Man’s Idiot Marks: Walt Jaschek’s 1980 “Litter Letter” About Forest Park

articles, Letters to Editors
Randy Rosenbaum and Walt Jaschek in the Forest Park Boathouse. With every visit, we marvel at this park’s transformation. And are grateful for it.

Happy Earth Day from Forest Park in St. Louis. Today the park is a jewel – Randy and I walked 8 miles of it Saturday – and it delighted in every way: flowers exploding, clear water flowing, not a single piece of litter in sight.

It’s hard to remember it wasn’t always that way.

When I was a young man of 25, the park was sadly neglected and terribly trashed. So much so, I wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dripping in youthful dismay over its disarray. The letter was published on September 12, 1980, under the headline “Man’s Idiot Marks,” which was me quoting singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright. Here’s the letter.

While making the magnificent trek around the basin at the foot of Art Hill the other weekend, I was reminded of a line from Loudon Wainwright: “Nothing is safe from the idiot marks of man’s passing.” How painfully obvious it was there in the shade of the City Art Museum, where my walk was interrupted by trash, dross – litter.

By now, of course, the litter issue has been scattered to the wind. We’ve had clean-up messages thrust upon us by advertising campaigns, educators, environmental groups. While there has been measurable improvement, to many the subject is passe, old news, trie. A letter about litter might seem destined for the garbage heap, of which there are plenty.

But the message is too vital to let atrophy. I paused in my walk at the northern edge of the Grand Basin, repositories for less-than-grand collections of shoes, boxes, paper, food and other unrecognizable items, simmering on the surface of the stagnant water. It is a haven for only the frogs that leap from the surface of McDonald’s bags upon one’s approach.

Certainly the workers at Forest Park wage an unceasing battle on the remains of our recreation. My ire isn’t directed at them. I just want our anti-litter actions to remain potent. To be complacent now about environmental clean-up would be as tragic as the original crimes we all created.

Walter S. Jaschek
St. Louis

I moved from St. Louis for a few years, and when I returned in the mid-80s, I learned that a nonprofit conservancy called Forest Park Forever had been formed to restore the park to its glory.

Looking back today at their incredible, transformative work, it’s safe to say they have. Much kudos to them now and, well… forever.

Forest Park, St. Louis. Art Hill looking toward the Art Museum, Earth Day, 2019.
The saints come marching in. Blooms reach to greet Louis IX of France, namesake of St. Louis.