Today marks the completion of St. Louis’s most monumental claim to fame, the Gateway Arch. Designed by Eero Saarinen and sheathed in stainless steel, the Arch instantly became the symbol of Mound City when work on it ended in 1965. It clocks in at 630 feet tall at its arch-iest and majestically arcs over, well, nothing. The Gateway Arch just stands in a park along the Big River. In fact, from the interstate, you’d swear they built the thing in the empty parking lot of a long-closed Piggly Wiggly. It seems just that disconnected from the city.
Seriously, the Arch itself is about 1/1000th as interesting as the story behind it, a tale of competing visions, racial discrimination and protest, labor unrest, hilarious lies about jobs, and an abandoned plan to make the object the centerpiece of a Midwestern edition of Disneyland. Have you been up in the Arch? So what, right? It’s only popular because there’s nothing else to do once you finish your lunch of (admittedly fantastic) St. Louis barbecue.
Save your money and buy a real piece of the city: its history. St. Louis Rising tells the incredible story behind the city’s founding, when cunning Frenchmen made lemonade out of the lemon that was France’s performance in the French and Indian Wars. Carl J. Ekberg and Sharon K. Person get down to it. They reexamine the complexities of politics, Indian affairs, marriage customs, slavery, the role of women, and material culture that characterized the 1760s. Their alternative version of the oft-told tale of St. Louis’s founding places the event within the context of Illinois Country society. Vividly depicting life in a colonial outpost, St. Louis Rising provides a trove of new information on everything from the fur trade to the arrival of the British and Spanish in the aftermath of the war.