St. Louis, Missouri

One of St. Louis’ Most Historic Sites is Also Home to a Ghostly Tales that is Enveloped in the Military Past of the City! Delve into this Chilling Legend with the Author of Ghosts of Jefferson Barracks & Upcoming Books on American Spirits!

A Vintage View of the old St. Louis Arsenal

Fort Belle Fontaine, established in 1805 at the mouth of Cold Water Creek near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, provided crucial military protection for St. Louis after the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. This remote military fort and its small garrison greeted the first pioneers and settlers heading west into the new frontier and served as a way station for members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition prior to and following its historic "Voyage of Discovery" to the Pacific Ocean.

By 1825, Fort Belle Fontaine and its small arsenal had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair. Military commanders at the time considered the fort to be unhealthy due to the side effects of frequent flooding, and it was decided that a new military post and separate arsenal facility was needed.

On July 8, 1826, troops from Fort Belle Fontaine helped establish a new military base of operations south of St. Louis near the village of Carondelet. This new military post was named Jefferson Barracks in honor of President Thomas Jefferson who had died on July, 4, 1826. A small contingent of troops remained at Fort Belle Fontaine to protect the arsenal until the new one could be built on a 40 acre tract of land located three miles south of St. Louis near modern day Second and Arsenal Streets in south St. Louis.

In 1827, the first building on the new arsenal grounds was completed but the small facility at Fort Belle Fontaine continued to provide munitions and military supplies for troops operating in the Louisiana Territory until June 1828. Over the next few years, Fort Belle Fontaine was abandoned and the new St. Louis Arsenal grew to house a large three story brick building, completed in 1828, an armory, an ammunition plant, and several wagon repair shops.

Over the proceeding years, the St. Louis Arsenal would directly impact the St. Louis region both militarily and economically. At the start of the Mexican War in 1846, it was estimated that the nearly 500 civilians were employed at the facility. During the years leading up to the Civil War, the St. Louis Arsenal continued to supply arms and ammunition to settlers and soldiers alike.

By early 1861, the dark tide of the pending war between the North and South settled upon Missouri and the Mississippi Valley. At the time, the state of Missouri was considered to be a "Pro- Slave" state and its very future was threatened to be torn asunder by Secessionist Sympathizers, Abolitionist factions and Unionists who favored the preservation of the Union. The St. Louis Arsenal would play a pivotal role in determining what faction would control Missouri during the Civil War.

It was estimated that prior to the start of the Civil War, the St. Louis Arsenal contained an estimated 60,000 muskets, over 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, 90,000 pounds of explosive gun powder and several cannons. As the battle lines started to be drawn, it was clear to the leadership of the Union army that the St. Louis Arsenal would become a prime target of attack by pro southern secessionist militia units in the event war broke out between the states. To prevent such an attack, Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon, a feisty military officer with strong anti-slavery beliefs and his military unit, were assigned to St. Louis in early 1861 in an attempt to bolster the small garrison protecting the arsenal.

"The President of the United States directs that you enroll in the military service of the United States the legal citizens of St. Louis and vicinity….. for the purpose of maintaining the authority of the United States [and] for the protection of the peaceable inhabitants of Missouri. It is revolutionary times"
General Winfield Scott to Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon April 1861

On April 12, 1861, the city of St. Louis and the surrounding region felt the resulting impact of the first shots of the Civil War when Confederate Forces bombarded Fort Sumter. As a result of open hostilities between the North and South, Captain Lyon secretly transported 20,000 muskets and 100,000 rounds of ammunition by steam ship from the St. Louis Arsenal to Alton Illinois.

On May 9, 1861, Captain Lyon had learned that Missouri Militia troops sympathetic to the Southern cause, camped at Camp Jackson, intended to attack the St. Louis Arsenal in order to secure the arms and munitions stored there for the South. Captain Lyon confirmed this information by dressing up as a woman and reconnoitering Camp Jackson himself in an open carriage.

On the morning of May 10, 1861, Federal troops, including units from Jefferson Barracks, the St. Louis Arsenal, and St. Louis Home Guard, under the command of Captain Lyon, marched out of the St. Louis Arsenal and proceeded towards Camp Jackson.

Prior to leaving the protection of the arsenal that fateful morning, Captain Lyon had received a dispatch from D.M. Frost, the garrison commander of Camp Jackson.

"Sir; I am constantly in receipt of information that you contemplate an attack upon my camp; whilst I understand you are impressed with the idea that an attack upon the arsenal and United States troops is intended on the part of the Militia of Missouri, I am greatly at a loss to know what could justify you in attacking citizens of the united States, who are in lawful performance of duties devolving upon them under the Constitution."

D.M. Frost's letter did little to dissuade Captain Lyon from taking action against the Missouri Militia at Camp Jackson. Lyon and his troops encircled the pro-southern militia quartered at Camp Jackson, near the modern day site of Frost Campus on the grounds St. Louis University. This show of Federal might convinced D.M. Frost to surrender Camp Jackson without a fight.

The quick thinking of Captain Lyon would earn him great favor from his military superiors and keep Missouri in the Union but the day would not end without the blood of innocent St. Louisans being spilled on the streets of city.

An interior of the old Arsenal building around 1960

While en route back to the St. Louis Arsenal, the Federal troops escorting the Pro-Southern prisoners were encircled by an angry crowd as they marched along Olive Street. The cramped and overcrowded street served only to magnify the already volatile situation, and shots rang out. Who actually fired the first shot remains a mystery. One report claimed that a drunken civilian in the crowd fired a revolver at soldiers in the passing military column. What is well documented by the papers of the time is that after the first sporadic shots rang-out, nervous Federal troops reacted in quick order, and began firing into the assembled mob. When the smoke cleared, three dozen dead lay scattered amongst the moaning scores of wounded in the street. Sadly, most of the casualties were civilians. Due to the continued civil unrest and riots in St. Louis, General John C. Fremont, Commanding General of the Department of the West, declared Martial Law in the city on August 8, 1861. A short time later, the munitions and arms stored at the St. Louis Arsenal were moved by horse and wagon, to the above ground ordnance room and powder magazine at Jefferson Barracks.

The St. Louis Arsenal continues to serve the nation as an active military reservation even today. The Arsenal is maintained by the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace Center.

In the spring of 2002, there was considerable commotion regarding an apparition that had shown it self to several different employees on at least two different occasions. During one of these encounters, the specter, dubbed the "Blue Man" due to his bluish complexion, was observed by two different government employees at the same time. Further investigation by an employee working at the facility revealed that employees at the Arsenal have reported encounters with the "Blue Man" for over thirty years. Accounts of each encounter vary but for the most part, the "Blue Man" has been described as being a white haired, stoop shouldered elderly man, wearing a long dark blue nineteenth century military style jacket with "tails". One employee who reported seeing the "Blue Man" while working in Building 36 on the evening shift, stated that the elderly spirit appeared to be transparent. To the employee's amazement, the wispy figure disappeared into the shadows right before his yes. In another instance, an employee reported seeing the "Blue Man" in solid form. The employee later reported that from a distance, the ghostly visitor appeared to be a real person but that upon closer inspection the old man seemed to simply fade away into the night.

The true identity of the "Blue Man" remains a mystery, though his connection with the world of the living appears to be somehow linked to the older (circa 1918) sections of Building 36. Since the founding of the Arsenal in 1827, many older buildings have previously occupied the same location as that of Building 36.

During World War I and World War II, Building 36 was used by the Medical Supply Depot as a quartermaster warehouse and morgue. Though gruesome as that sounds, it still does not explain the existence of the ghost of a blue skinned elderly man wearing a nineteenth century military jacket.

Those "anonymous" employees who have witnessed the "Blue Man" first hand are understandably reserved about talking about their chance encounters with him. I have been assured by one of these anonymous sources, that in each instance where the "Blue Man" has been observed at the Arsenal, the employees who later reported the encounter were "Sincere" about their brush with the elderly ghost with the "Bluish" complexion.

Today, the St. Louis Arsenal is an active military complex. The facility and grounds are closed to the public. Visitors and cameras are not allowed inside the complex, but you can still visit a part of the arsenal that is open to the public on a daily basis.

In March, 1869, ten acres of the old arsenal grounds were given to the City of St. Louis for the creation of Lyon Park. Visitors to the park are enthralled by its center piece, a 28' foot tall red granite obelisk, sitting prominently on a 15' high earth mound in the center of the park. The granite monument is a tribute to Captain Lyon who was later promoted to the rank of General. Captain Lyon's quick action on May 10, 1861, ensured that Missouri would always remain a part of the Union during troubled and desperate times.

Park Information: Lyon Park is located near the intersection of South Broadway and Arsenal Streets. For more information about the park, contact the City of St. Louis Department of Parks Recreation and Forestry at (314) 289-5300.

The obelisk that stands today in Lyon Park as a tribute to Captain Lyon’s heroic actions in 1861

© Copyright 2003 by David Goodwin. All Rights Reserved.

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