A Day I’ll Remember

Jim-Merkel ArchI can’t see how any St. Louisan wasn’t moved by this week’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the topping-out of the Gateway Arch. As the author of a book about the Gateway Arch, I found Wednesday’s events at the Missouri History Museum marking the anniversary especially moving. A main reason was that I had a chance to reconnect with people I interviewed for The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and The Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch.

Jim1It was a real treat to shake hands with Eric and Susan Saarinen, the two children of Gateway Arch designer Eero Saarinen. (Susan is shown above between her husband Eric Bergman, at left, and me. Eric is shown below with me.) Reedy Press didn’t have much of an expense account for the book project, and so I couldn’t afford to fly out to interview them. Over the phone, they opened up about the awkward details of their parents’ divorce and their father’s remarriage.  I’ll always remember their kindness.

EricIn a talk, Susan shared about the chains her father kept hanging in their basement as the project developed.

Jim2I also caught up with Eleanore Ely Smith Tyson and Christine Smith, two grandkids of Luther Ely Smith, who came up with the idea of a riverfront memorial to Thomas Jefferson and the westward expansion Eleonore and I are are together in the picture above.

For me, all of the workers on the Arch who signed autographs that day (shown below) were especially important. I got the signatures of many of them on the hat I’m wearing above. Ken Kolkmeier, the project manager for subcontractor Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co., (sitting, second to the right) teared up when he talked about their work, and how none of them died, when insurance companies predicted 13 of them would lose their lives. It’s truly amazing nobody did, and truly amazing what happened 50 years ago when the two legs came together. I’d like to think that this week many in this town rekindled their love for 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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