Art, history and flying in Kansas City

Kansas City
Wes Benson’s art studio in The Bauer in the Crossroads art district.

Sometimes, a weekend trip can be organized. Sometimes, you wing it and go where the wind sends you. In this case, the wind sent us to a world of Missouri culture, history and actually into the wind.

Lisa has wanted to visit Kansas City’s First Friday art district activities, so we headed down from Omaha after work Friday. We arrived in plenty of time to get a taste of First Fridays. Art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars take part in the event every first Friday of a month in the Crossroads district. It’s a short distance from the Power and Light District downtown.

Kansas City
Contemporary art gallery inside The Bauer.

The art galleries and shops at the Bauer Machine Works building provided the back drop for views of amazing works. Ranging from a couple taking in modern art in one gallery to performance-based art, The Bauer offers visitors a variety of art to choose from.

Kansas City
Performance artists.

Bruprint was one of our favorite galleries. The artist actually made the name of the company out of the pages of an old book.

Kansas City
Nice artwork.

After leaving The Bauer, we checked out Oracle – a little shop of curiosities. Unusual taxidermy, skulls, candles, jewelry and other “oddities” await visitors. We really liked the store. It seemed perfectly matched for the Crossroads area.

Kansas City
Gator claws at Oracle.

While we definitely got a slice of First Fridays, we couldn’t get a slice of pizza at Art of Pizza. The place was packed and the wait was several minutes, which is good for them. We plan to visit the area again and take in the full First Fridays experience, so we plan to get that slice at Art of Pizza.

Our first full day in KC started with an appointment at iFly in Overland Park, Kansas. Since we knew we were heading to KC, I bought Lisa an early Mother’s Day gift there. She’s been interested in trying the indoor skydiving experience.

Kansas City
An instructor takes a customer high into the air tunnel at iFly.

She had two flights there. The first was more introductory, flying no higher than the instructor’s shoulders. Her second experience took her high – about 50 feet- in the wind tunnel. An instructor is always with the visitors during the flights. She says she can cross that off her bucket list. Check out what to expect here.

Kansas City
My anxious skydiver.

We grabbed lunch at Stroud’s Pan Fried Chicken. We’d heard this was the place for fried chicken in the Kansas City area. We ordered the basic meal, with two sides each. Now, we were thinking KFC-sized sides – a few bites of potato and green beans. OMG! This place serves family-sized sides. So, note – if there are two or three of you in the party, grab one combination dinner and split it. We took leftovers back to the hotel with us.

Kansas City
Lunch at Stroud’s was too good.

And, the cinnamon rolls that come with the meal – have them for dessert. Save room, as you will want to try them. They are delicious!

Kansas City
Butter melting on a cinammon roll.

OK, so we had cleared our list of Saturday activities. What to do next? Go back to the hotel and just take it easy for the rest of the day? That’s not really our style. So, we thought “Let’s head to Liberty and see the Jesse James Bank.” We’ve been wanting to do that for a while. Off we went. About 40 minutes later, we were in the small town of Liberty, Missouri.

Kansas City
The old Liberty Bank, aka the Jesse James Bank. it’s the site of the first daytime bank robbery in American history.

What’s so significant about the Jesse James bank? It was the first daytime bank robbery in American history. The James brothers’ gang received credit for the robbery, though no one ever truly confirmed it was them. And, to add to the story, it was actually brother Frank who robbed the bank, not Jesse. Jesse was badly wounded toward the end of the Civil War in 1865. The robbery occurred about 10 minutes after the war ended. It was likely he would have been recuperating from his wounds still.

Kansas City
Frank James warmed his hands over a stove before robbing the bank.

However, as we were told by the tour guide, Frank and one of the gang members walked into the bank at 2 p.m. on February 13, 1866. Frank rubbed his hands over the stove in the front of the bank. Then, he asked the banker to cash a certificate for him. As the banker turned his back to head to the vault, Frank pulled his gun and jumped up on the low-lying counter. The first daytime robbery was in action. A second employee was held at gun point by the other robber.

They allegedly took about $60,000 then (millions today). The bank eventually was forced to close, as it couldn’t recoup the money.

Kansas City
A World War I veterans statue stands in front of the Clay County Courthouse.

We decided to check out the area after the museum visit. The Clay County Courthouse has an art deco design – different for a courthouse. As we were checking out the building, Lisa noticed the local history museum was open. Situated in an old pharmacy, the museum offers a look at local history – from when the Native Americans dominated the land to 20th century events.

Kansas City
The county’s historical museum.

We learned Joseph Smith – the Mormon prophet – was held in the local jail for several months, along with four of his compatriots. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints offers tours of the jail’s replica. The actual jail floor remained through the years. With information recorded by an architect years ago, the jail was able to be rebuilt to its original design. The tour was quite interesting. Smith apparently had some of his famed revelations while in custody.

Kansas City
A replica of the Liberty Jail where Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was held.

So, after wrapping our day’s events and deciding to head back to Kansas City, I noticed we were about a 15-minute drive from Excelsior Springs, home of Wabash – one of our all-time favorite barbecue joints. Off we drove.

Excelsior Springs is home to a beautiful resort – The Elms. We dream of staying there some day. Since we weren’t really hungry yet, we ventured off to “tour” The Elms. The exterior is beautiful. The original Elms Hotel was built in 1888, but destroyed by fire 10 years later. The “new” Elms was opened in 1909. The hotel has closed and reopened since then.

Kansas City
The Elms hotel and spa is a popular location in Excelsior Springs.

The hotel and spa underwent a $20 million renovation a few years ago. The hotel’s lobby is spacious and modern looking. I expected something out of the 1920s for décor. There is an “old” house phone near the restrooms.

We toured the downtown area of Excelsior Springs. We just missed visiting hours at the Hall of Water visitors center – an old water plant that managed the area’s springs. It’s currently home to the city’s government offices. We like the art deco style of design. The exterior features carvings of Native Americans around the door.

Kansas City
The Hall of Water Works in Excelsior Springs.

The downtown area is home to several business featuring neon lights. We are fans of the old style lighting. The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre caught our attention.

Kansas City
Excelsior Springs has several buildings with neon lights.

After spending about two hours checking out the area, we decided it was dinner time. Unfortunately, so did about a hundred other people. The restaurant side of the Wabash – a former train depot – was full, with a 30-60-minute wait. We went over to the bar side. Same thing…unless we wanted to sit at the bar. A Final Four basketball game was on the big screen TV over the bar. Do the math. We ate at the bar. After stuffing ourselves with some great smoked meats and sides, we remembered why we split meals there. You get a lot of food for a very reasonable price.

Kansas City
The Wabash has long been a BBQ favorite of ours.

We finally decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. Excelsior Springs is about a 30-40-minute drive from KC, but eating at the Wabash alone makes it worth the trip.

What a day! We had a great time letting the wind guide us to our experiences.