It’s Music to Our Ears

Can you guess which of JNPA’s museum stores sells harmonicas, a guitar-shaped bottle opener, and a St. Louis license plate magnet?  If you said the gift shop at the National Blues Museum, you’re right!  JNPA has operated this unique retail location since 2019, and you’ll find it chockful of cool music-related products that are found nowhere else. 

Credit: Explore St. Louis

If you haven’t paid a visit yet to the National Blues Museum, it’s high time to treat yourself.  The museum celebrates the blues as the foundation of all modern American music with high-tech exhibits, unique artifacts from famous musicians, and a state-of-the-art concert venue.  It’s open daily from 12-5 p.m.

The site’s location in downtown St. Louis is intentional.  Situated along the historic Blues Highway (Highway 61), the city had an important influence on the evolution of blues music.  Musicians and song writers performed there as they traveled from the South to the recording studios of Chicago.

The museum traces the development of the blues and its various styles.  It recognizes the musicians who created the musical genre as well as those who contribute to it today. To keep the traditions alive, part of the museum is devoted to an intimate concert space where audiences can hear local and touring blues artists perform.  And at the Thursday night Sittin’ on the Porch jam sessions, aspiring blues players are welcome to bring a musical instrument and sit in with the pros during the musical numbers.

When you visit the National Blues Museum, be sure to stop by our handsome store.  We feature a wide range of blues-themed merchandise, from books, CDs and instruments to hip apparel, bar glasses and gifts.  For instance, check out this snazzy hand-painted glass ornament . Proceeds from product sales – either at the museum or from our online store – help support the educational mission of the museum.     

Hold Your Horses!

There’s always a diverse crowd visiting our national park partners, but four-legged visitors?  Well, that’s who you’ll see at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site this Saturday.

As a tribute to Ulysses Grant’s lifelong passion for horses, the park will host Horses and Grant at White Haven this Saturday.  Horses from area ranchers and owners will be on hand to help park interpreters explain the central role that the animals played in the 18th president’s life.

Illustration by Leslie Przybylek 

From the time he was a small boy, Grant loved to ride, train, and care for horses.  Horses were also vital to him as a soldier and farmer.  He was an accomplished rider both in his military career and his private life, and owned a succession of horses throughout his life. In fact, it was thought he bought the White Haven property from his wife’s family after the Civil War mainly to breed and raise horses.

Original horse barn on the White Haven property

At the park this Saturday, there will be formal demonstrations on horsemanship, saddles, and the history of racing, as well as hands-on activities for children. The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; reservations are not required.  It is offered as one of the site’s Grant bicentennial activities.

Oh, Fudge!

Stop the presses.  We have an important news flash:  National Fudge Day is just around the corner!  Actually, it’s not until June 16 but we’re letting you know early because – hey, fudge!  We also wanted to give you extra time to pop down to The Arch Store to pick up a box for yourself, or for your sweetie (sweetie, get it?), in time for the Big Day. 

Fudge is thought to have originated as a mistake.  Accordingly to legend, a candy maker in the late 1800s botched a batch of caramel he was making, but he ended up making something just as tasty.  And since the term “fudge” was already in use to describe a clumsy adjustment or nonsense, the name stuck!

Wondering why we sell fudge at The Arch Store, where our products have to adhere to the interpretive themes of Gateway Arch National Park?  Well among other things, we feature various foods, toys and other historical goods that were available in the early days of St. Louis, where pioneers and western explorers passed through on their way to the western frontier.  And fudge was as popular in old St. Louis as it is now.

The Arch Store makes its own fudge several days a week in a specially designed kitchen and we sell it at our historically themed fudge counter in the back of the store, often after giving customers free samples to try.  Our best-selling flavors are Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Peanut Butter-Chocolate and Gooey Butter Cake.  Mmmmm. 

So celebrate National Fudge Day with a trip to The Arch Store to get a sweet taste of the past.  And be sure to let us know which is YOUR favorite flavor!

Starstruck

How much do you know about the skies above us?  Well here’s a fun way to learn.  All would-be stargazers should mark their calendars for the return of the summer and fall Gateway to the Stars series at Gateway Arch National Park.  Visitors of all ages can join in the fun.

Credit: NPS

Each month from now through October, the National Park Service and the St. Louis Astronomical Society will offer public astronomy programs and telescope viewing at the Gateway Arch.  Each evening event will begin with a ranger talk and discussion inside the park’s Visitor Center at 6:45 p.m. followed by telescope viewings of the night sky just outside the Arch entrance beginning at 8:00 p.m., weather permitting.  Volunteers from the Astronomical Society will have multiple telescopes available for participants to use and will help interpret what people can see through the eyepiece.

Credit: NPS

The theme of each evening will differ.  No reservation is required except for the children’s program on July 10, which requires advance registration:

  • Sunday, June 12: Stories in the Stars The discussion will focus on the sky as a cultural resource and will include constellation stories from many cultures. Visitors will also be invited to share their sky stories.
  • Sunday, July 10: Kids Explorer Night Children ages 5-12 can earn their Junior Ranger Night Explorer patches as they build and take home their own Galileoscopes.  These are small refractor telescopes that allow viewers to see the same objects as famed astronomer Galileo Galilei such as craters of the moon and four moons of Jupiter. Space is limited.  Go to Gateway to the Stars: Kids Explorer Night for information on how to sign up.
Credit: NPS
  • Sunday, August 14: The New James Webb Space Telescope Learn about the newest space telescope, its “first light,” and early discoveries it has already made.
  • Saturday, September 3:  Lights Out Heartland  Speakers from Dark Sky Missouri will discuss the impact of light pollution on wildlife and the environment.
  • Saturday, October 8:   Theme to be determined.

Serving St. Louis’ Visitors

Let’s say you’re a tourist wandering around downtown St. Louis looking to pick up a fun souvenir or needing directions to a nearby attraction.  Where do you go?  Well, we have a place for you!

Head on over to Kiener Plaza, just west of Gateway Arch National Park, and look for the bright green Visitor Center.  That’s where you’ll find JNPA’s newest little retail shop as well as a visitor information booth staffed by Explore St. Louis.  Their friendly personnel can direct visitors to a wide range of tourist destinations and activities in the region.

And for those who want to take home a special souvenir from their visit, our store offers shirts, hats, drinkware and collectibles that sport a colorful St. Louis logo.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Kiener Plaza sits just west of the Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch.   The city park features winding paths and a lawn that can accommodate a variety of events, including a bicycle parking grove, a shade garden with café tables and chairs, benches, a fountain garden with a splash pad, a children’s play garden, and a statue honoring former Olympian Harry Kiener.

Stop by our shop and say hello next time you’re downtown.  Our store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday now through Labor Day.

When the Revolutionary War Came to St. Louis

When we think of the American Revolutionary War, we usually imagine the action taking place on the East Coast and involving just the British and the American colonists.  But the battles west of the Appalachian Mountains, though less well known, also helped shape the destiny of the nation; and they involved various indigenous tribes as well as the French and the Spanish.  The Battle of St. Louis in 1780 – which took place near what is now the western border of Gateway Arch National Park – was one such conflict.

The small village of St. Louis was founded by French traders in 1764 but became a Spanish settlement when the French ceded the territory to Spain.  Most of the approximately 900 St. Louisans were still of French heritage, overseen by a small number of Spanish soldiers.  They were far outnumbered by the various Native American tribes who lived nearby as trading partners of the Europeans. 

Map of the village of St. Louis c. 1790

When the American Revolution broke out in 1776, the British sought to control not only the Mississippi River but also St. Louis, which was a trading hub and the political capital of the region. Because the British had only scattered troops in the Midwest, they recruited nearly 2,000 Native Americans from several tribes near the Great Lakes, who began traveling downriver in early May of 1780. 

After fur traders warned the Spanish Lt. Governor Fernando de Leyba about the impending British attack, he began developing plans for his town’s defense.  De Leyba made plans for four round defensive towers to be built on which to place sharpshooters and cannons.  Only one tower – named Fort San Carlos –was finished by the time the attackers neared St. Louis.  The locals managed to place five cannons on its roof as well as trenches along the outer walls of the town.

Once the British and their Native allies began attacking on May 26, the villagers were greatly outnumbered – as many as 100 were killed – and the outlook looked grim.  However, thanks to their cannons and other defenses, St. Louis was able to overcome their attackers and win the battle.  This meant the British were not able to gain control of the Mississippi River during the Revolutionary War, a key victory for the American colonists.

The National Park Service commemorates the Battle of St. Louis every year near the anniversary date.  The event takes place this year on May 28th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the south end of the Gateway Arch grounds.  Interpretive rangers and living history volunteers in 18th-century attire will be on hand to explain the story of St. Louis’ role in the American Revolution and the implications of the settlers’ victory.  There will also be periodic musket- and cannon-firing demonstrations. Reservations are not required.

An exhibit at Gateway Arch National Park

More information on the Battle of St. Louis can be found in the Arch Museum.  Also, check out an extensive new exhibit, The American Revolutionary War in the West, which just opened at St. Charles County’s Heritage Museum.

An Epic Journey

Nearly 218 years ago this week, 45 men and one dog set out from Camp Dubois near St. Louis on what was to become one of the most famous explorations in American history.  On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their Corps of Discovery on an expedition to explore the newly acquired western portion of the continent.  Their epic two-year journey took them to the Pacific Coast and back, yielding a treasure-trove of detailed maps, climate and soil data, and plant and animal specimens, as well as the beginning of relationships with dozens of tribal nations.

Two of JNPA’s partner sites – Gateway Arch National Park and the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center – feature interpretive exhibits about this famous expedition in their museums.  So we thought it fitting to honor the intrepid explorers during this anniversary week.

Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after acquiring the Louisiana Purchase territory in 1803.  Although scientific discoveries and mapping were of high importance, Jefferson’s primary interests were political and commercial.  He envisioned an eventual expansion of the nation to the Pacific Ocean and wanted to establish an American presence in the west before European nations made claims to the region.  He also charged Lewis and Clark with preparing the way for the extension of the valuable fur trade, with documenting other natural resources that could support future settlements, and with assessing the friendliness of the indigenous tribes they encountered.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Jefferson provided the Corps of Discovery with the best clothing, firearms, boats, equipment, and rations then available.  He also supplied them with an assortment of medals, ribbons, needles, mirrors, and other articles which were intended as gifts to Native American chiefs.

The expedition travelled up the Missouri River and through its tributaries in a specially built 55-foot keelboat and two smaller boats called pirogues, averaging 15 miles a day.  Their journey proved difficult and exhausting:  the men were plagued by heat, injuries, insects, and the river’s strong current and many snags.  Both Lewis and Clark’s kept detailed records of these arduous conditions in their journals, which were primarily devoted to meticulous descriptions and drawings of the native people, plants, animals they saw.

[Columbia River near Mouth of Umatilla River, Washington and Oregon]. Entry of 19 October 1805, cont. Voorhis Journal #6 [Elkskin Bound Journal]. p. 53. [Moulton 5:302]. Voorhis Journal 6. William Clark, Elkskin Bound Journal, 11 September – 31 December 1805., p. 53. Clark Family Collection. William Clark Papers. Missouri Historical Society Archives. Photograph by Cary Horton, 2003. NS 26957. Photograph and scan (c) 2003, Missouri Historical Society.

To find out more about this famous expedition, you can visit the museum at the Gateway Arch.  The Jefferson’s Vision gallery features numerous exhibits on Lewis and Clark’s journey, including replicas and artifacts, interactives about the plants and animals the explorers encountered, and information about the native peoples who inhabited the West at the time of the expedition.

The Arch Store also offers books and other products related to the Corps of Discovery, including the classic best-seller Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  You can purchase these and other items online or at The Arch Store.

Happy Birthday, Ulysses!!!

How do you fit 200 candles on a birthday cake?  Tomorrow – April 27, 2022 – marks the 200th anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s birth.  This notable bicentennial will be commemorated with events, activities and exhibits at dozens of locations across the nation.  Our partner park Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site will offer programs for all tastes and ages in the coming months.  Whether you’re a history buff, a military veteran, a food lover or a kid, you’re sure to find a fun and interesting way to celebrate the former president’s 200th year.

The park is devoting the entire day and evening of April 27 to an extended birthday celebration:

  • There will be presentations on Grant’s life in the visitor center theater. 
  • Food historian Suzanne Corbett will deliver a program on 19th century cakes and other desserts in the dining room of White Haven, the house where Ulysses lived with his wife Julia and her family. 
  • Visitors can make and send cards to residents of Missouri veterans’ homes letting them know about Grant’s appreciation of military veterans. 
  • You can pick up a “Flat Grant” handout at the park’s visitor center to color and take with you on your travels. Share your selfies with Grant on social media as you travel with #USGrant2ndWorldTour.
  • Kids can explore all aspects of Grant’s life with a special Junior Ranger activity book and receive a commemorative Junior Ranger badge. 
  • In the evening, the Independent Silver Band will conduct a one-hour concert on the park grounds, beginning at 6:30 pm. This program is presented in partnership with the Ulysses S. Grant Association and Mississippi State University.

Credit: Curt Fields

Other bicentennial activities planned by the park include a visit by the nation’s premiere Grant impersonator, Curt Fields, on Tuesday May 17th.  Throughout the summer, park staff will offer special themed tours of the historic White Haven estate, gallery walks, touch tables, and facilitated dialogue programs inside the park’s museum.  Check the park’s list of bicentennial events for more details. To learn about events elsewhere in the U.S. that will commemorate the Grant Bicentennial, visit the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s website.

Finally, if you’d like a keepsake of this important bicentennial, pick up this unique brass ornament at our bookstore when you visit the park. It features a likeness of Grant beneath his well-known saying “Let us have peace.”  You can also order the ornament from our online store.  Quantities are limited!

Meet the New Leader at Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park has a new superintendent.  Jeremy Sweat, a 15-year veteran of the National Park Service, took over the job late last year.  He oversees operations not only for the Gateway Arch but also for Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

Sweat has a background in resource management and policy at the park, regional and national levels, and has experience working with non-profit partners, with other agencies, and with local communities.  JNPA is excited to be working with him.

We recently caught up with Jeremy Sweat to learn a little more about him.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?   

My first experience working in a national park was as an undergrad archeological field school student at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2004. The field school was a partnership between the University of Tennessee and the NPS, so we got to live and work in the park for the summer. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the Smokies in 2005 as a graduate teaching assistant to supervise the field school. That winter the park archeologist encouraged me to apply for a seasonal position as an archeological technician and I was hired in the summer of 2006 to conduct backcountry archeological surveys. After that first season, I fell in love with the mission and the people, and never left the NPS.

Credit: Debbie Franke

What is particularly special about Gateway Arch National Park, or why should someone visit? 

Aside from the incredible local and regional pride that the park inspires, one of my favorite things about Gateway Arch National Park is how relevant the park’s story is to America today. The Arch helps to tell the story of the European American settlement of the west, which for some people meant new opportunities and greater freedom, while for other people, it meant the loss of rights, lands, and freedom. The Old Courthouse is a place where people fought for racial equality, women’s rights, and voting rights during the 19th century. Telling these complicated, challenging stories gives our visitors the opportunity to connect that history with many of the challenges and conversations that are still happening in America today.  

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at Gateway Arch National Park?  

My favorite part of the job is seeing people enjoy the park. Each time I look out my window and see families enjoying the Arch grounds, or when I walk through the museum and see children learning about history, it reminds me why I joined the NPS.

What kinds of careers are available in the Park Service?

Honestly, it would be easier to make a list of what careers are not available in the NPS. If you look at the 423 sites that make up the national park system, there are opportunities for nearly every kind of skill and profession. Everyone knows that we hire park rangers, but we also have jobs for scientists, plumbers, law enforcement officers, engineers, carpenters, lifeguards, boat captains, arborists, livestock supervisors, scuba divers, veterinarians, accountants, and more. I encourage anyone who is interested in working for the NPS to learn more about how their skills might be needed in a park or office around the country. 

What’s your favorite activity to do at the park?

I moved here in the middle of winter, so now that it is getting warmer, I enjoy just being out in the park on sunny days. It’s nice to bike through the park on my way home from work and see so many people from the local community, and from around the country and world, here enjoying this place.

The park’s best kept secret is…?

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a well-kept secret, would it? 

How Many National Park Sites Have YOU Visited?

The National Park Service system currently includes 423 sites throughout the United States and its territories.  These range from national monuments and battlefields to national historic sites and recreation areas to national rivers and seashores. 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t visited the majority of these places (most of us haven’t!). But luckily, National Park Week is just around the corner – a perfect time to add to your NPS “life list.”

National Park Week is an annual celebration jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to encourage everyone to discover our nation’s diverse historic, natural, and cultural treasures.  This year, the week runs from April 16 through 24.  Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences, including National Junior Ranger Day for kids on Saturday April 23.  You can find out more about programs and themes you might be interested in by going here.  

Another bonus for park visitors during National Park Week – entrance fees are waived at all parks on Saturday April 16.  (Other 2022 free fee days can be found here).  Luckily, there are never entry fees at JNPA’s partner parks but each of them would be glad to see you in April, or any time!

If you’re planning to visit any of the 63 parks that have “national park” in their name, you’ll want a copy of National Geographic’s national park guide as well as the Passport to Your National Parks, which not only contains park information but allows you to collect the passport stamps from every park you visit.