How the Mississippi River flow through St. Louis' spirit
[ 2008-07-15 14:17 ]
Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Our subject this week is the city of Saint Louis, Missouri.
Saint Louis sits next to the Mississippi River, the most important waterway for shipping traffic in the United States. That traffic was halted for most of June because of severe flooding in the Midwest -- the worst in fifteen years.
Saint Louis did not have any serious problems, though, even as the Mississippi reached two-and-a-half meters above flood level.
After the water levels began to drop, the Army Corps of Engineers reopened the river to traffic.
Saint Louis was settled by fur traders in the 1760s on a limestone rise above the Mississippi. The French settlement was named for King Louis the Ninth.
Robert Archibald is president of the Missouri History Museum in Saint Louis. He says the city owes its existence to the river.
The Mississippi has played a major part in the history, culture and music of Saint Louis. In fact, the two biggest rivers in the United States, the Mississippi and the Missouri, meet north of the city.
One of Saint Louis' native sons was T.S. Eliot. The poet once described the Mississippi River as a strong brown god.
Robert Archibald says many people in Saint Louis have a sense that Elliot was right. They see the Mississippi as a natural force that affects life at its edges and around the city.
Not far from the river's edge is the Gateway Arch, a symbol of America's westward expansion. Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their trip in the spring of eighteen hundred and four from Saint Louis.
The fur trading post was the gateway to the West -- the place where settlement ended and the West began.
A Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen, won a design competition for the memorial in 1947. The Gateway Arch was completed eighteen years later, in 1965.
Saarinen designed the arch to honor Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition. He was also the only architect president in American history.
The Gateway Arch is made of stainless steel. It is the nation's tallest memorial, at one hundred ninety-two meters. Visitors can go inside. Two trains, one inside each leg, carry visitors to the observation room at the top. Electric motors keep the trains level as they travel the four-minute trip up or down the arch.
On most days, no motion can be felt in the observation room. But when the wind blows, the arch gently moves from side to side.
Not far in the distance is Busch Stadium, where the Saint Louis Cardinals play baseball.
Since the 1950s, Saint Louis has had three different ballparks called Busch Stadium. The current one opened in two thousand six. It holds more than fifty thousand people. Major League Baseball will play its All-Star Game there next year.
The name Busch, B-U-S-C-H, comes from Saint Louis' best-known local company. Anheuser-Busch makes Budweiser and other beers. For a long time the company owned the Cardinals. A group of investors bought the team in 1996.
The Cards have won seventeen National League pennants and ten World Series championships. The latest was in two thousand six, in the new Busch Stadium. Across the street is a hall of fame that presents more than one hundred years of baseball history in the city.
Local historian Robert Archibald says there is a fierce loyalty in Saint Louis to the Cardinals.
Something else people in Saint Louis are loyal to is Anheuser-Busch. Last month the Belgian and Brazilian company InBev offered to buy Anheuser-Busch and create the world's largest brewer. The takeover turned hostile after Anheuser's board rejected an offer of forty-six billion dollars. Last week InBev proposed to replace the board.
In the end, InBev raised its offer to fifty-two billion. And late Sunday, Anheuser's board accepted the sweetened offer. The deal still requires the approval of shareholders in both companies as well as government officials. InBev expects the deal to be completed by the end of this year.
Saint Louis will become the North American headquarters of the combined company, to be called Anheuser-Busch InBev. InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito will head the new company which will make about one-fourth of the world's beer.
Earlier, opponents launched online petitions to try to stop one of the largest foreign purchases ever of an American company. These protests, says historian Robert Archibald, are proof of the loyalty that Saint Louisans have to the brewery. And not just Saint Louisans, it seems.
Last Monday, presidential candidate Barack Obama made an unexpected stop in Saint Louis because of airplane trouble. The Illinois Democrat told reporters, "It would be a shame if Bud is foreign-owned."
The United States Census Bureau says the city of Saint Louis had about three hundred fifty thousand people last year. That was down from a population of almost four hundred thousand in 1990. The greater Saint Louis area has close to three million people.
French and Spanish immigrants settled Saint Louis, along with American Indians. Then large numbers of Germans arrived in the nineteenth century. That German influence is still felt today.
Germans love beer, and during the 19th century, Saint Louis had more than fifty breweries. Most closed during the period known as Prohibition. From 1920 to 1933, it was illegal to make, sell or transport alcoholic drinks in the United States.
But Anheuser-Busch survived, and grew into its position today as the largest brewing company in the country.
Anheuser was Eberhard Anheuser. The German-born soap maker bought a struggling brewery in Saint Louis in 1860. He renamed it E. Anheuser and Company. In 1864, his daughter's husband, Adolphus Busch, joined the company. It later became Anheuser-Busch. Budweiser was launched in 1876.
For many people in Saint Louis, their identity and the company's identity are intermixed. The company always points out its connection with Saint Louis in its advertising. And the big Clydesdale horses used in its marketing campaigns appear in city parades.
Downtown Saint Louis has gone through a lot of redevelopment, much of it in the last twenty years or so. The city used to be the heart of the American shoe industry. But these days, most of the shoes Americans wear come from China.
Today Saint Louis has built up its health care industry. It also serves as Midwestern headquarters for big companies including Macy's department stores and pet food maker Ralston Purina.
The major daily newspaper is the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Having one major paper has been a common situation for years in American cities.
Saint Louis is also home to one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world. These are on the walls of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and they are breathtaking.
Twenty artists created them over a period of seventy-five years. They used more than forty-one million pieces of cut glass and seven thousand colors. The Ravenna Mosaic Company completed the work in 1988.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is the spiritual center of local Roman Catholics.
Entering the church is like traveling back centuries to Eastern Europe during the Byzantine Empire. A high dome sits over the main area of the cathedral. Many windows and doors are topped with arches and the walls are made of granite.
Eighty years of work went into the building, beginning in 1900. In 1997, Pope John Paul the Second awarded the cathedral the ceremonial rights of a basilica. Two years later he visited the Cathedral Basilica during a stop in Saint Louis on his way home from a trip to Mexico. That stop in Saint Louis was his last visit to the United States.
Our program was written and produced by Jill Moss. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Steve Ember. Pictures of Saint Louis can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.