I was reading Bill McLelland in the Post-Dispatch when I first encountered this curiosity. Bill stated, “Yes, it seems that this al-Qaida group named itself after the same legendary figure we know and love from the Veiled Prophet Ball. Small world, huh?”
Small world it is, but it’s a long and winding road from a hotel in St. Louis to an al-Qaida terrorist group. It started with a poem and an elitist group of St. Louisans who sparked civic protests on the streets of St. Louis that eventually led to the premiere hotel of St. Louis creating a new ballroom.
In his book, Lalla-Rookh, Thomas Moore’s first poem is about Hashim Al-Muqanna, commander of Abu Muslim of Khorasan and a self-claimed prophet of Khorasan. Al-Muqanna was said to wear a veil to cover up his beauty. The poem is called “The Veiled Prophet of Khorasan.”
But how did the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel end up with this ballroom name that could very soon be about as attractive as The Al-Qaida Room? Blame marketing.
The Veiled Prophet Organization wanted to create a St. Louis celebration similar to Mardi Gras, complete with pageantry, glamorous costumes, parades and floats. Anyone over 40 probably remembers how the event was once very elitist. The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan St. Louis version was a world traveler who made St. Louis his home base. Yes, the St. Louis elite changed the story to fit their local needs. The Prophet was selected from among St. Louis' business and civic elite and his identity from year to year was supposedly a big secret - except that one year when a protester (there were many over the years) swooped down from a tree during the parade and pulled off the Prophet’s veil in 1972. Civic protests grew through the 60’s and 70’s as St. Louisans began to resent the culturally elitist nature of the event; so much so that in 1995 the event organizers dropped the name Veiled Prophet and changed it to Fair St. Louis. The fair part became bigger as the parade and ball parts faded away, like the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan never happened.
But it did happen. In fact, for a long time the Veiled Prophet Ball, the annual debutante ball, was held at Kiel Auditorium, where the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan would dance with the newly crowned Queen of Love and Beauty. This was definitely a ball you would not attend if you were not St. Louis upper class “somebody.” It was elite. And it was being held in a public auditorium paid for by …. everybody else, the taxpayers. And this was just one more thing that teed off a lot of St. Louisans about the event. So in the 1950’s the Chase Park Plaza Hotel built a very beautiful ballroom specifically for the purpose of hosting the annual debutante ball. And to seal the deal, they called it the Khorassan Ballroom. The thinking was that the name would insure that the ball would always be held there. Or, so I’m told. But now we’re seeing the name Khorasan group (with one s, but named after the same part of the old world) being tossed around on the nightly news. The world is, indeed, small after all.
So should the Chase change the name of their ballroom, all things considered? I say no. If they change the name, the terrorists win.