The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2003
FEATURE ARTICLE
   
 

Meet Us In St. Louis: A VVA Visitors Guide

BY MICHAEL KEATING


 

 

``Here to be seen [were] the hectoring, extravagant, bragging boatman of the Mississippi, with
the gay, grimacing, singing, good-humored Canadian voyageurs. Vagrant Indians of
various tribes, loitered about the streets. Now and then a stark Kentucky hunter, in leathern
hunting-dress, with rifle on shoulder and knife in belt, trode along. Here and there were rich new
houses and ships, just set up by bustling, driving and eager men of traffic from the Atlantic
States; while, on the other hand, the old French mansions, with open casements, still retained the
easy, indolent air of the original colonists.''

 -Washington Irving, 1868.

 

St. Louis has always been a city of comings and goings. Lewis and Clark used it as the jumping-off point for the Corps of Discovery. The confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers guaranteed that it would be a port city. It also was the original capital of the Louisiana Purchase.  VVA members and their families should make the effort to get a flavor of St. Louis, a city rich in history and saturated in Mississippi musical traditions.

The Arch and the Old Courthouse sit on either side of the Adam's Mark Hotel, site of VVA's 2003 National Convention and 25th anniversary celebration. Designed by Eero Saainen, who also designed Washington's Dulles Airport, the 630-foot stainless steel Gateway Arch was begun in 1963 and completed October 28, 1965. Underground, below the Arch, is the football field-size Museum of Westward Expansion, which provides an overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition and houses artifacts of the American West.

The Gateway Arch rises on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Two Gateway Arch River boats - the Tom Sawyer and the Becky Thatcher - dock there. One-hour cruises depart at noon, 1:30, and 3:00.

Visitors also can take a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch. From small windows on the top, you can view the entire city. The Arch stands more than twice as high as the Statue of Liberty.

Of course, there are schedules and fees. The first tram ascends at 8:20 a.m.; the last trip up is at 9:10 p.m. The cost is $8 for adults; less for children. Unfortunately there is no wheelchair access to the top of the Gateway Arch. Admission to the river boat ride is $10 ($18 if you ride both the boat and the tram). The Museum of Westward Expansion, however, is accessible and is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Just west of VVA's convention hotel, aligned with the Gateway Arch, is St. Louis' Old
Courthouse. Begun in 1826, the courthouse was not finished until 1862 when its cast- and wrought-iron dome was completed. The Missouri Democrat wrote that William Rumbold's dome was ``such a piece of beautiful massiveness as will command the admiration of mankind long after all now living are dead.''

Dred and Harriet Scott initated a lawsuit for their freedom in St. Louis' Old Courthouse in 1846. The court in St. Louis decided that Dred Scott, his wife, and family should be free from slavery. The court agreed with previous Missouri doctrine that ``once free, always free'' if a slave had been held in bondage in a free state for an extended time.

The decision was appealed, eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland rendered the famous Dred Scott Decision on March 6, 1857: ``The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right of traffic in, like an ordinary article of merchandise and property, was guaranteed to the citizens of the United States... and the government is pledged to protect it in all future time.''

In addition to ruling that African-Americans could not be citizens and declaring the Missouri Compromise (which restricted slavery in the Wisconsin Territory) unconstitutional, the Dred Scott Decision pushed the nation much closer to war.

Also just a couple blocks from the hotel is Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, the home-town team is on the road during the VVA Convention. The only home game VVA visitors may be able to catch is a 12:40 p.m. contest against Pittsburgh on Monday, July 28. For ticket information, go to www.stlcardinals.com or call 314-421-2400. Just northwest of Busch Stadium is the International Bowling Museum and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.

St. Louis' French-inspired Old Cathedral, built in 1834, sits in the shadow of the Arch a block from the hotel. A lovely, serene limestone church, it survived the great fire of 1949. Above the door are inscriptions in Latin, English, and French. The church should not be confused with the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, a Romanesque-Byzantine wonder that contains the world's most extensive collection of mosaic art. That church is known as the New Cathedral and is located in St. Louis' Central West End.

Just barely within walking distance is the Eugene Field House, an old brick downtown rowhouse crammed with antique toys that was the childhood home of journalist and children's poet, Eugene Field:

 

Wynken, Blyken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe--
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.

 

Ten blocks west of the hotel is the Soldiers Memorial, a handsome civic mausoleum that houses an eclectic little war museum. Artifacts have been donated by the citizens of St. Louis from every war since the Civil War, including the first Gulf War. Most of the collection is from WWII. Across the street, immediately south, is the St. Louis Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which honors the city's war dead. In the same plaza, casualties from other wars also are inscribed. Just west of the Soldiers Memorial is an historical marker that commemorates the birthplace of the American
Legion.

In the afternoons and evenings, a bus picks up visitors at the west entrance of the Adam's Mark to take them to the President Casino, a gambling river boat moored on the St. Louis side of the Mississippi. The Casino Queen is moored on the Illinois side. The bus runs through nearby Laclede's Landing, a center of the St. Louis music scene. There are plenty of bars featuring a lot of blues. Blues clubs also are scattered through the Soulard neighborhood, a five-minute drive south of the hotel.

The 8th and Pine subway stop is about a five-block walk. Like in Buffalo, N.Y., riders can travel downtown for free. In fact, you can go as far as Union Station without paying a fare. You no longer will find working trains there, but several are on display. The historically significant building has been converted into a hotel and shopping mall. The other mall close to the hotel, the shabby America's Center, is well worth avoiding.

Taking the train further out brings you to Forest Park, site of the 1904 World's Fair and home to many municipal attractions, including the zoo (one of the nation's largest), the science center and planetarium, and the St. Louis Art Museum. In addition to a broad and handsome permanent collection, the museum's special exhibits include ``Threads of Prosperity: American Domestic Textiles, 1750-1875.'' Admission is free on Fridays; otherwise, it's $10 for adults. For information, go to: www.slam.org

By car, you can quickly get to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which regularly conducts tours. You'll even get a free taste of beer.

A little further south is the Jefferson Barracks, the first permanent American military settlement west of the Mississippi. In its old and lovely military cemetery is buried Michael Blassie, the Vietnam veteran whose remains were disinterred from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington in May 1998.

To learn more about St. Louis, go to www.explorestlouis.com or write St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, One Metropolitan Square, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63102.

   

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