If you've ever tackled any type of renovation or home improvement project in an old house, then you know full well how that 1 project tends to bleed into some number of neighboring rooms or floors or entire additional projects. That's the situation I find myself in with the basement.
My near-term goal was to remove the bathroom from the basement. That's it. Yada yada yada, I'm now engaged in a variety of activities from one end of the basement to the other. One of those activities is excavating the remnants of an old curb of sorts in the southwest corner of the basement so I can finish repointing that area and then pour back the missing sections of curb (even though I have no idea what purpose they served).
While digging out crumbling mortar and broken bits of concrete/granitoid floor from the missing section of curb, I discovered this buried in the dirt:
It's a piece of clear, super thin glass with some embossed words and letters: "OTTO", "PHARM", "GRAND & GR", and "ST LO". I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm pretty sure that if I had the rest of the bottle or whatever this came from, it'd say something like this:
OTTO (LAST NAME)
GRAND & GRAVOIS
You know I had to find out as much as I could about Otto and his pharmacy.
Here's what I came up with.
Otto was Otto Ude, a seemingly well-known south city pharmacist and postal clerk who operated a pharmacy at 3600 South Grand Avenue from 1887 through 1939. Right outta the gate my first question is how does a piece of a broken bottle that can't possibly date any further back than 1887 wind up under the basement floor of a house built in 1878? I'll come back to this later.
First, let's back up a hair. 1876. The area around the Grand & Gravois (pronounced, correctly or incorrectly, GRA-voy) intersection was farm country.
For the uninitiated, most of St. Louis's streets follow a traditional grid system and run north-south (like Grand) or east-west. Gravois is one of the few oddball streets that runs diagonally across the map, making for some goofy intersections with the gridded streets. Anyhow, the area around Grand & Gravois was farmland in 1876.
By 1903, 16 years after Otto had opened his pharmacy, the area had begun to develop.
That was Otto's pharmacy for 50+ years, 3600 South Grand Avenue, about 1.5 miles from my house, and where the broken piece of glass I found originated.
So who was Otto Ude?
Let's start with Otto's dad, George Ude.
George Ude was a prominent north side druggist who, at one time, also served as the President of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy AND was the Grand Master of a Masonic Lodge. During the Civil War, he'd been a lieutenant in the 1st Missouri Light Artillery Regiment.
George seemed to like the attention that came with his lofty community standing and successful pharmacy business, and landed somewhere between being a lady's man and a creepy old dude. Maybe he was a bit of both. In 1892 he went missing for a few days; his oldest son Waldemar, a physician, suspected he had eloped.
That was Otto's dad, and likely the inspiration for Otto's foray into the pharmacological world.
Otto Ude was born in 1866 and - surprise, surprise - attended the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, where he graduated in 1884. That meant that at the ripe old age of 18, Otto had received all the education one needed at the time to become a pharmacist.
In September of 1887, Otto Ude opened a pharmacy at the intersection of Grand & Gravois in south St. Louis. Per newspaper accounts of the day, Otto was just as likely to fill prescriptions for people as he was to fill prescriptions for cattle.
At some point Otto married Christine Eime, evidently one of the first female pharmacists in the St. Louis area, and they'd go on to have 2 children, Freida and Edgar. Edgar fought and was wounded in WWI, but survived. A graduate of what's now known as the Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly the University of Missouri - Rolla), Edgar retired in 1957 from the Phelps Dodge Corporation, having served as their chief chemist. Freida is sort of a mystery, as is usually the case with females due to being referenced in old records by their husband's name, not their own.
Otto, like his father, was involved in a variety of business and political endeavors. He served as the President of the 11th Ward Republican Club in the late 19th century, he was an officer in the Southwestern Mercantile Association, and he was a postal clerk, having had the Gravois (Postal) Station installed in a back room of his drug store in 1898.
In 1939, he retired. The newspaper account will do a better job of summarizing some of his achievements over the years than I could, so here's the clipping:
Given Otto Ude's pharmacy's prominent location at the intersection of what would become two very busy streets, and given that his occupation was one that was relied on by countless people, he was a well-known and cherished individual. The 1907 South Grand Avenue Review summed things up pretty well:
OTTO UDE - Druggist
Grand and Gravois
There is no man of greater importance in any community than the druggist on the corner. We go to him when we are ill and we go to use his telephone and bother him with questions, when we are well, his store is a bureau of information, the post office, newspaper advertising branch, the express office, and the popular meeting place of the neighborhood. We buy from him everything from carefully compounded medicines, when we are sick, to ice cream soda and bon bons, for out best girl, when we are well. He's everybody's friend and everybody comes and goes in his establishment, as if they held an interest in the place. Well, everybody feels an interest, even if theo don't hold it, in the drug store on the corner, and they and everybody makes himself pretty much at home if the druggist happens to be the right sort, and the store prospers. Such a popular establishment is conducted by Mr. OTTO UDE, located at Grand and Gravois. The store is handsomely fitted up, and everything is installed for the comfort and convenience of the patrons, including a fine soda fountain, where delicious drinks are served. The prescription department is under the personal supervision of Mr. Ude, and only the purest drugs are used. Every courtesy is extended all patrons and the corner is very popular.
Otto Ude, neighborhood fixture for 50+ years, son of a Civil War veteran, father of a WWI veteran, and husband to a pioneering female, passed away in 1947. I hope he enjoyed his post-retirement years.
As for how the broken glass, which couldn't be older than 1887, and how it came to rest under the basement floor that I thought was built in 1878...as it turns out, there are multiple layers of basement floor concrete. The granitoid finish, it looks like it was added some years after the original construction, and my suspicion is that when the basement got a makeover sometime in the 1910s or 1920s, that's when the floor was redone as well. That's when a bottle of who knows what from Otto Ude's drugstore was left on the basement floor and covered over with concrete and mortar.
So maybe the basement floor, the top layer, isn't entirely original. That said, it looks like the original, bottom layer of concrete is the exact same composition as the stuff used to make the pool I unearthed in the yard, so maybe the pool is older than I originally thought.
Regardless...that little chunk of glass, which is crazy thin and fragile and I have no idea how I didn't destroy it with how I was attacking the demo...it was a pretty rad find.
Maybe a week ago, I got myself this pole saw:
It extends up to 30', which in reality, is a super insane amount of reach. But, it's allowed me to get to tree limbs I had no other rational way of reaching previously, and has been worth every penny. However, the tree karma powers that be did not appreciate the purchase.
Yesterday, NYE 2020, I threw a pic of the house on instagram and gave it some foo-foo verbiage regarding 2020 not being the end of the world, hopefully 2021 will be better, blah blah blah. Here's that pic:
Again, the karma fairies weren't happy with my dismissal of 2020 and eagerness to get the 2021 show on the road.
How do I know these things? Because today, 1/1/2021, I woke up and, when I let the dogs outside first thing in the morning, discovered this:
And all of it came from this:
That tree is stupid tall, and of all the trees in the yard, was probably the most complete and sturdy-lookin' of the bunch (aside from its lean, thanks to the maple tree in the front yard).
Not anymore. The bulk of the upper half of the left side of the tree came down sometime last night. I don't know if the limbs fell independently of each other, or if a couple fell from waaaay up high and took out the rest on the way down, but there were a LOT of limbs - big ones - on the ground this morning.
What made the limbs fall? Ice.
Everything was covered with ice overnight, and the weight of the ice on the limbs, which are already pretty heavy and droopy to begin with, was too much for a lot of the limbs to bear.
I was out in the yard, all bundled up -- it was raining and cold and icy and muddy and sucky all the way around -- with my saws by about 8am. One of my helpers came out for some moral support:
From there, it was cut, drag, stack, repeat. Somehow, as far as I can tell, in all the carnage there wasn't any damage to fences or houses or anything like that, so that's a plus. And the yard's gonna smell all piney and Christmasy for a while, so that's OK too.
But man, those limbs were BIG and because they were all green, pretty heavy. I probably had 3 dozen substantial limbs come down, many of which were definitely chainsaw-worthy. I wound up with a pile of brush that's almost 6' tall, and plenty of stuff I still need to cut up.
I would have completed the job, but limbs were still snapping off and falling. I was doing my cutting outside the tree's canopy and marginally out of harm's way, but at one point I had to just drop a saw and run; I was out from under the tree but I had my back to it, heard a big snap, and didn't bother turning around to see what came next...I just ran.
Several limbs had snapped off but were hung up in the tree, and I figured it was better to try to bring them down on my own versus letting them dangle and come down whenever they felt like it. Both dogs do a lot of sniffing around near that tree, and the last thing I wanted was for a limb to come down on a dog.
So I got out the big 30' pole saw, got 'er undone to maybe 20' or 25', and started cutting and poking and pulling and pushing and prying, whatever it took to get the rest of the limbs down.
I was successful, but it was a dicey operation. With one of the limbs, I had to do another drop-the-saw-and-run maneuver. With another big limb, I should have done that but didn't, and calculated that the limb would miss me when it fell. I also hedged my bets by being ready to act in case it didn't.
Luckily it did and everything worked out fine, but at that point I decided to put everything away, go inside, and wait for better conditions before finishing the project. The limbs can wait. I can't put them back in the tree, what's done is done. I've got a mess of needles to clean up and, now, another wonky-lookin' tree, but Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does and sometimes there isn't much anybody can do about it.
The good news?
The basement work had been wearin' me out and I hadn't been attacking it these past couple days. Now...working inside, staying dry, causing damage that I'm pretty much in control of, not having big, heavy ass things try to fall on me...it doesn't sound so bad.
(But I still really kinda wish 2021 had NOT started out this way...)