Not Past It - Undercover at the Debutante Ball

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In the summer of 2021, the actress Ellie, Kemper was kind of everywhere.

But it wasn’t for a new episode of the office or the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Ellie Kemper is at the center of a new controversy surrounding one of her hometowns.


Oldest traditions.

This was a controversy that originated more than 20 years earlier when she participated in a debutante ball and st.

Louis Missouri, Twitter users, discovered campers involvement with the Veep.

P ball and dubbed the actress a quote KKK prom queen for her participation, the veiled prophet organization or the VP to those in the know is a mysterious and exclusive group at the center of power in St.



When Ellie Kemper was a teenager, she debuted in the veiled prophet ball where the men of the organization present their daughters to High Society, the young women, literally bow to a veiled figure at the center of a large bowl.



It’s a hallowed tradition for some but others have made it their mission to take it down.

From gimlet media.

This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind every episode.


We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone plannin on December 22nd 1972, the veiled prophet St.

Louis is most secretive and prestigious social organization hosted its annual Ball, but that year a group of local activists, It’s Crash the party to protest the elitist event using disguises diversions a little acrobatics and a shocking stunt they did not ever expect to be infiltrated.


Nobody knew what to do with a purple dress code is white tie because after the break, you are commanded to appear before the veiled prophet and his court of love and beauty.

In the fall of 1972.


Lucy Ferris was enjoying her first semester at Pomona College in, Southern California at one party.

She started telling friends about her hometown of st.

Louis and the unusual Traditions.

She experienced growing up there.


I got fairly drunk and demonstrated the deep deep bow that we had all been taught to perform and asked if there was anybody at the party We wanted to come with me to this kind of costume show in st.


Louis, in just a few weeks.

Nineteen-year-old, Lucy would be headed home for winter break where she take part in an annual tradition that ball hosted by the veiled prophet.

A men’s only whites-only members only group she debut and perform that deep bow in front of St.


Louis High Society.

There were Names that had been in the town for generations and had accumulated wealth and Prestige, the danforth’s the pulitzers, my family was was one of those families.


Lucy’s dad was a local judge, but her family pedigree went all the way back to her great-great-grandfather who helped put on the st.

Louis, World’s Fair in 1904, And being part of the Upper Crust meant that Lucy had heard about the veiled prophet ball from the time.


She was a little girl every year growing up.

She would watch the televised version with her brother.

While her parents attended in person, we got to go into our parents bedroom because they were there and they had a color TV and we got to sit and watch the ball on TV, which was true.



Exciting to us.

Lucy watched as young women in silk gowns and long, white gloves, twirled around the dance floor with their dates, the massive haul, the st.

Louis equivalent of Madison Square Garden was sumptuously decorated with elaborate white bunting plush red carpet and Grand set pieces, and at the center of it all, you’ve got some very wealthy businessman, who dresses up in these white robes, He’s with a veil over his face and a pointy B hat.


That makes him the veiled prophet surrounded by Court years, in the colorful, costumes of the East Side appeared, a being a silver covered his features.

The veiled prophet and his silver shroud is sort of the mascot of this whole event.


His costume is intentionally mysterious and intimidating, the veil disguises his face and his true, identity is a tightly guarded secret.

What kind of a man is behind the silver Veil?

Nobody knows.


The veiled prophet had been part of st.

Louis folklore, since the 1800s and Lucy knew the character as a local fixture.

There’s a children’s book that many, many families had and read to their children at night tied.

This happened, you know, in the Christmas season.


So they would read Christmas stories and they would read stories of the veiled prophet.

And the whole thing got mixed up in your head as to, which was the more important event, the birth of Jesus.

So the coming of the veiled prophet, Little lucy, watched the intoxicating spectacle on screen as one by one each.


Young woman walked down the red carpet that led to the veiled prophets thrown, they bowed deeply to him.

Like he was their King, everyone owes allegiance to his mysterious Majesty.

What the TV cameras didn’t catch though?


Was what was happening outside the venue a group of demonstrators protesting the white Elites and their fancy private event and leading the charge was this guy always had a picket line across the street, you know, we were not protesting to become part of it.


We were protesting to eliminated altogether.

That’s Percy green.

One of st.

Louis has best known civil rights activist.

It’s Percy led, the activist group action, which stands for action committee to improve opportunities for Negroes.


And Percy’s approach to activism was always to create the most spectacular in-your-face scenes possible to get people’s attention.

That was more effective rather than trying to appeal to these races officials with that academic approach.


Let’s say Let me give you an example of a classic Percy green demonstration.

It was the summer of 1964.

Percy was between shifts at his day job as a lab technician and he headed over to the st.

Louis Arch, it was still being built once completed.


It would be over 600 feet tall.

And after that point, the construction company in charge had only hired white men, no black workers.

So Percy dressed in his Her aviator sunglasses is tightly laced, combat boots.


And his neatly tucked shirt, climbed 125 feet up.

The Shining silver arch in the hot July Sun mind you.

This was a climb workers were usually harnessed for Percy.

He just started climbing within minutes news, crews swarmed the scene to hear from Percy himself.


We are demanding that the whole pattern of discrimination in the construction industry.

Be changed in order to include Negroes and all skill jobs.

Percy’s entire platform was aimed at helping Advance job opportunities for black men and for Percy, that eventually meant taking on the veiled prophet organization.


Its wealthy members have held an enormous amount of influence over jobs in St.


That had been the case since its founding, how about came into being when the working class had the general streck back in 1877.


The general strike of 1877 that year rail workers in West, Virginia went on strike for better wages and better treatment.

The US was in the middle of massive industrial change and the strike spread across the country?

In a matter of days, it had reached st.


Louis, nearly all of the city’s working class, not just rail workers but steam boat operators, Brewery workers Miller’s.

Even Newsboys, refused to work the whole Be shut down for a week.


The working class had st.

Louis under its thumb but they didn’t hold power for long.

How do they break it?

The white power structure with a guns and everything.

Most the people back to work In response to the strike, the city’s business owners, gathered and dispatched, a militia 18 Strikers were killed and in 1878 St.


Louis is ruling class celebrated its Victory with a parade.

The VP was a celebration of the management.

Over the working claims the parade celebrating the defeat of the workers strike became an annual event and eventually spun off the veiled prophet ball.


Which became a Saint Louis Hallmark for the next hundred years.

So, while Percy was taking on the city’s, biggest employers demanding, they hire more black workers.

He started to notice a pattern.

Some of the chief executive officer were members of the veiled prophet.


Some of the very CEOs Percy, had been trying to sway were themselves members of the veiled prophet and all that power concentrated in one place on one night, made the debutante ball, the perfect Target, and so in 1965 Percy began protesting the event with a picket line outside.


The venue advocating for the city’s black workers and condemning the veiled profits racist membership rules.

Shouldn’t held signs that read let them eat cake failed profit and entertainment for Rich paid for by poor.


But by 1972, Percy was ready to up the ante.

He and action.

We’re going to infiltrate the exclusive Invitation Only event with spycraft.

Percy knew there was no way he’d be allowed in, but perhaps, he could send in some white members of action, To raise hell in his place.


And to do the thing Percy had been threatening for years.

We’re going to unveil the little profit Percy wanted to take away the power of the anonymous figure at the center of the ball, the man under the veil changed every year, portraying the prophet was a rotating gig for the group’s members.


So for Percy, it didn’t matter who the veiled prophet was specifically, but revealing his identity, could demystify, the The secret societies intimidating, figure head and take away the power of the veil.

Those people were so cocky and they were so full of themselves for weeks Percy, and a small team of organizers strategized at action HQ.


They stood around a chalkboard with a map of the venue on it across.

The top was scrawled, operation unveil One of the operatives, who would try to sneak into the ball?

Was Jane’s.


Our, she had volunteered for this Mission.

I just kind of wanted to see what this was all about.

So, my curiosity also kind of pulled me in Jane grew up in St.


And a liberal Jewish household.


She became involved in the local activism seen as a young woman.

And at the time served as action, secretary To get inside the veiled prophet ball.

Jane couldn’t just Waltz in the front door.

She would need a real-deal invitation, which wouldn’t be easy to come by.


Luckily, Percy green was good at getting things.

He wasn’t supposed to have this day.

I don’t know who we got the tickets from.

No one is ever admitted to me, that they were the supplier of the tickets.

While Percy has never revealed who he got the tickets from.


We do know that he wrote to all of the Debbie taunts that fall asking for their extras and the ones he finally scored were in the balcony section.

Where the household help of the debutante family is always sad.

And so Jane would be joined by another action, accomplice Gina Scott and together.


They would go undercover as the help.

We dressed how we thought, if we were maids and these households and we had the opportunity to see this important event, how would you dress for that Gene and Gina bought their gowns secured?


Their tickets?

Now, it was time to crash the party after the break.

What could possibly go wrong?

How can we shake this guy with got to get rid of them, we can’t have him.

Tailing us.


Welcome back.

My undercover debutantes.

We left off in 1972.

When st.

Louis has annual veiled prophet ball was about to begin and action, a Civil Rights group focused on employment for black men.


Was waiting in the wings, ready to disrupt the evening, Lucy Faris, who he met at the top of the show was also preparing to attend.

The wonder she had for the veiled prophet as a child had.

Word into contempt by the time she reached adolescence my date Michael Edson and I thought it was absolutely mandatory to make a pan of marijuana brownies so that we could get through this.


Whoa, weed brownies.

If you told me about that part I would have been here date Lucy.

Whether or not she liked it, Lucy’s St.

Louis lineage meant, she was expected to participate.

Even if she was kind of over it, I was ready to treat.


The whole thing is one big Joe.

I thought this was the old aristocracy was passing away was stupid and I would participate with a kind of snarky attitude hair, done, white gloves, on marijuana brownies ingested.


Lucy was ready to make her debut.

That night, the hall was filled with thousands of people almost exclusively white and dressed to the nines.

The audience in cocktail rings, and enormous Firs took their seats for the evening.


At 9:00 p.m. sharp, the veiled prophet made his entrance sat on his throne and then nineteen-year-old after 19, year-old began, walking the red carpet towards him.

The names were announced in great stentorian tones.


You can imagine this in a baritone.

The big build Prophet announces to his Port of love and beauty Miss.

Lucy are third.


Stoned out of her mind.

This event suddenly seemed magical I began to think that this was an awful lot of fun.

I felt pretty and was in a kind of hand space where I was loving the music and the Pomp and the circumstance and thought it was all a great scene.


Meanwhile Percy’s operatives Jane and Gina were in the balcony looking for ways to carry out operation unveil, the ceremony had just started and on stage set the target of their mission.

The veiled prophet J & sour watched as each debutant approached his throne for their big moment.


They don’t just bow to him but they deeply bow to him.

I mean, they kind of lay down on The floor in front of him.

It’s bizarre.

The scene unfolding in front of Jane, only confirmed to her why she was there to disrupt it, and that’s when Gina saw a way to get close to the prophet, it was definitely Gina Who spotted this cable and the best of my memory.


It was a cable that went to a television camera, she tugged on this cable and said, I think it’ll hold either one of us.

The cable stretched from the balcony, A television camera positioned on stage right in front of the veiled prophet.


She was a thousand times more athletic than I was.

So there was no doubt.

She was going to be the one that would slide down the cable.

Like, slide down slide down things.

Develop this idea that she would slide down the cable and it looked like she would lay on almost in front of the veil.


Profit, Jane had come prepared with a purse full.

Full of leaflets from action.

They criticized the veiled profits racist sexist, and elitist history plus 4C taught his operatives to make the most of what little they had on hand.

So hello, diversion genius said, go over there and throw the leaflets and I’ll slide down over here as Gina gripped, the cable preparing to make her daring, descent, Jane made it rain, educational literature.


The minute I started throwing all the leaflets.

I was surrounded by security.

They were calling me off if they didn’t know, there was going to be much bigger action with security distracted, Gina took a deep breath in and jumped In the city of debutantes below.


Lucy Ferris was still pretty stoned, but she remembers it.

Well, I saw something swinging down from the third balcony, you know, kind of like Mary Poppins descending on her umbrella.

You did like, oh look at that, someone’s flying.


It was not, in fact, a Charming, British Nanny, hurdling towards the stage, it was Gina and according to Jane, her big leap was slightly lacking in movie Magic.

What happened was that the cable was a rubber cable, and the sliding and holding onto it with her hands, burnt her hands, the friction of it.


And so, she dropped at ahead of reaching the Floor, and now, but not where the TV Camera was.

She felt behind where the veiled prophet was Gina crash to the ground.

Hard on her left side, it looked like she’d maybe broken a couple of ribs, Lucy and the rest of the veiled prophet crowd.


Watched aghast.

There was kind of an audible gasp and then the state was Orchestra started to Drake up the tune again.

Lucy watched as Gina collected herself and limped up behind the throne acting fast Gina knocked.


The veiled profits round.

Silver helmet to the ground, his lace veil.

Floated to the floor and slow motion.

I remember that, I went all because my whole little maybe at that point 45-minute fantasy had been punctured and there was this fat bald man.


Sitting on the throne that fat bald man was Tom K Smith a middle-aged Monsanto executive and that years veiled prophet without his Veil on the power of anonymity.

The mysterious profit was just an ordinary man in a costume.



Perfect wasp style, there was absolute silence for about a minute and a half while Tom K Smith found his Veil and his hat and put them back on.


As the prophet re veiled midst, the commotion Gina was dragged off stage, she was quickly removed from the ball and taken to the hospital to have her broken.

Ribs looked at Jane was kicked out to tossed out the back door by security.


And out front in their usual, picket line, Percy, green and action waited on word from the ball.

I was conducting the picket that.

But I had all the faith in the world of eventually Percy, got the news that Jane and Gina had pulled off operation unveil, where I call it a successful day, of course it did everything that we pointed out.


Back inside the ball.

Everyone tried to just proceed as usual, but even for someone like Lucy, who was still feeling the effects of the brownies, the unveiling of the veiled prophet, was a dramatic disruption for her.


The night never got back.

Its earlier luster once the prophet was unveiled, the mystery left, the whole event from that point on felt too.

As though, we were zombies performing, a ritual that was already dead that had just been killed.


Ultimately the veiled prophet organization declined, to press charges against either of the women.

Jane says, it’s because the secretive group would have had to disclose a lot more information about itself than it wanted to action hoped that Gina and Jane stunt would be covered in the Press creating a PR nightmare.


But the city’s two, major newspapers.

Never even publish the name of the Monsanto executive behind the veil that night.

The saint Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that quote.

Although the prophet was unveiled, he was not revealed to Percy.


It was just more proof that the many Legacy institutions of st.

Louis would always have each other’s backs.

So we’re pulling it out.

That the newspapers were racist.


Percy, considers that night, a win for a lot of reasons after that year the ball was moved from Kiel Auditorium.


A public theater funded by tax dollars to a private hotel and Percy says the local papers eventually admitted they had lied about what happened at the ball in 1972.

We reached out to the veiled prophet Organization for their comments on this story, but they didn’t return our messages.


When you compare the st.

Louis of today, to the st.

Louis of, over a century ago, some things have changed the city just isn’t the same economic Powerhouse at once was over the past 50 years.

A lot of the big companies headquartered there have been acquired by even bigger companies or move.


Get out of the city entirely.

But it also hasn’t changed that much.

It remains highly class-conscious in 2019 1, UC Berkeley study, ranked it.

The 10th most segregated city in the US and racial tensions in the city have made national headlines most notably after police killed, Michael Brown in Ferguson, a suburb of st.


Louis For now, the city still has its ruling class and they still have their veiled prophet ball.

Despite More Than A Century of protest and criticism the veiled prophet organization lives on, it has shifted slightly allowing black men entrants in 1979 but still they throw their party every December and pretty much the same way.


They always have with young women.

Bowing to a grown man hidden behind.

They are after Ellie Kemper was exposed as a veiled prophet.

Debutante, she apologized for her participation.


She said she wasn’t aware at the time of the balls racist sexist and elitist past.

And that quote, I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved that feels like after more than 100 Years, everybody should know better.


The veiled prophet ball.

This, white tie evening with debutantes and dinner.

And dancing is a pretty good disguise for the ugly truth about its Origins.

But the history remains close by just Underneath the Veil not passed it as a Fight original produced by gimlet and zsp media.


This episode was produced by Laura Newcomb next week.

We’re revisiting a classic episode asking the tough questions about America’s favorite treat.

Like what is wrong with us?

That we need a hot like a sex icon.

Mmm, the rest of our team, our producers Olivia, Briley, and remove a Philip.


Our associate producer is Nick, tell Rose the supervising producer is Erica Morrison, editing bike.

Katie feather and Zach Stewart Ponte Andrea be Scott is our executive editor fact-checking by Ian.

Michael sound design and mixing by Emma Monger original music, by Sachs kicks.


Ave Willie Green.

J bless Bobby, Lord Marcus begala and Peter Leonard, our theme song is Toko, Liana by cocoa with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.

The executive producer, at DSP media, exact Stewart Ponte, a, the executive producer from gimlet is at shilts special thanks to Chris Martinez at the Missouri historical society.


And to Lydia Pole, Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar gen hon, Emily wiedemann, Liz Styles, and Ariel Joseph follow not past it.

Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify, click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes while you’re there.

Hey, why don’t you rate is five stars.


You can follow me on Twitter at Simone palana in.

Thanks for hanging.

We’ll see you next week.

I can do what I can to bring this whole patriarchy down, but Meanwhile, my dad really wants me to do this.