Cape Girardeau, an ever-mysterious name

Bicentennial murals, Broadway Street, Cape Girardeau (photo

According to a popular legend, Cape Girardeau would have been named after Ensign (most likely Anselme) Jean Baptiste Girardeau, an officer in the Marine troops who was garrisoned at nearby Kaskaskia in the Illinois Country from 1704 to 1720.

In 1733, Girardeau allegedly erected a trading post on the heights of a rocky promontory, called the “Cape”, which rose above the flood level of the Mississippi River, thus protecting his commerce from spring flooding. One thing is certain though, the place is charming.

The 24 paintings on the flood wall

Mississippi River Tales, Cape Girardeau (photo Francesca)

In downtown Cape Girardeau on the ‘Flood Wall’ 24 murals tell the story of the Mississippi River at the time of Colonial French Louisiana, from its beginning depicted by a missionary in black rope, to the approaching 21st century via the founding of Cape Girardeau in about 1790 by Louis Lorimier, a merchant born in Montreal, and the sale of Colonial Louisiana by France to the United States in 1804 as well as the arrival of the railway in 1880.

Records in the archives of Cape Girardeau County show some of the items traded at Lorimier’s post, such as tools, lead, weapons, blankets, and whiskey, to name a few. Of special interest are the names of the post’s customers, in particular, Amos Dorbin, Bernard Pratte, Pierre Godere, Maurice Williams and Joseph Martin. These are some of the earlier names in southeast Missouri.

What is Napoléon Bonaparte doing on the Flood Wall?

The “1804 Louisiana Purchase”, one of the 24 murals

All murals are in a fluid style representing scenes from everyday life, such as Napoléon Bonaparte (right) taking a soapy bath in representation of the 1804 Louisiana Purchase and the painting of white hawthorns blooming representing the Missouri state floral emblem. This magnificent and meaningful display was created by Thomas Melvin, a Chicago artist, in collaboration with several local artists, and it was inaugurated at a public ceremony in 2005.