Landmark event

Friday, December 1, 2006
Thousands of people gathered near the Arch on July 3, 2005, for Fair St. Louis. The shot is included in a new documentary on the Arch. (Photo provided by Scott Huegerich)

Cape Girardeau may seem like an unlikely place to premiere a documentary, but it makes perfect sense to Scott Huegerich.

A 1990 graduate of the video production program at Southeast Missouri State University, Huegerich co-directed a documentary on the making of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

The 60-minute documentary, narrated by actor Kevin Kline, will receive its broadcast premiere in Cape Girardeau. The documentary, "The Gateway Arch: A Reflection of America," will air on WQWQ, Channel 33 on local cable, at 5 p.m. Dec. 16. KFVS12 will broadcast the documentary at 5 a.m. Dec. 17. The documentary will air without commercial interruption, as requested by Huegerich.

Huegerich, who lives and works in St. Louis, said the documentary likely will be shown nationally on public television next year. But he and others involved in the production wanted to have it broadcast before the end of this year so it could be entered in upcoming documentary competitions.

"I think with the connection I had to the region down there and the university, it was kind of a way to give back to the university," Huegerich said of the decision to premiere the documentary in Cape Girardeau.

Scott Huegerich

"I have family down there. My mom's family is from Jackson," he said. His grandparents had a summer house in Crump. Huegerich often fished in nearby Lake Girardeau.

Huegerich turned to Dr. James Dufek, a professor who spearheaded the video production program at Southeast, to help get the documentary shown in Cape Girardeau.

"It is something unique," Dufek said of the planned premiere. "I don't think we have had anything of this national magnitude premiere here."

In addition to the two scheduled showings, Dufek said the documentary also may be shown on Channel 5, the local cable access channel.

The documentary includes 16 mm film footage of the construction of the Arch. Filmed for the steel fabricating company involved in the construction of the Arch, the footage has never been seen by the public, Huegerich said.

Workers tightened a bolt used with special cranes that crawled up the legs of the Arch during construction in 1964. (Photo provided by Scott Huegerich)

"Nobody knew it existed. The National Park Service didn't know it existed," he said.

The steel company has gone out of business since the construction of the Arch. The footage was discovered in storage owned by a western Pennsylvania historical society.

Huegerich previously helped create a documentary about the 1904 World's Fair that aired in 2004 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Huegerich said the Gateway Arch proved to be a natural subject for a documentary. "The last major documentary on the Arch was produced back in the 1960s," he said.

That documentary dealt with construction of the Arch. "Ours deals with not only the construction, but maybe more importantly why it exists," he said.

"The Gateway Arch is a monument that many people recognize, but they don't know the story behind it," he said. "They don't really understand that the project was something that was born in the height of the Depression."

The idea for a monument came from Luther Ely Smith, a St. Louis lawyer and self-proclaimed do-gooder, Huegerich said. Returning to St. Louis by train from the dedication of a monument in Indiana, Smith concluded that St. Louis needed a riverfront monument.

"He thought it would provide St. Louisans with jobs in the 1930s," Huegerich said. "He also saw it as a way to clean up the riverfront."

A 40-block area was purchased and buildings were razed. But World War II delayed plans for a monument.

In 1947, a nationwide design competition was held. The winner was architect Eero Saarinen, who envisioned a giant stainless steel arch.

It was Saarinen's view of St. Louis as the pioneer "Gateway to the West" that stuck as the city's nickname.

Smith, who first envisioned some sort of monument to Thomas Jefferson, died in 1953. Construction on the arch began 10 years later. It was completed Oct. 28, 1965.

The documentary includes interviews with five people who worked on the Arch, ranging from ironworkers to project engineers.

Huegerich spent countless hours researching the Arch, interviewing people, helping write the script and doing all of the editing.

"One of the most difficult things is doing research," he said. "We scoured the country for materials."

335-6611, extension 123

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: