Museum celebrates St. Louis history


Thomas Jefferson. The Louisiana Purchase. The football Cardinals. The baseball Browns. The World Fair. The Olympics.

All of these play a role in the history of St. Louis. They can be found at the Missouri State History Museum in the Forest Park district.

The museum is divided in four major wings. Each wing offers exhibits on different periods of St. Louis history.

Outside the main entrance, visitors get their first glimpse into the city’s history with an exhibit recognizing the street cars that once ran downtown.


Admission to the museum is free. Yep, you heard me.

In the main entrance, a statue of Thomas Jefferson welcomes visitors. Jefferson was president when the United States completed the Louisiana Purchase deal with France. He approved the Lewis and Clark expedition. The statue is representative of the one at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.


The first wing we visited covered Thomas Jefferson and his role in slavery.

Jefferson advocated an anti-slavery position, but did own slaves. He also freed some during his lifetime.

He had a relationship with one of the slaves. Sally Hemings and Jefferson allegedly had at least one child together.  The Hemings-Jefferson lineage is addressed through memorabilia and writings in the wing.


Items on exhibit belonged to some of Jefferson’s slaves. They range from household items to tools.


The exhibit even has books that Jefferson would read. He had a Lazy Susan on a table so he could read up to 5 books at a time, rotating them as he desired. A chair that belonged to him sits in the wing.


After checking out the Jefferson exhibits, we moved on to our next stop – early life in St. Louis.

The wing has exhibits covering events in city history from the Lewis and Clark expedition to life in a young St. Louis.

As you enter the room, an exhibit marks key dates in the area’s history. I initially thought I missed something, so we walked through the rest of the room, only to realize that the dates and events were the purpose of this exhibit.


An exhibit highlights Lewis and Clark meeting with area Native Americans.


Other items on display include a chair that belonged to a territorial governor, as well as a rifle and sword.


The city history wing was quite interesting. The exhibits were well designed.

I was intrigued by one that showed people working on a dock area.


The statues were very lifelike. You could actually imagine the scene taking place. Plus, I loved the way the dog looked quizzically at the guy.


An old horse-drawn fire engine sits prominently on display. The engine is housed inside a “burned” building.


An exhibit pairing the relationship between the two main power brokers in St. Louis is displayed. Pierre Laclede is credited with founding what is present-day St. Louis. Marie Choteau was the widow of wealthy local businessman Rene Choteau. IMG_9721

Laclede and Mrs. Choteau eventually lived together in a common law marriage.

We moved over to the third wing, which covered post 1900 St. Louis.

The first thing we saw was an exhibit covering some of the St. Louis sports history. A Cardinals football helmet sits on display. The Cardinals called the Gateway City home until the owners moved the franchise to the Phoenix (AZ) area more than two decades ago.


Now, the Rams call St. Louis home. The former Los Angeles-based team won the National Football League’s Super Bowl in 2000.

St. Louis was once home to two Major League Baseball teams – the Cardinals and the Browns. The Cards are still going strong in St. Louis. The Browns were sold and relocated to Baltimore, where we know them as the Orioles.


Further along, the wing recognizes the role women have played in American history. Exhibits display key jobs women held during times of war, while men were serving in the military.

It also recognizes some of the first professional positions women in St. Louis held, including a doctor and a chiropractor.


There is a section covering key social events, including interracial school busing, voting, and women’s fight for equal rights.


An exhibit of personal interest to Lisa and me involved a dancer/choreographer from St. Louis. Katherine Dunham was an African-American performer. Lisa’s maiden name is Dunham. We are always intrigued when we see the name.


The Dunham exhibit included dance costumes by members of her group.


As we headed for our final wing to visit, we stopped and admired the replica of the Spirit of St. Louis that hovers above visitors in the lobby. Charles Lindbergh, a St. Louis resident, was the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York to Paris in the late 1920s.


The fourth wing is home to special exhibits.

St. Louis is celebrating its 250th birthday in 2014. The museum had a special collection of 250 in 250. It included the top 50 people, places, moments, images and objects.


The Top 50 people had pictures, as well as some memorabilia on display. Among the significant names of people in the top 50 list: Charles Lindbergh, William Clark, Stan Musial, Chuck Berry, Katherine Dunham, Marlin Perkins and journalism legend Joseph Pulitzer.

A Lindbergh flight suit is on display.


Chuck Berry’s guitar is available for viewing.


A Dunham dress is on display.

Among the 50 places listed in the Top 50: Camp Jackson, Union Station, the Confluence, Forest Park and Schnuck’s grocery store.

A few of the moments identified as the 50 most memorable: Crossing the Mississippi, city fire, cholera outbreak, slavery in St. Louis and the mob controls the city.

Objects making the top 50 list: mantel from a college in Forest Park, a teddy bear from Build-a-Bear and an airline attendant uniform.

The final 50 items are those of pictures covering the history of St. Louis.

It had to be difficult to dwindle the list of possibilities for each group displayed.

Among the people left off of the list, baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean was a bit of a surprise. Actor John Goodman missed the list.

Overall, the exhibit was interesting. It got me to thinking, how would I rank the top 150 people, places, moments, images and objects for Nebraska’s 150th birthday in 2017. That would be a challenge.


The final wing we visited covered the World’s Fair and Olympics, both held in St. Louis in 1904.

The World’s Fair took place in Forest Park. The museum building was the entrance to the fair. It was called the Jefferson Memorial Building.


More than 50 nations participated in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the official name). More than 19.5 million people attended the 7-month celebration.

The museum has some exhibits from around the world on display.

I found it “humorous” that they actually have Filipinos and Native Americans “on display.” I’m glad we’ve grown somewhat as a society.

The Filipino exhibit has some clothes and pottery on display. There is a gourd helmet.


The Native American exhibit contains a head dress and a few other items.


Furniture and dishware are on display from countries including France and China.

The Third Olympiad took place in St. Louis. All but a few of the 282 medals (94 events) were won by Americans. The cost of travel prevented a lot of international participation. The United States had more than 500 participants, while 52 athletes participated from outside the U.S. Ten of the 12 nations participating won medals.


An interesting event was the tug-of-war. St. Louis-based teams won the gold and silver medals for the United States.


Upcoming exhibits planned for the museum include American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (April 26 – August 17). It examines life and crime during the period of American history where alcohol was illegal. There may be a special admission fee for this exhibit.

The Missouri State History Museum is a must-see in St. Louis. We found the exhibits educational, informative and interesting.

For more on the museum and its exhibits, please visit