There is no better way to set the semester off to a good start than larking about the City Museum for a few hours. Dad and I had this in mind driving up, especially because my grandmother was taking the Greyhound down from Montana to spend a few days with us in St. Louis. As when introducing any newcomer to the museum, we first had to explain that it was not exactly a cut and dried museum–not as such. It did open a lovely ornamental architecture exhibit this spring, but the best way to describe the place would be to call it a five-story jungle gym, or an engineer’s dream. It’s a masterpiece of architecture, art, engineering, and creativity. Someone just got a bunch of engineers together and gave them a warehouse, free rein, a cadre of welders, and access to all the scrap yards, salvage companies, and demolition sites in the city.

The entry hall is entirely mosaiced with whales and monsters, and the ticket booth is the front of an old theater. There are dragons snaking up the stairs and around the walls, wire spools and hollow tree trunks you can scramble up to get into the ceiling tunnels and the barrel-fortress forest. Swiss Family Robinson would die of shame in the face of this maze. One could also drop down into the caves, where every wall, pathway, and tunnel (mostly dark) is part of a monster (usually the inside). The caves, if you survive them and have a good sense of direction, open out into the central slide shaft of the warehouse, where the spiraling package chutes connect all ten floors to the caves. The upper part of the building isn’t open yet, but an athletic person can slither and wind up the tunnels and wire fans to the sixth floor and slide down past the organ pipes, balconies, and crevasses. There are stairs for the adults, of course, but where’s the fun in that?

The outside of the building is quite as fantastic. Two airplanes, a crane boom, a steam shovel, fire trucks, trams, an old tree, distillery vats, a castle turret, and all sorts of gears and bars and railroad ties have joined forces to make a massive, intricate, and delicate playground. Nothing quite matches the eternal novelty of scootching through a tubular wire arch from an airplane wing to a dragon’s mouth four stories above the pavement. Really, the pictures on the website do the structure no justice. I’d take my own, but that kind of adventure doesn’t mix with fragile equipment.

I hope to be back in the east end frequently this semester; I’d highly recommend you do the same.

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