This is the last leg of our journey across the U.S. We left Tunica, Mississippi, drove back through Tennessee, and north into Missouri. We only had one stop planned for this state – The Gateway Arch which is the centerpiece to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
I had a feeling of nostalgia when we arrived. I’d been here once before. I was only two years old, but I have a distinct memory of my father holding me in his arms and showing me the newly built arch. I also remember that we couldn’t go up in the arch because it wasn’t actually finished. I was interested to find out if this memory was correct. It turned out it was. The arch was completed in 1965, but was not open to the public until the tram that takes visitors up the arch was installed in 1967. I would have visited in 1966.
I wasn’t the only one who had been here before. Charles Dickens visited St. Louis in 1842. The Gateway Arch a memorial to the westward expansion of our nation. It’s where Lewis and Clark started their expedition in 1804 to explore and map the west. To Mr. Dickens, St. Louis was the west.
Here are some of Dickens’ own words about St. Louis.
“In the old French portion of the town the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very quaint and picturesque: being built of wood, with tumble-down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs, or rather ladders, from the street. There are queer little barbers’ shops, and drinking-houses too, in this quarter; and abundance of crazy old tenements with blinking casements, such as may be seen in Flanders. Some of these ancient habitations, with high garret gable windows perking into the roofs, have a kind of French shrug about them; and, being lop-sided with age, appear to hold their heads askew besides, as if they were grimacing in astonishment at the American Improvements.”
During his stay, Mr. Dickens went on a jaunt to see the prairie (Looking Glass Prairie in Illinois, but in the end was anything but impressed.
“It would be difficult to say why, or how—though it was possibly from having heard and read so much about it—but the effect on me was disappointment. Looking towards the setting sun, there lay, stretched out before my view, a vast expanse of level ground; unbroken, save by one thin line of trees, which scarcely amounted to a scratch upon the great blank; until it met the glowing sky, wherein it seemed to dip: mingling with its rich colours, and mellowing in its distant blue. There it lay, a tranquil sea or lake without water, if such a simile be admissible, with the day going down upon it: a few birds wheeling here and there: and solitude and silence reigning paramount around. But the grass was not yet high; there were bare black patches on the ground; and the few wild flowers that the eye could see, were poor and scanty. Great as the picture was, its very flatness and extent, which left nothing to the imagination, tamed it down and cramped its interest. I felt little of that sense of freedom and exhilaration which a Scottish heath inspires, or even our English downs awaken. It was lonely and wild, but oppressive in its barren monotony. I felt that in traversing the Prairies, I could never abandon myself to the scene, forgetful of all else; as I should do instinctively, were the heather underneath my feet, or an iron-bound coast beyond; but should often glance towards the distant and frequently-receding line of the horizon, and wish it gained and passed. It is not a scene to be forgotten, but it is scarcely one, I think (at all events, as I saw it), to remember with much pleasure, or to covet the looking-on again, in after-life.”
Despite his disappointment in the area, Mr. Dickens had planned on visiting St. Louis again during his second trip to America in 1867/68, but poor health and weather prevented the excursion.
So, I’ve brought Mr. Dickens to St. Louis now, and I have to wonder about how the area, that seemed rustic and uninspiring then. would amaze him now.
Back to the Arch. It is a feat of engineering, and amazing to visit. The tram system is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia, and remind me of Star Trek style escape pods. The ride up is jerky as the pods need to travel in a stair step fashion to make it up the curve of the arch. Once at the top, the view is amazing.
In lieu of the recent tornadoes in the area, we asked one of the guides about storms and how they affect visitors to the Arch. The gentleman told us that they only close the Arch if there is a tornado warning, although the streamline aerodynamics of the Arch means it really isn’t affected by them. Only steady, sustained winds affect the Arch giving it a sway of nine inches in either direction. He told us that thunderstorms were fun to watch from up top and he had been up in the Arch during a lightning strike. Where as my friend was adamantly shaking her head no at that idea, I was thinking – cool! I just may have to plan a trip down there when thunderstorms are expected!
We were able to get a good look at the Mississippi River, now flooding it’s banks. At the bottom of the stairs there is a tree-lined sidewalk that is completely under water.
The white rectangle in the center of the picture is actually the top of a tent that normally overlooks the river.
After coming back down, we checked out the Lewis and Clark museum, and did some shopping. There is one store called the Levee Merchantile that features items that would be available circa 1870. I’m sure Mr. Dickens felt more comfortable here. I couldn’t resist picking up this feather quill. I also bought this Christmas cookbook – not for the vintage recipes, but because the cover looks so much like the cover of my book, Christmas Carole.
Did I tell you it looked just like my book cover?
How crazy is that? Not only does it look similar but there’s a quill on my cover and Charles Dickens within my pages!
Tomorrow we’re homeward bound.