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“Naked Truth” shines brightly again in Reservoir Park

Esley Hamilton steadfastly maintains eye contact with his notes as he delivers his speech in front of the Naked Truth statue.
Esley Hamilton steadfastly maintains eye contact with his notes as he delivers his speech in front of the Naked Truth statue.
Photo by Amy Borrelli

Unlike the rainstorm that scattered a crowd gathered for the original unveiling of “Naked Truth” a century ago, beautiful sunny weather prevailed at the rededication of the statue Saturday, May 17, at Compton Hill Reservoir Park.

The monument, which honors three German-born journalists and the spirit of harmony between the German and American cultures in St. Louis at the turn of the 20th century, gleamed in the sunshine, the result of a $48,000, two-year restoration commissioned by the Water Tower & Park Preservation Society.

The Deutschmeister Brass Band entertained the crowd of about 100 people. Robert Duffy of St. Louis Public Radio welcomed the audience with a few words in German, and historian Esley Hamilton spoke about the statue’s meaning to the city of St. Louis.

“Naked Truth” honors Carl Daenzer, Carl Schurz and Emil Preetorius, who edited German-language newspapers in St. Louis and died within 10 months of each other in 1905-06. Adolphus Busch spearheaded the movement to honor the journalists with a monument.

A competition was held, with the winning designer to be awarded $23,000 to build the sculpture. Seven artists entered and models were displayed at the Central Library.

The winner, Wilhelm Wandschneider of Berlin, was on his way to America to claim his prize when controversy arose over the statue’s nudity. Indeed, the story made national headlines.

The San Francisco Call, in its May 27, 1913, edition under the headline “St. Louis men reject ‘Naked Truth’ statue,” noted that Wandschneider intended to collect his prize money or "seek justice from every court in the United States and Germany."

However, Hamilton said, “the candor of Wandschneider and [his wife] Anna’s charm saved the day,” winning over the city’s residents by explaining that “the figure is symbolical of naked truth. The open arms mean that there is nothing to be concealed. The figure is chaste in every respect.”

Even the Post-Dispatch’s Weatherbird approved, appearing on the front page of the paper on June 6, 1913, dressed as a sculptor under the words, “The Naked Truth has prevailed.”

Hamilton bemoaned the fact that sentiment towards Germany soured in the United States during World War I, but over the past hundred years St. Louis has reclaimed its German heritage, and the “Naked Truth” continues to symbolize the positive impact Germans have had on this city.