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Gateway to the West (and my 100th post!)

And I've only chronicled about a third of our journey! We've seen and done so many fun and exciting things that it's hard to find the time to write. As I attempt to close the gap between my posts and our actual location, I want to thank those that have taken the time to read and comment on what I've written. I truly appreciate you all.

When last we left you, we were high-tailing it south to outrun the oncoming plague of winter weather. Our second stop in the Show-Me state was in the town of O'Fallon.

This bedroom community sits about 30 minutes north of St. Louis. Our RV park of choice was Cherokee Lakes Campground. We were a little apprehensive when our GPS took us to a rundown used car lot, but after a few tense seconds we discovered the campground sat behind this eye sore.

The park sits right on Cherokee Lake but sadly, the owners have let the park fall into disrepair. It was tired and uninviting. Most of the residents were permanent and the sites were close together. It's a shame because a campground with these views, could be a goldmine to some inspired owner.

Our stay at this park was uneventful. It did have a fire ring so a campfire was a must but overall we gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Other than being a little hard to find, this was an adequate stop for a short visit.

After setting up camp, our first excursion is almost always into the nearby town. First, to get a feel of the surrounding area and secondly to stock up on needed sundries. If the town is inviting, and we aren't too tired from the day's travels, we'll stop for a coffee and a stroll down "Main Street". We found O'Fallon to be rather utilitarian. Little culture and lots of big-box stores. Someone told us that O'Fallon has more apostrophes in its name than it has interesting things to do and that proved to be true.

One interesting fact is that O'Fallon, founded in 1856, was named after John O'Fallon, the president of the North Missouri Railroad. My guess is that back in the day when small towns were vying to become the next railroad terminus, this town chose its name wisely!

The real reason we stopped here was to see St. Louis. As a young child, we visited here on a Midwestern family trip and my memories weren't pleasant. My recollection, although hazy, was of a somewhat sketchy city. Dingy, drab and bleak. My father, an engineer by trade, came to marvel at the stainless steel covered arch.

I remember thinking that we drove all this way just to see half of a McDonald's emblem! But that's the mind of a child. I was anxious (and somewhat apprehensive) to see if my recollections match reality.

I was pleasantly surprised! The city was almost unrecognizable (except for the bisected McDonald's emblem). It has transformed into a bright, trendy and safe modern metropolis.

And now, viewing it through the eyes of an adult, I understand why my father looked up with such awe. The Arch is a marvel of human engineering. With its stainless steel skin and pretzel like bend, it almost defies logic. The structure seemingly flexes, twists and sways as you walk around it. My limited mind could not comprehend how something so tall and so narrow, did not simply topple over.

But my dad --with his grasp of force, and balance, and design-- understood and still, it astonished him.

For almost sixty years the monument has stood. Beautiful and inspiring. Not only is it the tallest arch in the world, it is the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Here are a few interesting facts about the iconic landmark that we discovered while visiting:

  • The arch’s two legs were built separately, and if their measurements were off by as little as 1/64th of an inch, they would not have been able to join at the top. (1/64th of an inch is about the thickness of 5 sheets of paper).

  • Without the ability to use safety nets, the insurance company for the project predicted that 13 workers would die during the construction. Fortunately, there were NO fatalities on the project. (The only death associated with the Gateway Arch was that of Kenneth Swyers, who in 1980 leaped from a plane, parachuted to the top of the arch, and attempted to BASE-jump to the ground. His auxiliary parachute didn’t deploy, and he fell to his death).

  • The arch is as tall as it is wide. Though it might not look like it, it is 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide.

  • It is designed to sway 18" in 150 mph winds!

  • The arch is part Ferris wheel. Because of its curved shaped, a traditional elevator could not be employed. So, a unique tram system that combined elements of an elevator and a carnival ride had to be invented.

  • The Secret Service has forbidden all sitting presidents from ascending the Gateway Arch due to security concerns—it is, after all, a very tight, enclosed space.

  • When construction began in 1954, 40 blocks of downtown St. Louis had to be razed. Some in the press called it “an enforced slum-clearance program”. It was a controversial move—particularly since it was discovered that the vote to allocate city funds to the project was rigged (who says elections can't be stolen!)

The arch is rather cramped once you reach the top but you do get spectacular views of the city.

Here are a few photos I took from above.

A tug boat slowly pushes a barge down the Mississippi.

A view of the city and the historic Old Courthouse. Which I talk more about later in this blog.

Busch stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.

As we stepped off the elevator, we had the pleasure of meeting a group of ladies that were in town for The Sweet Adelines International Annual Convention and Competition. They gave us a preview of their talents! We hope they placed well.

Visiting the Gateway Arch was well worth diverting off of our direct path. We visited here in October of 2018 on the weekend so parking was no problem.

As I mentioned earlier, we also toured the Old Courthouse.

Built in 1828, it was designed as a combination federal and state courthouse. It is indeed a beautiful structure but with a tainted history. The first being that slave auctions were held here up to 1861.

The second being, it is where Dred Scott brought suit against his slave-owner in an attempt to win his own freedom.

In the 1820's Missouri passed a statute stating that "any person taken to a free territory automatically became free" and could not be re-enslaved upon returning to a slave state. So in 1846, Dred Scott brought suit against his owner, Dr. John Emerson.

Dred had been owned by the Blow family where he met, and maybe befriended, their son John Taylor Blow. After the Blows left the farming business, they sold Dred Scott, and his wife Harriet, to Dr. Emerson, an army surgeon.

Dr. Emerson, being transferred from army post to army post, took Dred Scott and his wife Harriet, into Illinois and the territory of Wisconsin, both free-states. Four years later, when the Emersons returned to St. Louis, John Taylor Blow suggested that Dred sue for his freedom and even offered to help finance his legal battle.

The suit, first brought to a lower Missouri circuit court, was decided in their favor (1850) but it was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where in 1857, Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney (a former democrat senator from my neighboring state of Maryland) ruled that "..all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not United States citizens and therefore had no right to sue in federal court."

It was a low point for our legal system and perhaps the greatest "self-inflicted wound" of this country. But the ruling did inflame passions across this nation which sowed the seeds for the coming "terrible swift sword" of civil war.

This is the courtroom where the Dred Scott case was deliberated.

We also learned that Dred Scott was buried in a nearby cemetery and given our love of exploring old cemeteries, we were off like a couple of detectives on a hot lead.

For us, cemeteries are like libraries. Under each headstone lies a novel. Stories of past history, unsolved mysteries or heartbreaking tragedy. A person who once loved, was loved (hopefully), strove, laughed, influenced others and was influenced by others. It would be wonderful if each story had a happy ending but life doesn't always work that way. From poignant headstones that read: "She Deserved Better" to heart warming messages of: "Dearly Missed", each life made an impact, each death left a void. Each story should be told.

Calvary Cemetery:

This Catholic cemetery is spread out across 400 well manicured acres and contains over 300,000 graves. The land was once owned and farmed by Senator Henry Clay.

Our first stop of course, was the tombstone of Dred Scott. I think the memorial plaque says it best: "A simple man who wanted to be free".

Something I found interesting was that people had left coins. We've seen this many times but mostly at the graves of veterans. A silent message to the deceased soldier's family that someone else had come to pay respect.

It is said that leaving a penny means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime indicates you served with them in some capacity. By leaving a quarter, you are telling the family that you were with the soldier when he was killed. The coins are collected by the cemetery and used to maintain the grounds around the grave site.

How much, I wondered, do you leave at the grave of someone who chose to fight on the battlefield of civil rights? A courageous warrior that wanted nothing more than to live free. I wasn't quite sure, but felt obligated to leave a quarter. Face up.

Here are a few of the other interesting stories we came across:

This memorial sculpted in eagle feathers is dedicated to four Nez Perce Native-American leaders: Black Eagle, Speaking Eagle, Rabbit-Skin-Leggings and No-Horns-On-His-Head. In the autumn of 1831 they arrived in St. Louis, having walked almost two thousand miles from the present-day state of Idaho to meet explorer William Clark in order to learn more about the "White man's Bible". Clark had been befriended by the Nez Perce tribe 25 years earlier on his and Meriwether Lewis' Corps of Discovery expedition. The Nez Perce gave the starving explorers much needed supplies. I was not able to find out whether they actually met up with William Clark when they arrived.

The Civil War general who ravaged the southern countryside as he "marched to the sea".

The grave stone of Thomas Lanier Williams III, best known by his pen-name. He was considered one of the foremost playwrights of American drama. He penned "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". In his Will he stated: "I wish to be buried at sea at as close as to the possible point [where] the American poet Hart Crane died by choice". His loved ones chose to bury him here, close to his mother.

The grave of Auguste Chouteau. A fur trader who saw the potential of this location at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. He constructed a trading post in 1764 which quickly flourished into a town.

There can be found much beauty in these monumental masonry such as this memorial to a wife who died way too young.

And lastly, we found two gravestones that really plucked at our heartstrings. It is a memorial to two young siblings, John and Julia Olivia Morrison. Julia died at just under two years old (1870) and greeted her younger brother, John, in the Great-Beyond when he died at the age of 6 (1876).

The son is sitting in a wheel chair, a possible clue to a medical condition that may have contributed to his death.

Having my curiosity piqued, I went home and googled the family. While little is found of the father, the mother Adele Sarpy Morrison, a St. Louis socialite, had written an autobiography. While reading through her memoirs, I found mention of her daughter: "This darling angel, with her violet eyes fringed in black lashes, did not hold her own in my heart, I will tell you how dear she was to me, and that when after fourteen months of she was called away, I felt my mother’s heart tried as it had never been before." Little Olivia contracted whooping cough and never recovered.

She wrote about her son as well: "My noble boy was taken ill the day of his half-sister’s wedding, and though the most notable physicians were called in, and we took him to many health resorts, all was of no avail". Nothing is said about the cause of his death.

For many years, mom visited every day. She would bring toys to place on the graves and had a covering erected in bad weather. These truly are two cemetery memorials carved by a mother's grief.

We probably spent four hours walking the serene grounds here. Reading inscriptions and trying to decipher the relationships between those buried in family plots. We learned a lot about those that contributed, some loudly and some quietly, to St. Louis's colorful history.

Having spent about a week in this area, we packed up and headed south to the family vacation destination of Branson, Missouri.

Home to some of the rudest and obtuse drivers we have ever come across! But more on that in my next post.

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May 29, 2021

Loved it! You are a cemetery connoisseur that brings them to life with Interesting stories & pics!

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