I've been going to Meramec Caverns (The Greatest Show Under the Earth) pretty regularly for the past 10-12 years. It's a nice little day trip, only about an hour's drive from St Louis. I've always seen the Jesse James Wax Museum right off the highway in Stanton, but it was always closed. Either it was the off season or we were just late heading back to the highway after Meramec Caverns.
Ladies and gentlemen, after a decade of bad timing, I am finally able to bring you the Jesse James Wax Museum. Or as Keith called it, The Jesse James Is Alive Museum (a little joke for Missourians who remember the Elvis is Alive Museum.) Or was alive. Alive longer than you thought.
That's right, you thought Jesse James was assassinated by The Coward Robert Ford, but this is not true! Jesse James lived to the ripe old age of 103 and died in 1951 in Granbury, Texas.
The front of the building is the gift shop, and pay your admission ($7) at the cash register. Past the turnstile is a room full of old church pews where everyone sits to watch a movie about what REALLY happened to Jesse James, and is introduced to the central players in this drama.
I could have skipped this picture entirely, but I couldn't resist posting an orb photo. Maybe this museum is haunted by Jesse James?
There are not very many wax figures in this wax museum. Above we have the James' homestead.
Ma James (Zerelda) was quite the spitfire. She was nearly 6' tall, married three times, and lost her arm (and a young son) in the Pinkerton raid on the James farm in 1875.
Above is a picture Keith took and I don't remember where it was in the museum or who it is. The figure is apparently Frank James, but I don't know the significance of the chair.
I do know that this is a bathtub reportedly used by Frank James at some point (placard: "Antique Bathtub/Used By Frank James/Early 1800s.")
And this is a bulletproof vest worn by Jesse James (note: AFTER 1890!)
As you probably know, the James-Younger Gang (later just the James Gang) was a band of notorious outlaws who robbed banks, trains, and stagecoaches during the mid to late 1800s. In 1882, Jesse James was killed by Bob Ford for the $10,000 reward at Jesse's house in Kearny, MO. OR WAS HE?
According to Rudy Turilli, the founder of the Jesse James Wax Museum and manager of Meramec Caverns in the 1940s and 50s, Jesse James was NOT killed that day. In an elaborate ruse, Bob Ford shot a man named Charlie Bigelow and the real Jesse James fled to South America.
Eventually he returned to the states and was living under the alias J. Frank Dalton in Lawton, Oklahoma, and announced his true identity at the age of 100. The news reached Rudy Turilli, who brought J. Frank to Meramec Caverns, where he lived for two years before moving to Granbury, Texas.
There is not a whole lot of evidence displayed in the museum to back up this claim, but you learn pretty much everything you need to know in the movie at the beginning of the tour. Between the movie and this age-progression, I would say most people end up quite convinced that Jesse James did NOT die in 1882. In fact, when I told my friends later in the week that I'd done some research and a DNA test concluded that the man buried in Kearny, MO (the one shot in 1882,) matched Jesse James, they were a little mad at me for ruining a perfectly good conspiracy. But hey, DNA testing is only 99.7% accurate, and ears don't lie.
The Jesse James Wax Museum is located in Stanton, MO (exit 230 off I-44) and is open 9-5 daily. It's worth stopping in, as there is a bit more to this museum (including rather extensive collections of guns and dolls) that I didn't cover here. Call to verify. (573) 927-5233
Once again, thanks to Keith for many of the pictures in this post.
Further reading (these books can be purchased in the gift shop, too.)
The Truth About Jesse James, Rudy Turilli
I knew Jesse James, Rudy Turilli