One of our goals in seeing St. Louis, was to visit the famous Gateway Arch. The arch, when seen against the downtown skyline itself is quite striking, but the story behind this architectural marvel is truly iconic.
Essentially the arch and the park surrounding it was designed to enhance the waterfront and to commemorate one of the greatest land deals in United States history – the Louisiana Purchase. Thus the symbolism of the arch spanning a great distance between the uprights, but also that it connects one part of America to this greatest new expansion to the West.
History tells us the Louisiana Purchase began with the French in Louisiana. What possible connection could there be to St. Louis Missouri? Actually, St. Louis was the site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, otherwise known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, which was held to commemorate the 1803 Louisiana Purchase agreement. They also hosted the 1904 Summer Olympic Games – another big first for the United States.
This was the inspiration for the musical of 1944, Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and incidentally, a cameo appearance by Liza Minnelli as a baby at the end of the movie.
Vincent Minnelli and Judy Garland met on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis and married. Apparently the production of the musical went on long enough to produce baby Liza.
Another famous first in St. Louis took place in the Old Courthouse, adjacent to the Gateway Arch plaza, which can best be seen from the Old Courthouse steps. The dome of the courthouse is quite dramatic, rising up nearly 200 feet from the floor of the rotunda and was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Sadly the courthouse did not always live up to its outward splendor, for here the historic and pivotal case of Dred Scott was brought to trial in the late 1800’s.
Dred Scott and his wife Harriet were slaves who attempted to sue for their freedom from this same courthouse, where slaves were also ocassionally auctioned for sale on the courthouse steps.
Their case was ultimately denied by a deplorable ruling of the United States Supreme Court, deciding they weren’t citizens but were instead property of their owners and as such could not be heard in court.
The history of their trial is depicted in an excellent exhibit in one adjacent wing of the courthouse and is definitely worth visiting
A great sculpture of the two facing the Gateway Arch can be seen to the left of the courthouse steps, looking toward the Gateway Arch as if to admire it’s grandeur and perhaps the symbolism represented in the connection from an older era to a brave new one.
Incidentally, besides housing the Dred Scott museum, the Old Courthouse is also where you purchase tickets to ride to the top of the Gateway Arch.
Yes, amazingly, we discovered there are nine small cable driven trams that pull you up from inside the arch below the plaza level museum, to the top of the arch where you can look out of observation windows over downtown St. Louis on one side and the harbor on the other.
Next time you’re in town, you really should try to visit the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. So much history, so much fun!