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Made for the U.S. National Parks and Monuments quest.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is located on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. The most interesting features of the park are the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, and the Museum of Westward Expansion which resides beneath the Arch.

Museum of Westward Expansion

The museum (no admission) consists of the standard dioramas and artifacts one would expect by its name. Stuffed bison reside next to prairie schooners, all mocked up to illuminate what was faced by the non-indigenous American migrants as they fled from the East to the West. The bookstore for the Museum has an excellent collection of published works of this time period, as well as all the standard souvenir dreck and kitsch a tourist could desire.

Gateway Arch

Finnish architect Eero Saarinen won a contest for the proposed monument in 1948. Construction did not proceed until 1963. The Arch was finished in October, 1965 for a total cost of 15 million dollars. One of the most striking public sculptures in the world, the 630 foot stainless steel catenary arch is the St. Louis skyline's most striking object. Special elevators take visitors to the top of the Arch for a view of the Mississippi River and the adjoining city of East St. Louis, IL in the state of Illinois. These elevators are specially designed to pivot as they ascend in order to keep the occupants level as they traverse the inside of the Arch itself.

The Arch is illuminated at night by 44 floodlights. Lighting is turned on at 10pm, and turned off at 1am.

Old Courthouse

Built in 1839, the Old Courthouse is of historic interest as the venue for two trials of Dred Scott in the late 1800's. The decisions affirming Scott's return to a life of slavery is considered one of the prime motivating events for the abolition movement against slavery in the United States, culminating eventually in the first American Civil War. Scott is buried in Calvary Cemetery a few miles away in the City of St. Louis.

The Old Courthouse was also the site of a lesser known fight for a woman's right to vote. Virginia Louisa Minor regularly fought (and lost) in the Old Courthouse in the late 1870's as she attempted to obtain suffrage for the women of Missouri.

Currently, the Old Courthouse is a museum about the history of St. Louis.

The Grounds

Pleasant and parklike, the grounds consist of paved walkways through green lawns and various deciduous trees. In 1993, the Mississippi River reached the highest recorded levels in its history, flooding the lower part of the grounds. Visitors should look for special plaques on the stairs leading up to the Arch which mark the high point of the flood. One can turn around and imagine the Mississippi River in the distance encroaching on your sneakers.

Fair St. Louis (previously the Veiled Prophet Fair) takes place around July 4 on the grounds of the Memorial. It is the single largest event on the St. Louis calendar, drawing around 1 million people to the multi-day event. The highlight of the Fair is an airshow over the Mississippi River. The steps leading up to the Arch make a nice bench for watching the assorted bi-planes, parachutists, and Harrier Jump Jets cavort over the waters.

Other Parks and Monuments, see: U.S. National Parks and Monuments


Sources:

Personal Experience

Encyclopedia of Women in American Politics. Phoenix, AZ : Oryx Press, 1999 (ISBN 1-57356-131-2)

Amsler, Kevin. Final Resting Place : The Lives and Deaths of Famous St. Louisans. St. Louis, MO : Virginia Publishing, 1997 (ISBN 0-9631448-8-X)

URL for Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Web Site:

http://www.nps.gov/jeff/

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