By Thomas Crone | The William & Joseph Press
By Traci Angel
Thomas Crone, a longtime observer and student of St. Louis culture and history, tackles the subject of Gaslight Square in his newest book, Gaslight Square: An Oral History. Unlike other St. Louis history tomes, which focus on things that took place a century ago or more (Lewis and Clark, the World’s Fair), many people remember Gaslight Square firsthand, since it was a nightclub destination until the late 1960s.
Crone, a contributor to St. Louis Magazine and other local publications, decided to catalog his interviews with former Gaslight Square musicians, workers and residents partly because he was fascinated by the stories and was too young to have been there himself. The resulting book is packed with anecdotes and colorful details about the Square’s now-famous acts, such as Barbra Streisand and comedians Lenny Bruce and the Smothers Brothers, told in the voices of the people who were there.
Have you been happy with the success of the book? I’ve heard an amazing amount of stories that really make me feel good about the project. Lots of people have told me that their aunt, uncle, mom, dad or grandparent found it an enjoyable read, and that means a lot in that the people who were there were taken back to the good days. That’s a compliment I take very seriously.
Have you received feedback from any of the people you interviewed? I’ve heard from a few, and most were pleased with the end result. I think that people were really thirsting for a book to go along with the documentaries and plays that have already been seen. I was lucky enough to benefit from good timing on that count.
Do you think it would be possible for modern-day St. Louis to support the kind of scene it had during Gaslight’s heyday? I don’t think we’ll ever see an area with the same concentration of clubs in one district. I also think that in contemporary terms, there would be a quick influx of chain clubs that would jump into the picture, changing the composition of the district. Here, it was a real, true organic growth and that only happens every so often. All that said, I think the Loop, South Grand and Maplewood are unique and special in their own ways.
Any ideas for future books? The one that seems to have some possibilities is a history of soccer in St. Louis. I’m amazed that there’s not already a title out there on this subject, which has interested me for a long time.