Given my aversion to big cities, I decided to take advantage of my retiree status and staged out of Scott Air Force Base to explore St. Louis for a few days. What a great decision that was! The metro line ends at the base, so it was quicker, and less stressful, to take the metro into the city than it was to ride the bike.
I spent a whole day at Gateway Arch National Park, which includes not just the Arch, but also a museum, the Old Courthouse, the Old Cathedral, and Lewis and Clark Trail info. The Arch reflects St. Louis’ role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century, whereas the whole of the park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s advocacy in opening the West, and the pioneers who did so. The Old Courthouse was the site of one of the most important cases ever heard in the U.S.; it is where Dred and Harriet Scott filed for their freedom from slavery. Though they lost, their case ultimately led to the freedom of enslaved people in the U.S.
The morning started with touring the Museum, which is underground, beneath the Gateway Arch. It has six galleries which illustrate the history of St. Louis, including European colonization as justified by Manifest Destiny, Indigenous and Creole cultures before the Louisiana purchase (heavy New Orleanian influence), U.S. frontier expansion through a Doctrine of Discovery, and later in history, the building of the Arch. After the museum, I filed into the theater to watch Monument to the Dream. Though the dated 1965 formatting of the 30-minute movie was a bit off-putting in the beginning, I soon got over the aesthetics of the documentary and was fascinated by the tale of the construction of the 630-foot Arch, right up to the placement, almost three years after construction began, of the final section – at the top of the arch! You can click HERE to watch a link on YouTube of the full video, definitely worth the watch.
After the tram ride to the top, I made my way down the grand staircase to the Mississippi River and hopped on the Tom Sawyer for a 1-hour Riverboat cruise narrated by a NPS Park Ranger and a Riverboat Captain. So much fascinating history along this stretch of the river!
Undeterred by the 100 degree heat, I walked just about the whole park, including up to the Basilica of St. Louis, the first cathedral west of the Mississippi, and now referred to simply as The Old Cathedral. According to its official website, “it is one of the most historic buildings in St. Louis, with roots dating back to 1764” with masses still held there to this day.
Even further from the Arch in the park, I walked up the hill to the Old Courthouse. Not only was this building the site of the historic Dred Scott case, the Virginia Minor case was also heard within these walls. Virginia Minor, through her husband Francis, sued the ward registrar of St. Louis for refusing to allow her to register to vote. Their case helped lay the foundation for the women’s suffrage movement, and ultimately, a woman’s right to vote. The building itself is currently closed to visitors as it undergoes a multi-year renovation, but it was still worth the effort to stand at the foot of the stairs leading to the walls where these two historic cases were heard.
In serious need of frozen refreshment at this point, I trudged up the hill for another mile toward Union Station – a whole block of a historic hotel, amusement park, aquarium, shops, and eateries. It was getting late, so I didn’t go to the aquarium, instead I dropped in on the Union Station Soda Fountain where I was told I could get an old-fashioned, decadent chocolate malt. I paid my $8 and was disheartened as I watched the young “soda jerk” squeeze grocery store Hershey chocolate syrup into a blender of plain vanilla ice cream. When she handed me my shake, I reminded myself that they didn’t advertise shakes made from chocolate ice cream, so I had no reason to be disappointed. It tasted as expected (ie, OK), so I sucked down the frozen concoction to help beat the heat and made my way to the 200-ft high Ferris Wheel to get another bird’s eye view of the city. Between the tram ride up the Arch earlier, and now, the Ferris Wheel, I think I’ve gotten a pretty good lay of St. Louis from above.
By the time I was done exploring, I decided to forgo the metro back to base and take an Uber instead. As luck would have it, my Uber driver was a female biker about my age, so we talked motorcycles and routes and the joys of riding. A perfect end to a great day of exploring 🙂