After my recent post on Bill Christman's Joe's Cafe Gallery, Virgil Elliott, a former CWEnder who works as an artist and writer in California, sent the following comment: "I'd be very interested in reading what Jack Parker wrote in his captions
for Thelma Blumberg's photographs of the Gaslight Square days. However, I
am nowhere near Missouri, and thus cannot visit the gallery before the
exhibit ends. Might someone be willing to copy those captions and send
them to me for a small fee? I lived on the Square and around the West
End from 1966-1969 or so, and knew many of the people in those
I forwarded the inquiry to Bill Christman and want to share Virgil's reply after receiving the requested information about the photographs—especially the one of the Boneshakers, above. I hope you will enjoy learning a little more about life in Gaslight Square and the characters who called it home.
you very much for sending Jack's (Parker) captions. I have many colorful
memories of Gaslight Square from the 1960s, and reading these brings
them back. The bikers in the "Bone Shakers" photo (above) are Paul Stearns
(standing) and Dennis Brannaker (sitting on the steps). The location of
the shot is the porch/steps of The Exit, the coffeehouse at the corner
of Boyle and Westminster. This was the summer of 1968.
I came to the Square as a young
beatnik artist in 1965, and somehow became a member of the Boneshakers
motorcycle club a couple of years later. The term, "Boneshakers" was in
reference to the kind of motorcycles we rode, which had no rear
suspension and thus shook the rider's bones. It was not intended as a
synonym for "bone crushers" or any other violence-connected term, though
it was often misconstrued as such by others. We certainly weren't
afraid to fight if the situation called for it, but that was not the
focus of our association. We were a club, not a gang, and a merry bunch
of wild, fun-loving young people we were.
Brannaker (above) drove a cab for a living, and at some point acquired the
nickname of "Uncle Ugly," after being known previously by some people as
"Dirty Denny." But since there was another guy named Dirty Denny
around (a junkie, hustler and thief, not associated with the
Boneshakers), Dennis Brannaker preferred to be called Uncle Ugly, or
"Unc" for short. He's still around, and works the door at BB's blues
club on Broadway, near the baseball stadium. I painted his portrait two
years ago on a brief visit to St. Louis.
raised index finger is a characteristic gesture for Unc whenever he's
about to offer one of Uncle Ugly's Helpful Hints, which all his friends
know well. He has a keen sense of humor, which I tried to indicate in
this quickly-executed portrait. I see him as the kind of character that
Frans Hals loved to paint.
Today I'm primarily an
artist and author living in California, having covered a lot of miles
and years since the Gaslight Square days. It always saddens me to visit
St. Louis and drive through where the Square used to be, and see that
there isn't a trace of it left. Thank you again for bringing back some
fond memories. I'll try to visit your gallery next time I'm in town.
The current exhibition featuring Thelma Blumberg's photographs of Gaslight Square and Frank Moskus's paintings will be on view until Thanksgiving. Joe's Cafe Gallery, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays only, 6010 Kingsbury Avenue, email@example.com, (314) 862-2541.