The Gateway to the West

The gateway city – that is the role that St. Louis played in the march of the pioneers and settlers onward. From 1841 till 1869 – when the railroad was completed – thousands of wagon trains and over 300,000 settlers began the westward leg of their hard journey from this place, near the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers.

Today, that role is brilliantly reflected in the Eero Saarinen arch that now completely symbolizes this city.

I have to admit being a bit skeptical of the impact of this edifice on a previous trip to St. Louis twenty years ago. What’s different now that we have seen so many of the places that those settlers went after they left here. We have been to land’s end, and in many points in between, we have heard the stories, and even touched the wagon ruts that these people left behind.

So now when we see the Arch, the complexity of what it symbolizes seems very poetically served by this graceful doorway that leads you forward, and signifies the start of something newer, brighter, and better.

It speaks to us in a different way.

But if you only look at it as a design and engineering marvel, you will still be entranced. So today, share a whole raft of views of this deceptively simple structure.

Now, to answer the question you  all must have. Yes, you can go to the top of the Arch. Look at the tiny little viewing windows as seen from below. There is a tramway on either side of the structure, and it takes four minutes to get to the top.  There are eight tiny cars that each hold five people – preferably those who are closely related.

Oh, was your question about whether we went to the top of the Arch? Sorry, should have realized. Well, Don is not one for heights, so I went alone, and actually had a car to myself on the return trip. The viewing deck is quite something. I didn’t need to stay long, but I did get a few shots of the old courthouse, where the famous Dred Scott case was first heard. It is a complicated and long legal story which went all the way to the Supreme Court. Their decision against freedom for this slave greatly influenced the nomination of Abraham Lincoln to the Republican Party and his subsequent election, which in turn led to the South’s secession from the Union.

The rest of what can be seen is the center of St. Louis, with its stadium and ballpark, and the lands beyond.

Downstairs underground is the rationale for all this westward expansion – a museum that basically defends Manifest Destiny, but does try to temper the history of our national belief that we ‘bought’ the West, and stands as an homage to Thomas Jefferson, who had the foresight to send Lewis and Clark out exploring. Complicated stuff, this.

Outside and up close, you see that this immense structure, which looks so delicate from a distance, is really quite sturdy and massive at its base.

Not much more to say about St. Louis, I’m afraid, except to tell you about our wonderful hotel room. This time our status as frequent travelers really paid off, as we were given the largest suite in the Crowne Plaza for two nights – 0n the 28th floor, with a balcony facing the Arch.  The amount of space is perfect for a hospitality suite, and brings back lots of memories from the wild 80’s, but is perhaps just a bit too large for us. No matter – we filled it up and had a marvelous time!

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