Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade


Happy Thanksgiving! Here's a "Throwback Thursday" post from 2008, featuring one of my personal bucket list experiences: Balloon Wrangler in a parade. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be one of the people that handles the giant balloons. I've done this twice with Annie's Hope, a non-profit that provides bereavement services to grieving children & teens, and these are still some of my all time favorite photos on the blog.


Balloon wrangling AND a chance to see how a big parade is organized from behind the scenes! We were supposed to be down there by 7, but the parade didn't start until 8:45, so we had plenty of time for taking pictures.



We were originally supposed to wrangle the Christmas ornament balloons, but I guess since we had plenty of volunteers, we were switch to the Blue Angel airplane.


Fellow balloon wrangler Dana:


Anchors away!



That's the parade director at the podium (below). Floats and balloons and marching bands were coming from 3 different directions, and he is the guy who announces the next unit and reminds people to go to the curb to throw candy and things like that.


The biggest surprise of the day was running. I had never been to the downtown parade before, so I had no idea that there is a tradition of spinning the balloons around. Some people even had elaborate "SPIN!" signs. I think we spun that giant airplane, by running in a big circle, at least 6 times, and that's a short parade route.


I also have to give a shout out to the REAL balloon cowboys: the guys from Starbound Entertainment. I was wondering how the heck they just send volunteers out there with a giant balloon with no practice, and it turns out there are 1-2 guys from Starbound that are like the band leaders, watching out for obstacles and directing a large group in turning corners. One of our guys is in the blue sweatshirt below.


At the end of the parade, they pull the plug and everyone winds up their lines.


Then they use a vacuum to suck the air out.


When all is said and done, these balloons fit into a bag the size of an army duffel!

So there you have it, balloon wrangling at the Christmas in St Louis Parade. One more thing to check off my list of lifelong ambitions!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Enchanted Cave Christmas!

If you are a long time reader of the blog, you know how I love "Caveman BBQ", known these days as the Cave Restaurant and Resort. If you're new around here, check out our visits from 2008, 2009, and 2012. We were in Pulaski County this past weekend to visit the museums of Fort Leonard Wood and to check out the holiday light display at The Cave. What a great day trip for the winter months!

I don't know how I'd never heard about this during the last three trips, but I guess since Francis was walking around with the fancy camera, the waitresses wanted to tell him everything about the place. The room behind this tiny little passage is where the moonshine still was back in the speakeasy days!

As usual, we got a crazy amount of food. If you think their desserts look amazing (they do), skip the appetizer because you will get a huge pile of food. I got the 4pc catfish and it came with bread, a salad, two sides, and hush puppies. No room for pie!

Right now the holiday dinner special is turkey or ham with potato, vegetable, soup or salad, bread, and pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or German chocolate cake for $16.99. Gary will stuff you like a turkey!

The whole cave is crammed with Christmas cheer, including all my favorite taxidermy. Do you know, I finally did the math, and it took Dave (the creator of this cave restaurant) 1,600 trips with a hand cart to haul 160 tons of rock out of this cave? And I'm still not sure if that's right, because the handcart next to the cougar says 160 tons, but the website says 2,160 tons.

We got out there just before they turned on the outdoor displays, and only got a peek from the main road as we were leaving, but it looks really neat. They even have hayrides from the parking lot to the restaurant. I recommend timing you arrival as close to dusk as possible, so you can still see the turnoff from Highway 7 to Rochester Road, but by the time you get to the cave the lights will be on.

All those framed photos are pictures of the creation of the cave and the building of the entrance/kitchen. And I almost forgot to mention this: The Cave has a new Stalagmite burger challenge! Someone alert Man vs Food! The burger is 4 lbs on a whole loaf of French bread, with 16 slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard, mayo, thousand island dressing, and you have to eat it with a pound of french fries and a 32 oz drink. I recommend the Cave Water, which is a cream soda with vanilla and chocolate vodka. If you manage to finish it, you get $50 worth of indigestion for free. Congratulations!

The cabins are only available in the summer now, as they had to replace too many busted water lines last winter, but the restaurant is now open year round! Be sure to check the website for seasonal hours, and call before driving out there if the weather is bad.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lemp Mansion Overnight

I love Lemp Mansion at Christmas. Sure, it is one of the most well known haunted houses in this area of the country, and it has seen its share of misfortune and tragedy, but it's still a lovely old house. We were lucky enough to spend the night here last Friday, something I've wanted to do for ages.

The history of the home, in a nutshell, is that it was built in the early 1860s and later purchased by William J Lemp, whose father, John Adam Lemp, started Lemp Brewery. Lemp Beer was the king of the St Louis beer market at the turn of the century, and the mansion was a symbol of the family's success. The house is said to be haunted by numerous spirits - some who died in the house, some who died elsewhere, and some who are urban legends.

This room, above, was originally the ladies parlor. Later it became the the office of William "Billy" Lemp Jr, and is the room where he shot himself in 1922. A portrait of Lillian Lemp - known as Lavender Lady because she dressed exclusively in lavender - hangs on the front wall, and I've heard the portrait light blinks if you talk to her. The Lavender Lady's divorce from Billy in the early 1900s was quite the circus sideshow in the St Louis media, but she died in 1960 at the age of 83, so I'm not sure why she would haunt this house. 

This room was the gentlemen's parlor back then, and epitomizes the agony and the ecstasy of renovating an old house. After Edwin Lemp, the last son of Billy, died in the 1970s, the house became a boarding house, and was sorely neglected until the current owners purchased it. All the wood trim had been repainted countless times, and a significant percentage of renovation in this house has been stripping wood. That's my most dreaded task, as the owner of a 130 year old house. But the ecstasy part is this ceiling, which was discovered when a canvas ceiling was pulled away. Can you imagine? I've already checked under all the false ceilings of Franceth Manor. We have nothing so amazing.

The entire first floor is now a restaurant, which is why you see tables and chairs in every room. The Sunday Chicken Dinner, served family style, is what we like to call "taking the tuberculosis cure", after the misguided notion in Olden Times that rich food helped cure consumption. The room pictured below also has an ornate ceiling, and is the original dining room.

The next room, originally the aviary, is my favorite, and also the room we always dine in because we always seem to end up there on Friday nights when the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater is going on in the rest of the dining rooms. We're not really into participating in dinner theater, but it's fun to listen to. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a Lavender Lady martini and some of their house-made toasted ravioli!

Speaking of the Lavender Lady and drinking, check out these amazing stained glass windows that were installed in the bar in modern times (early 2000s).

Mural from the Museum & Gift Shop  
Down the hall from the bar is the Museum & Gift Shop, located in one of the old vaults. Yes, one of. There's a vault above AND below this one. Everything from money to artwork to brewery plans and formulas would have been stored in these three vaults. Today you can buy Ouija boards and tshirts in the first floor vault, as well as view many family heirlooms and details of Cherokee Caverns, located under the mansion and brewery complex. 

Before 1-55 cut through this area, Cherokee Caverns was a tourist attraction, and the section of cave under Lemp Mansion had a theater and swimming pool instead of the traditional ballroom in the house. Access from the mansion has since been sealed up.  Landmarks Association has had a raffle for a tour in the fall the past couple years, so become a fan on Facebook and watch for future opportunities. I will say this: I've heard it's pretty unpleasant down there. Don't think this is some nice show cave tour with concrete paths and lights.

I can't show you the caves but I can show you upstairs! Some of upstairs, anyway. Here is where I admit that booking this overnight on a Friday was a big mistake on my part. I get up at 6am, and we ate dinner at 8pm. After several Lavender Lady martinis, t-ravs, prime rib, and cheesecake, I was toast. I totally squandered the opportunity to befriend our housemates and see their suites and ghost hunt all night long. BLOGGING FAIL. 

Here is the hallway between the Lavender Suite and the William Lemp suite, and here is where I tell you about more Lemp family tragedy. Frederick Lemp, the fourth son of Julia and William Sr, had been expected to take over the family business, but died of heart failure at the age of 28. William Sr, despondent after this loss and the death of his best friend, Frederick Pabst, killed himself in one of the bedrooms in 1904.

We spent the night in the Elsa Suite. Elsa Lemp was the daughter of William Lemp Sr and was the wealthiest heiress in St Louis at one time. She, too, committed suicide, but not in this house. According to wikipedia, she separated from her husband in 1918, divorced him in 1919, and then reconciled and remarried him in 1920, and then shot herself in their bed that very same month. One of the stranger Lemp stories, to be sure.

In any case, this suite, along with the Frederick and Louis suites on the third floor, are only named for the family members. They would have been servants quarters. I'll not give it away, but this room has a very fun secret, and is also rumored to be the most haunted room in the house, as well as the room where the legendary "monkey faced boy" lived. Urban legends will have to be saved for another time. We didn't have any ghostly experiences, but I can tell you, when I woke up in the middle of the night and was trying NOT to listen for noises, I worked myself into such a state that I almost fell out of bed when Francis snored. I'm still laughing about that.

I have to end this somewhere or it will turn into a novel. I'll tell you about Cragwold, Edwin Lemp's estate, and Alswel, Billy Lemp's summer home, another time. I hear the Lavender Lady haunts that one, too. If you've been to any of the houses, caverns, or mausoleum, share your stories!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jefferson Barracks: Old Ordnance Room

Francis here with another military related post for all you CCG lovers. 

Jefferson Barracks park is chock full of St. Louis and military history. The first place we brought you was the brand new Civil War museum located in the old gym. Today we talk about the Old Ordnance Museum. 

Built in 1851, it was one of two powder magazines erected at Jeff Barracks. These buildings were used to house gun powder and arms, it is now used for special exhibitions relating to the military history of the park, mostly specializing in naval displays.

Small cannons greet you as you walk into the area.

A Blue Star Memorial By-Way, an expansion of the Blue Star Memorial Highways which are marked to pay tribute to American military forces.

It wouldn't be an Ordnance museum without some ordnance.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Livingston County War Museum

As many of you know, I am a big fan of the troops (especially Sgt Francis Horton, veteran of three conflicts) and I wish that we had been able to stop at Livingston County War Museum on our last trip up north to update these photos. The best I can do today is update some links and info, and promise to visit Pontiac again in the spring. If you are traveling between St Louis and Chicago, Pontiac is worth  pit stop!


The museum is in the old Pontiac fire station, which it shares with the Route 66 Museum. Pontiac is right off I-55 and has built up a pretty thriving tourism industry that draws visitors from all over the world. Apparently Route 66 tourism is huge with Europeans. In fact, some Swedes had signed the guest book just before we did on the day we visited, and the "Welcome!" sign was in about a dozen languages.


While I still have your attention, I want to give a shout out to another big fan of the troops, Miss Gina Elise of Pinups For Vets! I found out about Gina when Francis was on leave from Iraq and complained that this war doesn't have enough pin-ups. A Google search turned up an article about Gina, and she very kindly sent my calendar donation (plus some!) straight to Francis's unit. She does great work for our veterans, and is on a mission to visit VA hospitals in every single state. Visit her store today and check out all the ways you can support the troops!


The Livingston County War Museum seems to serve two purposes: one, a gathering place for the local veterans to stand around with coffee, like how my Grandpa used to go to White Castles every morning, and two, as a place for veterans to show off their uniforms and/or medals.



It's a pretty basic setup - mannequin, uniform, medals wherever they fit, picture & blurb about the person who wore the uniform. Francis was a squirming about medals on Class A's, but you know, it works for the museum display.


The collection of uniforms (and rows of mannequins) is the most visually striking, but they also have a large collection of various military items that have been donated or are on loan.




Most of the uniforms seemed to be donated by retired service members who live in the area or passed through and saw the museum, but there were also a few memorial displays.



Thank you to all service members past and present for your service to our country! I'm posting this a little bit early because I wanted to include the BIG LIST OF FREE STUFF for you vets out there. Make sure you get your free bloomin' onion and a car wash today! ♥