Anxious to return to travel articles, I am writing today about the last thing Ruth and I visited before the pandemic, one of the great St. Louis attractions. Union Station has been reborn twice since it opened in 1894. The more recent rebirth on Christmas Day in 2019 occurred just a couple of months before the virus shut it down. It remains closed.
The original inspiration for the design of this train station was the walled city of Carcassonne, France. It ceased functioning as a train station in 1978 and was repurposed as a store-filled exhibit hall in 1985 at an expense equal to its original cost. This did not work, and by the turn of the 21st century this property had returned to derelict status.
In its years as a train station it was unique. All trains backed in on its 32 tracks because it was a terminal station. No train went beyond St. Louis and all passengers disembarked. During the famous St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Union Station served as the fairgoers’ express with trains departing from it every 15 minutes to Forest Park where the fair was in progress. During World War II 2 million service men and women passed through it each month.
Because it was a terminal station, the hotel that served it was called the Terminal Hotel. It has gone from sparse to grand and is now called Curio, one of Hilton’s 30 themed hotels. Its check-in desk is just beyond The Grand Hall, which was the main waiting room when this building served train passengers. It is still grand. Its ceiling has been restored to its original colors, and light shows very much worth seeing are projected on it nightly. The Allegorical Window over the main entrance to the Grand Hall is original, and the lady in red in the middle is thought to represent St. Louis tying the country together. I recall being delighted by the Whispering Arch over this entrance as both a child and an adult. A person standing at one end of it and speaking in a normal voice can be heard by anyone at the other end. Do not miss this attraction when you visit St. Louis.
Hopefully, the new Aquarium at Union Station will have reopened when you’re there. It’s a wonder that I will write about when I announce its post-epidemic reopening. While there, also see the Mirror Maze, the old-fashioned carousel and the Observation Wheel. These especially delight children.