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Boston Chapter 7: Squeeeeee!

There is a place that is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful, where those who are virtuous--those who have, through the diligent and conscientious effort to right thinking and a proper attitude, developed an innate sense of what is worthy and good for the soul--can one day hope to go. And it's in St. Louis.

Upon fleeing Meramec Caverns, which according to a little-known tale was once used as a hiding place by Jesse James (or so I'm told), we made our way to the city of St. Louis, where we stayed the night with some friends of Claire's. The next morning, while we had breakfast on the back porch and scratched a large and patient poodle behind the ears, they said "You are going to City Museum before you leave town, right?"

At that moment, I was still naive. I vaguely recall saying something like "Yeah, we talked about doing that." Enlightenment was, for me, still several hours away, which explains the casualness of my reply.

After we had finished our buttered muffins and bid farewell to Claire's friends and the floppity-eared dog, we traveled in a meandering fashion through downtown St. Louis. The museum wasn't terribly easy to locate, even with the aid of a GPS gadget whose synthesized voice makes an amusing phonetic mess of the word "Washington," or as it says, "Waaaaaashingtorn," as in "In five hundr'd feet, turn llleft on Waaaaaashingtorn Avenue." But we eventually wiggled and woggled our way there, and parked in a small nondescript parking lot on a small nondescript block.

At this point, enlightenment was mere minutes away.

We rounded the corner, and the entrance to all that was good and wonderful stretched before us, as glittering and magnificent as the pearly gates of myth, only cooler--poetry written in curved rebar and patterned steel.

I still was not quite aware of what lay beyond, but at this point, I was beginning to have a dim sense that this would be an experience by which all future joy could be measured.

Part of that dim sense was sparked, no doubt, when I looked up. It's not every day that one encounters a building with a hollowed-out airplane glued to it, with tunnels snaking around and through the superstructure.

We passed through the gates and gave money to St. Peter, who turned out to be significantly less expensive than the more traditional depictions might lead one to believe. From there, we passed through a wide stone hallway, cast-iron lamps mounted to its walls, and out into a vast, tiled chamber decorated with sculptures of all sorts of strange and bizarre sea monsters. The ceiling was entirely hidden by strips of--I don't know, foil of some sort?--which moved constantly in the air currents, in ways this image can not convey.

Enlightenment was roaring toward me like a freight train whose engineer, coming off a four-day bender of cocaine and a bevy of Brazilian hookers, had fallen fast asleep at his post, his hand firmly on the throttle, urging his great iron horse to an exuberance of speed far in excess of what was safe or sane, and...oh, god, that sentence got away from me a bit there. Sorry.

What you can't see in the picture above is the ceiling, or more precisely the tunnels in the ceiling.. Most of the statues are hollow, and there's a network of tunnels fastened to the ceiling which you can get to by limbing up, around, or through the fishy sculptures. It's awesome.

Above the ceiling is a crawl space, about four feet tall or so. The crawlspace itself, accessible only through the tunnels, is a warren of more tunnels, strange spaces, sculptures, pipes, and little little maze-like things that bring the explorer out abruptly into unexpected metal balconies.

By now, the eight-year-old inside me, who as I have probably mentioned really isn't all that different from me, was just absolutely singing with delight And we hadn't even started to scratch the surface of awesome yet.

City Museum is like a candy bar made of awesome. Beneath the milk chocolate coating of awesome is a creamy center of nougat filling made of awesome, with a rich caramel layer of sweet, sweet awesome carefully folded on top. No matter how far you explore, something even more awesome is awaiting the next...um, bite.

Upon crawling down out of the ceiling, we found ourselves in another huge room, dominated by an awesome staircase of awesome up to the second floor, which was made all the more awesome on account of being flanked by a gigantic slide coming down.

A gigantic slide! Running all the way down the stairs!

"Giant slides" is actually something of a standing theme at City Museum. At one point, we discovered a narrow space on the second floor with a small trap door that descended into darkness. Claire hopped into the hole and found a long, dark slide that drops down into the basement, where a narrow slit in the wall brings one back up into the Land of Weird Fish Sculptures It's hard to imagine, even with all the faculties of the human mind, anything more fun.

But I digress.

The top of the slide that hugs the stairway looks like this:

Midway down the slide, this is the vista which presents itself to the rapidly descending visitor.

I want that giant round cage, oh yes I do. The things I would do with it would contravene at least sixteen international treaties. Oh, yes. I even have the perfect padlock for it...

We spent a couple of hours running (and sliding) around with glee, and then we decided to head up to the rooftop, which is also part of the museum.

And were blown away. As cool as everything we'd seen so far was, the rooftop was even more awesome. If the inside portion of City Museum is a candy bar made of awesome, the rooftop is a candy bar made of awesome being fed to you by a gorgeous houri dressed in nothing but awesome while you recline on a bed of awesome while being fanned gently with fans of awesome that stir the sea breeze of awesomeness all about you. If paradise is a place of joy unimaginable by mere humans, the rooftop of City Museum is that place.

That bit, however, will have to wait until next time.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:01 am (UTC)
As soon as you said St. Louis, I hoped you meant this place. It is so awesome!
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:30 am (UTC)
Holy smokes! Everywhere should have tremendously awesome playgrounds like this that adults can play in! Oh joy, I can think of plenty of fun adult themed parties that could be held here as well. ;)
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Amen to that. A play party there would be awesome!
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:41 am (UTC)
The City Museum is so amazing and I have never seen anything else like it.
Jan. 16th, 2012 06:01 am (UTC)
Oh my. This place just made it to my Bucket List
Jan. 16th, 2012 06:36 am (UTC)
I really need to visit this place sometime. Somewhere up at rooftop level there's an old airplane cockpit.
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Yep, and a bus sticking out of a wall. And the airplane has tunnels both through it and around it.
Jan. 16th, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
While this place looks amazingly fun, I have to admit that part of me is wondering how they ever managed to pass building code inspection. Where I work, we've had complaints from the fire department because one of the desks was six inches too close to a wall, resulting in there not being the mandatory thirty six inch wide passage for the employee behind the desk to escape in case of a fire. I can't imagine that they'd permit narrow wire-mesh tunnels or hidden crawlspaces in a building open to the public. I suppose the rules must be different in different states.
Jan. 16th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Every time I have been there, I have had the same question. And the insurance must be CRAZY! They have a stream running through a fake cave system that has tiny spaces where a little kid could get really stuck!
Jan. 17th, 2012 07:17 pm (UTC)
They've been sued three times; each time, they put up another sign telling people how that person got hurt and saying, "don't do that!" They've admitted that it's hard, and expensive, to insure. But they also benefited from the late Bob Cassily's amazing "nobody can stop me" personal force field; it's reasonable to wonder how well the place will hold up without him.
Jan. 16th, 2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
Want to go. Are you going again? Perhaps I can beg a tagalong for part of it?
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:41 am (UTC)
If and when I have the time and the money, I am definitely up for another visit. I think a gathering of Portland people to head out to City Museum would rock hard.
Jan. 16th, 2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
I want to live there
Jan. 18th, 2012 04:55 am (UTC)
You actually can. The building has several loft apartments - and some reportedly even have secret doors that get you into cool places straight from home.

My aunt lives right next door - her balcony view is of the school bus crashing off the roof. And she knows the City Museum folks well. She almost moved into the building, but decided the non-stop sounds of screaming might be too much.
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:42 am (UTC)
*blink* I didn't realize that. Now I want to move to St. Louis!
Jan. 17th, 2012 03:18 am (UTC)
I need to visit this place ASAP. How have I been to St. Louis and not known this was there?!
Jan. 17th, 2012 05:55 pm (UTC)
I've heard the rules regarding "off limits" areas of the museum are effectively "If you can get in there, you're allowed to be there". Nimble and intrepid spelunkers probably end up falling out of the drop ceiling into the employee break room.
Jan. 17th, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
When you finish this story here you should turn it into a book with one of those publishers that produce books by the individual copy that you can sell on your website. I know I would buy one.
Jan. 18th, 2012 04:59 am (UTC)
Uhm, yeah. Awesome to the awesomest awesometh degree.

The City Museum is to me the Burning Man embassy to the rest of reality. Made all the more amazing considering that the creator has never been to Burning Man.

Did you find the Spatula Museum? Or the full-on thrift store of awesomeness on the fourth floor, where you can buy discarded russian awesomeness to wear home?

Did you stumble into the circus school in the middle of the museum? If I was still living in STL, I would be enrolled.

And the project that Bob Cassilly (the City Museum creator) has been working on for the past decade is even more awesome - an entire cement plant turned into a playground of awesome.

Tragically, he rolled his bulldozer and died earlier this year. But I hear the project is continuing.

But yes, AWESOME! :-)
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 18th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
It's like a playground for adults! And here all I thought there was, was that boring arch. ^_^
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:15 am (UTC)
We have had more nomadic rendezvouses in St. Louis than any other city - and we always take people to the City Museum.

My description of it is:

'Imagine what would happen if you gave Peter Pan a blowtorch'.

It's amazing, and each time I go - I see new things!

On Friday nights, they keep it open to 2am with live music. It's another level of awesome!

It's also the epicenter of the art community in St. Louis... and the awesomeness does not stop at the ticket booth. If you walk around St. Louis - you'll see that spirit tucked away everywhere.

St. Louis is one of my favorite cities to visit as a result. Glad you got to experience it :)

RIP Bob Cassily.
Jan. 19th, 2012 03:43 am (UTC)
'Imagine what would happen if you gave Peter Pan a blowtorch' is without question the best description ever.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )