A note on strange solitude
To be completely honest, my job has me doing some pretty weird things – often on my own. I’m often in dusty basements of old buildings leafing through archives, I’ve coaxed John Safran into being a telephone operator, I’ve had pyrotechnics explode from the top of my head (deliberately), I’ve walked up and down the rows of Reykjavik cemetery making a laser scan and made Tim Rogers jump on a trampoline. I once scrubbed an elephant – not for entertainment, literally to clean it. These things usually take place in a strange solitude where I can’t really look up at someone and have a giggle. Which kind of makes it stranger. And so yesterday in the grand tradition of doing strange things on my lonesome did I find myself at…
The City Museum!
Holy moly this was a whole lot of fun! Opened in 1997 and built by eccentric local artists Bob Cassilly, this is a slightly mad conglomeration of metal works, mosaics, slides, rides, swings, ball crawls, themed rooms and incongruous museum objects all in a huge former shoelace factory in St Louis’ loft district on Washington Avenue. On the approach from the largely commercial Washington Avenue a giant, metal preying mantis, a ferris wheel and a precariously placed yellow school bus jostle for space on the roof of this 11 storey building. Upon arrival, the entrance isn’t immediately obvious (which is nice) however a skip down a back lane reveals an iron fence with stone dragons guarding an open gate. The ticket line was thankfully empty at my 2pm visit and I marched right up to the booth to obtain my $12 wristband. This allowed me to come and go for the day as I pleased. The cloak room was behind a silver wall and combined with a “candy store” serviced by a particularly surly looking chap who took my bag as if I had just handed over a sack of cow shit. I passed back around the wall to really take the whole thing in.
The City Museum is a crazy hodgepodge of different construction styles and techniques all with a whimsical, odditorium bent to it. I instinctively headed up through an iron covered staircase onto a second level where crazed children, high on sugar and too much visual stimulus nearly knocked me down. To my right were a series of skate ramps and to my left access to the outside where a huge jumble of haphazard metal construction going up, down and every which-way could be seen. I took a punt and headed outside. Whoah. Metal platforms paths, tubes and railings go everywhere with adults and kids alike crawling all over them suspended some levels up in the air. For anyone from South Australia and was active as a kid pre-1990 it’s like a massive version of Monash Playground, but on LSD. Two donated Sabreliner 40 aircraft are literally shoved into the construction which you are free to access should you have the guts to crawl up there. I did. The whole thing is literally quite dangerous, largely unsupervised and ridiculous fun.
MonstroCity (click to explore)
I had completely inappropriate footwear on to move around quickly but had no trouble elbowing 7 year olds out of the way so that I may access another precarious tunnel or walkway first. I gained access to one of the planes whose cockpit still had all manner of exposed wires and sharp edges. How are they getting away with this? This part of the museum has the slightly unclear title of MonstroCity.
A dangerous cockpit.
Back inside the building a series of apertures and windows reveal other visitors climbing and crawling through different levels and cavities. The idea is to look through these and think “I want to be there!”. Which I did. On the advice of a ten year old I headed off through one crawl space only to find myself back down on the ground floor. Damn. I tried again and ended up tumbling down a slide right back down to the bottom again. Double damn. One of the noticeably few attendants clocked the goofy smile on my face however this was obviously not an unusual phenomenon for a man my age at the City Museum so he didn’t reciprocate. The whole thing smelt very vaguely of curry, but I chose not to be baffled by that fact and got on with the fun.
Eventually I found myself on the third floor where the City Museum seems to be making a strange attempt to be an actual museum, with a a hall housing an architectural museum (closed for today, naturally but allegedly housing “the cross from the Exorcist”). Several vitrine cases also had a smattering of taxidermy and curious objects however the candy bars obviously took precedence for management.
Here I also encountered a hole in the floor which in normal circumstances I would find off putting but in this case enthusiastically jumped down where a group of us including a small tribe of teenagers and a young family crawled in procession to find ourselves on the second floor and an original shoelace machine with which visitors can make their own custom laces.
Back down on the ground floor a series of aquarium and forest-like tunnels make for a more calm experience without the chaos upstairs or the number of kids running around.
The City Museum - ground floor
In the back of my mind throughout this experience, though was the question of whether a 36 year old man on his own would be met with similar ambivalence in Australia.
The City Museum plays an important part in the community of St Louis and is loved by locals and tourists alike. It’s stupid fun and definitely exists as a for-profit entertainment venue, despite the slightly light-on “proper” museum displays. The American Alliance of Museums staff had told me that the City Museum had refused to participate in the conference here in St Louis and I supposed rightly so. A few objects in a vitrine a museum it doth not make.
Anyway, this place rocks. I bought a T shirt.
Admission: 13 clams
Digital engagement: Surprisingly nifty, responsive website has