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One of the most amazing maps of a city ever created was Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis, drawn in 1875 and published in 1876. Using this incredibly detailed cartographic masterpiece as its backdrop, the Missouri History Museum developed A Walk in 1875 St. Louis, a 6,000-square-foot exhibition that explored the collective life of 1875 St. Louis through photographs, artifacts, news, writings, and first-hand accounts of the day.
The Museum’s exhibit staff wanted to create an exhibition that looked so closely at one single year in St. Louis’s history that people could imagine they were actually there. Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis provided the perfect visual stage to create this immersive experience for visitors.
In 1874, Richard Compton, a St. Louis sheet music publisher, and Camille Dry, a wandering mechanical draftsman, teamed up on a task that sounded impossible—draw every single home, building, street, and even tree in St. Louis in accurate perspective. The result was Pictorial St. Louis, the largest pictorial map of any city in the 19th century: The entire map at its original size requires 300 square feet of space to lay out.
In A Walk in 1875 St. Louis, the maps were blown up at a scale never before seen, which allowed visitors to walk amongst Gilded Age St. Louis in their minds and see everything from the lavish opulence to the crowded tenements.