Monday, September 30, 2013

Alton Hauntings Ghost Tour

We had another fun night of ghostly adventure with the Alton History & Hauntings group for the first tour of the Halloween season last Friday. Many thanks to Ginger Collins-Justus of Missouri History & Hauntings for  inviting us along!

This year we were on the walking tour with Len Adams, Vice President of the American Ghost Society, who we had not toured with since we did the Haunted Lebanon tour back in 2010. The tour is based on Troy Taylor's book Haunted Alton, and one of the major focal points of the tour is the first stop at the former Enos Sanitarium. It was built by Nathanial Hansen as a private residence in 1857, and this tunnel in the basement was a documented stop on the Underground Railroad. Later, it became the Enos Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

As you know, it is a long standing custom on this blog to refrain from telling any of the stories from this type of tour. These guys are professionals and tell the stories better than I ever could. One thing I love about Len's tours is that he still gets excited every time he tells a story, even if he has told it a thousand times. Our other favorite guide, Luke Naliborski, is also an awesome story teller, but a little more reserved in his delivery. No matter who you get, you are sure to have a fun time on this walking tour.

Here's a new feature since we last covered this tour for the blog: a fancy motor coach! I have not yet gone on the bus tour, but I hear they go out to Hop Hollow Road, which you will hear about at the site of the old Civil War Prison.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Anton Schmitt House

This is one of those things that has bugged me for years, but I never really worked that hard to find an answer until now, flipping through my archives of unsolved mysteries. This house is located at the corner of South Broadway and Courtois, but it turns out this is not the original location! Known as the Anton Schmitt House, or the Monsanto-Schmitt House, was built in 1859 on property now occupied by the Monsanto chemical plant that is farther south. It was moved to this site (7727 South Broadway) in 1992 to save it from demolition. The National Register of Historic Places registration from 1998 says that it is to become a museum, but I have not seen any evidence as such, nor can I find more recent information.

For more from Carondelet/Patch, check out the Built St Louis tour. This is one of my favorite websites for architectural tours of St Louis.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Missouri Civil War Museum

Francis here with another blog. This week we are covering the newly opened Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks, and since I am the resident Soldier, Beth asked me to take care of this one.

The museum opened at the end of June this year, and there is still plenty of room for the museum to grow. If you happen to have some Civil War relics laying around, they would love a donation.

This museum focuses on the part Missouri played in the war. The self guided history tour starts well before the civil war with the Missouri Compromise and takes you through the part our city and state played in the fighting. There are artifacts from Missouri all over the museum, and if there is one thing this state loves, it's the Civil War.

The museum is built inside of the old gymnasium and Post Exchange (on base shopping for you civilians) building of Jefferson Barracks which date back to early 1900s. Most of the original buildings on the base have been repurposed for educational uses. There are two other museums and plenty of old houses on the base you can peruse, and a map can be obtained at the Visitor's Center.

If you look closely at this Reserve Soldier muster roll, you'll find a Private Anheuser and 1st. Sgt. Lemp in St. Louis. Reserve Soldiers were not full time and were only called up when needed.

The museum features a large collection of medical devices and surgical equipment.

These are trepanning utensils, which are used to release pressure on the brain by knocking a hole in the patient's skull. And you thought it was just limb sawing and dysentery!

Many of the projectiles in the museum were dug up around Jefferson Barracks in recent years. The base has an old ordinance building, so there are plenty of artifacts still around waiting to be discovered.

I had to include this pistol as well because of it's rarity. It's the only foreign gun used by American Soldiers during the Civil War.

The Civil War museum is open daily from 9-5 and located in the southern area of Jefferson Barracks. Entry costs seven dollars (Or free if you happen to be military) and they have much more to add to the museum. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Disneyland in a Day

Some people jet off to Vegas for the weekend. Francis and I, when faced with a pile of frequent flyer miles and a limited number of "saver" cities, decide to tackle Disneyland in one day for our first wedding anniversary. We flew out Friday night, and spent 14 hours of Saturday running back and forth between Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney. Park Hopper is the way to go if you only have one day!

I wouldn't recommend trying this with children, but two adults can definitely do this in one day, especially if you have normal Southern California weather and are used to walking a lot. We happened to be there on a day that was 100 degrees, but since we just left a St Louis heat wave, it felt like mid-80s to us. Still, that is plenty hot, so we were careful to stay hydrated, and we used it as an excuse for frequent breaks & snacks!

My biggest regret is that I remembered my camera but left the memory card in the computer at home, so I had to rely on my HTC One. I'm trying to fool you with this format. Is it working?

My second biggest regret is not reading the TripAdvisor reviews for the hotel I booked. Word to the wise: The second floor rooms at the Harbor Blvd Howard Johnson have skylights. SKYLIGHTS. IN  A HOTEL ROOM.

So, I was up and bugging Francis at 6:30 am because of the skylights. Tip #1: Show up at the park at 8:30 and go straight to the Fastpass line for Radiator Springs Racers. You will hear a lot of hype about Cars Land and RSR, and you will be skeptical. How can a ride be so great that the line is 75+ minutes all day? Because it's like a life size slot car track. Get in line, get the Fastpass, thank us later. Then get yourself a chicken tamale & scrambled eggs at Flo's V-8 Cafe.

Trivia: Have you ever wondered how Disney comes up with the standby ride times you see at the beginning of the queue? They have these red plastic cards on lanyards that are swiped by a cast member at the entrance to the queue, who then hands it to a rider to carry through the line. The rider then hands it to the cast member at the loading point.

After our first ride on Radiator Springs Racers, we hovered in A Bug's Land until the RSR Fastpass was spitting out 8pm return tickets, so we could ride again at night. IT IS THAT AWESOME. Bug's Land is pretty cool, too. I like how forced perspective makes you feel like you are shrinking as you walk into that section of the park.

Since we wanted to come back at night to see CarsLand all lit up in neon, and ride Radiator Springs Racers again, we made short work of California Adventure. We did a walk through of Bug's Land, which is geared towards small children, skipped MuppetVision 3D but took advantage of walk-on Soarin' over Calilfornia, watched Grizzly River Run but decided not to do a water ride so early in the day. My two favorite parts of California Adventure (besides CarsLand) were the Wilderness Explorer Camp (think Russell from Up), which is like a giant tree house, and Paradise Pier, which is like Coney Island, with a HUGE roller coaster called California Screamin'. If you stay at the Grand Californian hotel, you can walk right into this park!

Rumor has it that Walt Disney said he would never have a Ferris wheel in his park. Does Mickey's Fun Wheel couns, since the cars slide around? See how some of the gondolas are in the center in this picture? There are actually two lines for this ride, one for moving cars and one for stationary cars. Francis's reaction was basically, "What is this sorcery?" so it was a stationary car for us, and we made some new friends. After this ride, it was time for our first snack: corn dogs at the Corn Dog Castle. If you're into hot links, they also have hot link corn dogs! These are corn dogs big enough to be a meal, and they come with chips or apple slices. Healthy, right?

After our snack, we made our first run through Disneyland Park. This is where things get hazy, because we took a break for a couple hours in the heat of the day. We started with the art gallery at the front of the park, got our hats (Dumbo for Francis and one of the Minnie Year of the Ear headbands for me) and then... we saw Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It's so wee! You can't even see it behind us in this picture! If you have only been to Disneyland and have never seen Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World, I want to give you a hug and then put you on a plane. I will say this, the Sleeping Beauty dioramas inside the castle are probably one of my favorite things in the whole park.

Our first rides at Disneyland were the Matterhorn bobsleds, Mr Toad's Wild Ride, and Snow White's Scary Adventures. Those were all priorities for me because the Matterhorn is probably more iconic (and bigger) than the castle, Mr Toad is a 1955 original ride, and Snow White is an old favorite that is no longer at WDW.

Here's where I insert a lot of blah blah blah because it was baking hot, a lot of the lines are out in the sun, and we had already walked about 7 miles by 1pm. I was wilting, so after we took a Dole Whip break, we moseyed over to Downtown Disney to do some shopping and had some margaritas and guacamole at Tortilla Jo's. This turned out to be a good plan. By the time we went back over to Disneyland at 3pm, we still had 8 hours of park time left, but the temperature had dropped perceptibly and we were able to stand in more lines. Still, we started with the train while we digested those margaritas. I love how the train goes around the perimeter of the park, and the seats face in so you never look outside the park. Ingenious!

Submarines with Nemo was one I was really looking forward to, because this is one of the only rides I remember from my first trip to WDW when I was 8 (as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). This is one thing I loved about Disneyland: Upcycling old rides, and getting creative with limited space. When the Pirates line was clogging up the walkways, they dug a hole for the queue and built a bridge over it!

One thing that surprised us is that the "upcycling"and limited space makes Disneyland much less accessible than Walt Disney World. According to the Fitbit, we averaged 25,000 steps a day and 3-5 flights of stairs at WDW. A flight is any 10' increase in elevation, so hills count. At Disneyland, 30,000 steps and 31 flights! Submarine Voyage even has a sign that says there is a "wheelchair accessible alternate experience", though I can't imagine what that could be. Does anyone know?

We rode a few more rides and then it was time to head BACK to California Adventure to check out Cars Land in the dark! It was just as cool as I'd heard! I was glad that Francis had me watch Cars before this trip, because it really made me appreciate all the details that went into making a life size version of Radiator Springs. As usual, Disney did some cross over merch, so we got Luigi & Guido as C-3PO & R2-D2, to go with our Bunsen & Beaker C-3PO & R2-D2.

One of the most fun (and mystifying!) parts of Cars Land is the character meet and greets. Lightening McQueen, Mater, and Red the Firetruck take turns doing photo ops, and they drive from somewhere near Radiator Springs Racers to the carport at the Cozy Cone with Cast Member escort walking along side. As you can see here, the window is completely opaque. The eyes move, and you can't see through the pupil. No mesh, no mirror, no holes, nothing. Of course, the Disney line is that these are the real characters, not actors, so they aren't telling. I've since learned the answer but I'll let you guess! Now, once more to Disneyland to wrap up the day!

This was actually the only part of the day where I wish I'd had some advice, so I'll pass on what I learned. We planned to ride the the Fantasyland rides we had skipped earlier, like Small World, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland, and especially Storybook Canals because I had no idea that ride even existed in 2013. First we got caught up in Fantasmic crowds & got lost trying to get around them, and then we found that most of Fantasyland shuts down for the fireworks. This was another strange experience for us, as Fantasmic is in the Rivers of America, and the fireworks were kind of like Wishes but it seemed like a lot of the projections were on Small World. I know now that it's best to just plan to watch Fantasmic, World of Color, and the fireworks, so I'd love to hear your best viewing tips!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bailey's Range

OK so my Disneyland post is turning into a tome and I need the weekend to finish. I still owe you #2 post for this week! Now, I've seen Bailey's Range recommended to tourists in the Downtown area for a long time, but I made the mistake of thinking, "Burgers and milkshakes, whatever. Maybe I'll post it at Eat-STL." WHATEVER! How wrong I was!

Set aside for a moment the delicious grass fed smoked beef patty with chipotle cashew butter, red onion, cilantro, fontina, and chipotle mayo (the Smoke Bomb burger, if you must know), and french fries with house pub cheese, and focus, if you will, on that milkshake. That is bacon standing up in that milkshake, my friends. Delicious candied bacon, with more delicious candied bacon bits floating in that salted caramel ice cream with Makers Mark. Boozy milkshakes are where it's at, amen. You will find Bailey's Range at the corner of Locust & 10th Street in Downtown St Louis.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Let's Hear It For Park Rangers!

I am going to need another day to recover from 4 takeoffs, 4 landings, 14 hours of rides, and about 12 total hours of sleep out of 48. I can't brain tonight. But I will share this with you, which is fantastic timing since we just got back from Disneyland and Disney arguably invented this audioanimatronic technology.

We popped into the Arch today since it's our wedding anniversary and discovered that the rehab that is underway with their audioanimatronics is actually performed by one of the exhibit Park Rangers! Francis's brother is a Park Ranger at the Arch, too, and I guess we just operated under the assumption that all Park Rangers are law enforcement like he is. (Thanks for the VIP treatment, Mike!) I had not ever stopped to consider how many different kinds of jobs there are with the National Park Service. and all the different skills you have the opportunity to learn. Thanks to Park Ranger Weber for pausing his work to chat with us and answer all our questions about his career!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Meramec Caverns: The Greatest Show Under the Earth

This week, I'm going to be updating a couple old posts from the archives. This is a post from 2009 with some new pictures and information.

As you may have heard six or eight times in the past, Meramec Caverns is my favorite tourist site in all of Missouri, because it has one of everything. Except, as we noted on this last trip, one thing. But here's what it does have: a restaurant, ice cream, a gift shop, a fudge store, a rock shop, panning for gold, digging for fossils, a campground, a motel. aaaaaaaaaaand a zip line. What is it missing? A candle store, like the one at Mark Twain Cave. But that's just my humble tourist trap fangirl opinion.