The city of St. Louis, Missouri, may be best known to many people for its spectacular stainless-steel Gateway Arch, America's tallest monument. The Arch commemorates the opening of the American West, after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. But there is much more to see and experience in the city that was once the "Gateway to the West."
The St. Louis area gave birth to Miles Davis, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all times. The Missouri History Museum is now paying tribute to its famous son with an exhibit exploring the beginning of Davis' musical life in East St. Louis, the trailblazing course of his five decades in jazz and the cultural impact of his art.
But jazz and blues are not just "history" in St. Louis. The Soulard neighborhood, just south of downtown, houses small clubs where fans gather every evening to listen to the "roots" music.
Oliver Sain and his band perform every Thursday at "BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups." The club attracts people who like traditional St. Louis Blues. But come Sunday morning, Soulard wakes to a different kind of music. The neighborhood, famous for its farmers' market and 19th century red brick homes, is also well-known for its historic churches. Many of them were built by immigrant communities. In St. Joseph's Catholic Church, whose congregation is of Croatian descent, the liturgy is in Croatian.
Visitors interested in ecclesiastic architecture will not miss the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, famous for its neo-Byzantine grandeur and its collection of mosaics. The cathedral's music program includes traditional sacred works as well as new ones. "Panis Angelicus' by Richard Wappel was commissioned for Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit to the basilica.
Another sound of the city is that of cheering sports fans. At any time of year, thousands of St. Louis baseball, football or hockey fans flock into the city for sports events. Busch Stadium is the home of the Cardinals baseball team, the winner of nine World Series Championships and St. Louis' most popular sports team.
Busch Stadium is a short distance from the city's greatest attraction, the Gateway Arch. The gleaming stainless steel structure marks the area where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their historic journey to explore the American West in 1804. The Gateway Arch, with its Museum of Westward Expansion, attracts more than four million visitors a year.
Inside the Arch windowless elevators that look like they should be going on a journey to outer space take visitors on a four-minute ride to the top, some 200 meters above St. Louis. Visitors can also watch films about the construction of the Arch and the area's history.
French fur traders from New Orleans founded St. Louis in 1764, just 30 kilometers south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. They named it after Louis IX, the crusader king of France. In 1803, Napoleon sold St. Louis as part of the Louisiana Territory to the United States. And the next year president Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to chart the newly acquired territory.
The city of St. Louis celebrated the first centennial of the historic event with the 1904 World's Fair. The celebration attracted 20 million visitors and exhibits from 43 countries over seven months. The song, and later Judy Garland's musical movie "Meet Me in St. Louis," summed up that glorious time. St. Louis is now preparing to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the World's Fair, as well as the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the West. Local breweries will make sure there is enough beer for the celebrations.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery, the producer of the world's best-selling beer, Budweiser, as well as many other popular brands, is headquartered in St. Louis. Like many other local breweries, it was established by German immigrants during the 19th century when railroads spurred industrial development in the region. Free tours of the Anheuser-Busch complex conclude with - what else? - beer tasting.
St. Louis street names such as Ladue, Gravois, and Laclede hint at the early French influence. But during the 19th century, new immigrants, mostly from Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, changed the face of the city. The African-American influence is also felt. At The Old Courthouse in 1847, a slave named Dred Scott sued for his freedom. Scott won his case in St. Louis, but the U.S. Supreme Court later decreed that he was not a citizen and therefore could not sue.
From the colorful ethnic neighborhoods to the elegant turn-of-the century buildings, from the blues to the majestic cathedral music, St. Louis, Missouri, is rich in the sights and sounds of those who settled in the Gateway to the American West.