Forty-Nine Years Ago Today


October 28, 1965

All around were countless photographers and filmmakers, amateur and professional, ready to take the pictures that would go into the history books. A few of those pros sat in helicopters that swarmed uncomfortably close to each other near the not-quite-finished Gateway Arch. “You can’t handle sleep the night before, knowing it’s going to be very historic,” Eldon Arteaga said in a 2013 interview.

Charles Guggenheim sensed the history. The final moments of Guggenheim’s film Monument to the Dream show the masses on the ground straining their necks to see what happens—including an old guy squinting behind wire-rimmed glasses as he chomped on a stogie. “You’re about 180 feet up, right at 200 feet,” Vito Comporato said to hoist engineer Bill Quigley over the phone link in the film seen by millions in the Arch Visitor Center. On the top, about eighteen people wearing silver hard hats but no protective lanyards watched as the piece came ever closer. “The flag’s about even with the top,” Comporato stated. “Hold it right there. That’s good.”

arch1A helicopter flew over, maybe fifty feet or less above. Then Quigley, who never saw it, began squeezing the last piece in.

What’s that all about?”

What’s that?”

All of them whistles?”

I don’t know. Steamboats, I guess. Celebrating.”

The lift took thirteen minutes, but the piece wasn’t entirely in place until 11 a.m. From below, that last piece was shining, even with its surroundings. Around 2 p.m., the jack was released, forcing the two sides into one. Never again could someone say two distinct legs rose separately on the east side of the city’s downtown. Forevermore, one soaring stainless steel curve would rise from the riverfront in St. Louis. “Neither an obelisk nor a rectangular box nor a dome seemed right on this site or for this purpose,” Eero Saarinen had said. “But here, at the edge of the Mississippi River, a great arch did seem right.” It took 889 days to build that great arch, but nearly two hundred years to ready the ground where it would stand.

  • The Making of an Icon,

    The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch


Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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