Sunday, March 28, 2010

St Louis Trivia Nights

Sometimes I have to spend the weekend doing normal things, or doing better-than-average things in a dimly lit or crowded environment.

This weekend we went to trivia night at the St Louis Science Center. If you're in St Louis, you probably know all about trivia nights, but what you may not know is that this popular weekend fund raiser is as "St Louis" as toasted raviolis and provel cheese. They are so common here it's hard to believe that many other cities have never even heard of such a thing.

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An explanation for those outside the area: Trivia Night is similar to what you may know as pub trivia, which we also have, but the ones we have on the weekend are 10 rounds of 10 trivia questions, held to raise money for a charity or sports team, usually held in a school gym, church basement, or community center, and cost $10-35. The $10 range is BYOB but probably includes some snacks and soda. At the $35 level we generally expect catered dinner and free beer/wine (check out the Young Friends of the St Louis Zoo "Trivia Gone Wild" the first weekend of May for this high end trivia night). At most of them you also bring snacks to share, and you will see everything from a table stacked with White Castles Crave Cases to an extension cord running to the wall for someone's Crock Pot. The food is almost as important as the competition. Trivia night is our winter sport, because we are usually busy with amazing adventures in the summer, but if you are dedicated you can do them year-round with the assistance of TriviaNights.net.

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The Science Center Trivia is in the Planetarium, and makes use of all the multimedia available, including the star projector. Awesome, but not conducive to a photo spread. The pictures are what happens when a table full of nerds is given a fish bowl full of curly wires as a centerpiece. Tables all over the place had spontaneous sculptures, hats, and hair ornaments.

After this trivia night we went to check out The Silver Ballroom, a fantastic new bar in the Bevo neighborhood (Morgan Ford and Itaska). Their slogan is "Pinball, Punk Rock, and PBR" and they deliver on all three. Six pinball machines, the best juke box in town, and $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon! Their grand opening is not until April 23-24, but word of mouth in this town is like a Toyota with a sticky gas pedal, and the joint was jammed all weekend (yes, I was there Friday, too.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Campbell House Museum

Historic house tours are one of my favorite things to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Today I went to visit Campbell House with a Groupon I got back in December. You may have seen Groupon links on my sidebar in the past couple months, so I thought I'd show you one of my Groupon purchases.

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This one was for 50% off admission, so I paid $3 in December for a Groupon that I could use any time in the next year. Other past Groupons include Symphony tickets, Blues hockey tickets, Moolah bowling, Rolling Ridge Nursery, laser hair removal, teeth whitening, and tons and tons of restaurants. It's a great way to try something new at a reduced price, and Groupon is now in over 50 cities!

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There aren't a lot of people who agree with me that this is the best way to spend a rainy Sunday, so I got a private tour. My tour guide was awesome and knowledgeable about every detail of the house and restoration. However, the first time I tour a house I am usually busy geeking out over the fixtures and furnishings, and I don't think I retained a lot of detail.

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For example, I know she was telling me about how Robert Campbell got his money, but I was exclaiming over the square piano, because you know I love those. I do know that he was a fur trader and entrepreneur, a word that doesn't seem big enough for all the businesses he was involved in.

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The light fixtures and chandeliers in this place are AAAAAAAAMAZING. I'll tell you about the things I can remember, and if you are interested in the details of the restoration and the history of the family, that is available on the website.

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The enormous mirrors at each end of the parlor make the room look ten times bigger than it actually is. You should go visit just to see this room. It's breathtaking. It was originally two parlors, but the family did so much entertaining that they knocked out a wall to combine them.

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The lack of overhead lighting in some areas and the many lamps, while spectacular, make for challenging picture taking, particularly since I never use a flash in a museum or historic property. I do want to show you this, though, because it was just so cool to see what the walls looked like before they were restored, and how painstakingly the museum worked to restore the house to exactly how it looked in the late 1800s. The section under the Plexiglas looks so rough because they had the paint analyzed to get the proper colors.

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You'll also notice in many of the pictures that the ceilings are stenciled as well. I'm so mad I didn't get a good picture of the dining room ceiling, because it is incredible. This is really one of the most impressive historic renovations I have ever seen. This is why the Campbell House Museum is considered one of the most accurate 19th century restorations in America, according to their website. They are even on the hunt for a cast iron stove to replace the original that was sold for scrap during WWII.

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They were lucky to find a photo album of pictures of the house taken around 1875, probably for insurance purposes, and you can see those pictures displayed in each room, as well as on the website.

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They were also lucky that the three sons of Robert and Virginia Campbell to survive into adulthood (out of 13 children) lived in the house until they died; James in 1890, Hugh in 1931, and Hazlett in 1938. Hugh was reclusive and was hardly seen in the last 20 years of his life, and Hazlett was probably schizophrenic. It's awkward to say that this was a boon to the museum, but it certainly kept a lot of family heirlooms in the house. Most everything you see here is original to the house, and they even have several of Virginia's dresses in storage. Above is the china (one third of the original set), another cabinet is full of silver, and another, crystal.

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The second floor room above the kitchen would have been the housekeepers room. (I think. Once again I was busy examining the carpet, which is historically accurate 4' wide loom-woven and hand sewed. Ahem.) There is a nifty little display in this room that talks about the lives of the servants in this house and displays some of their possessions.

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By the way, the Campbells never had slaves, although they did have a lot of indentured servants. In this area, where there was slavery, indentured servants would not have been treated much better, but at least they had a light at the end of the tunnel.

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Moving back to the family quarters of the house, check out this amazing folding desk. I've never seen anything like it.

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I'm sorry that this picture is about to blind you, but it's really remarkable and the room is not on the website. Notice that even though there is indoor plumbing (that's a gravity toilet) the brothers never installed a sink.

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The floor is raised up from the hallway level because the pipes are under the floor, but even better, I think, is the stairs coming down from the master bedroom. There's just something about this tiny bathroom that I love. Of course I also have to point out that amazing oilcloth floor.

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And here is the view from the bedroom side:

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I think my favorite room in the house is the family parlor.

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Check out that bookcase. They had the carpet in this room reproduced from the piece they found underneath this behemoth. There is a picture on the mantel of James when he was in the Skull and Bones Society at Yale, and they think this grandfather clock was a gift of membership. There is one like it in the group picture.

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The room adjoining this one is now used for intern projects and displays, but at one time was Hazlett's bird room.

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There are many taxidermy birds under glass throughout the house, including this bird of paradise:

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I could go on all night, and I would still be leaving out so much. You really should check it out if you are into this kind of thing. If you are just interested in St Louis history, I highly recommend checking out the website because they have a book's worth of family and neighborhood history and I spent hours reading through it tonight. I will leave you with a couple pictures of the carriage house and the original St Louis "license plates."

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Campbell House is located at 1508 Locust Street in Downtown St Louis (next to the YMCA). They are open Wednesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sundays 12pm to 4pm. Admission is $6.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Moolah Shrine Circus Parade

Whew, sorry it took me so long to post this week. Daylight Savings Time gives me jetlag and it took me awhile to find my blogging muse today.

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The parade was last weekend in St Charles, and the Circus starts Thursday the 18th at the Family Arena and runs through Sunday. For my clown-phobic friends, the clowns will be at the end, and you will have a warning two pictures in advance. I don't understand you, but I respect you.

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A lot of people have asked me exactly what the Shriners are and what they do. I am not affiliated in the Shriners in any way, but I think I can tell you a little bit as a layperson (if that's the right word).

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First of all, to be a Shriner, you have to be a Master Mason in Freemasonry. Shriners International is divided into different regional groups, or temples. The one familiar to St Louis is the Moolah Shrine, but across the river in East St Louis we also have the Ainad Shrine. Ainad also took part in this parade. This dog is not from Aidad. He is from C.H.A.M.P. Assistance Dogs.

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If you have been a long-time reader of this blog, you may remember my Shriner Parade post from a couple years ago. That was the Imperial Parade, when Shriners from all over the country were in town for their annual meeting.

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Why they seem to revolve around an Arab theme, I cannot tell you. Let's just leave that alone as part of the mystique of Freemasonry. But just as an aside, BACK IN MY DAY the Ceremonial Committee carried around scimitars instead of balloons.

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The Shriners primary mission is the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Much of the money they raise goes to fund these hospitals, which provide care for children with orthopedic conditions, spinal cord injuries, burns, and cleft lip or palate with no financial obligation to patient or family.

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I have heard some criticism over the years about how the Shriners spend their money. I suspect some people are a little confused by the difference between a charity and a fraternal organization that does charitable work.

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As I said, I am not affiliated with the Shriners, but I do know some people who had surgeries at Shriners Hospitals when they were kids, and I think they provide a valuable service to the community, whether it is spinal surgery or Yomo cars.



Surely you remember how dangerously exciting Yomo cars were when you were a kid. If Yomo cars and mini Indy's attract attention to their cause and allow them to provide medical care with no financial obligation to the families, how are you going to nitpick their finances?

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OK, enough of my Shriner soapbox. Enjoy some more pictures.

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TWO PICTURE WARNING! COULROPHOBICS, PREPARE TO EXIT!

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Say hi to the St Chux Derby Chix! Another year or so and they will be ready to get the pants beaten off of them by the Arch Rival Roller Girls. HA!

OK, SEND IN THE CLOWNS! I don't understand the phobia because I LOVE clowns. I couldn't leave them out just because some people are irrational.

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That's all, folks! All the information on show times and tickets for the Moolah Shrine Circus can be found at stlshrinecircus.com.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Obscure Monuments and Memorials, Part 2

It has been awhile since I did an Obscure Monuments and Memorials entry. Back in November, my friend Sara asked me to find out more about this big rock in the area of Produce Row in downtown St Louis. She showed me the Google satellite map and I thought I knew exactly where it was, but I found out when I got down there that a lot of street signs in that area are missing. I got turned around and never did find it.

Fast forward to yesterday when Keith, Courtney, Robbie, and I were heading to St Charles for the Moolah Shrine Circus Parade. A section of highway 70 is closed for repairs, and we had to detour. As we are driving down North Broadway, I am telling them the story about how I tried to find this big rock on Produce Row, and Keith says, "You mean that big rock?"

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Holy cow, it was THAT big rock! So we flipped a u-ey and took some pictures. As it turns out, Sara found out more about it and I've done a little "digging" myself this afternoon. The big rock marks the site of the Big Mound, which was the largest Native American mound in the St Louis area. As the city spread north, the mounds were leveled. Big Mound was carted off by the wagonload, to be used as fill dirt in other areas, or to make bricks from the clay.

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CC&G mobile in the background. Can you believe most weekends we cram 4 adults in that car?

The sad thing is, there was once a plaque on this big rock, letting people know, well, why it is there. I'm sure it was made of a valuable metal and pried off - you can see evidence that similar attempt was made on the medallion on the other side. I'm sure very few people stop to see what that big rock is, but still, the missing plaque is shameful. This was all the more apparent to us yesterday since we were surrounded by cars with out of state plates who were forced to detour through a neighborhood that looks like a bombed out wasteland. I hope the Missouri History Museum can find a way to restore this monument in some way. If there is some kind of fund, or a problem that needs solving, let me know and I will post about it here.

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Here is the satellite view if you want to check it out for yourself, maybe do some weeding while you are down there.

Further reading: An interesting article from the St Louis Post-Dispatch from a couple weeks ago about many of the things that have been found in the archeological dig going on at the sites to be used for the new Mississippi River bridge.