Founded with a goal to positively impact the city of St. Louis, the Veiled Prophet Organization is marking more than 130 years of tradition by doing what it is most proud of: serving and promoting the community. “Since the beginning, the basic idea was to help improve the quality of life in St. Louis,” says VP spokesperson Thomas Cooke.
When the organization was founded in 1878, a group of prominent businessmen was looking for ways to boost the city’s image. “At the time, they noticed that interest was waning in the annual Agriculture and Mechanical Fair, which was a very important event for St. Louis during harvest time,” Cooke notes. Calling itself the ‘Mysterious Order of the Veiled Prophet,’ the newly formed group came up with a parade that would raise attendance during the fair, and be enough of a spectacle to bring visitors to the city from hundreds of miles away.
Since then, the parade has become a St. Louis staple. “It’s the Veiled Prophet’s longest-running gift to the city,” Cooke says. “We still get letters from people who tell us how the parade has been a multi-generational tradition for them.” For the last three decades, the event has signaled the start of Fair St. Louis, one of America’s biggest Fourth of July celebrations.
The VP has also contributed funding and other resources to several high-profile symbols of St. Louis. That includes building the Overlook Stage on the riverfront, lighting the Eads Bridge and completing the Grand Staircase under the Arch. “While it takes a lot of resources to put on a parade or take on major projects, it’s not just about the money,” he says. “It’s also about being a catalyst, and providing the leadership and resources to accomplish these goals.”
Hands-on service is another way members stay involved. “The VP Community Outreach Initiative provides a real opportunity for our families, specifically the young women, to get out in the community. We stress to the young ladies that the VP is more than just a ball and parade,” Cooke explains. Recent projects include teaming up with Beyond Housing, Operation Brightside and St. Louis Public Schools.
Cooke says community involvement has become an integral part of the organization. “No 130-year-old organization can be successful by being static,” he says. “Our group is constantly finding new ways to remain relevant in the community. We want our members to reflect the community at-large, and we engage them to participate in projects that help the city.”
As much as the VP organization has evolved over the years, Cooke says he’s proudest of its tradition. “For many of our members, the core things the ball, the parade, the projects and the camaraderie, have provided the fondest memories,” he says. “As you know, much of what we do is secret, so we’re not in it for the reward or recognition. But personally, being part of an organization that focuses on doing nice things for the community, that’s the biggest reward.”