together to solve the crime--and the cost to the detective is higher than Kiki could have ever imagined.

At the root of their investigation is a century old St. Louis tradition, the Veiled Prophet.

There are two theories about the Veiled Prophet and its origins, which date back to 1877. One suggests that the celebration was an attempt at civic boosterism with the good intentions of reviving the St. Louis economy after the damages wrought by the Union army during its occupation of the city. The brothers Slayback looked to their former home of New Orleans for inspiration and for floats and decorations to bring to Missouri. The veneration of young white maidens from prominent families was a central portion of the celebration, but it was also a way for a secret society including the hooded members of the “Order of the Veiled Prophet” to pledge their familial support as the Veiled Prophet, dressed much as one might imagine a Roman god, descended from his lofty throne to choose the Belle of the Ball and present her with a pearl necklace.

Another version reveals a more oppression and unsettling picture of the city, a strike of fifteen hundred workers--mainly African American--paralyzed the city.

In response to this show of strength, business owners of St. Louis countered with their own citizens’ militia parade which was essentially a show of armed power. From this public display came the impetus to create an annual extravaganza designed to make perfectly clear that the elite of the city had the upper hand. Thus the Veiled Prophet was born.

To grasp the import of this happening, you have to imagine the times. There were no television sets, no radios, no color photos, no video cameras, no computers, no cell phones to capture and share images. Indeed, most of life was a hardscrabble, dreary attempt at making ends meet. But at twilight on October 8, 1878, a crowd of thousands gathered by torchlight to watch the waters of the mighty Mississippi River. A cry went up. Rockets exploded. A band began to play. Eyes strained in the fading light to watch a barge make its way slowly to the shore. From that vessel arose a lavishly costumed figure. The Veiled Prophet had arrived to favor St. Louis with his blessing. Once seated on a colorful float, the Prophet and his court were pulled by a phalanx of prancing horses past a cheering throng lining the streets of St. Louis

As part of my research into the event, I purchased a 1946 copy of Life Magazine. Inside is the article "Life Goes to the Veiled Prophet's Ball: St. Louis Society turns out for its biggest event." According to Life, three hundred thousand people lined the streets of St. Louis to witness the parade "but only 12,000, almost all dressed in expensive gowns and formal dress, saw the climax of the affair in the Kiel auditorium, where homage was paid to the Prophet and the year's Queen of Love and Beauty was crowned."

An early image of the Prophet sends chills up the spine. The "regal" figure is robed in flowing white robes and a pointed white cap with slits cut for peep holes. Until the 1980s, this was subsidized with public funds.

Read more about it at

The Prophet still reigns over St. Louis. The year I finished Photo, Snap, Shot, I learned that the sister of one of my son's friends had been crowned Queen of Love and Beautry.

Photo, Snap, Shot will be released in May 2010, in time for National Scrapbooking Day. I'm busy planning my Kiki Lowenstein World Tour which will take me from the DC area to as far west as Iowa, maybe even Colorado. As a result, I'm taking a hiatus from blogging for InkSpot. I invite people who wish to follow my progress to visit me at two other blogs and


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Very interesting post, Joanna. I had never heard of this St. Louis tradition. Good luck with your Kiki Lowenstein World Tour. You will be missed on the blog.

Alan Orloff said...

I hadn't heard of it either. In fact, I don't think I've ever been to St. Louis. Maybe Bouchercon 2011!

Have fun on Kiki's World Tour. (Sell lots of books and t-shirts!)

I echo Sue Ann's sentiments--you'll be missed!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Cute cover, Joanna!

Sounds like you did a ton of research into the Veiled Prophet. Great concept for a book!

Best wishes for a successful tour,

Mystery Writing is Murder

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thank you, Sue Ann, Alan, and Elizabeth.

Alan, I'll hold you to coming to St. Louis in 2011. I know the Jordans have all sorts of cool stuff planned. (I know because I've been in on some of their ideas.)

Alan Orloff said...


You moved to my stomping grounds; the least I can do is visit your old ones.

Georgia Martin said...

Joanna, this sounds so great! I can't wait to read it!! You are so busy!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Hey, Georgia. I hope you'll enjoy it. It's pure St. Louis, through and through. You know, after 17 years living there, I didn't realize how much "the Lou" was a part of me. I miss it terribly.

G.M. Malliet said...

Good luck with the tour, Joanna.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hey, Joanna, if your tour takes you to Colorado Springs, let me know! I may be able to offer my guest room to you.