David Baugher catalogs the unusual St. Louis

by | Jun 21, 2016

The UMSL alumnus delves deep into the region's strange and wonderful locales and little-known histories in his latest book.

David Baugher got his start in journalism by working at UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current. (Photo courtesy David Baugher)

Have you ever encountered strikingly unique monuments in the St. Louis region? Ever wondered who built Fort Belle Fontaine’s Grand Staircase, who placed a giant anchor on Chestnut Street or who named Bugg Lake?

University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus David Baugher, BA communications 2001, has the answers and shares his journeys through the histories of these sites and others in his latest book, “Secret St. Louis: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.”

As a native and lifelong resident of St. Louis, the idea to excavate the city’s history in a fresh way came naturally.

Secret St. Louis cover

From the disputed nomenclature of a casual dining chain to the tragic legacies of ghost towns, “Secret St. Louis” weaves together the quirky and the serious via Baugher’s narrative voice.

“I’ve always had an affinity for trivia, weird facts and everyday oddities,” said Baugher. “Over the course of 40 years, little tidbits of trivia start sticking to your brain, and you pick up knowledge about different places in the city not everyone knows about. I started thinking about things like the West County Dove and asking, ‘Why is that there?’ or ‘Where did Earth City get its name?’ These curiosities snowballed, and eventually I thought, ‘This could be a book.’”

Baugher honed and refined his journalistic acumen and writer’s aesthetic over two decades of working with online and print media publications. His first editorial job was at the Suburban Journals in 1999, and later he would move on to the St. Louis Jewish Light in 2003 and become executive editor by 2006. Having built a strong reputation in the writing profession, he founded Baugher Editorial Services in 2008 and authored his first book in 2014, “Once Upon a Time in St. Louis,” a profile of Marilynne Bradley’s artwork.

The Current, UMSL’s student newspaper, was essential to Baugher’s development and the first steps in his career.

“Working at The Current for four years was one of the most valuable experiences of my career, quite honestly,” Baugher said. “The personal and professional connections I built in that time have been invaluable. When you’re working at a student newspaper, you end up having these great experiences and building this network of friends. I have to give props to UMSL for the good background it gave me in being able to pursue my dreams.”

Although the journalism industry has changed from the time Baugher started, he offers a bit of advice that he believes will always be useful to aspiring writers and future media professionals.

“Be multitalented,” he said. “Have different skill sets you can fall back on, and have different areas of life you’re experienced in. That can help with the writing, too, because the more experiences you have, the more you can say. And being a well-rounded person will show in your work.”

When asked about his next book, Baugher jokingly said, “Hopefully, there’ll be one.” Until then, he plans to explore interesting new avenues of introducing readers of “Secret St. Louis: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure” to the city’s hidden history.

“The book has garnered a lot of media attention and taken on a life of its own,” he said. “I’m thinking about teaching courses on the book or even arranging tours based on the idea of ‘Secret St. Louis.'”

Those could include perusing the St. Louis Graffiti Wall, hiking the Weldon Springs Disposal Cell and bouncing on the backs of giant, concrete turtles.

The UMSL Experience

Ron Austin

Ron Austin