Gateway Arch from I-55

Gateway Arch from I-55 10-30-2014

I got to see this view of the Gateway Arch from I-55 twice on my last trip to Missouri. Once on my way to drop off Wife Lila at the airport to fly back home to West Palm Beach on October 28, and once when I went to Lambert to pick up Curator Jessica on October 30.

Jessica had already done the obligatory Arch Lick last fall, so she said we didn’t need to go do it again. We opted to go to the City Museum instead.

And, there were no safety hazards involved in the taking of this photo. Road construction had traffic dead stopped at this location both days, so I had plenty of shoot.

Licking the Arkansas Arch

Jessica Cyders at Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9935When Curator Jessica made her initial pilgrimage from Ohio to Missouri last December, I convinced her that every first-time visitor to St. Louis’ Gateway Arch has to lick the stainless steel icon.

She was a mere child of 29 at that time, and gullible.

Not falling for it at the state line

Jessica Cyders at MO - Ark arch 10-31-2014_4265When I asked David Kelley of Steele, Mo., if the old concrete arch over U.S. 61 at the Missouri – Arkansas border was still standing, he said, “Yep. It’s still there. It’s only eight miles away, let’s go see it, then go down to the Dixie Pig in Blytheville for lunch.”

U.S. Route 61 is the official designation for the highway that runs from New Orleans, past Memphis, past Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, ending up in Wyoming, Minn.This section through Arkansas was once a dirt trail called the North-South Road, and was in such poor shape that it might take as much as a full day to cover 15 miles.

Highway 61 called the Great River Road because it parallels the Mississippi River a good part of its run. It also answers to the name “Blues Highway” because of the path it takes through Blues country.

Now that she’s put 30 birthday candles in her back pocket and done several thousand Steinhoff Road Miles, Curator Jessica is older and wiser. She wasn’t falling for the old Lick the Arch trick twice. She did agree to risk death by posing under the arch so you could get an idea of its scale, roughly 15 feet high and 20 feet wide at the base.

Almost a lick

Jessica Cyders at MO - Ark arch 10-31-2014_4267I didn’t realize until I was editing the photos that she DID fake an almost-lick for the camera. I guess that’s close enough.

The arch was created by the Mississippi County Road Improvement District in 1924. Check out what the National Registry of Historic Places says about the arch and what Arkansas highways were like in the first quarter of the 20th Century. It’s a fun read and will make you appreciate modern roadways.

I love this part: The location of the arch on the directly south of the Arkansas-Missouri state lines had a somewhat strange economic effect. Highway 61 runs primarily north to south, but at the state line the road runs east to west for a distance of approximately one-half of a mile. The state line is located directly north of the section of  highway.

A lower gasoline and cigarette tax in Missouri led to a concentration of businesses on the north side of the highway. At one time there were as many as fourteen service stations lined up along the “line”. Along with the service stations came several nightclubs and small gambling houses. The area around the arch became known as “Little Chicago” because of the type of activity that went on there. A long-time resident of nearby Yarbo, Arkansas, once said of the arch, “It was a good place to go while the wife and kids were in church.”

Click on the photos to make them larger.

Licking the Gateway Arch

Matt and Sarah Steinhoff St Louis Arch 12-26-2000I tell newcomers to St. Louis that it is a tradition that first-timer visitors have to lick the arch. I elaborate that in the summertime, entrepreneurs sell alcohol wipes to the germphobes and in the wintertime they sell cups of hot chocolate to chug so your tongue doesn’t stick to the frigid stainless steel.

I tried that at Christmas in in 2000 when Son Matt’s newly-minted wife Sarah joined us at Brother Mark’s for a Christmas celebration. She had been around the Steinhoffs long enough to be inoculated against that kind of foolishness. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Friend Jan almost bit

Jan Norris at Gateway ArchI came very close to convincing Friend Jan to do The Lick, but she remembered who she was with at the last minute and backed out.

Young and gullible Curator Jessica

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9916It was time to get Curator Jessica up to St. Louis to catch a plane back home to Ohio. Over the kitchen table at Brother Mark’s, I asked if he had any alcohol wipes she could use at The Arch in the morning. Without missing a beat, he said he could provide some, which would save her bunch of money over the ones the vendors sold to tourists.

The hook was set.

On the way to Cahokia Mounds the next morning, I said, “Drat! I forgot to get the wipes from Mark before we left.”

“No problem,” she responded, “I was going to ask you to stop at a Walgreens on the way. I can get some then.”

As soon as she left the car, I called Wife Lila in Florida. “Guess what Jessica’s going to do?” I asked.

“You didn’t?”

“Yep,” I did.

 I get The Look

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9924When we arrived at the arch, a group of high school kids were standing on their hands with their feet on the stainless steel. “You might want to lick a different section,” I suggested.

In return, I got The Look, something common to all the women in my life.

Getting down to business

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9927It’s time to pull out the wipes. “All they had was a big package,” she said.

Swabbing down the Arch

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9932Miz Jessica makes sure that no germs are left.

Holy Cow! She did it

Jessica Cyders at Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9935Contact is made. Mission accomplished.

That Tram sure is small

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9938When Jan was here, we ran short on time and she wasn’t crazy about climbing into the tram that carries you and four of your soon-to-be closest friends to the top. You can see why here.

We watched a movie on the building of The Arch, something that Jessica’s engineering prof husband would have appreciated. I tried to get her to buy him a copy of the movie in the gift shop, but she saw how much it cost and said, “I love him, but not THAT much.”

When it came time to board the tram, she was less claustrophobic than I was. Of course, she’s about half the size of me and the other guy who was in there with two other women. You develop friendships in a hurry when you’re crammed into a tin can like that.

“You know, you and I are sitting closer than I got with my first four girlfriends,” I told the woman across from me. Funny how it didn’t take her long to exit when the door opened.

On the way down, we met a guy who painted such a succulent picture of the food at Pappy’s Smokehouse that we made a beeline there as soon as we could get back to the car. Like I said, quick friendships.

We made it to the top

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9956After what didn’t feel like a long time at the rate of about 3.86 mph, we made it the 630 feet (7,560 inches, the website translates) to the top of the structure. It seemed like lots of folks were sharing our space, but it’s designed to hold up to 160 visitors. The Gateway Arch website has lots of interesting factoids.

Leaning out feels strange

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9950Miz Jessica wasn’t bothered by the tight quarters in the tram, but she has a touch of fear of heights, so she wasn’t sure how she’d feel in The Arch. I warned her that leaning out to look at the window can feel like you’re going to cause the thing to sway.

A tour guide assured us there was nothing to worry about: it was designed to sway as much as 18 inches, nine inches to either side. I tried to convince Jessica to get the visitors to run from side to side to see if it would start it swaying, but she nixed the idea.

That was probably just as well she didn’t waste her effort. The guide said that it only sways about 1.5 inches in a 50 mph wind and will, in theory, survive a major tornado and earthquake.

A friendly group

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9958Everybody on the top was friendly, with lots of people volunteering to take pictures of groups. Maybe the knowledge that you might be trapped in a tram with your neighbor if it jams, something that happened quite a few times in the early days of operation, puts you on your friendliest behavior.

View to the west

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9946We were lucky to be there on a fairly clear day when visibility could have been as much as 30 miles. The green-domed building is the Old Courthouse, which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

A lot of new buildings since 1967

View from St Louis Arch c 1967Compare this photo I took in 1967 with the one today. There has been a lot of new construction over the years.

Ballpark to the southwest

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9948The round, reddish structure to the southwest is Busch Stadium.

Yellow building is the Casino Queen

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9960The yellow building on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River is the Casino Queen. If you strain your eyes to the horizon, you might be able to see Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. (Or it might just be the massive landfill to the west of it.)

Gateway Geyser

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9964The round body of water is the Gateway Geyser, which shoots water as tall as the arch three times a day during the spring months.  It is all part of the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which includes a 40-foot Mississippi River overlook. Malcolm Martin was the man who was instrumental in protecting the area from commercial development and as a green complement to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds across the river.

Project started in the 1940s

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9973What I didn’t realize until this trip was how long the project had been in the works before the gleaming stainless steel structure was yanked out of the ground. It got its start in the 1930s, partially as an urban renewal project to get rid of scores of old buildings that cut off the view of the waterfront.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was envisioned to occupy the 62-plus acres where the original French colonial town of St. Louis was founded. Architect Eero Saarinen won a 1947-1948 competition to design the site. His vision of an arch became the focal point of the memorial instead of just a point of interest. Construction of the arch started in February 1963; the north leg opened in July 1967, and the south in May 1968. That must mean that I really was one of the first visitors.

It was all about the river

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9962St. Louis became the gateway to the west because of its location near the intersection of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and being just upstream of the Ohio River in Cairo. Like Cape Girardeau, it’s still a river town at heart.

Basilica of Saint Louis

Gateway Arch 11-04-2013_9952The Old Cathedral, the building with the colorful trees around it, was closed when we visited, so we couldn’t go in it.

[Editor’s note: I think this may be the last of the Curator Jessica stories from this trip. If you are wondering who she is, Jessica Cyders is curator of the Athens County (OH) Historical Society Museum. We became acquainted about a year ago when one of her interns stumbled across my collection of protest photos. I made a swing through Athens with Friend Jan at the end of January and we hit it off. Since then, I’ve done several exhibits and presentations at the museum and at Ohio University. She’s working on persuading me to donate my Ohio photos to the historical society when I go toes-up.

[She stared following this blog and listening to my many tales of growing up in Swampeast Missouri and decided to take a road trip with me to see if anything I told her was true. As you can tell from this account, every word that comes out of mouth or pen is absolutely gospel. (OK, maybe it’s gospel according to Ken.)]







Fort Defiance Fun

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9601I always take visitors to see Fort Defiance, the southernmost tip of Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet. Wednesday was Curator Jessica’s turn. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

You have to wade

Jessica Cyders - Princeton KY 10-28-2013_9493I should have known better than to say, “You have to wade in the water so you can say you straddled two great American rivers,” because I said something like that when we were looking at a spring in Princeton, Ky.

The next thing I knew, she was splashing and frolicking, much to the amusement of some pre-teens who were watching from a bridge.

Shuckin’ off the boots

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9603After not more than a moment’s hesitation, she started shucking off her boots.

Is this REALLY a good idea?

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9611This is her “Is this REALLY a good idea?” look. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know how quickly the bottom fell off or what might be lurking under the muddy waters.

I don’t think you’re in both rivers

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9614“You need to spread out,” I told her. “I don’t think you’re actually in both rivers.” About that time, a wave from a passing towboat started rolling ashore.

She kept her balance, but I guess a splash wouldn’t have been too bad. Jessica kept saying on the trip that she really likes New Orleans. If the 300-foot rope I carry in the car turned out to be short, I calculated she would be passing the Big Easy in a week or so.

Headed to St. Louis

I have to put her on a plane in St. Louis back to Ohio on November 4. We’ll go up a day early so she can meet Brother Mark, Robin and Friend Shari and do some sightseeing.

I promised I’d bring along some alcohol wipes to clean off an area of the stainless steel Gateway Arch so she could lick it, something that all first-time visitors are supposed to do.

Meet her at First Friday

She and I will be at Annie Laurie’s on Broadway on First Friday, November 1. I’ll have Snapshots of Cape Girardeau calendars and the Smelterville book with me. Laurie says she’ll have cookies and hot cider.

Maybe you can help me come up with other quaint Missouri customs like arch-licking that I can share with our Ohio visitor. I’ve found that she is willing to try just about anything once.

Other Fort Defiance photos