For the past year, Fred Ruhrwien has waged a lonely crusade to discover the origins of a Spanish cannon in Forest Park.
The 80-year-old Ruhrwien works as a volunteer guide at the park, giving walking tours to hundreds of visitors each year. Until last month, Ruhrwien never had much to say about one particular landmark: the copper, green cannon near Lindell Avenue.
Etchings on the gun in Spanish reveal the word "Examinador" and tell that it was forged in 1783 for King Charles III of Spain. Beyond that, little else was known about the gun.
Last September, Riverfront Times chronicled Ruhrwien's quest to learn more about the mysterious cannon. We even tried researching it ourselves. No one with the city or park department could tell us the history of the weapon, and a library search turned up only one vague newspaper clipping. In January of 1900 the now-defunct St. Louis Republic reported that Missouri Congressman Charles Edward Pearce had procured a Spanish cannon and that the gun was on its way to town.
Was that our cannon? Maybe. Maybe not.
King Charles III of Spain
While we gave up the search, Ruhrwien did not. He consulted with Spanish weapons experts in New York and even sent a letter to the defense department in Spain seeking answers.
And while many people could speculate about the cannon -- suggesting it was perhaps seized during the Mexican-American War [1846-48] or Spanish-American War  -- no one could say for sure.
So it was that last month Ruhrwien again found himself at the Missouri Historical Society Library on Skinker Boulevard. As he did last year, Ruhrwien once again asked archivist Dennis Northcutt to help him research the artillery. This time around, Northcutt was now armed with a research tool that would crack the mystery.
Beginning a few months ago St. Louis County Library now offers users an online database of archived clippings from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for the years 1874 to 1922. And unlike old microfiche machines, the newspaper clippings are searchable by keyword.
Northcutt put in the words "cannon" and "Forest Park" and voila! Two articles -- from 1901-- about the cannon "Examinador."
The articles reveal that the cannon "Examindor" -- a trophy from the
war department (presumably from the Spanish-American War) -- arrived in the park the previous year.
The first story -- from April 1901 -- states that the cannon had not immediately been installed
due to budget cuts and was currently being stored in the police stables inside the park. The second article -- from July 1901 -- is headlined "Spanish Cannon Has Been Fogotten." The story is written
in first-person from the point of view of the cannon and ridicules park
commissioner Ridgley for not installing the ordnance after more than a
Ruhrwien thinks he now knows why the cannon has no official plaque.
"When commissioner Ridgely saw that first-person cannon story in the paper, he called
one of his guys a couple days later and said, 'Get that thing out of the shed and
mount it!'" Ruhrwein speculates. "He probably needed the Post off his back. So, the Forest Park
maintenance guys mounted it one day with no brass bands playing, no speeches, no
reporters to report and probably only a few worker-bees standing around."
But don't worry, Examinador. You'll get your plaque if Fred Ruhrwien has anything to say about it.
Yesterday Ruhrwien fired off a letter to Mayor Francis Slay and parks director Gary Bess asking that they please install a placard providing park visitors with the story behind the cannon.
Concludes the letter: "I sincerely hope that you agree that it is long past time to give our grand old cannon its due respect."