Amanda Hess’ September 26 piece for The New York Times was a brilliant and incisive look at how New York’s (and San Francisco’s, to some degree) pop-up-museum scene serves as a great social-media photo backdrop for the younger set. The story embodied American culture’s preeminent desire to capture the perfect evidence of colorful, whimsical, I-am-not-missing-out, grabbing-life-by-the-lens living.
Hess, rightfully so, is exhausted after waiting in so many lines for conveyor belts of rainbow-hued macaroons, glitter-confetti-farting pigs, adult ball pits, and to simply cross the pink velvet rope of the Rosé Mansion. Hess’s criticism is not yet another “woe is me, look at how narcissistic my generation is,” but rather a thoughtful reproach of how curating our lives (and so-called “brands”) for a 1080-by-1080-pixel square often glorifies the cheesy and mundane whereas major life adventures and ecstatic moments often elude photographic capture in the way we truly experience such firsthand beauty (a sunrise over the Grand Canyon, the birth of a much-wanted child, the way light filters through a tree canopy in an isolated wood).
I started thinking about where Missourians, my people, might take photos to show how much they are having fun. Sure, the 600,000 square-foot City Museum in St. Louis is a wonderful, whimsical place where found art meets an old school bus and airplane on the roof of the building, where the limber and brave can climb, climb, climb and explore. The Arch, sure, or Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District, the 1915 Rieger Hotel, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, or any other number of “most instagrammable places.” But what about niche “museums” of Midwestern culture? Where would I send those in search of an experience and a backdrop a bit different from the “Instagram museums” on the Coasts?
Here are a few off-the-beaten-path suggestions:
- Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri is incredible and fun. Located in 18th and Vine Jazz District within the historic African-American business hub, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a must-see. From learning the stories of average ballplayers to superstars, the NLBM is a place to tell the complete and whole story of Negro Leagues Baseball in America. Note, the NLBM is not a “hall of fame,” and on the website the organization makes it clear not to refer to the museum as such.
- Devil’s Icebox in Columbia, Missouri was a popular college hangout when I was an undergraduate at Mizzou—the landscape stays a cool 56-degrees all year long (think Austin’s beloved Barton Springs sans water). Back in the mid-1990s we still could get into the cave before white-nose syndrome was spread to the cave’s bats. A lot of out-of-towners have no idea that Missouri is not only the “Show-Me State” but also the “Cave State.” According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources we live above and around 6,300 recorded caves, a number which continues to increase annually.
- E. Fay Jones’ and Maurice Jennings’ architecture at Powell Gardens, located in Kingsville, Missouri, is both stunning and noteworthy, especially for those interested in studying the architecture of two Prairie-Style disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Precious Moments Chapel & Park in Carthage, Missouri is, to me, downright creepy and totally embodies #weirdamerica. But for fans of the Christian teardrop-eyed figurines, this surreal visual adventure, often for those en route to backwoods canoe trips, showcases Samuel J. Butcher’s tribute to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome.
- Frederick Hotel in Boonville, Missouri is located a stone’s throw to the Missouri River and the Katy Trail, a 237-mile biking, horseback riding, running, and walking trail that stretches across most of Missouri. The Frederick Hotel, built in 1905, is one of the best examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the region and also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Missouri, whose roots go back to a group of Stanford University students in 1993, is a rustic and successful intentional living community and non-profit Land Trust where sustainability and diversity are core values. Stay at the Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn, Organic Café, and Sundries.
- Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri offers not only award-winning wines, but also one of the weirdest museums I have encountered—a look at the evolution of the humble, often gendered, and hard-working vacuum cleaner.