Answer Man

East St. Louis geyser spouts off three times a day

The Geyser at the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the East St. Louis riverfront.
The Geyser at the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the East St. Louis riverfront. tvizer@bnd.com

Q: I just read a story about a new book “Secret St. Louis” by St. Louisan David Baugher. The article mentioned the Gateway Arch looking like a big wicket. This reminded me of an old joke suggesting that East St. Louis should build a 5,000-foot-tall statue of a person holding a giant croquet mallet directly across the river trying to knock a ball through the Arch. What actually was built in the late ’80s or early ’90s was a decorative fountain placed on the East St. Louis shoreline. This fountain sprayed a vertical jet of water hundreds of feet into the air. I visited this fountain in the mid-’90s. I parked downwind and got soaking wet. What happened to this fountain? Does it still spray water into the air?

David J. Busse, of Maryville

A: Thanks to the enduring legacy of lawyer and civic promoter Malcolm Martin, metro-east’s version of Old Faithful has indeed begun another season of its attention-grabbing eruptions, I’m told.

The tallest fountain in the United States, it is part of Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park at 185 W. Trendley Ave, which also includes a 43-foot-tall Mississippi River outlook. And every day like clockwork from April 15 to Oct. 15 (weather permitting), it puts on a 10-minute show at noon, 3 and 6 p.m., spouting its geyser 630 feet high to match the height of the Arch across the river.

It was the dream of Martin, a St. Louis native and Yale graduate who earned his law degree from the St. Louis City College of Law in 1941. But shortly after founding the firm of Martin, Peper and Martin along with his father and Chris Peper, he was drafted into the Army, where he eventually found himself planning the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Promoted to captain, he wound up helping coordinate the landing on the beaches, describing his job as a “super traffic cop ... with about 5,000 ships in the channel.” For his effort, he would receive a Bronze Star.

But the war also sparked a lifelong interest as a civil rights activist. When he learned of complaints from an all-black unit about improper food and equipment, it is said he worked to correct these conditions. Then, when his troops returned to Newport News, Va., authorities wanted to segregate his unit because the state practiced segregation at the time, but Martin refused to allow his men to be separated. Later he would defend a black law degree candidate trying to enter the bar.

He became a mover and shaker in the St. Louis community. He was one of the founders of KETC Channel 9 and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis. He was a trustee of the St. Louis Symphony and St. Louis Art Museum, served as president of the St. Louis Board of Education and became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

So even before the Gateway Arch was completed, Martin already wanted to extend the park to encompass both sides of the river and complete Arch designer Eero Saarinen’s original vision. In 1987, Martin became chairman of the executive committee of a federal commission to plan the Illinois extension. He then established the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis, which raised $4 million in private donations to buy 30 acres of land for an East St. Louis riverfront park.

Inspired by a fountain he saw outside of Geneva, Switzerland, Martin saw his dream of the Gateway Geyser turn into reality when it shot off for the first time on May 27, 1995. Powered by three 800-horsepower pumps, the fountain can blast 7,500 gallons of water per minute straight up at a rate of 250 feet per second.

When the wind is less than 4 mph, it can reach a height rivaling the Gateway Arch. Four smaller fountains around the main fountain erupt 100 feet in the air to symbolize the Mississippi, Missouri, Meramec and Illinois rivers. When he died in 2004, he did his best to make sure his mission would continue, donating more than $5 million to the Gateway Center he founded.

Since then, the names have changed a little, but his dream has not only lived on but expanded. On June 7, 2005, the Gateway Center transferred title of the geyser and the 34.1 acres of land it sits on to the Metro East Park and Recreation District in Collinsville. Two weeks later, the park was officially dedicated as the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.

The following January, the East St. Louis City Council designated the property as a park/conservation area to boost the project’s development and preserve the land, which is now valued at more than $15 million for development and ongoing maintenance. In the spring of 2009, the park officially opened to the public.

Now you may be able to get a glimpse of the park without even going there. If you go to www.meprd.org/mmmp.html, you can click on a link that is supposed to give you a live EarthCam stream, although its performance seems somewhat erratic. If you’d like to experience an eruption first-hand, you are urged to follow the directions on the park district website, because mapping services and GPS devices may not provide accurate driving directions, the district says. The park is open dawn until 10 p.m. daily April through October.

Today’s trivia

Where would you now find the tallest man-made fountain in the world?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Did you realize that when you see a store with a quaint name like Ye Olde Cheese Shoppe, “Ye” is not a synonym for “your”? Rather, it is an ancient spelling of the word “the.” Yes, many centuries ago, the Old English alphabet had a letter known as thorn, which had a “th” sound. As a result, thorn-e was the spelling of “the.” But the thorn was difficult to write. Plus the Germans and Italians didn’t even know about it when they began exporting movable type fonts for printing. So people began using “Y” instead of the thorn, which led to “ye,” even though it was pronounced “the.” That’s what you would have found in Job 1:9, John 15:1, etc. when the first printing of the King James Bible came off the presses in 1611. On the other hand, the use of “ye” as a synonym for “you” evolved from the Old English “ge.” To see other letters that didn’t make the cut, check out http://mentalfloss.com/article/31904/12-letters-didnt-make-alphabet for “yogh,” “eth,” “ash” and eight others.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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