The Ninjabot

The City Museum in St. Louis is One of the Most Amazing Places on Earth

Posted on November 30, 2013 at 8:02 pm by Nathan Tolle

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Given the abundance of creative souls, misfits, and weirdos of all shapes and sizes, the motto “Keep Portland Weird” is certainly well deserved, but to me, there has always been something missing in this wacky utopia.

What exactly we lack didn’t hit me until I revisited the city of my birth, St. Louis, Missouri. You wouldn’t think St. Louis could even muster a blow to Portland in a weirdness face-off, but there is one important department where Portland gets absolutely clobbered: museums. It could just be that Portland has spread out its weird vibes to grace each quadrant, while St. Louis has it all confined to a few amazing buildings.

The St. Louis Science Center is so massive and aesthetically awe-inspiring that it makes Oregon Museum of Science and Industry look like a cheaply funded elementary school science fair in comparison. You couldn’t get lost in OMSI if you wanted to; however, I have to give it major props for its weekly Pink Floyd laser shows. St. Louis is also host to The Magic House, a Victorian mansion that has served as an interactive children’s museum for over 30 years; The Butterfly House, where you can stroll among over 60 different species of live butterflies and hundreds of tropical plants; and the St. Louis Art Museum, which, like the St. Louis Zoo, somehow manages to be absolutely free to the public all year, as opposed to the $15 it takes to enter the Portland Art Museum.

But I’ve saved the best for last: The City Museum, quite possibly the weirdest place in America.

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Opening to the public in 1997 in what used to be a shoe factory in downtown St. Louis, The City Museum is an architectural fantasyland, offering to you your most magical childhood dreams to explore and play with. I spent five hours there last year and still wasn’t able to experience all the museum had to offer. Almost immediately my childlike sense of wander sprung back to life and I totally forgot about the big, bad world out there.

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I crawled in the mouths of giant sea creatures and dragons that led me to a labyrinth of tunnels, tubes, and slides. I navigated upside down through a spiral coil that led to aquariums equipped with tropical fish and sizable turtles. I entered a Fellini-esque carnival sideshow equipped with a bar, movie theater, psychedelic lighting, glow-in-the-dark stars, and an assortment of bewildering props.

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I ate s’mores in a log cabin that used to belong to the son of Daniel Boone. I marveled at the Louis Sullivan statues, huge collection of taxidermy creatures, vintage shoelace machines, and incredibly detailed choo-choo trains. I climbed to the rooftop where my rewards came in the form of a Ferris wheel, rope swings, ball pit, and a school bus hanging off of the edge. The City Museum truly does resemble that most amazing dream where peculiar, dazzling images connect with no rhyme or reason, and where absolutely nothing is out of bounds; you wander aimlessly in a seemingly endless stream of weirdness and just when you wander if you’re hopelessly lost and that your body will never be recovered, you find yourself right back where you started. And yes, you’ll wake up the next day wondering if it all really happened.

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The City Museum was the creation of artist Bob Cassilly, whose marvelous sculptures are proudly displayed all over St. Louis. He tragically passed away last September in a bulldozing accident while he was working on his latest creation: Cementland, which would have looked like a castle equipped with pyramids to climb up and waterslides to go down, surrounded by old machines and bizarre sculptures. Cassilly’s loss is truly devastating but his brilliance still lives on inside the City Museum, a magical world where dreams are real.

The City Museum
701 N. 15th St.
St. Louis, MO 63103
www.citymuseum.org

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