The big river town along the Mighty Mississippi, founded by French settlers, is often identified as the Gateway to the West or the Gateway City or Mound City. To me, it's the home of the Cardinals. Whatever or however you might think of it, the city is more than a couple of centuries old – 250 years old, to be exact.
St. Louis will be celebrating its 250th birthday throughout this year, and the celebration began last Saturday with ceremonies at St. Louis City Hall, observing the town's Feb. 15 official founding date. Also, anniversary entertainment was offered up at Forest Park, with birthday events, live music and children's activities.
I know I'm getting up there in years, but I'm not as old as old St. Louie. Yet, I've been around long enough that many of the St. Louis attractions I loved as a kid are gone. I guess that means I'm a walking, talking, archeological part of Gateway City history.
My little hometown of Lebanon, Ill., is just 23 miles east of St. Louis, and I can recall a childhood full of fun times visiting the big city – exciting trips to the riverboat Admiral, Forest Park Highlands amusement park, Stan Musial and Biggie's restaurant, Famous-Barr department store, the Cardinals' home field at Sportsman's Park. But, yikes! They've all since vanished. They're history! But they're wonderful memories.
The best place on Earth was Forest Park Highlands. Any kid who went to Forest Park Highlands probably spent most of his or her time standing in line for and riding on the spectacular Comet. The Ferris wheel was cool, and the Fun House was fun, but the roller-coaster Comet was fantastic. It was high; it was long; it was fast; and it had the coolest, scariest, 300-foot tunnel ever. I've been around on this Earth for quite a few decades, but I'm a kid again just thinking about the super Comet.
How could a sane adult get giddy simply by thinking about an amusement ride that made him puke? Yes, I was riding in the front car with my dad – he insisted the front was the most exciting and most fun – and as we popped over the highest elevation and lurched downward, my dad's cigarette case flew out of his shirt pocket, and my lunch flew out of me. Dad should not have been smoking anyway, but I didn't appreciate losing my lunch. Of course, the Comet could do that easily if your lunch had consisted of a hot dog, a corndog, cotton candy and a couple of Vess black-cherry sodas.
While all of those old-time, wonderful, fun things to do in St. Louis are history, the city offers plenty more to do and see these days. And a lot of special events, exhibits and good eats are on tap throughout the whole year in celebration of the city's 250th anniversary.
Take, for example, today's 6th Annual Centennial Beer Festival at the historic Schnaider Brewery Malt House, now Moulin Events, on Chouteau Avenue. Honoring the city's 250 years, the event will feature more than 20 local breweries and 200 beers. I'll be careful how much I eat and drink; however, with no more Comet in St. Louis, I don't have to worry about losing my lunch.
You can see the entire calendar of events for the entire year of celebrations in St. Louis by going online to http://www.stl250.org/event-calendar.aspx
Many St. Louis landmarks and institutions are reason enough to visit the Gateway City any time, any year. Tourists and locals alike are attracted to the St. Louis Gateway Arch, beautiful Busch Stadium, old Soulard Farmers Market, Grant's Farm, the Science Center, the famous St. Louis Zoo, and the popular Anheuser-Busch Brewery and it's Budweiser Clydesdales. OK, I know, I have beer on the brain.
Some places have their own anniversary schedules and special plans for 2014. The Missouri History Museum is touting its St. Louis anniversary exhibit called 250 in 250, featuring 50 people, 50 places, 50 moments, 50 images and 50 objects. One of my favorite places is the St. Louis Art Museum, which has undergone some renovations during the past few years and is ready for your visit during this 250th birthday year.
Nobody can talk about St. Louis without talking about some of its signature edibles. Gateway grub is good chow, and if you're headed to St. Louie, you'll probably want to sample such local cuisine as the famous barbecued pork, toasted raviolis and the delicious slinger. The latter dish consists of eggs, hash browns and meat patty, slathered with chili con carne, and capped off with cheese and onions. It's a late-night St. Louis specialty that's also ordered and enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I might eat 250 of them this year.
St. Louis was named for France's Louis IX when the town was founded Feb. 15, 1764, by Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau. That was 250 years ago, and I can give you at least 250 reasons to visit St. Louis in 2014.