Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, April 6, 2015

St. Louis

There is a long list of things-to-do and see in St. Louis.  The iconic Arch and affiliated Jefferson National Expansion Memorial should be first on the list.  There you will get a history lesson and a great view.  Hop on over to the country’s second largest urban park, Forest Park, which is home to the zoo (and is free, by the way), the art museum, science center, history museum and countless acres of beautiful park lands. Take in a baseball game downtown and watch the Cardinals swing the bat in the awesome Busch Stadium.  Kids will enjoy the Magic House, the always fun and whacky City Museum, and a trip to Grant’s Farm for an up-close look at the famed Budweiser Clydesdales.  Speaking of Budweiser, don’t forget a brewery tour.

That list being written, let me say we visited none of those places on our recent trip.  Since I’m from St. Louis and have family there, we have already hit the highlights so the challenge to find new things to see and do was on.   

How about visiting an enormous pile of rocks hiding explosives, eating at one of the “best soul food restaurants in the country,” touring a magnificently restored opulent 1929 movie house, and witnessing a giant awakening for something different?

My aunt and her family were in town and with two teenage boys we thought a pile rocks covering tons of explosives and contaminated waste just might be interesting to them.  The story of Weldon Springs Ordinance Works goes back to 1941 when WWII necessitated the need for explosives.  The government swallowed up three towns and displaced hundreds of residents in western rural St. Louis and started manufacturing TNT (trinitrotoluene) and DNT (dinitrotoluene) making it the world’s largest explosives manufacturer.  In 1955, the Atomic Energy Commission acquired the site and contracted Mallinkrodt to process uranium ore. 

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Years of chemical production led to contaminated soil, water, and sediments.  Asbestos buildings were in disrepair, rotting 55-gallon drums with hazardous materials were found in ponds, unmarked chemicals were scattered everywhere, and radioactive materials abound.  It’s no wonder the area ended up a Superfund Site.  In 2001, restoration was complete as hazardous contaminants were encapsulated (we hope!) in a tomb capped off with rocks.  Rising from the ground is a modern day burial ground of the hazardous materials.  It blankets 45 acres and stores 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous material.  A wall of stairs take you up to the top where you get a panoramic view and can say you are standing on top of a gigantic waste disposal site.  How’s that for a way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

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The 9,000-foot interpretive center has interactive exhibits and a movie that tells the sorted history of what is now known as the Weldon Spring Site Remedial Action Project.  There is no charge to visit the site and climbing the stairs is a good work out.  Best of all, pets are allowed to go everywhere, including inside the visitor center. 

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Voted as one of the “21 Best Soul Food Kitchens in the Country” (by Thrillist), Sweetie Pie’s Kitchen in downtown St. Louis was sure to make our eating list.  Miss Robbie, the proprietor, is known for more than just her fried chicken, catfish, ribs, and oxtails.  She started out as a backup singer to Tina Turner (and boosted her resume singing with the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder) and now is the star on the reality show Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s on OWN Network.

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The Fox Theater (affectionately known as the Fabulous Fox) in St. Louis opened in 1929 by movie pioneer and cinematographic visionary William Fox and grossed over $50,000 in their opening week.  With 5,060 seats it was the second largest theater in the United States and for nearly 40 years drew movie and stage lovers to her seats.  The stunning interior motif, often described as an eclectic blend of Asian Siamese Byzantine, is rich and dazzling.  There is not an inch of space that is not adorned with decorative features that amazes the eye.  But like many grand theaters, the Fox went silent in 1978 shutting the doors on a glorious past and locking them to an expected doomed future. 


162But the gloomy story is not over there.  In 1981, Leon and Mary Strauss ventured into the cold and dark theater with open eyes and a light on the future.  Along with other investors, they decided to revive one of St. Louis’s treasures and turn the lights back on.  It was decided the theater would be restored as closely as possible to its 1929 state of elegance.  Original patterns, colors, glazes, glass,and carpets were either restored or duplicated based on the 1929 designs

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152The magnificent 2,000 pound chandelier in the auditorium was painstakingly lowered, cleaned and re-lamped.  The Fox Theater today garners a full house to those wanting to see off-Broadway shows, music concerts, and other live performances.  Or, serves as a great reminder that the past is still appreciated and the grandeur of the 1920’s is not a thing of the past. 

     

And then we had an awakening.  Not more than a few miles from my parents house is a massive 70-foot statue that intrigued us.  Anytime there is a statue of a distressed giant struggling to rise from the underground that is free, you can bet we’ll be there. 

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The Awakening was the creative imagination of J. Seward Johnson, Jr. in 1980 and originally unveiled in Maryland (just outside of Washington D.C.).  The duplicate we saw is weirdly placed outside of an office building in Chesterfield, Missouri but a conversation piece none the less.  Super weird, but way cool. 

We always have tons of fun in St. Louis which is made even better because of the family time we get to enjoy. 

Dad, mom, me, James, Caroline, Ted, and brother John.



7 comments:

  1. I'm from St. Louis (well, actually just across the river in Illinois) and I've never heard of that Weldon Springs center. I knew about the story, but didn't realize you could visit. Thanks.

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    1. It really is worth the visit. Free and interesting!

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  2. Great photos that rekindled memories! We were stationed at Scott AFB in the early 80s and visited often; Lecledes's Landing, Union Station, and the Soulard Market were favorites. We saw Anthony Quinn in "Zorba the Greek" at the Fox, a truly memorable day. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You certainly mentioned some of the highlights I forgot. Soulard is one of my favorites.

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  3. Thanks for this enlightening post sprinkled with interesting places to visit other than the Arch and/or Six Flags. A visit to Sweetie Pie's Kitchen is the list header...:-). Rhonda

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    1. Don't want to downplay the Arch because it is really spectacular.

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  4. Next time you get back in town try Crown Candy for a BLT. Almost a pound of bacon on one sandwich. If you are in town around lent try St.Peters church fish fry in St.Charles. It was great to meet you guys.

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