Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Naked Truth and the Restoration of the Compton Hill Reservoir Park

| by Ryan J. Reed,

Vandalism of Naked Truth.  Photo from STL P-D.

"The Naked Truth" statue at Compton Hill Reservoir Park was recently vandalized.   The nearly century old monument was defaced with blue spray paint reading, "Class War."  The vandalism was not contained to only the statue.  Spray painted messages also appeared on the west wall of the reservoir and the adjacent comfort station.  This is especially frustrating to the Water Tower and Park Preservation Society which is currently in the midst of a $48,000 restoration of the statue.  Restoration work is being undertaken by Vlad Zhitomirsky of VDM Sculpting Company based in Soulard.  VDM has recently completed the recasting of three bronze medallions to replace the originals which were stolen years ago. The target date for completion and rededication of "Naked Truth" is scheduled for May 2014, the centennial of the statue's unveiling.  If would like to donate towards the restoration of "Naked Truth" and the society's mission to restore, preserve and promote Compton Hill Reservoir Park, call 314-552-9000 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 Wilhelm Wanschneider - Sculptor

"The Naked Truth" began as a design competition initiated by the Preetorious-Schurz-Daenzer Memorial Association in 1913.  The competition was intended to memorialize three local German-Americans, Dr. Emil Preetorius, Carl Schurz and Carl Daenzer.  The three gentlemen were former editors of the St. Louis Westliche Post, established in St. Louis in 1857.   During the year, ten separate designs were submitted to the association.  By the summer of 1913, a 26 member jury selected W. Wilhelm Wanschneider of Berlin as the winner.  His design included a seated nude figure with arms outstretched holding two torches.  The figure represents Truth with her open arms reflecting she has nothing to hide.  The two torches depict the enlightenment of Germany and the United States.  The selection of a nude figure was met with controversy.  Over 250 letters from concerned St. Louisans stated they were offended by the sculpture and demanded a new competition be held.  Adolphus Busch, who was the honorary President of the association and who donated $20,000 towards the $31,000 sculpture, publicly disapproved of the design.  Busch pushed for the reversal of the decision by resubmitting a previously eliminated design by George Zolnay, who had worked for the beer baron on several occasions.  Busch was successful and was able to have the association reject Wanschneider's design, rescinding the action of the jurors.  However, Wanschneider was enroute from Berlin after being cabled by the committee to travel to St. Louis to receive his award.  Once in St. Louis, Wanschneider learned of the reversal of his award with quiet reserve and argued on behalf of the appropriateness of his design.  The sculptor and his wife toured the city while the design committee deliberated on the outcome of award.  St. Louis newspapers were filled with articles about the affable character of the sculptor and his tenacious wife who criticized Busch's meddling.  After weeks of debate the association's Board of Directors emerged awarding Wanschneider's design for execution.  Busch blamed the controversy on the local newspapers. His opinion had been based on a bad representation of Wanschneider's design in an unnamed newspaper.  After seeing the original model, Busch found it "pretty fair."

 Public sentiment over Naked Truth design.

"The Naked Truth" was originally located at the corner of Lafayette and Grand and unveiled on May 24, 1914.  During the ceremonies, a brief downpour occurred and the crowd scattered.  After the "baptism" of the sculpture, the crowd returned and the "The Naked Truth" was unveiled by Marie and Clara Busch, granddaughters of Adolphus Busch. Speeches were made in German and English.  Several Turnverien Societies marched on the park and displayed their banners.  Chorus sung "America" and the national anthem of Germany.  Within one month, German sentiment began to change with the opening of World War I.  After America's entry into the war in 1917, St. Louis citizens pushed for the bronze statue to be melted down and used as munitions to fight Germany.  Leading the assault was the St. Louis branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  In a letter to Nelson Cunliff, St. Louis Park Commissioner, the WCTU asked that "immediate steps be taken... for the removal of this "gift" from Berlin... and be used for munitions purposes." Luckily, the statue remained in situ for the next five decades.  "The Naked Truth" was moved in 1969 from the northern end of the park to its present location to make way for an off  ramp from Interstate Highway 44.  The same year it was designated as a St. Louis City Landmark.

If you would like to join the effort to restore "The Naked Truth" and the preservation of Compton Hill Reservoir Park, you can donate or become a member of the Water Tower and Park Preservation Society. Donation will go towards a Master Renovation Plan developed by HOK for the society.  The plan provides guidelines to recreate the park's Victorian landscape, while enhancing its recreational attributes to help it once again become an active neighborhood park.