Growing up in St. Louis, I was surrounded by a multitude of historic buildings and beautiful monuments and homes. During my high school years, the Gateway Arch was being erected. I remember all the excitement when construction crews prepared to insert the final section (connecting the north leg to the south leg). Everyone wondered and worried whether or not they’d have a successful joining! Just weeks after my high school graduation, the structure was opened for visitors and tram rides to the top.
The picture at left is a study in contrasts with the sleek, modern Arch set as a backdrop for the Old Cathedral that has been on this site since 1834. Its official name is the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France. While another building (an inconsequential one-room log structure) preceded the Old Cathedral, the site has maintained its place because early settlers of the area insisted on setting aside specific ground in their community for a church. The first religious facility was dedicated around 1770.
Today’s Old Cathedral is an impressive Greek Revival building and I’m glad it still stands. The city of St. Louis has of course grown around the building, with roadways and interstate highway edging closely on its west side. (Of course, directly east is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a park area surrounding the Gateway Arch, and then the Mississippi River.) It’s a tight fit.
Most of the time when I return to St. Louis, I drive. However, when I have opportunity to fly into Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, I always consider it a treat. Often before landing, the airplane makes a wide arc all the way to the river, curves around the arch, the cathedral and all of downtown and makes its final approach coming from the east into the airport. For me, this magnificent sweep reminds me of this city’s expansive beauty.
I’ve already mentioned the muddy Mississippi. It’s a river in which I once water-skied! (I can attest to its muddiness, especially after it rains.) My fascination with the river always brings to mind writer Mark Twain. When I fly above the river, I feel as if I could look down on it for hours studying its twists and turns, the sand bars, the numerous offshoots that have been etched into the surrounding lands by Spring rains and floods.
I wrote the poem below after one such airborne arrival. It’s a longish poem and its focus was the connection of this town to the river. Yes, there are many other towns up and down the Mississippi, but I’m a St. Louis woman, so one can hardly expect I’d write about Cape Girardeau or Herculaneum!
If you take a look at the picture of the river, you’ll notice two bridges crossing the wide divide. One of these bridges is a newer structure built for interstate traffic. The one further north is the Chain Of Rocks Bridge, now a pedestrian and bicycle path that once carried traffic as part of Route 66. This is a narrow bridge known for its 22-degree bend about halfway across.
When I took driver’s education in high school, the bridge was on our route one day when I happened to be in the driver’s seat. I will never forget how terrified I was! (I’m guessing my instructor and the three students in the back seat were equally terrified.) Somehow I made it across without a mishap! I will never forget that experience.