Exterior view of MonstroCity, entrance to the City Museum. Photo by JASPA 2010 https://www.flickr.com/photos/jaspa-2010/4812148554

Exterior view of MonstroCity, entrance to the City Museum.
Photo by JASPA 2010 cc

“That’ll be twenty-four dollars, please,” said the worker at the City Museum.

“Great, thanks. Can I have a map?”

“Nope. No maps—but don’t worry, we send out workers a half hour before closing time to find lost souls. Have fun!”

My husband and I were taking a cross-country drive from Provo, Utah, to Boston, Massachusetts. To break up the trip, we were encouraged to make a stop at the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. We’d never been, but visitors likened the City Museum to Disneyland (or better than!), and we were curious to see if this “museum” was worth the hype.

The City Museum opened in 1997. Artist Bob Cassilly purchased what was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse in 1983, and he and his team built many of the sculptures and caverns inside the museum from repurposed parts of the city, including the Sabreliner airplanes, a school bus, and construction cranes.

At first glance, we saw a tangled mass of wires suspended from a ten-story building that looked like an exposed anthill. Dubbed MonstroCity, the interconnected combination of two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages, a castle turret, a fire engine, some slides, and a couple of ball pits filled with dodge balls makes for a great time—and that’s only on the outside of the museum!

We passed under the metal anthill, massive ball pits, and an Egyptian revival sculpture that looked like it came from a 1920s movie set at the entrance. After getting our wristbands, veteran visitors suggested wandering until we see a dark hole and then follow it. We saw people sliding down a three-story assembly-line-turned-slide. Several kids were disappearing up a slinky-style tunnel dripping with insulated fiberglass icicles, into a network of tunnels hanging from the ceiling, and others were crawling up rebar jungle gyms. We heard a massive waterfall crash in the distance. What is this place? we thought. “Down the rabbit hole” became our mantra for the three hours we were there.

Photo by Eric Allix Rogers https://www.flickr.com/photos/reallyboring/5516868510

Photo by Eric Allix Rogers. cc

We crawled and climbed for hours, coming across a creepy basement with a vertical drop, the world’s largest pencil, the world’s largest underwear, a live circus act, a ten-story slide, a curio of oddities, the Skateless Park, and a four-story Ferris wheel on the roof. Intermingled with everything are slides, mosaics, random tunnels and holes that beg for exploration, and even an aquarium. Cassilly once said, “City Museum makes you want to know.” And with a million things to do, see, touch, and learn, this positively overwhelming tactile-sensory experience is a place of its own class.

—Kiersten Cowan