The City “Museum”

The view from the top – at the City Museum.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit a good friend in St. Louis. It was our annual “girls’ weekend” and our hostess suggested we visit the City Museum.

She also suggested we wear pants and sneakers, dress comfortably, and leave our purses in the car.

Now, I’ve been to my fair share of museums and I have to say – that was a first.

But what exactly is the City Museum? I had recently heard that the “museum’s” founder, Bob Cassilly, had passed away, but other than that, I really didn’t know much of anything about it. And to be honest, now that I’ve been, I’m not sure how to describe it! (But I am certain that you all should go. Now. Make travel plans to STL, stat.)

As we approached the “museum” I saw a giant jungle gym coming out of an old shoe factory. For real. The roof is covered with climbing areas, a Ferris wheel, and a school bus that looks like it’s about to come crashing to the ground. The front of the museum is not much different; two airplanes, a fire truck, a giant caged area filled with balls, and climbing areas everywhere.

Looking down on “MonstroCity” from a school bus that’s perched on the roof.
For real.

See? School bus on the roof. And that’s an airplane on the left.

But wait, I though this was a museum?! Or is it a museum in name only? What IS a museum, anyway?

The bulk of the museum is filled with the tunnels, slides, cages, ladders and other apparatus by which folks of all ages can climb and explore. You don’t know where you’re going most of the time, but that’s okay.

And it’s a complete blast.

We conquered the blue metal slinky thing! That’s me in the middle.

I did eventually find a more traditional, natural history “museum” section, and by more traditional, I mean seriously “old-school” natural history displays: cases and cases of bugs* pinned and identified, animals that have been stuffed and preserved in jars, and archaeological artifacts dug up near and far. But I would be surprised if anyone ever visited the Museum specifically to look at that.

Old-School Museum Charm

So …do I think the giant-jungle-gym-with-a-little-museum should, technically be called a museum? Hmm. An art museum, perhaps, if you consider the interactive space to be a giant work of art.

Have you been? What do you think?! Let’s get this conversation started!

* Okay, so my husband and I are contemplating a trip to Ecuador, and many of the bugs on display were found in Ecuador in 1996. And they were BIG. Like, an 8″+ stick bug and gigantic beetles. Yikes!

4 thoughts on “The City “Museum”

  1. Looks way cool. After reading your post, I wondered about the definition of museum as it pertains to science centers and/or children’s museums. Some of them have little in the way of traditional museum perspective but do inspire learning.

    My curiosity sent me to the City Museum’s website to find out a little more about their mission and interestingly, I found a brief description about how it was built from items salvaged from the city and the following quote: “City Museum makes you want to know,” says Cassilly. “The point is not to learn every fact, but to say, ‘Wow, that’s wonderful.’ And if it’s wonderful, it’s worth preserving.”

    My question to you would be did your visit leave you with the impression that “Wow…it’s worth preserving”?

  2. Good question, Ken. I felt a sense of awe as I wandered through the building, as there is so much to look at and so much to do. And for the rest of the weekend, I was on some sort of high from the experience. Perhaps this was the perfect amount of exploration and whimsy I needed. The experience was wonderful, but very different from how I would want the items to be preserved. While I appreciated seeing the architectural fragments and art pieces, as well as items such as a 1924 Wurlitzer organ that was rescued from the Rialto Theater in NY (!), but if I were to preserve them, I would prefer to 1. keep them in tact and in some sort of intellectual context and 2. not invite everyone and their brother to literally climb all over them (the organ being the exception, since it was beautifully restored and was secured behind glass – and it played!)

    I’m not saying that all museum objects should be looky-no-touchy, but there’s a difference between making something accessible and interactive, and using it to construct a jungle gym. However, I realize that everything cannot be saved using museum best practices–nor should everything be saved. So I’m glad they’re reusing interesting objects and materials and challenging visitors to look at and use them in new ways.

    It was a fascinating place and I’m looking forward to my next visit!

  3. Pingback: City Museum: Fun for Everyone « Museum Minute

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