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From death to the Delmar Divide, See STL Tours don’t flinch from showing St. Louis

St. Louis tour guide Amanda Clark poses in the Missouri History Museum.
R.J. Hartbeck, courtesy theSTL.com.
Amanda Clark of See STL Tours.

A transplant from Tennessee, Amanda Clark didn’t just fall in love with St. Louis when she moved here 18 years ago. She fell into fascination with it — with its neighborhoods, its industries, even its divisions and its infamous crimes.

These days, Clark works to show others the city she now calls home. Eight years after she founded her own tour company, the Missouri Historical Society hired her in 2020 to build and manage its See STL Tours program. The program now offers a dozen tour guides and 24 themed tours.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Clark described how she signed up for walking tours not long after moving to St. Louis and found that she had her own standards for what makes a great tour and what doesn’t.

“It seemed like the same stories over and over again,” she recalled. “And not only the same stories, but the same stories within a certain geographical location.”

Her own tours of St. Louis buck that trend. She said she’s intent on “reckoning with the past” but also on “seeing the St. Louis that we are now.”

“It’s not just living in the past,” she added. “[And] not just pointing to or maybe being obsessed with failures, but being excited for it as well.”

Some tours simply don’t work. A baseball walking tour flopped out of the gate, and Clark has also retired previous tour ideas framed around true crime incidents. She has no interest in leading a “ghost tour,” no matter how popular they seem to be.

See STL Tours explores unusual sides of St. Louis

“A lot of ghost tours tend to prey upon tragedies, and the hardships families face that dealt with mental illness and things like that,” she noted. “I did a true crime history tour [in the past], and that still didn't feel right to me.”

But that doesn’t mean Clark is uninterested in the morbid side of St. Louis history. Her “Beyond the Grave” tour, a new offering for the 2022 season, brings participants to multiple sites of current and former cemeteries, and explores “how death has shaped the built environment in St. Louis.”

Another tour, offered only to private groups, leads groups on tours of one of St. Louis’ most notable symbols of its troubled history of racism, white flight and economic disinvestment: the so-called Delmar Divide.

“It’s for groups that want to understand the story and understand the complexities a little better,” Clark said. “We've had several groups that wanted me to help their group understand their own role in white flight, their own role in this issue. And that has been incredible for me, to get to sit back and watch the conversations that happen on the bus, and also to provide space for reflection and to provide space for them to say, ‘Well, so what are you going to do with this now?’”

The See STL Tour program offers both bus and walking tours, covering numerous neighborhoods and themes that include “Brick City Broads,” “Made in STL” and “More than the Arch.”

A portrait of Josiah Gundersen, a tour guide with See STL Tours in St. Louis.
Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
Before he was a See STL Tour guide, Josiah Gundersen was a participant in one of Amanda Clark's tours.

On Thursday, See STL Tour guide Josiah Gundersen also joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss his love of St. Louis and how he wound up leading groups through its various nooks and crannies. Gundersen began his path to being a tour guide after participating in one of Clark’s first tours with See STL Tours in 2020.

Among other tours, Gundersen now leads the “Gay Liberation in the Gateway City” walking tour, which explores the history of the Central West End as a hub of LGBTQ activism.

“I love when I’m talking about something, and someone says, ‘Wow, I've never thought about that in that context before,’” Gundersen said. “That is really rewarding as a historian and as a guide for others.”

For more information on tour dates and ticket information — including descriptions of the available tours — visit the See STL Tours homepage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."