The Arch, Ghosts, & Nuclear Waste – Traveling Across Missouri (Roadtrip Day 03 Cont’d)

We cruised into St. Louis in the late morning. At this point, US-50 has merged with the Interstate.

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We only had a few hours to spend, so of course, the first matter of business was to see the Arch. We were about to Google Map it on my iPhone when we realized it actually wasn’t going to be that hard to find…

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We parked the car in a nearby lot and walked to the base. And hey – it’s an arch!

The Gateway Arch (a symbolic gateway to the west) was built between 1963 and 1965, and opened to the public in 1967. At 630 feet, it’s the tallest monument in the United States. Its exterior is covered in a stainless steel skin, and a pod-shaped tram brings visitors to an observation deck at its peak.

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Unfortunately, the line for the elevator was ridiculously long, so we had to be content admiring it from the ground. Also, we were excited to note that we had finally arrived at the Mississippi River! Unfortunately, it had apparently flooded, and fences prevented us from getting close to it to do the out-of-towner hand-in-the-new-body-of-water ritual.

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Riding along the riverfront, we stumbled on the Union Electric Light & Power Company building, which is one of the most beautiful industrial buildings I’ve ever seen.

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It seemed deserted when we were there, but at least one website claims parts of it are still functional. Sort of reminds me of the Joker’s lair in the first Tim Burton Batman film.

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I love the writing under the roof peaks:

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The second:

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From downtown, we then made our way to the Benton Park neighborhood, home to a number of now abandoned breweries/factory buildings and the grand residences of their former owners. Walking down a typical street, it’s not unusual to see a factory smokestack in the distance…

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…then turn a corner and stumble on a beautiful house like the Chantillon De-Menil Mansion.

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One in particular we were interested in visiting was the Lemp Mansion, now operating as a restaurant and occasional hotel:

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The Lemp family, owners of a now vacant brewery just down the street (below picture), had a strange number of suicides in their history, one of which occurred in the mansion. It’s now said to be one of the most haunted sites in America, and large numbers of tourists flock to it to eat full fried chicken dinners and perhaps see a ghost.

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I’d love to show you pictures of the interior and recommend it for future trips to St. Louis, but unfortunately, we never had the chance to go inside. We were sitting in our car eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot when an employee came out and told us the manager had wanted us to leave. So we did.

Next, we headed north-west and saw one of my favorite stops on the trip thus far: this enormous pile of rocks in the back of a parking lot.

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This isn’t just any ordinary 3-story pile of rocks, however; buried beneath it are untold amounts of nuclear waste.

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Formerly on this site was the US Atomic Energy Commission Uranium Feed Materials Plant, which processed uranium and thorium ore from 1955 – 1966. Of course, there was a lot of waste, which I gather was essentially thrown out the window. Decontamination efforts began in the mid-80′s (a drinking water reservoir servicing 70,000 residents is located very close by), culminating in the “disposal cell” pictured below:

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The entire cell is covered by this mountain of rocks, which is apparently safe to walk on. At least, I hope it is…

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As we approached, I noticed a number of what I imagine are testing devices scattered throughout the foliage:

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An enormous staircase takes you up to the top…

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Along the way, we noticed a TON of these spiders crawling all over the place. Radioactive spiders? Could my dreams of becoming Spider-man be so easily realized?? Alas, I decided not let it bite me.

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The stairs don’t bring you to the top, however – you still have to walk an additional 100 feet or so on this path:

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You only fully comprehend how large the mound is at the top, when you realize you’re at the highest points in sight:

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Four plaques describing the history of the site are at the top, along with two park benches for anyone who cares to relax on top of a pile of hot radioactive waste.

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I want to believe the EPA when they claim the whole thing is safe and radiation-free…But it really started to creep me out when I noticed that my hair was mysterious standing on end (seriously – there was no wind the day we went up):

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We left the toxic waste dump site (what a vacation!) and continued on the road to rejoin US-50. An abandoned building of some sort we passed:

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Curious if it was a former garage:

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We drove through more small towns…

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One of my favorite abandoned properties we’ve seen on the trip is this shack, completely overtaken by foliage:

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I especially like the front porch, the roof of which is held up by a carved post and a tree trunk:

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Passing by a somewhat impoverished looking farm, we noticed their one horse had a really severe dip in its back. Does anyone know if this is common for riding horses, or a sign of ill treatment?

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Though the landscape was still mostly farms…

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…we were beginning to see some changes as we made our way toward Kansas.

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We finally rejoined US-50, which runs alongside a railroad track. There’s something magical about racing a train on a two-lane highway:

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We stopped for dinner in Sedalia, Missouri, known in the 1800′s as the “Sodom and Gomorrah of the West” for its gambling and prostitution. Today, it’s a crossroads for US-50 and US-65, and has the usual array of gas stations and fast food joints. One interesting service station:

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We ate at a fantastic BBQ place called Kehde’s:

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The main restaurant is attached to a dining car, which our waitress told me was featured in the Matthew Broderick movie Biloxi Blues, of all things.

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Inside the dining car:

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Unfortunately, the train car was closed for the night, so we ate in the main building. The few customers appeared to be locals (they knew the waitresses by name) – always a good sign for roadtrip eating.

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Our waitress was charming, down-homey, and warm, chatting with us at length about our trip, Sedalia, and the menu – and my New York City paranoia immediately kicked into full gear. Was this all an act she put on for out-of-towners? What was her motivation? Was she guilting us into leaving a bigger tip? Was she trying to sucker us into buying more food? Why was a waitress in a town we’d never been to talking to us like we were old friends?!?!

But no – as far as I can tell, it was absolutely genuine. When my girlfriend asked about what pies they had, for example, she actually whispered to us not to bother, as all they had left were store-bought and not as good as the ones they make themselves.

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The ribs I had were really good, dripping in homemade BBQ sauce and falling off the bone – and does it get any better than foamy root beer served in freezer-chilled glasses?

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I’m exhausted here after a full day of driving (and possible radiation poisoning), but places like Kehde’s really make the trip worth it.

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Kansas up next!

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37 comments

  1. Oh man. I really hope the people who own the Lemp Mansion read this and are kicking themselves over the great publicity they COULD have had, if their manager hadn’t been such a douche.

    Great series, really enjoying it!

  2. That was a common wolf spider and average in size from its appearance.

    The horse looked more like a worn out working horse rather than a riding horse (Clydesdale like)it could have been a Morgan.

    I am truly enjoying your road trip. Your trip through Indiana and Illinois made me home sick!

  3. NEVER trust the gov’t when it comes to radioactive waste LOL

  4. Your tour of the nuclear waste dump almost inspires me to do a comparative photo essay about Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island. But I have a strange suspicion that the nuclear site is less likely to infect you with some deadly disease.

  5. the horse is probably just old; older horses have a higher chance of developing a swayback

  6. The Wheel Inn in Sedalia is well known for the “Goober Burger” – a hamburger lathered in peanut butter. Better than it sounds.

    Also worth checking out in the Sedalia area is the Mennonite store in Cole Camp south of there.

    If eating in Kansas City, go to Gates BBQ on Main and Stroud’s for fried chicken.

  7. The abandoned shack looks like a dead ringer for the house in ‘The Evil Dead’ movies…good location for the remake that’s been bounced around Hollywood for some time now! Great find!

  8. Enjoyed this very much. I lived in St. Louis for 6 years, but never knew about the nuclear waste dump site. The second half of the post – nuclear waste site to the end – sounds like it could be right out of an Uncle Tupelo song.

  9. Hey I used to work for the Opera Theater of St Louis years ago and when I first started we they were still renting space at the old Lemp brewery. It was a crazy old creepy place…you would have loved it. There is still a tunnel(some where) in there that goes from the brewery up to the mansion. The brewery was has been used in several movies as well.

  10. The hair thing looks more like static electricity than radiation :) Were you wearing a hat that day?

  11. That horse is probably a Belgian horse. Here’s more information on swaybacked horses:
    http://www.myhorse.com/lordosis-swayback-older-horses.html.

    Those are eerie pictures of the toxic site!

  12. I have always wanted to see the St. Louis arch. I don’t know much about it but in looking at it, I find it hard to imagine a tram taking viewers to its peek. ?

  13. I dont even think that horse is swaybacked, her conformation is good, she is just old. She is a draft breed that has high withers and a more upright shoulder that could create the appearance of a slight swayback.

    • In addition, its weight is good and it’s alert and healthy-looking. It’s probably a combination of age and conformation.

  14. I dont even think that horse is swaybacked, her conformation is good, she is just old. She is a draft breed that has high withers and a more upright shoulder that could create the appearance of a slight swayback.

    I went in the St Louis arch, it is totally a pod, very reminiscent of something from a Stanley Kubric movie. Its almost worth the hour wait on line.

  15. A common wolf spider? These things are common? >Shudder< Why would there have been so many of them hanging around a bunch of rocks? I'm having kind of an arachno-freakout over this. If I go on a driving trip to Missouri, will I be overwhelmed by wolf spiders? Seriously, what is the spider situation out there?

  16. I don’t think I could enjoy this trip more if I was on it myself!

    You are finding all the same things I would notice and love. Why did the manager ask you to leave though?! I guess your rowdy sightseeing reputation preceded you. lol What an ass he must be.

    Ok, I have to say it…you are so freaking adorable!! It is so cool to put a face with your words. And don’t worry, you are younger than some of my children, so you are safe! lol

    Hope you are enjoying the next legs of the trip.

  17. I agree with everyone else that the horse looks good, but just a older–

    Where in St Louis is the big nuclear dump? Is it out in Weldon Springs? I went to high school in St Louis, and there was a rumor circulating that at one of the other local high schools, the teachers had to sign an agreement pledging not to sue if they got cancer because it was so close to the nuclear waste dump.

    Have fun in KC! There is the world’s largest Prairie Dog on the Colorado side of Kansas, if you are heading that way. I wouldn’t stop there, though, its kind of a depressing zoo…..the animals look terrified.

  18. Love your picture! You look so much different and younger than I expected – what a cutie! Good thing Im old enough to be your mother (and you’ve already got a girlfriend). Looking for more travel reports. Stay safe!

  19. I skipped the ride to the top of the Arch too, but I enjoyed the museum beneath it underground. Too bad the Mississippi was flooded. The cobblestone shoreline leading down to it is kinda neat.

  20. As someone notes above, I’m not sure I could be enjoying these posts any more if I were on the trip itself. Fabulous! I’m always bummed to reach the end.

    I’m curious about the tabletops in the dining car at Kehde’s. (And why, oh why, no photos of the ribs??) Is the design abstract or figural? Are they wood-inlay? Plastic? They look so intriguing from a distance; I really wish you’d had a shot of one close-up!

  21. While the horse could be swayback, it looks more like my mustang. She just has really high withers and doesn’t interfere with riding at all. I just have a saddle with a higher front for her. The withers are the pointy part right before the big dip.
    I’m really enjoying your road trip, I can attend virtually!

  22. Nuclear waste? No problem – we’ll just throw some rocks on it.

  23. I can’t get over how much the Union Electric Light & Power building reminds me of the abandoned Yonkers Power Station on the Hudson River. Whenever I take the train in/out of Manhattan, I always marvel at its beauty. Both of these buildings are both majestic in scale, with so many interesting features. Most likely, they are similar because this was a popular style to use for Power Stations of that era.

    Sadly, of late the Yonkers Power Station was named as one of the most endangered sites by the Preservation League of NY. It’s still standing, though, and could certainly be reused. Think of the amazing views up and down the Hudson, and the interior spaces must have potential as well!

    Rob Yasinac’s terrific website, “Hudson Valley Ruins”, has photos:
    http://www.hudsonvalleyruins.org/yasinsac/glenwood/glenwood.html

    I love your website so much that I have a link to it on mine!

    • Wow!! I always wondered about that building when I would pass it on the train. And the two do look similar. Love both of them!

  24. This site is wonderful. Thanks for taking us along.

  25. When you’re outside on a cloudy or rainy day, and your hair stands on end, it usually means you’re about 3 seconds away from getting hit by lightning. Just an FYI. (Are you sure you’re still alive?)

    Great road trip, though it’s too bad you missed my lil’ Midwestern hometown of Garrettsville, Ohio. Have fun!

  26. Kehde’s!! I grew up very near Sedalia and Kehde’s is the best barbecue joint I have ever eaten at. I am so jealous that you got to eat there – I haven’t been in years. Someone above asked about the tabletops. The design isn’t really so much of a design – the tabletops have copies of newspaper ads from the 1800′s under a sheet of glass. I always liked reading them while waiting for the food to arrive.

    I also liked washing my car at that car wash – much more fun than the typical car wash place. The Wheel-Inn has been gone for a couple of years now. I think the state wanted to widen the intersection of US 50 and US 65.

    I think you would have liked the state fairgrounds, and am a little surprised you didn’t stop. There are some great buildings and it is home to one of the largest state fairs in the country.

  27. Another great update!

    The Mississippi was flooded the day I visited, too: http://www.dale-murray.com/oakpark/2007/05/mississippi-river-flooding-in-st-louis.html

    But still? It was neat to see the arch up close.

  28. When traveling through Kansas, stop through Lawrence. The downtown area is fabulous and the homes a few blocks west of Massachusetts street are incredible – most have been restored. Some still have the posts people would tie their horses up to. Eat at Free State – good food, great beer! I live in Lawrence and LOVE IT!

  29. Ah, St. Louis! I’ve lived here for my entire 30 years and only been up in the Arch twice. The lemp brewery is amazing inside, we held our BFA art show back in 2002 inside a massive cavern of a room and there is an awesome/scary vibe throughout the whole place. I know a man recently fell down an elevator shaft so that may be why they are shooing people off the property.

  30. The horse is definately a swayback. A swayback is not a breed or a genus of any kind. A “swayback” is just a result of age. As a horse ages and the muscle, bones and tendons get old gravity takes its’ toll and the weight of the insides of a horse cause this result. It is not just common it is an inevitable result of aging for every horse that has a long life.

    I very much enjoy your blog but hesitate to tell you of the wonderful possibilities that lay ahead because I don’t want the country of Scouting NY to move to all the wonderfull places I have found and have not yet figured out which to move to next. However, don’t miss Dubois, WY. And stop by the pub and say hello to “Mad Dog.” In the meanwhile I’ll be enjoying your trip vicariously, and enduring a maddeningly HH&H summer back in NY!

  31. I didn’t even know you could go inside of the Arch until the Eero Saarinen exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. There was a great doc in the exhibit about the building of the Arch and now I’m itching to go inside.

  32. Comic Sans used on an official government informative plaque.
    Scarier than the contents of the hill

  33. What I like about the Union Electric Light building is you can imagine the sign being put up in stages. Maybe it just said Union Light at first, and then when electricity became a buzzword, they added the “Electric” part in between. Ditto with the “& Power Co.” which seems kind of wedged in, maybe as part of a rebranding of the company after many years.

  34. lol so way late, but i’ve just come across these road trip posts and am totally enjoying it.

    The horse was probably a belgian or belgian cross.. a pretty common draft horse in this area..

    It’s too bad you didn’t have time to head up to Hannibal on this trip – a couple of hours north of St. Louis, but a pretty nice place to visit for a lot of history.

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