St. Louis Goes Big, Warts and All

In 1874, Richard Compton, a sheet music publisher from the St. Louis area, hatched a large-scale plan to promote the city he called home. He was attempting to capitalize on an artistic trend in which cities across the United States were engaging. He recruited Camille Dry, an artist who specialized in pictorial maps.

By the late 19th century, every city that was a city had one, a map that highlighted (and exaggerated) its finer qualities. The details of these maps were stunning. Every street, every building, even many windows accounted for, they were designed to attract industry and promote trade.

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One book: St. Louis-Made Population Enlarger and Me: This Sort of Thing is my Bag, Baby

St Louis needed the boost. Its central location and close proximity to the Mississippi River had caused it to boom, but Chicago was booming at a faster clip. Just four years before Dry began his sketches, St. Louis had been embroiled in a scandal over the bribing of census takers to overinflate its population. (Inflate-gate?)

And so the plan was hatched. The artist responsible for producing pictorial maps of eight cities in five different states in 1871 and 1872, took to a hot air balloon (rumor has it anyway), tethered to the East side, and in about a year (probably working with a team), drew a map the likes of which the world had never seen.

Larger and more detailed than any pictorial map then or since, Dry’s work consists of 110 separate drawings, each about 11 x 14 inches in size, that when laid out, cover an area 24 feet long and 8 feet high. Because folding such a map would probably prove challenging, Compton published it, along with 112 pages of business listings, as a book titled Pictorial St. Louis: The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi Valley, a Topographical Survey Drawn in Perspective A.D. 1875.

Eades Bridge
Dry’s map shows almost ten miles of riverfront and more than 40 square miles west of the Mississippi. This panel shows the Eads Bridge, which today is just north of the Arch. But not in 1875.

With a whopping price tag of $25 dollars (which in today’s money is quite a bit more than you’d shell out for your average convenience store road map), and a cumbersome title that didn’t yield great search results on Amazon, the project was a financial flop.

But this beautiful map remains as a point of pride for the city it depicts. Since last May, the Missouri History Museum, located in St. Louis’s Forest Park, has featured an exhibit entitled “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis.” The map has been blown up to 10 feet x 30 feet panels, showing exquisite details like the tents of a visiting circus, a man driving a herd of cows through the city streets, and a mob making a run on a local bank.

Interspersed with the map are the stories of the lives of St. Louisans in 1875, including the foods they ate, the clothes they wore, and the parasites they ingested in their drinking water. The special exhibit will be open through February 14, and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t get there until time had almost run out. But I’m glad I saw it.

What impressed me the most was that while other cities used their beautiful maps to gloss over their warts, exaggerating and sometimes out-and-out lying to prospective businessmen and settlers in order to lure them in, Compton and Dry took a different approach. The warts are shining brightly on this map. St. Louis wasn’t a perfect Utopia in 1875 and I would never suggest that it is now.

history museum
Missouri History Museum, just one of many places that makes St. Louis great. And wouldn’t it be fun to color?

But like Richard Compton, I love my city. I know we’ve had some problems. Race relations are tense, crime has crept up, and I hear some football team chose to leave us for LA (a city that in 1875, barely took up one page of map). The press has been unforgiving. Still, St. Louis is an amazing place with a lot to offer and I’m proud to call it home.

So here’s my idea. What the city of St. Louis needs to do is promote itself in a medium people can respect. We need to jump on the biggest trend to sweep across this great nation since the pictorial map craze of the 19th century and show off not just our warts, but also everything that is amazing about our city.

That’s right. What we need is a St. Louis-themed adult coloring book. A really, really big one.

 

Dave Glover Spews Pea Soup?

In 1949, Jesuit Priest Walter Halloran was a student of history at St. Louis University who also served as a driver for William Bowdern, then pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. On the night of March 9, Bowdern asked Halloran to drive him to a charming two-story brick house in the northwestern suburb of Bel-Nor.

Halloran assumed he would wait in the car while the priest conducted his business at the home, but when they reached their destination, Bowdern surprised him, saying, “I’ll be doing an exorcism. I want you to hold the boy down in case it’s needed.”

As the story goes, in January of that year, a thirteen-year-old boy from near Washington DC (perhaps the most frightening place on earth), began exhibiting some very strange behavior after attempting to contact his recently deceased aunt with the aid of a Ouija board.

St. Louis's own Exorcism House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air
St. Louis’s own Exorcist House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air “Exorcism: Live!” at 9 pm EDT, on October 30. 2015.

Fearing he might be possessed, the family contacted their Lutheran minister, who directed them to Father Albert Hughes, a local Catholic priest. It seems Hughes knew only slightly more about exorcism than did his Lutheran counterpart and managed to get himself injured by the boy, who still appeared very much possessed.

After that, the family decided a change of scenery may be best (because nobody wants to exorcize a demon in their own house) and they headed to St. Louis where the boy’s mother had grown up and where there are evidently priests who know more about exorcisms than do their DC counterparts.

The demon seems to have agreed because the word “LOUIS” allegedly formed on the boy’s chest. The family (in a demonstration of the same kind of good judgment that led them to allow their son to attempt to contact the dead in the first place) took that as a sign.

And that’s when Bowdern and Halloran entered the scene, along with assistant and priest Raymond Bishop who kept a detailed diary of the proceedings. After more than a month of prayer and ritual, and moves both to the rectory of St Francis Xavier Church on the campus of St. Louis University and to the psychiatric ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital (neither of which still stand), the exorcism was finally successful on April 18, 1949.

The boy and his family returned to their Maryland home where, his true identity safely obscured, he is said to have gone on to enjoy a normal, productive, and likely Ouija board-free life. But his ordeal became the basis of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, The Exorcist, and the 1973 film adaptation, most well known for the spectacular spewing of pea soup.

Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)
Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)

But the neat little brick house in Bel-Nor, Missouri is still here. The house is occupied, though the homeowners don’t seem to want to comment about the story. Neighbors and some previous owners have associated strange, unsettling feelings with the northwest upstairs bedroom where the exorcism is said to have partly taken place. Still, others are more skeptical.

All the priests who participated in the exorcism, with the exception of Halloran remained quiet on the subject in the interest of protecting the privacy of the possessed boy. Halloran never gave details either, but he did admit that he wasn’t quite sure what he had witnessed and that the entire episode may have been attributable to mental illness rather than true demon possession.

Others remain convinced that the house itself possesses an unusually large amount of spooky presence. Tomorrow night (October 30, 2015), on Destination America, television ghost hunters the Tennessee Wraith Chasers will join psychic and medium Chip Coffey, and Archbishop James Long (of the United States Old Catholic Church) in an attempt on live television to rid the house of lingering evil. With them will be local St. Louis radio talk show host Dave Glover.

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This is what I’m hoping my Halloween will look like. photo credit: Walking via photopin (license)

And probably not tuning in will be me.

Because there are some things, whether real or not, I think probably ought not be messed with. Instead, I plan to enjoy my weekend of handing out candy to Disney Princesses and tiny Darth Vaders. Then on Monday, I’ll flip on my radio to find out if Dave Glover is spectacularly spewing pea soup.

I Just Thought You Should Know

On January 13, in the year AD 532 Byzantine Emperor Justinian attended a tense chariot race in Constantinople’s Hippodrome. The competing chariot teams were known simply as the Blues and the Greens, the colors they wore. But these were more than sports teams. They had become important political factions with which the people of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire identified. They had become the face which the people wore to interact with their leaders.

And on this particular January day, the people were angry. Three days earlier, some of the leaders of both the Blues and the Greens organizations were arrested and sentenced to death by Justinian for hooliganism gone too far. When two of the hangings were botched and a surviving representative from each of the Blues and the Greens was carried off to a church to seek asylum, the supporters of both groups united to petition for a pardon for the two men.

Mosaic of Emperor Justinian with a model of the Hagia Sophia which he had rebuilt after it burned in the Nika Riots. By Byzantine mosaicist, ca. 1000 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mosaic of Emperor Justinian with a model of the Hagia Sophia which he had rebuilt after it burned in the Nika Riots. By Byzantine mosaicist, ca. 1000 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The pardon was denied, but Justinian did graciously plan a new chariot race for everyone to enjoy three days later. That may have been a mistake. From the start of the first race to the end of the twenty-second (of twenty-four), the crowd chanted quests for mercy for their leaders. And then, according to contemporary accounts, the chant shifted to “Long live the merciful Blues and Greens.”

Anyone who has ever been swept up in a sports rivalry will understand that when rival fans find common ground in a sports stadium, it’s time to get nervous. Evidently Justinian knew that. He took off, barricading himself in his palace.

That very night, to the cry of “Nika!” (victory or conquer), the rioting began. Large parts of the city burned and five days later the exhausted Justinian called on his loyal military leaders who successfully herded the rioting mob into the Hippodrome and slaughtered them. The Nika riots were over. Nothing positive had been accomplished. And 30,000 people were dead.

This is not a lighthearted story from history. And I apologize that this is not my typical lighthearted post, but I’ve had riots and the devastation they can cause on my mind lately. You see, I live in the greater St. Louis area. I don’t live in the suburb of Ferguson, but like its citizens, St. Louis is the city I call home and the residents of Ferguson are my neighbors. And I think I can safely speak for a lot of us who live in the area when I say that these past almost two weeks now, have been a terrible emotional strain.

My heart breaks for the family and friends of Michael Brown, who in their eyes was a gentle giant whose possible actions on the day of his death were very out of character. My heart also breaks for the family, friends, and coworkers of Officer Darren Wilson who are struggling to cope with the repercussions of what they see as an atypical action of a good cop. And my prayers are with the investigators charged with figuring out how this all went down to begin with.

But above all, my heart cries out for the people of Ferguson, the Greater St. Louis community, and this multi-colored nation of equals where there is still enough pain and mistrust bubbling beneath the surface that one tragic event can cause us to lash out at each other.

Because the Nika riots weren’t about chariot racing. They weren’t really even about seeking pardon for political leaders. They were about a people who felt they were being unfairly burdened by a government that wouldn’t hear them. They were scared for their futures and spurred on by an opportunistic movement to depose the sitting emperor.

I don’t think the Ferguson riots are entirely about the shooting of Michael Brown. If they were, then the media could move on while the very careful investigation stretches out and the crowds could return home (for many, many of them that’s not Ferguson, or St. Louis, or even Missouri) and await the findings. They could stop tearing apart the streets and keeping the children who should have started school last week, at home and scared.

The riots in Ferguson continue not because a white police officer shot a young black man, but because no matter what the investigation shows were the causes of that incident, and no matter where the blame lands, we live in a nation in which it still isn’t so hard to believe that our racial differences divide us to the point of senseless violence.

I’m choosing to write about this not just because it’s difficult to focus on much else in my corner of the world right now and certainly not because I have answers. But I write because I have been disturbed by the way the media has portrayed the Ferguson situation. In most instances the news has been negative and misleading.

Members of the media have been guilty of rushing to draw erroneous conclusions that have served to inflame passions. Coverage has focused on the unforgivable actions of a militarized police force that in reality has gone out of its way to minimize injuries to protestors even while sustaining injuries itself, often backing down when it seemed safe to do so, clearing streets and business areas where violence appears likely to spread, and, yes, occasionally asking members of the media to (gasp) comply with its instructions.

St. Louis Gateway Arch on a calm summer evening. By Blueberoo1987 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
St. Louis Gateway Arch on a calm summer evening. By Blueberoo1987 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
What we haven’t seen much of, and I think, because I live in the area, I hear more of it than the national and international media lets out to the world, is the number of area clergy walking through the crowds to be a calming presence encouraging peaceful protest and discouraging violence.  The media hasn’t focused much on the African American business professionals who mingle with the crowd to spread calm and sense in the midst of anger and fear.

What you may not have seen is the groups of peaceful protestors coming together with police to identify violent and criminal opportunists among the crowd, nor have you been shown the members of MIZZOU’s Phi Alpha Phi black fraternity cleaning up the streets and going door to door in Ferguson to register voters so that its citizens can bring about the change in leadership that will give them a louder voice in their community.

I write because I want you to know that I am proud of this community and of the people in it who understand that further violent or criminal actions only cause more harm. I have hope for Ferguson. It’s going to be a long road, but I believe that when the dust settles and the outside protestors, media, and opportunists go home, it will pull itself up again and stand together as a stronger community with citizens who understand each other a little better. Because I think the people of Ferguson see the damage this continuous rioting is doing and I think bit by bit, they are beginning take their town back from the riots. And bit by bit, they will find more effective ways to heal their wounds.

And I just thought you should know.

What the Fabulous Fox Says

In 1904, then twenty-five-year-old William Fox bought himself a nickelodeon in Brooklyn. Born in Hungary as Wilhelm Fried, Fox worked largely in the fur and garment industry before catching the movie bug. And it turned out he was pretty good at it his new chosen profession. As the popularity of silent films grew, so did young Fox’s influence. By 1913 he had opened a string of nickelodeons and was making a name for himself with his own production company.

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He had a keen eye for the future of entertainment and a knack for discovering and developing the next big trend. As head of the Fox Film Company, William Fox pioneered organ accompaniment during film showings, promoted a number of bright stars, acquired patent rights to the Swiss-developed sound-on-film process, built great movie palaces, and generally rocked the cinematic world.

Alas, his success was not to last. Just as he was attempting to take over MGM, Fox became the center of an anti-trust investigation and when the stock market crashed in 1929, his domination of the movie industry began to crash along with it. When he died in 1952, not a single representative of the movie industry turned out to mourn him.

But, of course, Fox’s name lives on. His production company merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century-Fox and later mergers led to the formation of the Fox Network. Also the name of William Fox can still be found gracing the marquis of several movie palaces he had built at the height of his career in the late 1920’s, each decorated in what he called the“Eve-Leo” style.

The ceiling in the lobby. "Eve Leo" style at its best.
The ceiling in the lobby. “Eve Leo” style at its best.

Because his wife Eve Leo Fox had a flare for ostentatious décor, placing side-by-side objects reminiscent of artwork found in Hindu temples, Egyptian sculpture, and pretty much anything else that struck her as glitzy on her travels.

It might be fair to describe these theaters as gaudy. Or garish. Or kind of gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.
Clearly I will not be ascending the stairs this guy is guarding.

Which brings me to date night this past Saturday. My husband and I enjoy live theater. Now that we live close enough to grandparents to make an occasional late night possible, we’ve tried to make it to several shows, including some really wonderful productions of Broadway musicals and other such highfalutin entertainment. Some of these fancy date nights have been spent at St. Louis’s Fabulous Fox, built by William Fox in 1929 and restored in 1982.

I love fancy date night!
I love fancy date night!

The venue rarely functions as a movie palace these days, instead offering a range of upscale shows in the performing arts and, as we learned this past weekend, the occasional flatulent sock puppet.

We went to see Alton Brown, famous science-y, gadget-y, know-it-all food expert of Food Network fame. His tour Alton Brown Live! made a stop for a sold-out show at the Fox and I was lucky to have purchased tickets for my husband’s birthday way back last summer.

This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
This man taught me everything I know about yeast. And sock puppets. Alton Brown Photo By Lawrence Lansing [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
To describe this show to you would be next to impossible, except to say that the gaseous nature of yeast represented by unapologetic sock puppets played a smallish part. And that the show was charming, funny, occasionally juvenile, sort of educational, and gorgeous if you’re into sensory overload and aren’t terribly concerned about the general consensus of good taste.

I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.
I admit, the chandelier is just whimsical and fun.

I don’t know that the visionary that lent his name to the industry he loved long after it had left him behind and who ushered sound into the movies and the movies into grand palaces had this in mind when he lavishly decorated his “Eve-Leo” style theater. But I suspect that the echoes of belching sock-puppet “yeast” bouncing off elephant carvings and gargoyles might have made him smile. You know, because it’s obviously the next big trend in entertainment.

Get a Bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.

In 1963, a leader for the Ozark Area Council of American Youth Hostels, Dick Leary, decided it would be a fun idea to take a nighttime bike ride through the city of St. Louis. He organized the event for a night in October and set it up to begin at midnight at Union Station. Unfortunately (because most people probably thought he was joking) Leary was the only rider to turn up.

Determined that it was still a good idea (and because I’m guessing he battled insomnia), Leary completed it himself and the next year managed to recruit a few more riders. Word started to get out and by the early 1970s thousands of participants were showing up to complete the ride every year.

Eventually, the event became known as the Moonlight Ramble, the longest-running nighttime cycling event in the world. Organized now through the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the route has changed a few times over the years, but the full course is always around 18 to 20 miles through the heart of downtown St. Louis on the early Sunday morning in August that occurs closest to the full moon.

And despite the addition of a premier riding group (personally I’m not sure how anyone can take themselves all that seriously while sporting glow necklaces snaked through their bicycle spokes), the Ramble is NOT a race (shoe clips are not allowed, nor are they advisable). It’s a ride. All ages, all ability levels, and even all manner of wheeled, human-powered vehicles are welcome. I (typically sound asleep by no later than 10:30) rode in the Ramble for the first time this year, along with my sister and a handful of her cycling buddies, most of whom had participated in the event before.

Okay, so maybe "human-powered" isn't a strict requirement.
Okay, so maybe “human-powered” isn’t a strict requirement.

It was a gorgeous night, under the nearly full moon. The first riders took off from Busch Stadium at 12:10 (after a slight delay for traffic from the preseason Rams game). As there were probably four thousand riders, it took a while to get us all going and even with the best efforts of the St. Louis police department and an army of volunteer ride marshals, it took a bit for the remaining downtown traffic to adjust to the onslaught of bicycles (most drivers smiled to see us; a few were cranky). Once we were really going, though, I have to say it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in the city.

Now, I realize that this is generally a (sort of) history blog and that this particular post has thus far come up a little short in that area (unless you’re really easily satisfied and a brief reference to 1963 is enough for you), but I think I can make a case for why it still fits. And to do so, I am going to direct your attention to the expertise of Professor Kenneth Jackson who teaches the History of the City of New York at Columbia University (and who is a much more reliable source of all things history than is yours truly).

Since he began teaching the class in the late 1970s, Professor Jackson has led his students on a nighttime, five-hour bicycle tour from Columbia University to the Brooklyn Promenade. Along the way, Jackson stops at various points of interest to deliver lectures through a bullhorn to the now hundreds of students that come along for the ride.

The professor admits, however, that it is not so much the knowledge shared in his lectures that sticks with the students, but simply the experience of seeing the city in this strangely intimate way, when the moon is bright and the streets are quieter (a little bit anyway, but of course this is New York we’re talking about). One student had this to say about standing in front of Federal Hall at 4:30 AM: “In this sleepy blur I catch myself imagining that I’m there, imagining that [Professor] Jackson is Washington and we’re getting ready to start this new republic.” Another student commented: “This is the first time I feel like I’m really living in the city.”

That's a lot of people "really living" in the city of St. Louis.
That’s a lot of people “really living” in the city of St. Louis.

I get that. I grew up not so far from St. Louis and I have been delighted to be back again, nearer still to what I consider “my city.” Since moving here this past February I have taken my children up in the Arch, explored the Zoo, wandered through the Botanical Garden, enjoyed the theater at both the Fabulous Fox and the outdoor Muni, and been to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play more often than I should admit (I lived two entire baseball seasons in Oregon and apparently distance really does make the heart grow fonder).

After riding the Ramble, all of these different places found a home in that mental map that I always wish I was better at carrying around with me (you may recall that in a previous post I mentioned that my sense of direction is, well, okay so I don’t actually have one). I may not have learned a great deal about the history of my city on this ride, but I did get to know St Louis itself better and be a part of it in a way I never had before.

Bill Emerson said it well in 1967 when he wrote in the Saturday Evening Post: “A bicycle does get you there and more…. And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun.”

Nighttime cycling is not perfect. The Ramble attracts all kinds of folks, the serious cyclists and the families out to make lasting memories together, but also the rowdies whose frequent beer stops make it best to avoid them.  I also certainly wouldn’t recommend a nighttime ride outside of an organized event. But late night ride events and tours are popping up all over the world (Paris, London, and Moscow are just a few of the cities that I discovered offer similar experiences).

I don't know what this thing is, but it was probably the coolest vehicle in the ride.
I don’t know what this thing is, but it was probably the coolest vehicle in the ride.

But even if you don’t own a bike (often they can be rented), haven’t ridden since you were a kid (you never forget how), or for some reason would prefer sleeping to rambling in the moonlight, consider taking some advice from Mark Twain who once learned to ride one of the old-timey high-wheeled bicycles of his day and had this to say of the experience: “Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.”

French Fashion Accessories: They’re not just for English Nannies Anymore

Jonas with his brolly
Jonas with his brolly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In October of 1750, Englishman Jonas Hanway had the nerve to walk through the streets of London carrying an umbrella. To be clear this was well before the umbrella became the preferred mode of transportation for magical English nannies. Though the umbrella had been introduced through much of Europe at the time, it’s most notable use was as a favorite accessory of the more fashionable ladies of France.

Anything that can be referred to as a bumbershoot is probably a little funny anyway. And it certainly doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that an otherwise well-respected Englishman walking down the street sporting the latest in 18th century French ladies’ fashion might draw some attention and (possibly deserved) ridicule.

But why would someone carrying an umbrella in 21st century Oregon deserve a similar reaction? When we relocated to Salem, Oregon a few years ago, we knew that with a 2000 plus mile relocation would come a few small cultural differences. We expected that we might pick up a few new bits of slang in our vocabulary, learn some variations on well-known songs, and maybe stumble on the recipes of some local specialties.

One thing that did surprise me, though, was when I was warned that in this region in which it rains pretty much from November to July, I could expect to be mocked if I used an umbrella. It made a sort of sense, I suppose. Salem rain most often consists of tiny little droplets that swirl around in the air and are more likely to coat than douse and so are difficult to stop with a traditional umbrella.

Still, even when the rain came down harder, more similar to the sheets that fall in the Midwestern springtime, the Oregonians merely pulled their rain jackets tighter, and ran a little faster. Few were willing to take a cue from 18th century French ladies’ fashion. Or common sense.

So now I’m back in St. Louis and it’s April, which means it is storming. The rain comes down in sheets (like rain is supposed to) and when I venture out (and I’m not cowering in my basement under a tornado warning) I carry an umbrella. Because it’s the sensible thing to do. It would have been the sensible thing to do in Oregon as well, but I am sad to say I wasn’t bold enough. When the rain came down in sheets, I pretended to be a native Oregonian and simply pulled my rain jacket a little tighter and ran a little faster.

As for Jonas Hanway, he stayed the course, determined that the umbrella (used by many ancient civilizations) was a sensible and worthwhile idea. Come rain or come shine, he stubbornly carried his favorite and slightly silly-looking accessory through the city streets for nearly thirty years. Eventually the idea caught on and soon enough the men and women of London began carrying umbrellas (for a long time referred to as “hanways”), though it would still be a few years before the bumbershoot would catch on with practically perfect nannies.

Mary Poppins: Umbrella
Mary Poppins: Umbrella (Photo credit: jpellgen)