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Mon May 24, 2010 3:55 pm

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A Gateway to the West is interesting travel story from the country United State. I hope you will enjoy to read this story !!!

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial or the great ‘Gateway Arch’ at St. Louis, Missouri is aptly called America’s gateway to the west. I had visited St. Louis for presenting a paper in a conference in October 2006. And not to miss out on the city’s great icon, the Arch, I headed there on a bright sunny morning after the conference. The memorial park encompasses an area of 91 acres along the western bank of Mississippi river facing the beautiful Old Courthouse building, famous for a slavery case and its watershed judgement, which had ultimately plunged U.S. into the long Civil War. The park is owned and maintained by the Jefferson National Parks Association, a U.S. Federal Govt. agency. The park surrounding the Arch is a visual treat with landscaped gardens and water bodies, paved walkways and many tall trees including sweetgum, rosehill ash and cypress. The memorial park hosts around four million visitors every year, most of whom head straight to the Arch for a ride to its top for the grand view of the Mississippi river and downtown St. Louis. I took an underground metro train and disembarked at Laclede’s Landing station. A good 10-minute walk through the park brought me to the northern base of the Arch. Underneath the Arch, a visitor descends to an expansive Visitor Center comprising a 45,000 sq. ft. Museum of Westward Expansion with two auditoria (Tucker and Odyssey Theaters). The Tucker Theater shows a half-hour long documentary, ‘Monument to the Dream’ filmed during various stages of the Arch’s construction. The Visitor Center also houses the Museum Store selling Arch memorabilia. And there is the Levee Mercantile General Store, which takes one back to St. Louis of 1870s with its vends of hearth-baked bread, muffins, cheese, sausages, kettle corn, pretzels et al giving the flavour of regio-ethnic specialities of the period. The combined ticket for the documentary at Tucker Theater and tram ride to the viewing gallery at the top of the Arch cost $11.00. Any description of the ‘Gateway Arch’ would be incomplete without touching upon the great American visionary Thomas Jefferson, who became the 3rd President of USA and remained in the office during 1801 to 1809. President Thomas Jefferson belonged to the club of astute politicians and nation builders, who contributed immensely to the shaping of modern America. He was truly a personality with multifarious talents – he was an agriculturalist, horticulturist, architect and archaeologist, author, inventor and also the founder of the University of Virginia. As the greatest tribute to President Jefferson, President John F. Kennedy, while welcoming forty-nine Nobel laureates for a dinner at the White House in 1962, remarked, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone!” An important milestone for Jefferson’s Presidency has been the famous Louisiana Purchase, the acquisition of 530 million acres of land (over 22percent of today’s U.S. territory) from France in 1803. This was a catalytic to the expansion of American frontiers to the west all the way to Pacific coast. The famous Lewis and Clarke expedition (1804-1806) was authorized by President Jefferson for exploring the Missouri river for practicable water transportation across the American continent for the purposes of commerce. Subsequently, the Old Courthouse of St. Louis served as the favourite gathering place for the fortune seekers trying to explore the wild west. When the US Federal Government decided to erect a befitting national monument in the memory of President Jefferson in 1935, the riverfront of St. Louis was selected as the ideal spot. A nationwide design competition held in 1947, selected the concept of an inverted steel catenary arch by architect, Eero Saarinen. As the competition results were announced, the official notification went to Eero’s father, architect Eliel Saarinen, who had also taken part in the design competition. As Saarinen Sr. was busy celebrating the feat, an embarrassed official informed that the award had actually gone to the younger Saarinen. The rejoicing father immediately opened another bottle of champagne to celebrate the son’s achievement! The Arch was constructed during February 1963 to October 1965 with less than $15 million. An engineering marvel by all means, the stainless steel faced Arch towers 630 ft. above the banks of Mississippi river and spans 630 ft. between the outer faces of its triangular legs. The reinforced concrete foundation of the Arch extending 60 ft. below the ground, was designed with the consideration that for a wind velocity of 150 mph, the Arch would deflect only 18 inches at the top. Each leg of the Arch is an equilateral triangle with 54 ft. long sides at the ground level tapering to 17 ft. at the top. The legs are of double-walled construction with the intermediate space of 3 ft. upto the height of 400 ft. and 7-3/4 inches beyond 400 ft. The intermediate space between the stainless steel walls was filled with over 12,000 tons of reinforced concrete upto the height of 300 ft. and beyond this only steel stiffeners were used. The double-walled, triangular stainless steel sections, designed & fabricated accurately to gradually reducing dimensions, were placed one on top of another and welded both inside and outside. Two stainless steel sections placed at the top of the Arch are the smallest ones that are 8 ft. long. As the Arch neared its completion, engineers planned placing of the keystone at night to avoid the thermal expansion of the steel structure during the day. But the civic authorities thought otherwise; they wanted to have a gala public ceremony on the occasion. Several fire engines were pressed into the service to spray water onto the south leg of the Arch to cool it to enable the keystone to be placed in full public view. While the Gateway Arch scripts a magnificent saga for its wonderful design and construction, its elevator system to reach the viewing gallery at the top leaves one awestruck. Mr. Eero Saarinen, the great architect of the Arch, did not live long to see the completion of the Arch’s construction. But he strongly felt the need to design an elevator system through the hollow section of the Arch to avoid a climb of 1000-plus stairs to reach the top. Dick Bowser, a college dropout and parking elevator designer, was hired by Saarinen for the job and within a short span of two weeks, Bowser came up with a viable solution. By 1968, a tram system with design similar to Ferris wheel gondolas with eight capsules, each carrying five persons, was installed in each leg of the Arch. Thus 40 passengers can be carried by the tram system in its every trip from each leg. As the journey to the top is along a curved path, the capsules rotate 155 degrees during the trip. While rising along the curved path, each capsule, hinged to the elevator, straightens itself. The tram journey to the top of the Arch takes about four minutes and it takes three minutes to come down. After a claustrophobic journey in a tram capsule of five ft. diameter, I reached the viewing gallery: a narrow space measuring 65 ft. long, 7 ft. wide and less than 7 ft. in height with several windows on eastern & western sides of the Arch. And it was worth all the trouble – the view from the top was breathtaking! On the east lay the great Mississippi River with three majestic bridges crossing over. On the west, has a grand view of the Old Courthouse and the gorgeous downtown St. Louis dotted with many high-rises, all dwarfed by the towering Arch. Gateway Arch is truly a statement of progress of human civilization, of modern technology and knowledge! Standing atop the Arch, I remembered the famous film, ‘How the West was won’ watched many years ago. -Soumitra Biswas is a Chemical Engineer by profession and works as an Advisor in the Union Ministry of Science & Technology, Govt. of India. He dabbles in photography and travel writing in his spare time. Soumitra lives in New Delhi with his wife and two children. The views expressed in the article are totally his own.

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