Sunday, August 23, 2015

“If Peter Pan Had Had a Blow Torch”

Day 3, August 22, 2015

We woke up to gray skies and the threat of thunderstorms, but for the first hour or so, it was just fairly cool and no rain. Joe grabbed the opportunity and changed the oil in Samantha, and despite my trepidation—it did in fact take him just about 15 minutes! He was very happy with himself, and we think those Camping World people are a huge ripoff.  While he was doing that, I have no idea what I was doing!!

We were very happy that it was overcast, to tell the truth, because we were going to leave Cassie in the RV while we spent the day at the St. Louis City Museum. Our concern was that the RV Park was paved, and if it got very hot, it might be too much. So we were glad to find out that the weather was predicted to not go over 80 degrees. Nevertheless, before we left, we set up an electric fan and turned it on to keep the air moving.

I had never heard of the City Museum until I read about it in a blog I read, They have been full-time RVers since 2006, but they spend extended time in St. Louis with family, and they have written several times about the City Museum. They have described it as their favorite place in ALL of their travels, saying it was what you might expect if someone had given Peter Pan a blowtorch.  So I had to see it for myself—it sounded like it would be right up our alley.
Human Kaleidoscope

So we left Cassie, and started our walk to the museum, just under a mile from our RV Park. The weather was looking quite threatening by then, and it had already rained a couple of times for brief periods. So we prudently packed two rain slickers in a backpack in case we got caught in a shower during our walk. Sure enough, we’d gone about 3 or 4 blocks when it started to rain. As it got heavier, I pointed out a doorway which looked as if we could shelter inside. It was better than I’d expected—it was the entrance to an old abandoned building with several steps up and then a large sheltered area in front of the doors. We waited patiently and watched as it rained cats and dogs for about 10 minutes. After a while, Joey got antsy, so we decided to try Plan B, the ponchos. The rain did not let up, and our feet were kind of damp by the time we got to the City Museum (it was still raining, although more lightly.)
Caves and Cages

From the outside we could see the parking lot surrounded by concrete snakes, the MonstroCity outside playground with its coils of slinky-like climbing tunnels and ball pits (for big kids—with BIG plastic balls rather than small ones), and the roof—with a yellow school bus plunging off the corner of the building.  As soon as we got inside, Joe started pointing out that the stair railings were made of rollers (like the rollers you put your luggage on in the airport to go through screening), the wall was made of metal baking pans, and the ceiling was hung with millions of strips of torn fabric. We wandered toward a large concrete whale, walked into a tunnel, and realized we absolutely HAD to go everywhere together, or we’d instantly lose each other. There was simply no telling where the tunnels came out. 

Cave tunnels and dragons, face with open mouth and teeth.
The thing you immediately realize is that the entire place is full of places to climb and crawl, and often those places are right over your head. We saw kids EVERYWHERE (it’s Saturday, and it was raining—of course the place was mobbed), but mostly they were up in the air crawling through some kind of slinky-like tunnel or other cage-like structure.  Nearby are the “caves”, and they are simply incredible! They are a maze of tunnels, some of them so small that only a child under the age of about 8 could fit through, and others that adults can walk through easily—with every size in between. We walked around one corner to see what was there—and what was there was three holes leading to 3 different tunnels. It was a kid’s wonderland and a parent’s nightmare! If my child had crawled into one of those tunnels, I’d have no way of knowing which way she had gone or where she might come out! But I have to admit, we LOVED the caves, with their fantastic dragons, mysterious figures, and utter unpredictability.
MonstroCity Playground

On the museum’s second floor, we walked through a snack bar and found a “shoelace factory”, complete with a 19th century shoelace machine which was weaving multi-colored shoelaces. There was also the entrance to the museum’s aquarium and a door leading outside to the MonstroCity.  On the third floor, we found the circus room (we watched a magic show) and Beatnik Bob’s “Shrine of Shameless Hucksterism”, which had pinball machines, the “world’s largest underpants”, and many other bizarre and ridiculous items. I think the Art Room was also on that floor, where kids could make their own art (the museum is by way of being a piece of performance art, with the performance being done by the visitors!) 

At one point we sat down on a bench with drinks, and suddenly I heard a voice somewhere nearby saying, “Hello! Hello! Who are you?? I’m under you!” After a minute or two of this insistent noise , I asked a child near me, “Is there someone UNDER me?” and the child said “Yes” as she walked by. I looked down underneath the bench and sure enough, there was a tunnel running the length of the bench, with two little girls in it. They had come from the room with the “skateless skate ramps” and the round slides. Opposite us, there was a city-scape on a platform which in a normal museum would have been enclosed; in this museum, it was yet another place for kids to crawl underneath, and pop their heads up into the landscape above them.

Rescued Architecture
On the fourth floor, we discovered rooms created with rescued architecture from some of St. Louis’s oldest buildings which had been taken down, no doubt in the name of progress.  One particularly attractive frieze was the façade for an early Buick dealership, for example.  But we also found a room full of insects (“The Importance of Beetles”), some wonderful sculptures, and one kinetic art installation which was just fascinating—hundreds of mirrored pieces suspended from nearly invisible filament, casting floating images on the wall behind it. This floor also had some more "typical" museum-like rooms, such as a room filled with Urban Archictecture finds. Everything in the ENTIRE museum comes from within the city limits of St. Louis.

Mysterious cave dwellers.
At some point, we wandered into what seemed to be caves but were the base of a ten-foot tall shaft to the roof of the building. We followed the metal curves around and at some point realized we were on a circular staircase leading up to the 10-story slide. As we climbed, we realized that this was an old factory building and the slides were actually chutes which were used in the manufacturing process—many of them simply ended in mid-air, broken off years ago. We continued to the top, however, and after tucking in our valuables and making sure my camera was in its case, we slide down 10 floors of circular slide! It was actually quite fast (at least for me—Joe had to pick his feet up because his shoes tended to slow him down) and loads of fun. I landed at the bottom completely dizzy, and almost unable to stand up again. I just stood there laughing my head off.
A view of the 10-story slide. In reality, it's dark!

We went out into the MonstroCity, and the last thing we did was go up to the roof (the rain had long since stopped, although it was still cloudy). There we found a large slide, the school bus, sculptures, a water garden, and some wire cages leading up to the very top of a dome. At the top, they went down INTO the dome, and then led over to the wall of the dome, with a very tight “staircase” of bars to climb down to the floor. The idea of being suspended up there, or of trying to come down the wall, was something I never would have wanted to do, even as a kid! But plenty of people (of ALL ages) were inching their way up and down. The last thing up there was the ferris wheel. We’d seen it going last night when we came into the city, and it was going today—but after careful consideration, I knew I’d never enjoy it—I don’t like ferris wheels so much even planted firmly on the ground, and this one was on the roof of a ten-story building. So after we’d had enough roof, we went down one flight—and from there, took the ten-story slide down to the bottom a second time! 

All in all, I think we were there for five or six hours, and it was just spectacular. Joey said he could spend hours more there if he hadn’t been so tired J In fact when we left, the lines were even longer than they’d been in the morning. By that time, the families with young kids were leaving, but lots of teens and young adults were flowing in. The Museum is open until midnight on Saturdays, and I understand they sometimes have concerts and things like that. There are several places where “adult drinks” are sold in the building, and I can imagine it’s a great date night location. I suspect they even have pipe organ concerts with the pipe organ which is inside the 10-story air shaft next to the slide.
Joe in a "rocking chair", an industrial-sized spool.

We finally stumbled out, feeling we really had found a treasure (not exactly unique to us, however!) We walked back to the RV and just as we got here, more rain started to fall. So we spent an hour resting while it rained. At about 6:30 we were hoping to go to Pappy’s Smokehouse for dinner—Pappy’s has the reputation for the best bbq in St. Louis as well as anywhere else! But I saw on the website that they are open on Saturday from 11am to “8ish—or whenever we run out.” I was a bit worried, so Joe called to see if they still had food, and if they’d still be able to seat us if we arrived in about 20 minutes. They were already out of ribs and chicken, but the guy said they’d be able to feed us. 

So we walked a mile in the opposite direction to Pappy’s—only to discover a “Sold Out” sign on the door when we got there! We were VERY disappointed (at least a half-dozen other folks walked up after we got there and were also very unhappy), but there was really nothing to do about it. I guess we should have ordered “to go” when we called! Anyway, we walked back (we’ve walked 4 miles today on the streets, not even counting all the walking and climbing we did in the museum) and I took a shower while Joe made us mac and cheese for dinner. And now, as soon as I upload this blog and some photos, I will be going to bed. I am tired, and I’ve been typing for an hour!

But just remember: You DO want to come to St. Louis and visit the City Museum—it is really like nothing else we’ve ever experienced.

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