Friday, November 25, 2011

Gateway Steel Arch

While it was impossible to get a fleeting view of the "Old Faithful" from the aircraft on the flight from Denver to Seattle, I could get a clear view of the "Gateway Steel Arch" as our earlier flight from Chicago was landing at St. Louis, Missouri.   Again memories of our visit to the monument six years ago flooded the mind.

The city of  St. Louis has a historical significance in the evolution of the United States.  At the time of its formation and early years, the country was essentially confined to the eastern parts.  The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson felt uneasy about the potential threat of France and Spain blocking the American trade access to the Port of New Orleans.  He introduced a scheme popularly known as "Louisiana Purchase" in 1803 according to which the Americans purchased 828,000 Square Miles of land on which the French had claims by paying an amount of 78 Million Francs (15 million dollars) including waiver of loans of 18 Million Francs.  St Louis was a key center of this action and Thomas Jefferson further commissioned an expedition called "Corps of Discovery Expedition" between 1804 and 1806.  This expedition is well known as the "Lewis and Clark Expedition", on the names of the leaders of the expedition Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  The basic objective of the expedition was Scientific and Commercial study of the area's Plant and Animal Life with Geography to enable exploitation of these resources commercially.   Thus the City of St Louis has come to be identified with and as the "Gateway to the West".

The city of St Louis is located at the confluence of the two major rivers, Missouri and Mississippi.  In 1721, French explorer, Father Pierre Francois de Charlevoix, wrote of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers thus:  "I believe this is the finest confluence in the world. The two rivers are much the same breadth, each about half a league:  but the Missouri is by for the most rapid, and seems to enter the Mississippi like a conqueror, through which it carries its white waters to the opposite shore without mixing them, afterwards, it gives its color to the Mississippi which it never loses again but carries quite down to the sea ...".   Visitors can still witness the two rivers as they merge at the 1,118-acre park located on the north side of the Missouri River at its confluence with the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. The park was named after Pat and Edward “Ted” Jones, for their contributions to the "Missouri park system".  The Jones were largely responsible for the development of the 225-mile-long KATY Trail, a rails-to-trails project that created a trail that runs alongside the Missouri River and crosses the state.

The memorial was originally planned to revive the crumbling riverfront of the city and stimulate local economy.  Civic leader Luther Ely Smith was appointed as the Chairman of a non-profit organization "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association".  There was a lot of resistance from the local people as well as elsewhere and many people told  Mr Smith that they needed more practical things, he would respond by saying that "Spiritual things were equally important".  His efforts are today duly rewarded and "The Gateway Steel Arch" is the centerpiece of the "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial", and erected as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States.  It is erected on the west bank of the Mississippi river and designed in 1947 by Finnish American Architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hanskarl Bandel.  Construction of the Arch started in February 1963 and was completed in October 1965.  Cost of construction was placed at 13 Million US Dollars.  Both width and height of the Arch are 630 feet and it is the tallest man made memorial in the world.  The cross section of the Arch is 54 feet at the bottom and 17 feet at the top.  The Arch shrinks 3 inches in winter and can swing 9 inches on either side and earthquake resistant.  It weighs about 40000 tons of which 26000 tons is cement concrete and 14000 tons of steel interior.  The legs are wider than the upper section to provide stability.   The arch is lighted in the night using special lighting system.  An average four million visitors come to the memorial every year of which one million go to the top viewing gallery inside the arch.

We visited the memorial on the morning of 28th June 2008.   As we entered the lush green park after parking the car, the imposing steel arch welcomed us.  The river, bridges and the boats on one side of the arch  were adding to its beauty.  At arch's base we passed through the security check and reached the visitor's center. As we had reached the arch early in the morning we could get tickets to go to the top of the arch immediately and in the very first batch.  The elevator system carrying the visitors to the top of the viewing gallery inside the arch is a specially designed one.  When the promoters approached well known elevator companies to design an elevator to go to the top of the steel arch, all of them refused due to the peculiar nature and curve of the arch. One person designed a vehicle to go to the top of the arch by using a combination of three different vehicles – tram, train and lift. The modified lift can accommodate a maximum of five persons who have to bend and enter the small chamber and sit in the chairs provided in the lift as it moves along the rails initially, then gets lifted and slides on the rails in the end.  The mechanism of the modified lift is very interesting and is an excellent innovation. We could feel the pushing, lifting and pulling motion sitting in the lift but nothing could be seen as it is covered on all sides. We reached the top of the 630 feet high arch and came out of the lift to the small viewing gallery at the top of the arch. As the arch is in the form of a steel tube, the viewing gallery is a small area and closed on all sides except for the viewing windows.  We had an excellent view of the city, river and ships sailing in it, bridges across the Mississippi river and the giant sports stadium.  Base of the arch was also visible. It was a wonderful sight to be on top of the steel arch and a visit to St. Louis is incomplete without a view from the top gallery. After spending a few minutes at the gallery and taking several photos we returned to the base of the arch in the lift.

The two auditorium at the base of the arch show short films on Lewis & Clark expedition and other important attractions. We viewed the film on Lewis and Clark expedition in the I MAX theater and it was a thrilling experience. The film is made in such a way that we get the experience of being on the boat in the river with the expedition team and rise and fall with the flow of the water.  There is a big museum in the base of the arch containing valuable information about Lewis & Clark expedition and progress made thereafter. We spent some time in the museum, park and riverfront.

Missouri and Mississippi and the City of St Louis always bring the feeling of being in Ganga-Yamuna Sangam at Allahabad. 


  1. The narrative is very beautiful I experienced the visit as if conducted by me. However, the comparison of the two rivers to prayag appears exaggerated to a pious Hindu.

  2. Just as Mothers Ganga and Yamuna nurtured a civilisation on their banks and support generations of humans in India, Mississippi and Missouri do so in America. When I stand before them the feeling is same. Great rivers and great feeling. My mother is great. Neighbour's mother can be equally great.