A birthday celebration at the St. Louis City Museum


Tyler is now 10 which means we are now in that six week season when all my kids are evenly spaced out two years apart…18 years old, 16 years old, 14 years old, 12 years old, and 10 years old. This will only last until the beginning of October when Rusty will roll over into an uneven birthday number by turning 15.

We arrived at our first campground on Monday night. We were staying at Granite City KOA, 20 minutes outside St. Louis. We arrived early enough to enjoy some of the amenities the campground offered, including a swimming pool,

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and a jumping pillow which was conveniently located right next to our campsite. It was wonderful being able to send the little boys over to play while I put out the makings for taco night.

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It was an early night. Everyone was tired from driving all day and we wanted to make sure all were well rested before our jaunt into St. Louis the following day for Tyler’s birthday.

In our house it is tradition to wake the birthday kid up to the “Happy Birthday” song and a candle lit cupcake. This morning it was Tyler who did the waking up. I think the excitement of the day was too much for him so the family woke to the banging of cupboard doors and gleeful shouts.

When he saw us roll from bed he quickly dove for his bunk to get in position for his birthday song.

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For breakfast he requested pancakes. We enjoyed a birthday breakfast at the picnic table outside and then let him open his gifts, knowing we would be gone all day. Each of the kids  either made or bought Tyler a surprise with their own money. The gifts were all pre-wrapped and hidden under our bed before leaving on the trip.

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From Mom and Dad Tyler received wheelies that strap to his shoes…a perfect gift for an ADHD kid who can’t take his bike on the bus trip!


Grace made Tyler a backpack for the trip. She took a used stuffed animal and upcycled it and repurposed it into a backpack by removing the stuffing, adding a liner, and sewing straps to go over his shoulders. I was so impressed and her upcycling project was a perfect lead-in to our day at the St. Louis City Museum, an entire museum created from repurposed materials.

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After talking to the KOA hosts we realized taking the bus into downtown St. Louis could be a challenge so we decided to follow their counsel and head to the nearest Metro station. Upon arrival there was a bit of concern that perhaps we would arrive back to the bus to find additional “decorations” and perhaps a few creative words decorating the outside of it. We were parked in a very “colorful” area of St. Louis!

The kids were thrilled with the adventure of riding the metro into the city. The entire experience, from the acquiring of tickets from the machines, to the drunken homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk were new experiences for my country mice.

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Once we arrived in St. Louis we began our walk to the City Museum. The kids got excited when we caught out first glimpse of the St. Louis Arch. We paused for a picture and then the skies opened up and we were quickly soaked to the skin by the unexpected shower.

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As we walked along we had many comments about our outfits. (Hint: “Go Cardinals!”) It was red day. We all dressed in the same color to help me easily keep track of everyone. Little did we know that when I chose the color red most of St. Louis would be wearing the same color. Finding my family in the crowd only became more challenging when we found ourselves in a crowd of Cardinals fans headed to a game at the ball park! 🙂

Visiting the City Museum was a last minute decision. I was looking for something that Tyler would enjoy for his birthday while we were in St. Louis. I happened across an article online about the city museum and as soon as I began reading about this unusual place I knew we must go!

Here is a little history of the City Museum found on WIki:

“City Museum is a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building.

Popular among residents and tourists, the museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. “Don’t touch the art” is never commanded; although safety docents are present on each of 11 floors.

The City Museum has been named one of the “great public spaces” by the Project for Public Spaces and has won other local and international awards as a must-see destination.

City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly and his then-wife Gail Cassilly. The museum’s building was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse but was mostly vacant when the Cassillys bought it in 1983. Construction began in January 1995.

The City Museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997. Within two years, it was drawing 300,000 visitors a year.

The museum has since expanded, adding new exhibits such as MonstroCity in 2002, Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft in 2003, and World Aquarium in 2004.

Cassily remained the museum’s artistic director until his death in 2011.

A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.”

Although we had viewed photos online they did little justice to the place. It was AWESOME!

The entire building is one magnificent piece of art, all intended to be touched, climbed on, explored and experienced. In a world of helicopter parenting and “Do not touch” signs this “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” encourages exploration and imagination.

They make a point of not giving out maps to the museum and instead encourage you to simply explore.

Behind every corner was a tunnel entrance or the start of another adventure. For Tyler it was heaven on earth, although  ALL enjoyed it!

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The museum, which is housed in an old shoe factory, is comprised of multiple floors of adventures, each with its own theme:

First Floor:

“The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine or the always popular “Puking Pig.” Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles. To get into these, one can climb up a Slinky, which is an old refrigerating coil (donated by Anheuser-Busch), or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor. The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area is a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”

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Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft

One of the museum’s most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor. Opened in 2003, the Caves are an elaborate cave system hand-sculpted by Bob Cassilly and his crew. From every direction, a different creature is staring back. Since 2007, the Caves have also held a 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from the Rivoli Theater in New York City.

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The Shoe Shafts were developed from structures built for the International Shoe distribution operation. To get the shoes from various floors to the loading dock, staff would place the shoes on spiral shafts. The Shafts opened in 2003 with one three-story spiral slide, and five years later added a ten-story slide that starts at the roof and goes down to the Caves’ entrance. There is also a five-story slide.”


Rusty riding the 5 story slide.


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Look how magical! The combination of the Wurlitzer organ playing and the Hogwarts-like scenery of the old shoe factory gave me chills:

(Sorry about the video being sideways!)

Second Floor:

“The Vault Room contains two 3,000-pound vault doors built in mid-19th-century St. Louis and installed in a bank in Chicago, Illinois.”


The middle of the room highlights the “hamster wheel.”

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Shoelace Factory

The Shoelace Factory has shoelace machines from the 1890s. Visitors can order custom-made laces”


The shoe lace machine at work.


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Gracie purchased a handmade pair of shoelaces as a souvenir.


3rd floor

“The 3rd Floor is home to a number of attractions. In one area is Skate Park. There are ramps you can run up and pull your self over like the Warped Wall from the TV show Ninja Warrior, except this wall is only 12 feet tall. There is also the Everyday Circus, a circus school with students from 6 to 80+. The Everyday Circus performs daily at the museum and does private parties. Just around the corner from the Circus, is Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques, as well as Toddler Town, a section dedicated only to those 6 and under. Beatnik Bob’s is directly across from the Circus, which features the “World’s Largest Underwear”, a collection of vintage video/pinball games, and a concessions stand. Right outside Beatnik’s is a 1/8 scale model of an Alco Train that children who are 48 inches high and under can ride around the tracks. Past Architectural Hall, the Museum’s largest rental space, is the Architectural Museum. Located here is the cross from the “Exorcist,” a collection of antique door knobs, and the Museum’s current exhibit of Elmslie and Sullivan. Off Architectural Hall, the Museum recently started to add a Natural History Section. On display are a number of insects and taxidermy items. Finally, on the 3rd Floor, the entrance to the three story slide that leads back to the first floor.”

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These “spinning top” chairs were a lot of fun.


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And outside you will find: MonstroCity!!!

Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot (7.6 m) cupola, four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, one very high that leads to a slide, and two ball pits, one for young children and one for older ones, each pit being filled with large, rubber dodge balls.

The Cabin Inn is an early-19th-century log cabin located beneath MonstroCity. Originally the home of the son of Daniel Boone, it was owned by the Hezel family for more than a century and is now a bar and entertainment venue.

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Yes, that is a school bus hanging off the roof!


One of the MANY slides at the City Museum.


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Toby climbing through the tubes 6 stories up.

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Toby and Molly…the view from below!

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That is Molly crawling below the walkway where people are walking.

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The big kids were thrilled to find out that they weren’t too tall for this ball pit. They have missed the fun of playing in a ball pit. This ball pit was especially fun since the balls were all dodge ball sized.IMG_8075 (2)IMG_8078 (2)

The entire experience was mind-blowing…a feast for the eyes and for all the senses. The attention to detail, the creativity and artistic detail made for incredible photo opportunities, although the grandeur simply can’t be captured by a lens.

The little details made it an photographic treasure hunt as all of us stumbled across one cool shot after another.

For example, one wall was “wallpapered” with old printing press plates.

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Rusty, who is taking photography this semester, made sure he took advantage of all the abstract photo opportunities for an upcoming assignment.

We stayed until closing. We were there 7 hours and could have stayed another 7. It was definitely one of the coolest places we have EVER been. For $12.00/ person we felt we got our money’s worth 100 times over! If you ever find yourself in the St. Louis area make sure you stop by the City Museum.

You’ll be so glad you did!!

Next Stop: The St. Louis Arch.

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