Tuesday, May 29, 2012

St. Louis: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Gateway Arch

Established in 1935, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is located in St. Louis near the point where Lewis and Clark embarked on their expedition in 1804. The park commemorates important aspects of American history including the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, westward expansion into the newly acquired territory, and issues related to slavery brought to the fore by the Dred Scott case. There is much to explore here, and it can take a day to see it all: The Gateway Arch, Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old Courthouse.

The Old Courthouse. Scaffolding is in place for needed renovations.

In St. Louis’s early days court was held in various locations—a Baptist church, a tavern, and an old Spanish fort. Civic leaders decided it was time for a proper courthouse to be built. Construction began in 1826 but because of delays was not completed until the dome was added in 1862. At one time, the Old Courthouse was the tallest structure in the city. Over it’s long history, it served as the seat of at least two important trials.

Dred Scott was not famous until the end of his life.
The first was the Dred Scott case in 1846. It serves as a dramatic example of when courts get it wrong. Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom because he had been held in bondage in a location where slavery was outlawed. His master had taken him across the river to Illinois where slavery was forbidden. At that time it was often the case that a slave became free when his master took him into free territory. In 1850 the court ruled in Scott’s favor, but his owner appealed the decision. The State Supreme Court then found for the slaveholder. Chief Justice William Scott (no relative of Dred Scott) reversed the lower court ruling and stated that Scott would always be a slave. Dred Scott then appealed his case to the Supreme Court of the United States. In a shocking decision, Justice Roger B. Taney stated that slaves could not be considered citizens so they could not sue for their freedom. He went on to say that slaves were nothing more than property that can be freely bought and sold. This ruling hastened the outbreak of the American Civil War. At its conclusion, slavery in the United States was banished.

This plexiglass model shows both the Old Courthouse as it stands today after many renovations and also its original structure. Look closely and you can see the older building in brown.
Virginia Minor was a leader in the Missouri suffragette movement.
A second significant trial begun in the Old Courthouse also ended up in the US Supreme Court. And again, the courts got it wrong. In 1872, Virginia Minor was a Missouri citizen who helped found the women’s suffrage movement there. When she attempted to register to vote, she was denied. Using the 14th Amendment as the basis of her claim, Mrs. Minor sued. She argued that women were guaranteed citizenship and voting rights. Both the lower court and the State Supreme Court ruled against her. Mrs. Minor then took her case to the US Supreme Court. In 1874 the court unanimously ruled that “all citizens of the United States were not invested with the right of suffrage …” and that “the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone …” The court went on to rule that individual states have the right to decide who can and cannot vote in elections held within state borders. It was not until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified granting women the right to vote. It is a right that should be taken seriously. It is also a responsibility that citizens should act upon. 

Both Dred Scott and Virginia Minor bravely fought for the rights of Americans. Their cases nudged America forward and helped redefine both citizenship and civil rights. Today all Americans should appreciate these hard fought and hard won battles.

St. Louis: Gateway to the West

For ease of transportation, St. Louis was built on a river … not just any river, but the mighty Mississippi.
Find St. Louis on a United States map and look at all the land to the west. What would you have found there in the very early 1800s? If you guessed only wilderness and native settlements you would be right.

Located on the Big Muddy—the Mississippi River—at one time St. Louis was the most westward city in the United States. Serving as the last stop for gathering supplies on the way to the west, it is where Lewis and Clark embarked on their two-year exploration expedition. Because so many travelers set off from St. Louis, it became known at the Gateway to the West. To commemorate this, a nationwide design competition was held in 1947-48. The goal was to create a national monument on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. Famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed an arch and won the competition. Construction began in February 1963; twenty months later it was completed at a cost of $13,000,000. Open to the public in mid 1967, a specially designed tramway system leads sightseers to the top.

The Arch nears completion.

To get to the top via the tramway, a visitor must squeeze into a small capsule containing five seats. My friend described the experience as riding in the tub of a washing machine. As I rode to the top of the arch, I was glad I am neither claustrophobic nor fearful of heights. The cramped ride was worth it though because the view from the top was exquisite. Each year, over 1,000,000 visitors ride the tram to the top because the Arch is one of the most visited sites in the United States. On a clear day you can see thirty miles away!  

At 630 feet high, the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the United States.
A view from atop the Arch. The building in the center of the photo is the Old Courthouse.
There are many interesting facts about the Gateway Arch and its construction. The Arch has foundations sunk 60 feet into the ground to provide ample support. Weighing 17,000 tons, more than 900 tons of stainless steel was used for the exterior. The Arch is composed of 142 equilateral triangles, and in an emergency more than on thousand steps allow maintenance workers access to the top. Carefully designed, the arch can withstand earthquakes and high winds. While it will sway up to an inch in 20-mile-per-hour winds, the Arch can safely sway as much as 18 inches if winds reach 150 miles per hour. 

Another view from the top of the Arch. Here you ca see Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball.
As you drive around St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is clearly visible and serves as a constant reminder of the importance of this river city to the exploration and expansion of the United States. It also helped me know exactly where the Mississippi River cuts through the city.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicago: Chi Town or Chicagoland?

As is true for many cities, Chicago has more than one nickname. Some people call the downtown area Chicagoland, while others call it Chi Town.

When you visit Chicago, the locals will tell you there are two things you must eat—the first is a Chicago hotdog and the second is a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Both were developed in the city, and its residents cannot get enough of them. The entire city is dotted with restaurants proclaiming they have the best pizza and/or hotdogs in town.

Chicago Dog ... Hold the ketchup!
The first, a Chicago dog, is a steamed beef frankfurter served on a poppy seed bun. The hotdog is slathered in yellow mustard and then topped with chopped onions, a spear of dill pickle, sweet pickle relish, chopped tomatoes, pickled peppers and a sprinkling of celery salt. When placing your order, you simply ask for a hotdog dragged through the garden. And you must, never EVER ask for ketchup on your hotdog. This is a big no-no. In fact, many restaurants will refuse to serve ketchup so that you cannot ruin what they consider to be perfection. 

Do you think this pizza looks like a cake?
The second delicacy, Chicago deep-dish pizza, is sometimes called stuffed pizza. When you think of pizza, you probably envision a thin crust covered with tomato sauce and cheese with toppings added last. But Chicago pizza is a bit upside down from that. In the early 1940s a Chicago restaurateur decided to create a pizza that would require his patrons to use a knife and fork. He used a large cake pan to make the cornmeal and olive oil crust with an edge a couple of inches high. Then he cooked the crust until it was crispy. Deep inside the crust he piled toppings--often onions, peppers, and sausage. Next he layered cheese over the toppings before covering the entire pie with tomato sauce. A finished Chicago-style pizza looks a bit like a cake, and it does require a knife and fork to eat. When I was in Naples, Italy where pizza was invented, I learned that in Italy pizza is mostly about the thin crust with only a smear of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of spices. I wonder how native Italians would react if they were served a Chicago-style pizza.

The late great Muddy Waters
Another Chicago specialty is blues music. You can quickly recognize it because of the strong combination of an amplified guitar and a loud harmonica. It also might include a heavy rolling bass guitar line, piano, drums, and trumpet or saxophone. Singers belt out the sad music whose lyrics are often so forlorn they might bring a tear to your eye. While blues music originated in the Deep South, it was brought to big cities in the north when African Americans migrated there seeking work and a better life. And in Chicago, the musicians put their own spin on it. There were many early important Chicago blues musicians, though the tradition continues today. Chicagoans are well familiar with names like Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Buddy Guy, all of them blue greats. Click on the link below to hear Howlin' Wolf sing Smokestack Lightning.

The Chicago River and canal system snakes through the city.
Another interesting Chicago feature is the river with two branches that makes its way through the city. The river is represented by the letter Y on many city signs. For thousands of years, the river flowed to the east emptying into Lake Michigan. But as people dumped sewage into the river it became polluted. This began to affect the supply of drinking water that was pumped from the lake. The river also became so filled with toxic waste that it actually caught fire and burned during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Dirty water can carry diseases and such was the case in Chicago. A public health scare arose when citizens began contracting typhoid fever from the public water supply. So, drastic measures were taken. As amazing as it may seem, engineers devised a way to reverse the course of the river so that it flowed west instead of east. This kept the polluted river water from tainting the drinking water extracted from the lake. Today the Chicago River flows westward into the Mississippi River system.

Chicago has the largest Irish population outside of Ireland. For this reason, every St. Patrick's Day, the Chicago River is dyed a bright green. In the photo below, you can see just how vibrant the green is.

Spider Dan climbs the Sears Tower in Chicago
Finally, writing about Chicago would not be complete without mentioning Spider Dan. After witnessing a huge hotel fire in Las Vegas where many people died, Dan Goodwin wanted reforms put in place so that there could be more survivors from skyscraper blazes. But no one would listen to him. So, Dan decided to call attention to the problem by climbing the exteriors of several skyscrapers across the USA. Thirty-one years ago, Dan donned a Spider Man costume and set out to climb the tallest building in the world at the time—the Sears Tower in Chicago. For seven hours he utilized suction cups and sky hooks in efforts to reach the top. The glass was a bit slippery and high winds roared around him, but Dan did not fall. Firemen tried to force him back down, but Dan kept going up, up, up. As he neared the top, Dan pasted a small American flag to one of the windows in honor of his father. Afterward, he was arrested. All in all, Dan has climbed ten of the tallest buildings in the United States. You can read more about his exploits online.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chicago: Second City

A view of Chicago from the John Hancock Observatory
Located on the Southwest edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago is America’s third largest city. More than 9,000,000 people live in the Chicago metro area. Sometimes called The Windy City, Chicago is also nicknamed the Second City and for a very interesting reason. In 1871 most of downtown Chicago was built from wood. When a huge fire broke out, it spread so quickly that much of the city of was destroyed. For three days the fire raged, eventually killing 300 and leaving 100,000 homeless. When the citizens rebuilt the city, they used steel and stone creating a second city where the first had vanished. As new construction replaced burned out shells, the goal was to build up. Why? Because in a city land is at a premium and very costly. As buildings rose higher and higher, Chicago became home to the first skyscraper in the United States.

Driving in big cities is difficult. Most people get around using mass transportation. There are many options in Chicago. The El (for Elevated Train) rises high above the streets encircling the city in a loop. My hotel was about 30 miles out of town, so I chose to ride the Metra train into the heart of the city. After disembarking in Union Station, I began to walk, heading in the direction of the Magnificent Mile (locals call it the Mag Mile) where much of the most prestigious real estate is located. After walking for a few miles, I bought a ticket for a double-decker touring bus so that I could get an overview of the architecture. Chicago is a mix of old style buildings and new ones, and many have interesting stories. Each time I got off the bus, I explored new sights. 

The El loops around Chicago.

Chicago Tribune Tower

I was fascinated as I walked along the perimeter of the Chicago Tribune Tower. The Neo-Gothic structure was erected in the 1920s. As plans for the building went forward, workers for the Chicago Tribune began to collect pieces of historically important structures from across the globe. Each piece is embedded in the exterior of the building with a plaque identifying it. One of the most recent additions is a piece from the World Trade Center that was destroyed on September 11, 2001. Other stones include pieces of the Taj Mahal in India, the Parthenon in Greece, the Berlin Wall in Germany, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, petrified wood from the American Southwest, a chunk of the Great Wall of China and one from Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. In all there are about 120.

This is one of the rocks embedded in the Tribune Tower. Why is this rock historically significant?

Another rock embedded in the tower.
Another interesting building is the Willis Tower, which was originally called the Sears Tower. When it was built in the early 1970s, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. While it is still the tallest building in the United States, it has fallen to number seven globally. Visitors can go to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor and walk out onto a glass box that extends from the side of the building. Through the floor of the box one can see the street 1,353 feet below. Would you be brave enough to visit the Skydeck and walk out into the glass box?

The Willis Tower, still called the Sears Tower by some
Completed in 1964, the Corncob Towers (below) rise high above the street. The official name is Marina City but the shape of the buildings caused locals to give them the nickname. The complex was designed as a city within a city. If you live there, everything you need is readily available—stores, restaurants, parking garage, theater, gym, swimming pool, bowling alley, and so on.

Do the buildings on the right look like corncobs to you?
Designed by a woman, the Aqua Building (below) combines apartments, condos, and a hotel into one structure. The wavelike forms represent water. But the exterior design is only one facet of this interesting edifice. Created to be sustainable, the building includes rainwater collection systems, energy-efficient lighting and graceful terraces to provide solar shading.

Aqua Building
Last but not least is the John Hancock Center (below). You can purchase a ticket to visit the John Hancock Observatory on the 105th floor. The fastest elevator in the USA whisks you up in only 40 seconds and you exit to a breathtaking view. Surrounded by large glass panels, on a clear day you can see all the way across Lake Michigan or from another direction, all the way to Indiana. The pamphlet I was given brags, “With sweeping views spanning four states.” It was fun to see Chicago stretch out in front of you. I watched boaters on the water so far below they looked like specks. And the beach was covered with sunbathers. 

John Hancock Center

From the Hancock Observation Deck you can see the Navy Pier below.

Here you can see a portion of the beach bordering Lake Michigan as well as Chicago's most famous road, Lake Shore Drive. The closer a building is to Lake Shore Drive the more expensive it is.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Detroit: Henry the Collector

Henry Ford was an exceptionally wealthy man who wanted to preserve history. So, he began to collect things--sometimes entire buildings--and created a museum in Dearborn, Michigan. And next to that museum, spread across 90 acres, Ford developed Greenfield Village where nearly 100 buildings were moved from their original settings to illustrate life in America over the past 300 years. Together the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village comprise the largest museum complex in the USA. Without preservationists like Henry Ford, we might not know what life was like in earlier times. What from today's world do you believe will be found in tomorrow's museums?

To fully explore both sites would take many days. I was only able to spend one full day, but I made good use of my time. A lot of what I saw was a trip down memory lane for me. The photos below provide a good sample of what you can see when you visit The Henry Ford Museum and its companion site, Greenfield Village.

A sedan just like this 1949 Ford once sat in my parents' driveway. It was our family car when I was a child.

Ford Museum has a collection of presidential vehicles. This 1961 Lincoln was the car President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated.

This shows what McDonald's looked like in the 1950s when a hamburger cost 15 cents.

Signs like this could be found across America. They alerted travelers that a clean motel room was waiting for them.

An early Weinermobile

There was an extensive display of steam powered machinery and old farm equipment.

How would you like to ride to school in this old open-air school bus? Think how cold you might be in the winter. But, it was better than walking!

This brought to mind an old TV commercial, "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the bright red Texaco star."

This is the city bus Rosa Parks was riding when she refused to give up her seat and move to the back.

Do you recognize this airplane? It is a Wright flyer, one of the first airplanes.

This is one of many trains on display. How was this old behemoth powered?

A kid's delight ... a huge model train.

This is a reconstructed model of the original Ford Motor Company, only 1/4 the size of the original.

Ford had the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop in Ohio moved to Greenfield Village.

He also moved the Wright Brothers' family home from Ohio.

Ford greatly admired Thomas Edison, one of America's most prolific inventors.

This is part of Edison's Menlo Park compound that Ford moved.

An old windmill

What do you think this structure is? It is a dovecote. For what is it used?

George Washington Carver's cabin