A Humble Vote for the Eighth Wonder of the World

Saarinen working with a model of the arch in 1957
Saarinen working with a model of the arch in 1957 Wikimedia Commons

Allow me to relate one of the more popular mantras in journalism: "Lists, people love lists!"

We're inundated with rankings—the best colleges, the most bohemian cities and other unquantifiable entities. With an ardor that matches presidential elections and "American Idol," 100 million people around the globe recently cast their online vote for "The New Seven Wonders of the World."

The new list updates the mostly inaccessible seven ancient wonders, which includes fabled sites such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, apparently visited by Salvador Dali, the hallucinatory surrealist painter. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza dutifully survives from this list.  {C}

With "The New Seven Wonders of the World," practical-minded tourists may now visit an array of sites that capture the popular imagination: the Great Wall of China, which reportedly looks like a dragon's tail from outer-space; Petra, Jordan, its rose hues and hewn stones once featured in "Indiana Jones"; Christ Redeemer in Brazil, a breathtaking sculpture in hilly Rio de Janeiro; the stepped Mayan pyramids at Chichen Itza, in Mexico; the Roman Coliseum, where the gladiators clashed; the Taj Mahal in India, perhaps the most perfect gift of love ever offered to any person; and Machu Picchu, in Peru, Incan ruins which I once visited, perched between the ecologies of jungle, mountain and heaven.

This list of wonders maintains tradition and seems appropriately mystical, but does the United States host a man-made wonder too? The Statue of Liberty made the list of finalists, and it's difficult to quibble with the welcoming green lady, but there's one sculpture that towers over her outstretched, torch-bearing arm—the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri. Call me a partisan, but I grew up in the shadow of this colossal 630-foot stainless steel, sculptural curve, gleaming so gracefully by the muddy Missippippi River.

However graceful, the Arch can also prove awkward and dizzying. You can go inside it and look-out from its top; it sways just a bit; outside and beneath the arch, you can crane your neck to the dizzying view of silver tapering into blue.

Designed by the famed architect Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965, the arch is a metaphor for westward expansion—an ethereal, abstract cousin to the more humane Statue of Liberty and her embodiment of immigrant dreams. While the actual construction of other world wonders seems unimaginable, filmmakers preserved the arch's ascension along the banks of the Mississippi River. In the 1967 documentary film "Monument to a Dream," you can actually watch the final piece of stainless steel fitted as a capstone into the incomplete form. Suddenly the Arch appears, looming in my mind like the eighth wonder of the world.

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