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Slias Garrett Jr.: The U.S. Army Engineer and Former Pilot Who Knew the Arch Needed a light

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Silas Garrett Jr. stands on top of the Gateway Arch

Amidst the long list of architects, engineers, and builders who helped construct the Gateway Arch is an exceptional figure who played a crucial role in its completion - Silas Garrett Jr., a pioneering Black man who built the first light on top of the Arch.

In the early 1960s, Garrett was working near the Gateway Arch during its construction. With his experience as a World War II pilot and Army engineer, Silas’ keen eye caught a flaw in the otherwise impeccable architectural design of the Arch: it was missing an aviation warning light at the top. 

Garrett petitioned the City of St. Louis and the National Park Service to add the light, going so far as to design the module himself. When recounting the tale to KSDK, his daughter Celeste said he spent hours “tinkering” in the garage and producing hosts of drawings on graph paper. The National Park Service eventually approved Garrett’s proposed concept and asked him to oversee the lighting system’s installation. He made at least 13 trips to the top of the Arch to supervise, never with a harness. After the installation, he returned more than 25 times for updates and routine maintenance.

In an era marked by racial segregation and prejudice, Garrett’s involvement in such a prominent project challenged societal norms and broke barriers. His achievement paved the way for future generations to pursue their dreams, regardless of race or background.

Garrett died in 2015, but his legacy lives on. Today, there remains a bright red beacon of light beaming from the top of the Gateway Arch. Garrett’s original light was replaced with a more efficient LED in 2013, but visitors to the Museum will find the original proudly shining from the top of the Keystone exhibit in the tram lobby.