Greetings From: St. Louis, MO

A school bus hangs over the edge of the City Museum building in St. Louis, Missouri.

by Michael Boyink/ mike@douglascountyherald.com

I may be preaching to the choir. 

Writing about a Missouri location in a Missouri newspaper.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

I remember getting a haircut in Mesa, Arizona. Just 10 minutes down the road from Usery Mountain Regional Park – probably our favorite campground from our eight years of RV travel. I’ve written about it a couple times in this column.

It had a beautiful nature center, ranger-led hikes, world-class archery range, mountain bike trails, horse trails, and gorgeous sunsets.

The hairstylist – who wasn’t new to the area – had never heard of it.

It’s a bit odd and uncomfortable to be a visitor, telling a native something new about where they live.

Some places are worth taking that risk.

The City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri is one of them.

The hardest part about the City Museum is trying to describe it.

Take a Makers Faire, Carlsbad Caverns, a junkyard, an abandoned building, a Tim Burton movie, a county fair, a movie prop warehouse, an on-the-take OSHA inspector, Willy Wonka, and Mad Max. Mix them up, multiply by a gadjillion, and you start to describe the City Museum. 

There’s no linear experience at the City Museum. Every attraction has a dozen distractions. There is no narrative retelling.

A stream of consciousness is more appropriate:

Serpent fence, junkyard bike, firetruck, suspended school bus, stepping stones over water, gears and wrenches dog, giant grasshopper, two story slide, covered climb, ferris wheel, water towers, run-up ramp slide, wire mesh climb inside snowman, 10 story slide, empty building core, ancient pipe organ, yellow crane, fire-pit, roasting marshmallows, ball pit, skeleton plane, slinky climb, another plane, pelican, icicle ceilings, opera posters, graveyard cupola, amusement park trams, cement whales, cement frogs, gargoyle, tree nests, crawl-through caves, giant sewing machine, skate park, theater seats, rope swings, giant pencil, miniature train, glowing crystals, conveyor-belt stair rails, cement dolphins, climb-inside springs, escape holes in floor, big boy statue, shoelace looms, giant hamster wheel, doorknob collection, mounted insects, ancient bank safe, building cornices, stain-glass windows, robots, electronic test equipment, count spatula, pinball machines, rubber Lego’s, toy dump trucks, wooden blocks, giant propellers, Sumo warriors, mounted eagles, stuffed squirrels, rooftop sharks, cardboard castles, snowflake story tellers, painting station.

Behind great artwork there is often tragedy. Such is the case with the City Museum.

Artist Bob Cassilly founded the museum with his second wife, Gail, who was a former nun. They bought the former International Shoe Company building in 1993 and began transforming it. The public got a first look in 1997.

In 2000, the always-creating Cassilly began work at a former cement factory in north St. Louis, calling it “Cementland.” His ever-changing vision was another weird place with castles, bridges, ponds, water slides, obsolete machines, and smokestacks.

In 2002, unhappy with his marriage and the direction the City Museum was going, Cassilly divorced Gail, bought out her share of the museum, kicked out a non-profit board of directors, and changed the museum to a for-profit.

In 2011, Cassilly was found dead in his bulldozer at Cementland. Initially ruled an accident, further investigations initiated by his third wife Melissa alleged he was beaten to death, then the scene staged to look like an accident.

After years of probate proceedings, Cassilly’s widow and children inherited Cementland. They had hoped to continue construction at the site, but fires, thefts, vandalism, continuing litigation, and financial issues have kept any progress from being made at the site.

While Cementland may never be realized, the City Museum remains an ongoing concern, attracting over 700,000 visitors yearly. New attractions continue to be installed by resident artists.

If you’ve never been, you need to go.

The City Museum is open with COVID-19 safety factors including limited attendance, one-way traffic, extra cleaning. Learn more at citymuseum.org.

Crawling through a wire cage suspended 30’ above ball pits.
Visitors can crawl into the cockpit of this airplane installed on a lower roof section of the City Museum.

 

A Ferris wheel on the roof? Sure, why not?
Robots, monsters, fish, and thousands of other creations lurk inside the City Museum.