Thursday, February 27, 2014

Union Trust Building

Here is one of those amazing moments of zen that illustrates why I write this blog. A couple weeks ago, having found myself without a Thursday blog again, I think, "Maybe I can just find something on my lunch break that I can put up." I go to Pickles Deli, because they have an amazing corned beef reuben, and I take a picture of this clock that hangs over their door. I love downtown building clocks. More than anything else they represent the heyday of "downtown" to me, when there were way more people working and shopping downtown. In the background you can see the old Railway Exchange building, which was the May Department Stores/Macy's building for a number of years and is now the home of T-Rex, among others.

As I'm waiting for my food, I Google 705 Olive Street Office Building and discover that I have never looked UP at this building from the Olive side. I always park on 7th or Locust and walk over. So I am sitting there, waiting for my sandwich, looking at a picture of the building I am in on Built St Louis, jaw on the floor. How have I never noticed how amazing this building is? Even more amazing, this is a Louis Sullivan design, and all we ever hear about is the Wainwright Building and Wainwright Mausoleum.

So I run outside and put my sandwich in my purse and my tea on the ground to take pictures of this amazing building, and they suck. Unpublishable. So I set this aside for a week, and in the meantime I read B.E.L.T.'s blog about this building, and how you can get a better look at the lions from the parking garage across the street. A week later I find myself walking towards Pickles again, and detour to the parking garage. If you follow me on Instagram, leaning over the wall on level 9 is where I was when I said that I felt like my guts were inside out. But I did it! I got this awesome picture. And this is why I have a blog.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Precious Moments Chapel

If you follow us over on Facebook, you know we have had a long running goal of getting to 1,000 fans, with the promise of "taking one for the team" and visiting the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO. I've known since the day I started this blog that I couldn't call myself a Missouri blogger without reporting on one of our most unusual attractions, so it became a running gag that I would have to "drag" Francis there, despite the fact that I wasn't terribly excited about going, myself.

I started to write this blog by saying that we had been 80% swayed by our visit to the Chapel. As we drove out of Carthage, we talked about Samuel Butcher's religious devotion and how, while we are not religious people, we appreciate good works no matter the motivation or inspiration. The Precious Moments Chapel Park describes him everywhere as a devout, charitable family man who built the Chapel as a gift to God (despite there being donation boxes every 10 feet - we are used to this in any roadside attraction). I think there was something about an orphanage in the Philippines built by the company, and many of the murals had tributes to friends and family who have died. It's all just very bland, non-threatening, and generically religious.

You don't find many people who are ambivalent about Precious Moments. You have the dedicated collectors and fans, who usually feel that this art has touched their life in some way, and then you have the people who react to these figurines with a visceral hatred, much like people who have a clown phobia. What is unfortunate is that neither side really understands the other, which is why that fireman above, inspired by the Oklahoma City bombing, is still standing at the Chapel despite the fact that the parents of the dead children were horrified and offended by it and the figurine never went to market.

The one thing that was a bit unsettling (setting aside any aesthetic objections to his kitschy, big-eyed dead children) is that while the overall message is religious devotion,  the people running the Chapel these days are a bit too reverential when speaking of him as "Our Artist". When Francis and I had a post-Chapel debriefing session, I called him the Porcelain Pope. Also, there are several references to "when the artist passes", giving the feeling that he is already dead and gone. That got me Googling.

Poking around the internet for more of the story, it seems that Samuel Butcher has struggled with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and I was not surprised to hear that Precious Moments Chapel came to be when "The Lord" spoke to Samuel and told him to rent a car and drive around until he found just the right land for his "gift to God" - the Precious Moments Chapel Park. I've been reading about unusual roadside attractions for a very long time, and the most eccentric creations are usually a message from "The Lord".

Over the years he has suffered a stroke from "self medicating", his children have assumed control of the company, and Sam B. is spending his days at his resort in the Philippines, where it is Christmas year round. It's an unsettling shrine to dysfunction if you  look too closely, so let's not. Let's just look at the art.

Touching tribute or weird and creepy? Many of these "angels" were real people. About half of them were adults when they died. The main mural in the middle even has a group of child soldiers, as a tribute to our military. There's an entire wing of the chapel dedicated to Sam Butcher's son, who died in a car accident at age 27, but forever prepubescent at the Precious Moments Chapel Park.

I will admit it, I found this series of Creation murals to be pretty witty. You'll notice "Let there be light," is angels with flashlights, and creating the heavens is angels playing basketball. On one of the upper rows in the Chapel is a series of 15 paintings that Sam Butcher scheduled himself a month to paint, and ended up being so "inspired" he painted all 15 in four days.

While the tour spends the most time talking about the paintings in the main hall of the chapel, the stained glass windows were what I found most impressive. This is only a few of them.

I know it's hard for some of you to believe, but if you are in the area of Carthage/Joplin, the Precious Moments Chapel is worth visiting, even if you giggle all the way through. You'll never see anything like this anywhere else. I leave you with Sam Butcher's message from "The Lord" that he find a property with a cave.

Precious Moments Chapel Park is located at 4321 S Chapel Rd in Carthage, MO, just off I-44. So now that we made good on our 1,000 fans pledge, what should we do at 2,000 fans? Now taking suggestions!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

George Washington Carver National Monument

So, what do you think of when I say, "George Washington Carver"? 100 uses for peanuts? Look, I try not to get too political on this blog, but we need to talk about Black History Month. Francis and I stopped at this museum on a whim because we saw it on a map and said, "What could this possibly be besides a monument to a peanut?" WHAT, INDEED.

I had no idea, and I mean NO IDEA that George Washington Carver did so many important things for his fellow man during in an era when it was extremely difficult to be a black person. I blame public schools for spending 28 days drilling inane facts into our heads about the same 20 or so people every year. So let's talk about some things G.W. Carver did that you probably didn't learn in school.

George and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders when George was a baby, near the end of the Civil War. Moses Carver offered a reward for their return, but only baby George was recovered. Moses and his wife raised George and his brother as their own after slavery was abolished. George was too frail as a child for field work, so he helped in the house. He learned to play the violin, piano, organ, and accordion, was a gifted painter, and also learned to crochet and knit.

George Washington Carver had the ingenuity every hoarder thinks they will have some day. He took daily walks in the morning almost every day of his life, and collected and saved all sorts of things. But he actually used them! He would save scraps of string and twine and make rugs, and his whole first lab at Tuskegee Institute was cobbled together with things other people had thrown away.

This museum has amazing classroom and lab space that makes me wish I lived closer so I could be more involved with everything that goes on here. People of Diamond, Missouri, I hope you make use of these programs.

George Washington Carver worked harder than anyone I've ever heard of to get an education. Harder than any person of privilege, and he was born into an era of segregation, where he was not allowed to go to the school in the town where he lived. He participated in social events and "literaries" in his town, but had to go to school 8 miles away. He moved from town to town and state to state, being denied admittance because of his race and then moving on again. He never gave up, because as he said, "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom." Eventually, he was the first black student at Iowa State, the first to get a Bachelor's degree, the first to get a Master's degree, and the first black faculty member.

Here's another person you probably learned one sentence about in school: Booker T Washington. Probably something like, "Booker T Washington was an important African-American educator," right? What does that even mean to a kid? Booker T Washington was the first principal & president of Tuskegee Institute, an all-black state school that was literally built by the students. It became Tuskegee University, one of the top colleges in the country. George Washington Carver headed the Agricultural Department there for 47 years.

It is true that he "invented" 100 uses for peanuts and peanut by-products. He also invented many uses for soybeans, cotton, cowpeas, and tomatoes because they were good crops to rotate on the same land. He was a scientist, and came up with many uses for many plants, all in the name of raising southern farmers (especially first generation freed blacks) out of poverty.

George Washington Carver's main contribution to society, in my opinion, was not 100 uses for peanuts, but the idea of crop rotation and alternative cash crops for southern land decimated by planting cotton and only cotton. He taught farmers how to get nitrogen back into the soil by planting alternative cash crops. He wrote over 40 bulletins for farmers, and taught them about canning and preserving  and self-sufficiency. The Jesup Agricultural Wagon (so named because it was funded by a grant from philanthropist Moris Ketchum Jesup) was a mobile classroom for this purpose.

Outside of the museum, you can take a nature walk through the land the Carver family owned, their original farmhouse, and see the footprint of the slave cabin where George was born, and the woods and creek where he learned about plants and developed his eye for nature painting.


When the National Park Service took over this land, they rebuilt this cemetery wall, and many of the headstones were replaced. George Washington Carver himself is buried on the campus of Tuskegee University in Alabama.

If you want to learn more, and of course you do, you can find the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri. As you can see from the website, they offer many educational programs, including a Junior Ranger Day.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jewell Cemetery State Historic Site

Here's another site we found using Pocket Ranger on our January road trip. Jewell Cemetery is located near Faurot Field in Columbia, MO, on the former estate of George Jewell, and is a Missouri State Historic Site. The most famous of the Jewell family, William Jewell, was a mayor of Columbia.

The Jewell family was not a long-lived bunch, we noticed, even for the mid to late 1800s. Not many of them saw age 50.

You may also notice that this cemetery, while small, is a taphophile's dream. There are a dozen different styles of monument and even more symbols on them. I think this was the most variety I've ever seen in such a small space.

Second most famous here is Charles Henry Hardin, Missouri's 22nd governor, and the reason this, like Governor Dunklin's grave in Herculaneum, MO, is a Missouri State Historic Site. The Missouri State Legislature passed an act in 1967 that mandated that the graves of all past Missouri state governors should be suitably marked and maintained by the park service. Sappington Cemetery (the one in Nelson, MO, not the one in Crestwood, MO) is also part of this group.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wichita Exploration Place

Francis here. While in Wichita on government training orders, I managed to find a little time to get to a few sights of the city. First up is the Exploration Place.

The Exploration Place is a learning center for people of all ages, similar to The Pink Palace in Memphis. Everything from local paleontology and animals to flight simulators fill the building.

I'm not great at simulated flying.

Wichita is home of the Cessna manufacturing corporation headquarters and boasts a very impressive area dedicated to flight. Here is a full sized Cessna airplane you can crawl into and view the controls up close.

And while they have flight simulators for Cessna airplanes, there are also flight simulators for the aircraft flown by the Wright Brothers. The controls are set up similar to the very first airplane was. A stick to move up and down, and a hip cradle the pilot laid in to control the pitch. I managed to do slightly better with the airplane that didn't go much further than twenty feet off the simulated ground.

The Exploration Place is also home to a very extensive Kansas prairie exhibit. It features displayed insects and plants as well as living animals you may run into in the flatlands of the state

This is a casting of a mammoth tusk found in 2005 while digging a road extension in Wichita. Tusks are often found in the state, but this is the first found in Wichita.

A bark scorpion sits under a black light. It isn't because there is a sweet rave party going on. Scorpions glow under black light.

While flight simulators are great, in the Kansas farmland area, there was a freaking combine simulator. I don't want to brag, but I think I could pick up a second career as a simulated farmer pretty easily.

On to one of my favorite parts: Kansas in Miniature. This exhibit showed a typical 1950s Kansas town, complete with working trains and an animated carnival.

One last exhibit is the KEVA display. Keva are 4.5 inch long wooden building planks. There's nothing to them other than that, but all you need is a little imagination.

My building abilities have improved little in the last 25 years.
There is plenty more to see at the Exploration Place, including a great Medieval setup for the little ones to run all over. The exhibits are always changing, and while I was visiting, MathAlive! was under construction.

General admission is $9.50, and the place is open from 10-5 most days. Find out more about their exhibits, including Death by Chocolate, from their website.