Trueanon: The Veiled Prophet

Photo of the veiled prophet from 1938, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives

I mean… They say it’s better to overdress than underdress, right?

If I told you that this is a photo of the enactment of a regional myth in St. Louis, designed to intimidate working people and unify the old money families, would you even believe that something this crazy would ever be mainstream anywhere in this country?

I mean, this isn’t an artsy photo from Burning Man. This is from 1938 in the now-Rust-Belt Midwest.

This is a photo of the Veiled Prophet, the master of ceremonies for a debutante ball that has taken place every year in St. Louis for a very long time, ever since the Veiled Prophet first appeared as a way to symbolize the intimidation of wealthy families against a labor uprising, from back when unions had some mettle.

If the photo looks a little Klan’ish to you, that is no accident.

At least, that’s the story as told by Devin O’Shea on a recent episode of TrueAnon, a podcast that’s typically devoted to the Jeffrey Epstein case. It’s a good story. Obviously, I’ve left out nearly everything here.

It started as a sort of boogeyman that led shows of force during the labor uprising. Somehow this evolved into a “secret parade society” that also did an annual debutante ball for society ladies. The veiled prophet was always a servant of the St. Louis blue blood, but it’s gone from a town of a few very rich families to an historical also ran with a landmark.

Yet the Veiled Prophet persists, perhaps only because the ladies still like the ball.

The Veiled Prophet sounds like a very strange organization. Also based on O’Shea’s telling, it seems it doesn’t matter much any more, either, but its roots are so upsetting that the progressively minded don’t want to see it diminished: they want to see it gone.

And that’s all fair, but doesn’t joining a secret society sound kind of fun? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were cool secret societies around the country that did weird stuff for non-nefarious purposes? They just liked to “Keep Chattanooga Weird?” Economic mobility is obviously a net good for the world, but regional character was once a thing and it had its moments.

I didn’t even know Veiled Prophet existed until today, just like I didn’t know about the Mummer Parade until I moved to Philadelphia.

The Veiled Prophet tension reminds me of the ongoing uneasiness newly arrived Philadelphians have with the Mummers. Carpetbaggers in the City of Brotherly Love want to enjoy and treasure the parade, as something authentic and local, but the townies do not conform entirely to digital nomads’ worldview, and the d├ętente is getting harder to maintain.

I can appreciate the urge to rectify the grossness of our national past, but it does Mall Food Court’ify everywhere. We don’t have to keep the bad old weird things, but it would be nice if some effort were going into creating good new weird things.