Podcast Episodes

Prometheus

In the far west, you can find one of the oldest living organisms in the world. A tree that can live for thousands of years due to its ability to survive whatever is thrown at it. But I’m not talking about California’s Giant Sequoias or the Great Redwoods. Fifty-six years ago, the oldest tree ever was found, containing nearly 5000 years of growth rings. It germinated before the Egyptian Pyramids were built. Unfortunately, nobody knew it was the oldest known tree until it was gone.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Great Basin National Park, the Bristlecone Pine, and how one man accidentally killed the oldest tree in the world.

Listen below:

Bristlecone pines are the oldest known living trees and for good reason. They have many tricks that help them survive, like growing in twisted, gnarly shapes at high altitude, and an adaptation called “sectored architecture.” Sectored architecture means that the tree has roots that feed only the part of the tree directly above them. If one root dies, only the section of the tree above it dies, and the rest of the tree keeps living. You will often see bristlecone pines at high elevations with only one or two living sections, stripes of bark growing on an otherwise skeletal body. They can endure quite a bit of torture.

But nearly 60 years ago, the oldest living bristlecone met an untimely end.

History and Story of the Bristlecone Pine :

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. In these high-elevation environments, they grow very slowly. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire.

Bristlecone pines are often confused with limber pines. They can be found growing together at the same elevations. They are affected by the same erosional processes and may look very similar with dead and twisted wood exposed.

A bristlecone’s needles are about one inch long and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches. The tightly-bunched tufts of needles may extend back a foot or more along the branch, giving the branch the appearance of a bottle brush. The developing cones are a deep purple color, which helps to absorb heat, and mature after two years at which time they turn a brown color. The tree gets its name from the cones whose scales are each tipped with a claw-like bristle. They max out at around 20 feet tall.

In the summer of 1964, a geographer by the name of Donald R. Currey was researching ice age glaciology in the moraines of Wheeler Peak. He was granted permission from the United States Forest Service to take core samples from numerous bristlecone pines in an attempt to find the age of the glacial features those trees were growing on top of. Currey was studying the different widths of the rings inside these bristlecone pines, which were believed to be over 4,000 years old, to determine patterns of good and bad growing seasons in the past. Because of their old age, these trees act as climatic vaults, storing thousands of years of weather data within their rings. This method of research is valuable to the study of climate change.

Currey found a tree in this grove he believed to be well over 4,000 years old. It was known by local mountaineers as “Prometheus.” There are several accounts of how Prometheus met its end. Some say Currey’s increment borer, the tool used to take core samples, broke off in the tree. Others say he did not know how to core such a large tree, or that the borer was too short. Still, others say Currey felt he needed a full cross-section to better examine the rings of the tree. We may never know the true story of what happened to Prometheus, but we do know one thing for certain: Currey had permission from the Forest Service to have the tree cut down. Counting the rings later revealed that Prometheus contained 4,862 growth rings. Due to the harsh conditions, likely, a growth ring did not form every year. Therefore, Prometheus was estimated to be 4,900 years old, the oldest known tree of its time, and oldest tree ever dated — the runner-up being a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California. It was only 4,847 years old. It wasn’t until 2012 that an older tree was found – another bristlecone in the same area, proved to be 5,065 years old. There is a good chance there are older bristlecone pines that have not yet been dated.

According to ancient Greek myths, Prometheus was an immortal who brought fire, a symbol of knowledge, to humans. Prometheus the bristlecone pine also imparted a lot of knowledge to humans. The information gained by studying this significant tree added to the knowledge of carbon dating (which is valuable to archeologists and paleontologists) and climate data. Bristlecone pines are now protected on federal lands.

In the years since, the oldest known of the near prehistoric bristlecone pines was a tree nicknamed Methuselah, after the longest-lived person in the Bible. Methuselah is located in the White Mountains of California in a remote National Forest area between the Sierra Nevada range and the Nevada border.

Over 4,789 years old, the age of Methuselah was determined by the measurement of core samples taken in 1957, but discovered in this century. In 2013, another bristlecone pine in the area was discovered to be over 5,000 years old. Methuselah and its unnamed senior pine’s exact locations are kept a close secret in order to protect them. You can still visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you’ll have to guess at which tree it is.

Great Basin National Park:

The stump of Prometheus is all that remains of the ancient tree within the grove. If you would like to travel through history by counting the rings of Prometheus, you can do so at the Great Basin Visitor Center.

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years, don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occasionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

Bristlecone pines are often confused with limber pines. They can be found growing together at the same elevations. They are affected by the same erosional processes and may look very similar with dead and twisted wood exposed.

A bristlecone’s needles are about one inch long and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches. The tightly-bunched tufts of needles may extend back a foot or more along the branch, giving the branch the appearance of a bottle brush. The developing cones are a deep purple color, which helps to absorb heat, and mature after two years at which time they turn a brown color. The tree gets its name from the cones whose scales are each tipped with a claw-like bristle.

Limber pine trees, on the other hand, have needles in packets of five that are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long and grow only towards the ends of the branches. Also, the cones of the limber pine do not have bristles.

The Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove, the most accessible grove in the park, is located on the northeast side of Wheeler Peak. It is unusual in that it grows on a glacial moraine consisting of quartzite boulders. Most groves grow on limestone or dolomite. The northeastern exposure of the Wheeler Peak grove is also unusual as most other groves have a generally southern or western exposure. The Wheeler Peak grove is reached by a 1.5 mile (3 miles round trip) trail from Wheeler Peak Campground. A short self-guided nature trail passes through a portion of the grove. During the summer, the park offers ranger-led interpretive walks in this grove.

The largest grove of bristlecone pines in the park is on Mt. Washington. Located in the west central portion of the park, access is difficult. No developed trails exist in the grove. Some sections of this grove have relatively tall (over 40 feet) bristlecone pines that resemble high-elevation spruce or limber pine more than the typical gnarled treeline bristlecone pines. Unlike the Wheeler Peak grove, the trees on Mt. Washington grow exclusively on limestone. In fact, nearby quartzite areas are notable for their lack of bristlecones.

The third grove in the park is near Eagle Peak (Peak 10,842) on the ridge between the Snake Creek and Baker Creek drainages. The terrain is steep, and access is difficult. These bristlecones also grow exclusively on limestone soils, while granitic soils in the area lack bristlecones.

From a 13,063-foot summit to the sage-covered foothills, Great Basin National Park is a place to sample the stunning diversity of the larger Great Basin region in Eastern Nevada. Some come for the majesty of Wheeler Peak or the ancient bristlecone pines which cling to her flanks. Others enjoy the mystery of Lehman Caves or the immensity of the stars in the darkest night skies.

Taking a drive along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a highlight of any visit to the Great Basin. A true mountain road, the scenic drive hugs the South Snake Range, slowly winding you to a point above all others, where vistas reach the horizon, and one is met with a pristine view of the rugged, harsh, yet surprisingly beautiful Great Basin Desert.

Starting at the Park boundary on Nevada Highway 488, the drive takes you on a paved 12 mile, out and back road to an elevation exceeding 10,000 feet above sea level, to the face of Wheeler Peak. Along this 12 mile road, you will gain over 4,000 feet in elevation and cross through numerous ecological zones, the equivalent of driving from Baker, Nevada, to the frozen Yukon, thousands of miles to the north. It is not uncommon to see mule deer, marmots, coyotes, jackrabbits, as you climb along the road.

Starting the drive by the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, you are already at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. By the 11th mile, you have reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. Ecologically, you have entered a region more characteristic of a Rocky Mountain alpine forest than that of the Nevada desert. Each aspen grove you see can be a single, living organism. Aspens reproduce through cloning by sending runners out underground that become new trees. Because of this, it is common that entire hillsides of aspens are all a single, genetically identical tree.
By the time you reach the Summit Trailhead, you have completed your journey from the harsh sagebrush flats to the surprisingly lush and diverse sub-alpine forests of the Snake Range.


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National Park Service News

News from the Park | January 2020

Welcome to the January 2020’s “News From the Parks,” our monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen Below:


Wolves in Yellowstone:

Twenty-five years ago this month, trucks carrying wolves arrived at the North Entrance and marked the beginning of the species’ restoration in Yellowstone. The wolves would spend the next ten weeks in pens, acclimating to their new surroundings. On March 21, 1995, they were released–making it possible to see a wild wolf in Yellowstone for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Wolves were intentionally eradicated from the region in the early 1900s to protect cattle, a dispute that still exists with ranchers today. From 14 wolves reintroduced in 1995, there are now 14 packs in the greater Yellowstone area.

Norovirus Outbreak:

An outbreak of the Norovirus at Yosemite National Park has triggered a massive clean-up and sanitation of concessionaire services provided by Aramark. Since early January, 170 people who visited or work at the park have reported Norovirus symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

Norovirus spreads very easily, including through direct contact with an infected person, touching a surface or object contaminated with it, or eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated. Symptoms of norovirus usually begin 12–48 hours after exposure.

The virus appears to be eradicated, but the Park continues to undertake extensive cleaning and enhanced sanitation protocols.

Trespassing on Old Faithful:

Two men were recently sentenced for trespassing on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. Eric Schefflin, 20, of Lakewood, Colorado, and Ryan Goetz, 25, of Woodstock, New York pleaded guilty to the violation of thermal trespass. On September 10, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., employees and visitors witnessed the pair walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser and reported it to park dispatch.

Sentencing for each included:
10 days of incarceration
$540 in restitution
Five years of unsupervised probation
Five-year ban from Yellowstone National Park
Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said that “Visitors must realize that walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal. Law enforcement officers take this violation seriously. Yellowstone National Park also appreciates the court for recognizing the impact thermal trespass can have on these amazing features.”

The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface. Visitors should always remain on boardwalks and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.

Yellowstone Visitation Drops, Smoky Mountains Soars:

In other news from Yellowstone, visitation to Yellowstone the Park in 2019 was at the lowest level in five years. The park recorded over 4 million visits, a 2.3 percent decrease from 2018 and a 5.6 percent decrease from the record-breaking year in 2016. The decrease is likely partially due to the closing for the Fishing Bridge RV park for renovations. Fishing Bridge hosts 350 campsites, the only in the park with RV hookups. It’s scheduled to re-open for the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, a record 12,547,743 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2019. That’s 1.1 million more than in 2018 at America’s most visited park.

The park’s three primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cherokee all had increased use, accounting for about two-thirds of the total park visitation, a news release from the National Park Service said. Secondary park entrances experienced tremendous growth, due primarily to the new section of the Foothills Parkway. More than 1 million visitors enjoyed the new scenic driving experience.

Sharks in Mammoth Cave:

Scientists were floored to have identified the remains of 15 to 20 different species of sharks deep in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, including part of the head of a great white-sized shark that’s partially protruding from a wall.

The sharks lived about 330 million years ago when much of North America was covered in ocean. Their remains were encased in sediment that eventually became the limestone where the cave formed.

Mammoth Cave scientists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey were mapping a remote part of the cave when they started seeing shark fossils.

The fossils were found in a remote part of the park that people can’t visit without special permission, but they don’t want to reveal the exact location.
Eventually, they’ll display the fossils in the park and online. But, the project is just getting started, and it’s difficult to study fossils in a cave without damaging the cave environment.

Thurston Lava Tube:

The Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park could reopen within a month if a final repair project is successful. Thurston Lava Tube was one of several attractions at the park that were closed indefinitely after a volcanic eruption which began in May 2018 and destroyed more than 700 homes on the Big Island.

Scientists and engineers wanted to confirm the tube was structurally sound after thousands of earthquakes rattled the park during the eruption.

The park must repair and bury an electrical line, which could take two to four weeks. When the tube reopens, there will be updates such as monitoring equipment to detect possible changes in cracks.

Restoring Native Plants:

A pair of U.S. senators believe restoring native plants in national parks around the country could help beautify and improve some of America’s most beloved public places. The effort is led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington. They’ve called the bill the Native Plant Species Pilot Program Act and say it would encourage the National Park Service to increase the use of native plant materials on land the service stewards. The use of native plants would benefit wildlife, human health, and the environment, Collins and Cantwell said.

Improving Lake Mead:

A $5.6 million pavement preservation project to improve roads within Lake Mead National Recreation Area will begin in early February.

The project will include cleaning, patching, resurfacing and re-marking roads and parking areas at Katherine Landing, Temple Bar, Eldorado Canyon, South Cove, and the park headquarters and warehouse complex.

The work is scheduled to take place during daylight hours on weekdays through April. During construction, visitors may experience short delays along the roadways, and parking areas may be closed for a limited time.

Funding for this project is provided by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area cyclic maintenance fund and Federal Lands Transportation Program. This is the second phase of the park’s overall pavement preservation project. Phase one, which was around $5 million, was completed in 2019.

Delta Air Lines and MLK Jr. NHS:

Delta Air Lines has committed $400,000 to the National Park Service to provide for upgrades and renovations at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta.
This contribution will significantly improve the lighting and electrical systems at the promenade and visitor center. The expected completion date is 2021.

In 2019, The Delta Air Lines Foundation provided a grant to the National Park Service to keep the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park open and operating during the federal government lapse in appropriations. Following Delta’s grant, the park saw a record number of visitors during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Celebrating 100 Episodes:

We’d like to thank you for joining us for this, the 100th episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast. For nearly two years we’ve been bringing you stories from the parks, and we’re looking forward to many many more. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


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Podcast Episodes

Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

That’s the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It’s not Lincoln’s most famous speech, but it’s close, and those last words are as fine as anything he ever wrote or spoke. A month later, the war was over after the surrender at Appomattox.

Lincoln waited two days to speak. He opened, “we meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart.”

“Gladness of heart” was something quite different from happiness. Lincoln was looking ahead to the reconstruction of the nation, but it would take place without him.

His would-be assassin, a notable stage actor, was at both speeches, biding his time until the moment arrived on his home turf.

Ford’s Theatre was first constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church. In 1859, the structure was abandoned as a place of worship. John T. Ford, a theatre entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the building in 1861. A church board member predicted a dire fate would fall anyone who turned the former house of worship into a theatre. In 1862, Ford renovated the theatre and performances began, setting in motion events to follow that would shake America to its core.


John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland into a family of prominent stage actors, including his older brother Edwin, the greatest actor of his time. John became a famous actor too and national celebrity in his own right, in fact, Abraham Lincoln, was a big fan. He had seen him previously in a play at Ford’s Theater and had repeatedly invited him, without success, to visit the White House.

Booth was no fan of Lincoln, however, a fact which had eluded the President. During the civil war, he was an outspoken Confederate sympathizer.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Union armies, suspended the exchange of prisoners of war with the Confederate Army to increase pressure on the South, who were strapped for men.

Booth decided to get involved. He concocted a plan to kidnap Lincoln, with the goal of holding him hostage until prisoner exchanges resumed. He recruited five men to help — Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, and John Surratt. On March 17, the conspirators planned to abduct Lincoln as he returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital, but the President changed his plans at the last minute and instead attended a ceremony at the National Hotel. In a strange twist of fate, Booth was living at the National Hotel at the time. Had he not gone to the hospital for the failed kidnap attempt, he might have been successful.

As the war drew toward a conclusion, Booth continued to believe in the Confederate cause and sought a way to salvage it. Meanwhile, he attended Lincoln’s speech at the White House in which he promoted voting rights for blacks. Booth said that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever give. It wasn’t. In fact, Booth also attended Lincoln’s second inaugural in the closing days of the war.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln told of a dream he had. One in which he entered the white house to see mourners and a military guard. He asked someone who had died. “The President,” came the response.

On the morning of April 14, 1865, Lincoln told people how happy he felt. He told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a “singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” A dream, according to Lincoln, he’d before “nearly every great and important event of the War.”

While visiting Ford’s Theatre in daylight to pick up some mail, Booth learned that Lincoln and Grant were to see the play “Our American Cousin” that night. No stranger to the staff and layout of the theater, Booth knew the perfect opportunity to attack Lincoln had presented itself.

The conspirators met at 7 p.m. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home, with David E. Herold as a guide. Meanwhile, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel.

Booth planned to shoot Lincoln at point-blank range with his single-shot Deringer, after which he’d stab Grant. The conspirators would simultaneously strike shortly after ten o’clock.

Despite what Booth had heard, General Grant and his wife, Julia had declined the invitation. Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris would accompany the Lincolns. Mary Lincoln had developed a headache and intended to stay home, but Lincoln told her he must attend because newspapers had announced that he would.

The president arrived late to the play, which was haldted for the orchestra to play “Hail to the Chief” for the 1,700 standing spectators. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair that had been selected for him from among the Ford family’s personal furnishings.

Policeman John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the President’s box. At intermission, he went to a nearby tavern along with Lincoln’s footman and coachman and was not at his post. Navy Surgeon George Brainerd Todd saw Booth arrive, saying: About 10:25 pm, a man came in walking slowly and I heard a man say, “There’s Booth” and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in.”

Once through the door, Booth barricaded it by wedging it with a brace he had prepared. A second door led to Lincoln’s box.

Booth knew the play by heart and waited to time his shot with one of the best lines of the play, one which was sure to get a loud laugh. He opened the door, stepped forward, and shot from behind with a derringer while Lincoln was laughing.

Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward. Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke and jumped from his seat wrestling the pistol away. Booth drew a knife and stabbed him in the left forearm. Booth jumped 12 feet from the box to the stage. His riding spur became caught on the flag decorating the box, causing him to land awkwardly on his left foot. He began to cross the stage, and many in the audience thought it was part of the play.

Booth held his bloody knife over his head, and yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus!,” a phrase Marcus Brutus utters after killing Julius Ceasar. It means “thus always to tyrants.” He followed it in English with “The South is avenged!”

Booth ran across the stage and exited through a side door, stabbing the orchestra leader on the way. He escaped on a horse he had waiting in the alleyway.

Army surgeon Charles Leale was in attendance that night, and after the commotion, he drove through the crowd to Lincoln’s box but couldn’t open the door. Rathbone noticed and removed the wooden brace Booth used to jam it shut.

Leale found Lincoln with his head in Mary’s arms. “His eyes were closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous,” “he said. Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale shifted him to the floor. Meanwhile, another physician, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted from the stage into the box.

After Taft and Leale opened Lincoln’s shirt and found no stab wound, they found the gunshot wound. The bullet was too deep to be removed, but they were able to dislodge a clot, after which Lincoln’s breathing improved. They decided that Lincoln must be moved, but a carriage ride to the White House was too dangerous. They took the President to one of the houses across the road, that of tailor William Petersen. It rained as soldiers carried Lincoln into the street. In Petersen’s first-floor bedroom, the exceptionally tall Lincoln was laid diagonally on the bed.

More physicians arrived, all agreeing that the wound was mortal. Throughout the night, as the hemorrhage continued, they removed blood clots to relieve pressure on the brain. Eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln arrived sometime after midnight but twelve-year-old Tad Lincoln was kept away.

Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. According to Lincoln’s secretary John Hay, at the moment of Lincoln’s death, “a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features.”

Ten days prior, Secretary of State William H. Seward had been thrown from his carriage, suffering a concussion, a broken jaw, and a broken arm. On the night of the assassination, he was confined to bed at his home in Lafayette Park. As Booth was making his way to the Ford Theatre, David Herold was guiding Lewis Powell to Seward’s house. One of Seward’s servants answered the door and Powell told him he had medicine from Seward’s physician, and that his instructions were to personally show him how to take it. Powell was admitted and made his way up the stairs. At the top of the staircase he was stopped by Seward’s son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward, who, suspicious, said his father was asleep. Daughter Fanny emerged from a room and said, “Fred, Father is awake now” – revealing to Powell where Sewards location. Powell turned as if to start downstairs but suddenly drew his revolver. He aimed at Frederick’s forehead and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He knocked Frederick unconscious with it, instead.

Powell then went in the room and stabbed at Seward’s face and neck, but the splint doctors had fitted to his broken jaw prevented the blade from penetrating deeply, saving his life. Seward’s son Augustus and Sergeant George F. Robinson, a soldier assigned to the home, were alerted by Fanny’s screams and rushed into the bedroom. Both received stab wounds struggling with Powell. As Augustus went for a pistol, Powell ran toward the door, where he encountered a State Department messenger and stabbed him in the back. He then ran down the stairs and out the door. Once outside, he exclaimed, “I’m mad! I’m mad!”. Whether that was a code to alert Herold, or an attempt to frighten pedestrians outside remains unclear, regardless, by the time Powell made his way out of the house, Herold had already ran off, leaving him to find his own way in an unfamiliar city.

George Atzerodt, meanwhile, had rented a room directly above Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood House in Washington. Carrying a gun and knife, he went to the bar downstairs, where he tried to get his courage up. He eventually became drunk and wandered off through the streets.

Within half an hour of the shooting, Booth crossed the Navy Yard Bridge into Maryland where an army sentry questioned him about his late-night travel. Although it was forbidden for civilians to cross the bridge after 9 pm, the sentry let him through. David Herold went across the same bridge less than an hour later. After retrieving weapons and supplies they had stored away, Herold and Booth went to the home of Samuel A. Mudd, a local doctor, who splinted the leg Booth had broken jumping from the presidential box.

After a day at Mudd’s house, Booth and Herold hired a local man to guide them to Samuel Cox’s house. Cox took them to Thomas Jones, who hid them in a swamp for five days until they could cross the Potomac River. On the afternoon of April 24th, they arrived at a tobacco farm in King George County, Virginia. Booth told the owner he was a wounded Confederate soldier.

The hunt for the conspirators quickly became the largest in U.S. history, involving thousands of federal troops, who tracked them to the farm.

Booth and Herold were sleeping on April 26th when soldiers surrounded the barn, then threatened to set fire to it. Herold surrendered, but Booth cried out, “I will not be taken alive!” The soldiers set fire to the barn sending Booth scrambling for the back door with a rifle and pistol.

Sergeant Boston Corbett crept up behind the barn and shot Booth in the back of the head, almost exactly where he shot Lincoln. He died on the porch of the farm two hours later.

The remaining conspirators were arrested by month’s end – except for John Surratt, who fled to Quebec then Europe until a friend from his school days recognized him in there in early 1866 and alerted the U.S. government. He was finally captured in Egypt in November 1866.

Mourners lined up seven abreast for a mile to view Lincoln in his walnut casket in the black-draped East Room of the White House. Special trains brought thousands from other cities, some of whom slept on the Capitol’s lawn. Hundreds of thousands watched the funeral procession, and millions more lined the 1,700-mile route of the train that took Lincoln’s remains to Springfield, Illinois.


Following the assassination, the government appropriated the theater, with Congress paying Ford $88,000 in compensation. An order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement. Between 1866 and 1887, the theater was taken over by the U.S. military and served as a facility for the War Department with records kept on the first floor, the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office on the second floor, and the Army Medical Museum on the third. In 1887, the building exclusively became a clerk’s office for the War Department, when the medical departments moved out.

On June 9, 1893, the front part of the building collapsed, killing 22 clerks and injuring another 68. This led some to believe the facility was cursed. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1911.

A Lincoln museum opened on the first floor of the theater building in 1932, and in the following year, it was transferred to the new National Park Service.

In 1964, Congress approved funds for the building’s complete restoration, which began that year and was completed in 1968. Ford’s theater became a venue for live entertainment again. Vice President Hubert Humphrey dedicated the restored theater at a gala performance.

The theater was again renovated during the 2000s. The re-opening ceremony was on February 11, 2009, to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The event featured President Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Kelsey Grammer, James Earl Jones, Ben Vereen, the President’s Own Marine Band, Broadway star Audra McDonald and more.

The Ford’s Theatre Museum beneath the theater contains Lincoln artifacts, including some related to the assassination, like the Derringer pistol used to carry out the shooting, Booth’s diary, the original door to Lincoln’s theater box, and the blood-stained pillow from the President’s deathbed.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is open every day except for Thanksgiving Day and December 25. Tickets are free and required for entry. The theatre is an active performing arts venue, and there are times when it is closed for matinees, rehearsals and special events. In most cases, the museum and Petersen House, where Lincoln died, will remain open even if the theater is closed for performances.

A performance is another opportunity to see the historic theater. Regular runs of exceptional quality plays and musicals can be attended by anyone willing to purchase a ticket. The presidential box is never occupied.



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Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Legacy of Three Million

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue. The bulk of the text was written by retired Forest Service Historian Gerald W. Williams with additions by Historian Aaron Shapiro.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


If you’ve spent any amount of time in National or State parks in the U.S., you’ve probably been in a building built by a federal program that employed nearly 3 million people during the most difficult economic time in our country’s history. Their work constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 state and national parks. They built wildlife refuges, fisheries, water storage basins, and animal shelters. They built bridges and campground facilities, many of which are still in use today.

The 1920s were a decade of unprecedented growth, prosperity, and social change in the U.S. The rise of the inexpensive, mass-produced automobile allowed millions to explore new highways and byways. Farm people flocked to cities to pursue jobs on the production line. Credit expanded, allowing many wage earners to purchase products without ready cash. Stock market
speculation, especially through a system of easy credit, was on the rise.

Yet mounting inflation began to erode worker purchasing power, and wage increases. At the same time, the nation stepped back from the international scene through a policy of isolationism, exemplified most prominently by Congress’ refusal to ratify the League of Nations pact.

When the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, the things that marked 1920s growth contributed to a long and depressed economy in the 1930s.

When the depression hit, the demand for products and thus their need for production fell sharply. City dwellers increasingly found themselves unemployed. Farmers suffered through severe droughts, Dust Bowl storms, and restricted credit, often losing their land. Debts piled up, and savings disappeared. Banks limited remaining credit, recalled loans and foreclosed on mortgages. In addition, because fewer people lived and worked directly on the land, city people could not fall back on the barter system for the exchange of food and shelter.

Without a cash or credit income, the economy fell to an unprecedented low. By late 1932 over 13 million Americans, about one-third of the workforce were out of jobs. People had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and felt hungry, bewildered, apathetic, and angry. Young people were particularly vulnerable and had little hope for the future, given that they found themselves untrained, unskilled, unable to gain work experience, and lacking adequate education.

The stock market crash virtually eliminated the credit system, personal and family savings, and long-term capital expenditures by industry. Consumer demand was sharply reduced, devastating confidence along with much of the business structure. The final straw for many came when a large number of banks and financial institutions, having demanded loan repayments from people who had no money, went bankrupt. The almost total collapse of the nation’s financial structure demolished the public confidence that existed in the 1920s.

President Herbert Hoover attempted to remedy the crisis but to little avail. Despite the fact that he was not directly responsible for the depression, he became a scapegoat. Re-nominated by the Republicans in 1932, the condition of the national economy soured his chances for re-election. The Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York. FDR looked to create a federal program to intervene in the public and private sectors that would create a “new deal.” He campaigned on the basic economic and social issues that were at the very heart of the depression, and he prevailed in a landslide.

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, and his inaugural speech helped change the country’s attitude to one of careful optimism. His first official act as President was to declare a bank holiday on March 6 to allow time for the Treasury Department to check the stability of each bank before reopening. Thus began the “Hundred Days” in which the President, with the consent of Congress, produced much of the legislation that formed the body of the New Deal.

On March 21, 1933, FDR sent a message to Congress stating that he wanted to establish a new forestry relief agency: “I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Congress acted quickly, passing a bill authorizing the President to act on his proposed back-to-work forestry program. On April 5, 1933, FDR signed Executive Order 6101 which officially established the Emergency Conservation Work Program.

The initial selection of men for CCC camps began just four days after the signing of the Executive Order, with the first camp established ten days later. This first CCC camp, near Luray, Virginia in the George Washington National Forest, was named Camp Roosevelt. In early June, a peak of almost 14,000 men per day were selected and assigned to nearly 1,300 CCC camps across the nation. By July 1, 1933, three months into the program, the six-month enrollment quota of almost 275,000 was reached. That’d be one of the country’s largest employers, even today.

The CCC represented a significant departure from older work relief efforts that relied on private or small public efforts for those without jobs. The CCC was designed to “give each man some sense of his duties as a citizen in American Society.” It provided unemployed young men with work in the nation’s forests, parks, and rangelands. It became one of the most successful of New Deal back-to-work programs.

The idea for the CCC originated from FDR’s involvement with the Boy Scouts. The Scouts promoted the idea that social behavior could be shaped by manipulating one’s physical surroundings or environment. Like the Scouts, the CCC brought young men from what many viewed as diseased urban settings struggling through the depression and placed them in healthful environments in nature.

The CCC program had two main objectives. The first was to find immediate and useful conservation work for hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men. The other, as specified in law in 1937, was to provide vocational training, and later educational training, for enrollees. Enlistment lasted six months with an option of re-enrolling for additional six month periods for a maximum of two years. Men were paid a dollar a day, with $25.00 per month sent home to their dependents, usually their parents. Remaining funds could be spent at the camp canteen or for other personal expenses. The government provided the enrollees with room, board, clothing, and transportation.

Four distinct categories of enrollees existed. Most numerous were the young men, or Juniors, between the ages of 18 and 25. The Junior enrollee had to be single and pass a physical examination. Juniors comprised about 85 percent of CCC enrollment.

Another group was the Local Experienced Men, LEM for short. This group served as project leaders in the Junior camps. These men were hired from local communities and were often previously employed in outdoor or woods work. They could be married and were allowed to live at home if the camp was nearby, and there were no age restrictions.

Both the LEMs and Juniors were chosen through the U.S. Department of Labor until 1935 and thereafter by each state. LEM’s comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

Veterans of World War I were another group of older men who could enroll in the CCC. Several thousand World War I veterans had taken part in the “Bonus Army” marches on Washington in 1932 and 1933. The earlier march in Hoover’s administration was dispersed by the U.S. Army, while the latter march was dispersed by FDR by offering to allow them to enroll in the CCC. Many second “Bonus Army” veterans opted to join the newly established work relief program with the administration creating separate CCC companies and camps for the veterans. After the initial “Bonus Army” enrollment, Veterans Administration regional offices chose other veterans from around the country. Veterans were not restricted by age or marital status. This category comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

American Indians and residents from the U.S. Territories comprised another group of CCC enrollees. They generally had separate CCC companies and camps on or in their own reservations or territories, where they could live at home and work on nearby projects. They were not restricted by age or marital status. American Indians were chosen by the local tribal council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and made up approximately two percent of total CCC enrollment. Territorial enrollees lived in the U.S. Territories, which at the time included residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each corps area was commanded by an Army General. After signing up for the CCC, enrollees were assigned to a CCC company and reported to an
Army post for conditioning. The companies were then dispersed to a CCC camp. Later in the program, many enrollees were sent directly to existing CCC companies and camps without the physical conditioning period. A
CCC company consisted of about 200 men, although several women’s camps existed in northeastern states, enrolling 8,500 women before being eliminated in 1937. In the early days of the CCC, some racially integrated camps existed, but these were disbanded in 1935. By 1938 the number of African-American enrollees reached 10 percent, and by the end of the program, nearly 250,000 served, almost all in segregated camps.

At the beginning of the program, regular U.S. Army officers were in charge of each camp. Within several years the officers were replaced by Reserve officers from all military branches. As World War II approached, civilians were allowed to have command positions in CCC camps. Military officers had authority over enrollees from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. The responsible work agency, such as the Forest Service, had authority over CCC men during the workday.

Initially, each CCC company was housed in a camp consisting of surplus army pyramid tents or wooden tent frames. Permanent camp buildings were later constructed by local community contractors unless the camp was in an especially remote area, in which case the company commander had an option of having the CCC company construct their own buildings. Later, camps were fitted with inexpensive, prefabricated and portable buildings.

Camps were built around a basic model that included barracks, kitchen, mess hall, recreation hall, office, latrines, and equipment and storage sheds.

Many work projects occurred far away from the main CCC camp and required men to spend as much as half the workday in travel. As a result, “side” camps were often established near the worksite. Side camps usually consisted of 10-20 men living in tents, with a work supervisor or foreman in charge.

CCC boys often preferred these side camps, which offered less stringent schedules and more congenial work and play atmosphere.

In addition to improving the nation’s forest and park lands, CCC enrollees bettered themselves. On-the-job training provided crew members with marketable skills and basic education. About one-half of the enrollees had less than an eighth-grade education, and a number of them were functionally illiterate. Evening instruction offered remedial reading and writing skills. Many camps worked closely with local schools, while some colleges offered correspondence courses.

CCC enrollees received medical and dental care along with opportunities for religious services and recreational activities. Religious services were usually provided at least once a month, although many enrollees attended local churches. Recreation often involved organized and competitive sports through camp programs. Most camps provided space for library services, dances, ping pong, card games, and musical outlets. Additional opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and courting young women in the local community existed for the CCC boys in their free time.

The CCC made substantial contributions to forested areas, especially the millions of acres of national forests. Initially, most CCC camps were assigned to national and state forests, public domain land, and a few private forests. Later in the program, additional camps were organized for other state and federal agencies that requested specific work projects. CCC accomplishments in reforestation, road construction, firefighting, and recreation still yield benefits today. The CCC left the nation a vastly improved natural resources balance sheet, including three billion trees
planted, 125,000 miles of truck trails built, 89,000 miles of telephone lines, 800 new state parks developed, 40 million acres of farmlands benefiting from erosion control work, rehabilitation of drainage ditches, better grazing conditions, and an increasing wildlife population.

During the dark days of the depression, the CCC put over three million men to work on conservation projects in the national forests. A 1933 Journal of Forestry article reported on the work of CCC enrollees in eastern National Forests, “On the whole, the men in the camps have taken to the woods work very well. Many prefer it to work on roads or other construction projects. The use of an ax is no longer a mystery, and trees are often called by their first names,” the article proclaimed. Many of these workers in the woods later found themselves using different sorts of tools as they served their country in World War II.

The CCC was one of the most popular and successful New Deal programs. It enjoyed overwhelming support from the enrollees, local communities, various states and territories, and the nation. Perhaps the most significant product of the CCC-era was the profound and lasting effect it had on the three million enrollees. Work in the CCC provided a turning point in the lives of many of the nation’s youth, and it brought much needed financial aid to their families. In addition, it fostered self-confidence, a desire, and capacity to return to active work, a new understanding of a great country, and faith in its future.

By 1941, unemployment in the United States reduced to pre-Depression levels, and enrollment in the CCC was slowing. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress stopped funding the program, and most of the equipment was turned over to the War Department for use in World War II.

The toil of more than 3,000,000 people lives in our park system today across the country, leaving their stamp on places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Mount Rainer, and the Appalachian Trail in historic buildings, roads, lodges, fire towers and unseen conservation efforts that bear fruits to this day. The next time you’re in a National Park, remember that it might look much different if it weren’t for the Civilian Conservation Corps.



Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.184.8948&rep=rep1&type=pdf


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Sound of Geology

One of our most visited National Parks averages more than a half-million visitors per month in the summer, visitors who flock to see massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky, and it’s main feature, a glorious canyon carved by an unassuming yet powerful river.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Zion National Park is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The sheer weight of these accumulated layers caused the basin to sink, so that the top surface always remained near sea level. As the land rose and fell and as the climate changed, the depositional environment fluctuated from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. This process of sedimentation continued until over 10,000 feet of material accumulated.

Mineral-laden waters slowly filtered through the compacted sediments. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica acted as cementing agents, and with pressure from overlying layers over long periods of time, transformed the deposits into stone. Ancient seabeds became limestone; mud and clay became mudstones and shale; and desert sand became sandstone. Each layer originated from a distinct source and so differs in thickness, mineral content, color, and eroded appearance.

From Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth started to push the surface up. This was not chaotic uplift, but very slow vertical hoisting of huge blocks of the crust. Zion’s elevation rose from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level.

This uplift gave the streams greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. Zion’s location on the western edge of this uplift caused the streams to tumble off the plateau, flowing rapidly down a steep gradient. A fast-moving stream carries more sediment and larger boulders than a slow-moving river. These streams began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons.

Since the uplift began, the North Fork of the Virgin River has carried away several thousand feet of rock that once lay above the highest layers visible today. The Virgin River is still excavating. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

One of the most popular areas of the park is where this transition happens. Everyday visitors walk the paved riverwalk trail, while the more adventurous head upstream, hiking through the water of the narrows. Here, geology is constantly in motion.

Unlock the hidden geologic mysteries of river stones with Park Ranger Robin Hampton as she reads an article written by Park Ranger Barb Graves for the park’s Nature Notes.

The Secret Life of River Stones

If you’ve spent any time on the riverwalk trail, then you’ve certainly met the unofficial park mascot – the rock squirrel. In their home, animals like the rock squirrel encounter an overabundance of human contact on a daily basis. Having been on the River Walk trail a few times myself, I can tell you the rock squirrel is the king of the castle here. If you even consider taking out that Nature Valley bar, they will come for you and take it. They also have zero issues rooting through your bag if you set it down. You’ll often see people snapping pics and oohing and aahing over these “cute” little squirrels.

But in our this next audio clip narrated again by Park Ranger Robin Hampton, from an article written for the park’s Nature Notes by Park Ranger Amy Gaiennie, we learn a little bit more about the “Misunderstood Rodent.”

Misunderstood Rodents

Perhaps a bit of that will keep you from putting your finger near a rock squirrel.

The Virgin River winds through the park and beyond into the gateway town of Springdale, where you can find all sorts of lodging and dinging options for a visit to Zion. There are two campgrounds in the park, the Watchman, which has electric and water, and can accommodate large RVs, is reservable 6 months in advance, and the neighboring South Campground features primitive sites and can be reserved up to two weeks in advance. The spectacular virgin river flows through both campgrounds.

It’s best to stay in the park if you can, because the parking lot fills nearly every day, and you can’t just drive through the canyon, you have to take the park’s shuttle system. If you do stay outside, there’s another shuttle that runs through the town of Springdale, but you’ll have to pay about $20 to park.

See all Zion National Park Audiocasts here.



Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 


For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

Gateway to the West

Halfway down the mighty Mississippi, a model of engineering greets the world to the Lion of the Valley, the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, Missouri.

Today on America’s National Parks, Gateway Arch National Park, and its namesake architectural wonder that is like no other on earth.

The Gateway Arch has always inspired me. I’m a sucker for structures that make a statement about a city: Seattle’s Space Needle, The Chrysler building, The White House, Independence Hall. I grew up about 7 hours upriver from St. Louis and seeing that silver gleam on our annual trips to one of my favorite cities still gets my heart racing today.

The Gateway Arch is known worldwide; it’s probably only second to the Statue of Liberty But how much do you actually know about its history? It’s wild, and it parallels much of the 20th century.


Listen below, or on any podcast app:


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/learn/historyculture/archives.htm

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/materials-and-techniques.htm

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/learn/index.htm

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/facts-about-st-louis-gateway-arch

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gateway-arch-completed

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/story-st-louis-gateway-arch-180956624/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gateway_Arch


In 1933, amidst the pains of the great depression, civic leader Luther Ely Smith looked upon the industrial St. Louis riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate the town’s economy — a large memorial to commemorate the people who made the western expansion of the United States possible. People like President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the territory’s hunters, trappers, and pioneers. He approached mayor Bernard Dickmann, who brought it up in a meeting with city leaders. They endorsed the idea, and the nonprofit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, or “Jenny May” as they called it, was formed. Smith was appointed chairman.

As with most projects of this sort, locals did not approve of exhausting public funds for such a cause. The people of St.Louis would often tell Smith that the city needed more practical things, and he would respond that “spiritual things” were equally important. The crushing yoke of the Great Depression changed a lot of minds. The project was expected to create 5,000 jobs for three to four years. And the association hoped that the federal government would foot three-quarters of the bill for the project, which was budgeted at an astounding $30 million.

The association worked a bill through Congress to authorize the project without any funding appropriated. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law.

Meanwhile, the association began working on an architectural competition to determine the design of the monument.

Funding was applied for from the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, as well as the State of Missouri. Funding was approved on all counts.

Since the Mississippi River played a crucial role in establishing St. Louis as the Gateway to the west, a memorial commemorating it needed to be near the river. An 82-acre area was set aside, even as some taxpayers filed lawsuits to block the construction.

Following a rigged bond measure to cover the city’s costs—the St. Louis Post-Dispatch counted 46,000 phony ballots, more than enough to tilt the outcome, and denounced the project as “election thievery” — The National Park Service began to acquire the buildings within the historic site in an extremely controversial way. Instead of purchasing the buildings, which were mostly dilapidated factories and slums, they went and had them condemned. There were several legal disputes over the condemnation, but ultimately the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it legal. A total of $6.2 million was distributed to landowners.

On May 30, 1947, 14 years after Luther Ely Smith looked upon the riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate a ravished economy, the design contest officially opened. The competition included two stages—the first to narrow down the designers to five and the second to single out one architect’s design which was to include: An architectural memorial to Jefferson, landscaping, provision of an open-air campfire theater, reproduction of old historic buildings, a Museum interpreting the Westward movement, a vision of greater opportunities for people of all races and creeds; recreational facilities on both sides of the river, parking facilities,placement of an interstate highway, and moving train tracks only recently built on the levee.

After four days of deliberation, the jury narrowed down the 172 submissions to five finalists. A father and son, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, had both entered the competition. Eero was chosen as a finalist, but, officials mistakenly told the father, Eliel, he had made the cut. The family had begun a champagne celebration to toast the senior Saarinen when a telegram came to correct the error. Eliel broke out a second bottle of champagne to toast his son.

Eero Saarinen’s design instantly stood out. It was a massive steel arch, 580 feet high, which he said symbolized “the gateway to the West, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

During the second phase of the competition, the design was refined. It was increased to 630′ in height and width. It was to have carbon steel on the interior, stainless steel on the exterior, and a concrete in-filling. The legs were originally square, but the design changed to an equilateral-triangle-shaped crosssection that tapers from 54′ wide at the base to only 17′ wide at the top.

He wanted the landscape surrounding the Arch to be so densely covered with trees that it would be a forest-like park, a green retreat from the tension of the downtown city.

Saarinen’s design was chosen unanimously.

The design drew mixed responses from the public. While some saw it as an impressive modern display, some likened it to a hairpin or a stainless steel hitching post.
It would be a lot more impressive once it left the bounds of paper drawings.

As preparations began, the train tracks were still a problem. Saarinen proposed a tunnel below Second and First Streets, and further said that if the tracks passed between the memorial and the river, he would withdraw his participation.

Ultimately the tunnel design was too expensive, and a grand staircase that would connect the memorial and the river was designed to cover a 1000′ portion of the tracks.

The federal government, strapped for cash, began to pull back on appropriations and was unwilling to foot a large bill for moving the railroad tracks. It was now the 1950s, and the Korean War, in particular, was a drain on the government coffers. The association resorted to approaching the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations for $10 million. The foundations denied the request because their function as private foundations did not include funding national memorials. In 1956, Congress appropriated $2.64 million to be used to move the railroad tracks. The remainder of the original authorized appropriation was requested via six congressional bills, increasing federal funds by $12.25 million.

Moving the railroad tracks was the first stage of the project. 10:30 a.m. on June 23, 1959, 12 years after Saarinen won the competition, the groundbreaking ceremony occurred. In 1961, the foundation of the structure was laid, and construction of the Arch itself began on February 12, 1963.

The steel triangle legs, which narrowed as they increased in height, were prefabricated in sections. The stainless steel pieces of the Arch were shipped in via train from Pennsylvania and had to be assembled on site. Once in place, each section had its double-walled skin filled with concrete. In order to keep the partially completed legs steady, a scissor truss was placed between them.

Welders had to work especially carefully to ensure their measurements were precise—the margin of error allowed was less than half a millimeter. If the sections didn’t line up correctly, the top of the Arch would not fit.

Many people speculated that the Arch would fail when the trestle was removed.

The construction itself was a tourist attraction. Contractor MacDonald Construction Company built a 30-foot tower for spectators. In 1963, a million people went to observe the progress, and by 1964, local radio stations began to broadcast when large slabs of steel were to be raised into place.

However, construction of the Arch was often delayed by safety checks, funding uncertainties, and legal disputes.

Civil rights activists regarded the construction of the Arch as a token of racial discrimination, as the unions had barred skilled Black workers from involvement. On July 14, 1964, protesters climbed 125 feet up the north leg of the Arch to draw attention to the discrimination, demanding that at least 10% of the skilled jobs go to African Americans. Four hours later, they dismounted from the Arch and were arrested. But they were successful in getting the United States Department of Justice to file the first pattern or practice case against the AFL–CIO under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; unfortunately, the department later called off the charges.

The unions halted construction regularly to ascertain if the work site was safe. But even though the insurance company for the project predicted that 13 workers would die during construction as workers were hundreds of feet in the air with no safety nets, no one died during the project.

The ceremony date was reset to October 17, 1965, and workers strained to meet the deadline, taking double shifts, but failing.
On October 28th, a time capsule containing the signatures of 762,000 students was welded into the keystone before the final piece was set in place. The Arch was completed as Vice President Hubert Humphrey observed from a helicopter. A Catholic priest and a rabbi prayed over the keystone, which is a 9-ton eight-foot-long section. It was slated to be inserted at 10:00 a.m. but was done 30 minutes early as thermal expansion had constricted the 8.5-foot gap at the top by 5 inches. Workers used fire hoses to spray water on the surface of the south leg to cool it down and make it contract. The keystone was inserted in 13 minutes.

The Gateway Arch was expected to open to the public by 1964, but in 1967 the public relations agency stopped forecasting the opening date. The Arch’s visitor center didn’t open until June 10, 1967, and the tram inside that takes people to the top opened two weeks later.

The Arch was officially dedicated by Humphrey on May 25, 1968, who declared the arch “a soaring curve in the sky that links the rich heritage of yesterday with the richer future of tomorrow” and brings a “new purpose” and a “new sense of urgency to wipe out every slum.”

The project did not provide 5,000 jobs as expected— in fact; workers numbered fewer than 100. The project did, however, spawn another $150 million in riverfront restoration efforts, including a 50,000-seat sports stadium, a 30-story hotel, several office towers, four parking garages, and an apartment complex. One estimate found that since the 1960s, the Arch has incited almost $503 million worth of construction.

In June of 1976, the memorial was finalized. The statue of Thomas Jefferson was unveiled, the Museum of Westward Expansion was previewed, a theater under the Arch was dedicated and a curving staircase from the Arch down to the levee was built.

In 1974, the Arch ranked fourth on a list of “most-visited man-made attraction[s]. It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with over four million visitors annually, of which around one million travel to the top.

Three years after the monument’s opening, the St. Louis phone directory contained 65 corporations with “Gateway” in their title and 17 with “Arch.” Arches also appeared over gas stations and drive-in restaurants. In the 1970s, a local sports team adopted the name “Fighting Arches”

Robert S. Chandler, an NPS superintendent, said, that most visitors are awed by the size and scale of the Arch, but they don’t understand what it’s all about … Too many people see it as just a symbol of the city of St. Louis.

Eero Saantarin went on to design Washington Dulles International Airport, the TWA terminal at JFK International Airport in New York and a celebrated line of high modern furniture, but died of a brain tumor at 51, fourteen years after he dreamed up the Arch and four years before it was finished.

Over the last decade, a massive revitalization project was undertaken to revive the Arch, it’s museum, and the grounds. A highway passed between the Arch and downtown, which included the historic Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was tried. The courthouse is also a symbol of St Louis, framed perfectly by the Arch, linking our Nation’s original sin with the optimism of a brighter day. Now, there’s a physical connection between the two, as a massive lawn has ben built over the highway, finally linking the Arch closely with the downtown area. The entrance has been moved from near the Arch’s legs to a stunning central slit in the lawn that leads to a modern museum. To culminate the project, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as it’s been called for decades, has been rechristened Gateway Arch National Park — the 60th to receive the congressional designation and the smallest.

Just as many objected to the Arch’s construction, putting the “National Park” brand on modern construction has drawn the ire of many national park lovers. But consider this: The park is a multifaceted connection between our past, present, and future. It’s a park, for the Nation. And it’s certainly not the first humanized area to become a National Park.

I think we should be a little less precious with the National Park designation. Let’s have hundreds more National Parks. Places where people can come together to experience our country in many different ways.


The America’s National Parks Podcast is hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, produced by Lotus Theatricals, LLC and sponsored by L.L.Bean. Follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Want to continue exploring America? Check out the entire lineup of RV Miles Network Podcast featuring the road trip focused See America and the RV and camping focused RV Miles.

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