The St. Louis Arch

Originally conceived simply as a way to forcibly clean up the crumbling warehouses on the St. Louis riverfront, the St. Louis Arch or as it is formally called “The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial” is an engineering marvel, a symbol of westward expansion and, at 630 feet, is the tallest man-made monument in the United States.

When we arrived by car, we noticed quite a commotion around and entering the park (Marine Week had landed as we would soon discover). We struggled to find parking for a while, gave up, handed over $20 to the parking attendant outside Busch Stadium and walked the six blocks or so to the Memorial.

Once we arrived, we watched “ship to shore” military exercises for a half hour before we searched the complex for the correct entrance to the Arch. When we finally got “below deck”, it was an absolute madhouse – hundreds of children, pre-teens and their parents restlessly laying or sitting just about everywhere or wandering the subterrain of the arch.

We got in line for the next tram (an hour and a half away), got some memorabilia in the gift shop, ate our packed snacks and then explored the museum. The museum is interesting, chronicling Thomas Jefferson’s westward plans from his purchase of the land from the French, Lewis and Clark’s paid expedition and the expansion of white settlers into Native American land.

The museum is a bit outdated (it is scheduled for revamp in few years) and lacks effective artifact labeling. Some of the most interesting quotes and facts were contained on poorly placed plastic placards eleven or more feet above the floor. Most importantly – and I don’t want to get political at all here – it failed to really explore Jefferson’s “manifest destiny” and the effect it had on the natives as well as it probably should have. But, then this is about Jefferson and white settlers, not so much about the tribal people who were displaced.

Once our time had come, we squeezed into a claustrophobic little compartment with three other strangers and took a squeaky four-minute trip to the top of the arch. The viewing platform when we arrived was roomy, well-spaced and easy to maneuver – even with a hundred or so individuals at the top.

The view is breathtaking. You can see for miles with the entire city, and the distant forested hills in full view. It made all the time spent worth it.

We took the next tram down and headed to dinner with my friend Charlie and his wife, but I couldn’t concentrate knowing that the legendary Ted Drewe’s Custard was planned after the meal.