Day 7

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Day 7

Friday, July 14, 2000

And a lovely Bastille Day it is, too. We decide to celebrate by seeing the somewhat famous St. Louis Arch, which is located in St. Louis, and is an arch. Unfortunately, they chose to locate it in downtown St. Louis, which is not known for its accessibility by 30 foot long, 12 foot 6 inch high motor homes. After a little nutty driving and a few frayed nerves, we manage to park in a No Parking zone (all the parking garages were too short for us) in front of a bunch of buses also parked in the No Parking zone. We figured that if they started ticketing at the far end of the line, we'd have a chance to see the arch and make it back.

This is a semi-cool bridge near the Arch

This is a riverboat casino, of which there seem to be lots in the Midwest, although none of the riverboats ever go anyplace (but they do take a lot of passengers to the poor house!)

The Arch is located in a park and the whole joint is a monument to Western Expansion. It's located about where Lewis (who was named after the city) and Clark (named after the Air Force base) left for their westward trip (give or take a few counties). The idea is that St. Louis is the Gateway to the West, and the Arch symbolizes that, because they said so.

This nice, shady park surrounds the Arch

The arch itself is pretty damn impressive. It's 630 feet tall (80 feet taller than the Space Needle) and took about three years to build. There's a little train that runs inside it up to the top. We didn't go on that because it's small and when you reach the top, you're way high up. (Robert has this tiny little fear that if he goes up high, he'll fall down and break something. Since he's been in the hospital twice as a result of going up high and falling, Laura tolerates his phobia.)

St. Louis Arch seen from the surrounding park

We get closer to the Arch

And closer yet

Finally, we're here!

If you look straight up at the Arch, it looks weird

There's a lovely visitor's center at the foot of the arch (actually under the arch, since it's underground). That's where you buy tickets to ride the train. They also show two short movies, one about building the arch (very good, although the characters weren't very well developed) and one about Mark Twain (which we didn't see).

We definitely recommend the Building of the Arch movie. Until we saw it, it didn't occur to us that building a 630 foot tall steel arch would be that big a deal ("You just build it on the ground and raise it, right?"). Not only is it a big deal, but (and this is our favorite part) not one person was killed building it! When you see these construction workers standing around 630 feet off the ground with no safety harnesses, you realize how amazing that is. 

The following text is taken from two plaques we read while waiting in line to see the Building of the Arch movie. (And, no, we didn't write these down at the time. Robert took a picture of the plaques with his digital Sony Mavica camera and then transcribed it later.)

The Idea

St. Louis Lawyer Luther Ely Smith, appalled at the dilapidated St. Louis riverfront district, decided that a memorial to the westward expansion of the United States could be built here. St. Louis Mayor Bernard Dickmann liked Smith's idea and was able to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on December 21, 1933. Between 1939 and 1942, all the buildings in a 40 block area were torn down for the memorial. World War II brought the project to a halt, but in 1947-48 an architectural competition was held. A total of 172 entries were evaluated by a jury of seven architects who chose a beautiful stainless steel arch designed by Eero Saarinen.

Although Luther Ely Smith died in 1951, the campaign to build the memorial continued. Congresswoman Leonor K. Sullivan obtained much of the necessary funding from Congress. By 1957, Eero Saarinen began redesigning the Arch project. Backed by memorial Superintendent George Hartreg, Saarinen placed surface structures in an underground complex. Meanwhile Mayor Raymond Tucker, a trained engineer, settled a dispute with the railroads over an unsightly riverfront trestle. Using Tucker's tunnel design, the great Arch was finally ready to rise from the river.

The Realization

The Gateway Arch was a deceptively simple design which later presented several difficult problems. As Eero Saarinen readied the Arch project, he had to settle on a shape and height appropriate to the memorial site and its surroundings. After long months of trial and error, a weighted catenary curve was chosen. The Arch would stand 630 feet tall, its triangular stainless steel sections tapering from 54 feet on each side at the base to 17 feet at the top. Saarinen's design could not have been built without the theoretical mathematics of engineer Hannskarl Bandel. Meanwhile, Saarinen worked with landscape architect Dan Kiley to create the graceful curves of the shaded walks and grounds with trees, meadows, and ponds.

Since conventional elevators could not negotiate the curves of the Arch to the observation platform at the top, inventor Richard Bowser was asked to create the unique Arch Transportation System. Just as most of the design problems were solved, Eero Saarinen died suddenly at age 51; his partner John Dinkeloo oversaw construction. St. Louis contractor Robert MacDonald won the bid to build the Arch and Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel was hired to erect it. The Arch was completed on October 28, 1965, a tribute to the many people who made the dream a reality.

We found this pretty cool picture of the equation used to build the Arch (see below). If this is the kind of thing that floats your boat, you should probably check out The St. Louis Gateway Arch by Mr. William Thayer, as this is his cup of tea, too! His site also includes an Owner's Manual for the Arch.

See, kids, math does come in handy!

While waiting to see the movie about building the arch, you can look at this carving, which shows all the people involved in making the arch

After seeing the arch, we decided that we needed to see The X-Men, which had just premiered (we were at a Sci-Fi convention, after all). And it's a lot harder figuring out which movie theater is the closest when you're not from around here! We found one kinda nearby (we discovered later that we drove past another theater to get that one). Our review? Cool!

We went back to the hotel and got registered for the Gateway Science Fiction Convention 2000. We then retired to the bar to make sure we stayed hydrated (very important in this part of the country). While there, who should walk in but Mike "Michael J. Nelson" Nelson, Bill "Crow" Corbett, and Kevin "Tom Servo" Murphy! Yowza!

If you don't know, these guys were writers and performers for Mystery Science Theater 3000, which ran for seven years on The Comedy Channel and for three years on The Sci-Fi Channel. It was recently (1999) canceled, although it's in reruns on The Sci-Fi Channel until sometime in 2001 (for the schedule, see It's usually referred to as "MST3K" because it takes way too long to say the whole name. You can visit Satellite News for more information than you'll ever need about MST3K.

Robert recognized Mike Nelson (helped by having just purchased Mike's new book "Mike Nelson's Megacheese" with a handy picture of Mike Nelson on the cover) and said howdy. 

Mike introduced the other two (which was good, because we had no idea what they looked like). We tried to say, in a nice, non-stalking way, how much we enjoyed their show. They were very polite (at the signing the next day, Mike Nelson even said, "Good to see you again," which we thought was very classy), and after a few minutes, we let them be regular people for a bit. They left shortly thereafter, because the bar didn't have draft beer.

Then we wandered off to the convention opening ceremonies, where the guests were introduced. Most of them we didn't know (there was some folks from Babylon 5 and some guy from Dr. Who shows 25 years ago). When the MST3K guys were introduced, the crowd (about 500 people) went wild! Everybody stood up and cheered!

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (blessing the crowd with the microphone), and Bill Corbett

Apparently, once Kevin Murphy gets ahold of the microphone, he doesn't easily yield it

The woman on the left is Mary, one of the convention organizers

And then as a surprise guest, they brought out Mary Jo Pehl, another writer on the show, who also played the evil Pearl Forester on the show (who was intent on taking over the world). She is not at all like her character on the show, and is very nice, and somewhat retiring.

Mary Jo Pehl

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Mary Jo Pehl stands between Bill Corbett and John Levene, who was on some Dr. Who episodes about 25 years ago

After they introduced all the guests, they had the "Sacrifice of the Con Virgins." They asked everyone who had never been to a Con before to stand up, and then they tossed out plastic leis. Kevin Murphy got some of the leis, and proceeded to demonstrate what a classy guy he is (can you say, "Class Clown"?).

Kevin Murphy uses a lei as a garter belt

Kevin Murphy does some disgusting things with the leis

Kevin "Anything for a laugh" Murphy

Time for everyone to leave

Just like in the movie Galaxy Quest, there were a fair number of people walking around in full costume (not as many as in Galaxy Quest, but more than you would see in your average grocery store). Some of them were dressed as Star Trek characters, some as Star Wars characters, some as generic fantasy characters, and some as characters who had only a vague relationship with science fiction (there was one pirate wandering about--perhaps a time-traveling pirate from a different dimension?). It makes for an interesting walk between rooms.

Most of the security folks were dressed as Klingons (a fierce warrior race from Star Trek). It seemed to work, as there were no problems with security.

For the best in security, use Klingons!

The head of security (who was about seven feet tall and four feet wide) had a button that said "Question Authority? I'm Security, question me!" Nobody did.

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