An Ode to the City Museum in St. Louis, MissouriOctober 2011
I was devastated this week to learn that the creator of the City Museum in St. Louis, Bob Cassilly, died tragically in a bulldozer accident.
If you live in St. Louis, drop whatever it is you are doing and go to the City Museum. If you are visiting St. Louis, do the same. You don’t need to see the arch. You need to the City Museum. It’s worth a thousand arches. It’s amazing. It’s the most awesome, amazing, splentrificate place ever. It’s so great that I’m making up words. It’s hard to describe, because there is no way to properly explain the City Museum. It just IS.
It’s the most magnificent place ever, and it’s made of trash. It’s a kid museum designed for adults.
You start in the Ocean Room. I mean, I call it the Ocean Room. I’m not sure what it’s really called. What do you call a mirrored, mosaic-ed, sculpted, underwater fantasy that sparkles and moves and dumps water and has a million tiny crevices to explore and jump through? It’s so beautiful and creative it takes your breath away. And you scamper like a mermaid through the statues, into the whale’s mouth.
After you have explored, climbed and ooohheedd to your heart’s delight, you move on through the main museum section, where they have a huge slide for kids and adults to skip through the 10 stories of the museum. Riding a slide as an adult is VERY fun and a little rough.
There are a million different ways through the museum, so everyone is on their own path, which I love. It’s a massive maze. When I was there last, I found my way through a large bank vault. No one was around. It was creepy and wondrous.
There is a beautiful “Outdoor Art” section, which is full of beautifully sculpted gargoyles, regal statues, religious stained glass and other random stuff, like a giant gold boat propeller. Huh. After that, you head towards “The Caves”.
The Caves are the most amazing part of the museum. I’m kind of at a loss of words to accurately capture them – which does not bode well for my future writing career – but let’s just say that it’s like being in a fantasy. You are the adventurer in your own Indianan Jones meets Harry Potter movie. There is you, YOU! – unexciting, nerdy, wearing Mom capris and sporting a horrible hairstyle – YOU are wandering through a damp cave, where endless tunnels lead you out….out into a dragon den. Suddenly stone dragons surround you on every side.
They are bigger than life. Sounds echo, someone growls. There is crazy organ music playing and naked sculptures on the wall. It’s all very disorienting and exciting.
Everything is fantastic and confusing and you get lost, and it is, for a MINUTE like being a kid again, being an explorer again. You think, “Hey! There are still things to be discovered in this world!”
And then you look up. You look up and see the twisting metal, ten stories high. So you climb. You climb and you climb and you climb. And then you slide down. And it really hurts your butt, but it is so worth it, worth it for the 10 story of rush of danger and metal and dragons.
Then you go outside and jump in the balls, because that’s what mature 30 year old women do.
See, the City Museum is not really a children’s museum. It’s not a boring adult museum. It’s like if Tim Burton and Walt Disney made a theme park together with some crazy history professor who was half-drunk and married to an acrobat. It’s a must for travelers. It’s a must for everyone.
It is truly The Most Awesome Place Ever. How did a 10 story shoe warehouse become the most imaginative place this side of Hogwarts? It is an ever-changing work in progress, something straight out of Wonderland, all because of Bob Cassilly, who passed away this week. The world has lost a great creator, a true visionary.
In truth, I can’t recommend the City Museum enough. If you visit St. Louis, go there, kids or not. The City Museum GETS people. It gets that people want a place where they can explore and have adventures. They want to find endless tunnels, just their size and be the only one to find it that day. They want to get lost and dirty and feel a little scared at times. In this world, that sometimes feels like all we do is other people have adventures, the man who can give it to normal people is worth his weight in gold. So thank you Bob Cassilly.