Tag Archives: St. Louis

City Museum: Quirky, quaint, fun!

(Phil and Sherry Roberts photos)

It’s quirky. It’s quaint. It’s fun. The City Museum in St. Louis, according to its website (, is “where the imagination runs wild.” And after a visit to the 600,000-square-foot building at 701 N. 15th St., you’ll likely agree with that claim.

This one-of-a-kind museum occupies several floors of a 10-story former International Shoe Co. factory. It’s the brainchild of artist Bob Cassilly and friends, who built the place out of – get this – reclaimed building materials and other assorted junk they’ve found. Inside you’ll also find hundreds of authentic relics from the past – from a chest-type Coca-Cola machine to a former bumper car at a carnival – that’ll have you waxing nostalgic.

There’s truly something for every age.

The first thing you need to do is park your car, which costs $5. Parking and the museum’s main entrance are on 16th Street.

When you leave your car, you’ll immediately see MonstroCity, an outdoor interactive sculpture and multi-story playground with tunnels, skywalks and a slide. Highlights include a fire truck and airplane to explore.

Now glance up at the rooftop playground, which includes multi-story monkey bars and Big Eli, a restored, working, four-story Ferris wheel. Wait! Is that a full-size yellow school bus hanging over the edge of the roof? Sure is, and the daring can even climb in and slide behind the steering wheel if they wish.

Next you’ll want to hurry to the entrance for your ticket to fun. General admission tickets
for people ages 3 years and up are
$12 plus tax or $10 plus tax after 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

The roof is an additional $5 plus tax, and an interactive aquarium
costs an extra $6 plus tax. But fear not, there’s plenty to see and do at the museum even if you pass up those places.

Once inside, kids will be instantly be drawn to the first floor’s tree house, 5,000-gallon tank of fish that are native to Missouri waters and labyrinth of tunnels, filled with larger-than-life creatures.

“Working down there was like being seven years old, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling texture and seeing faces and dragons,” Cassilly says on the museum website. “If I was walking through the caves and I imagined a creature in the wall, we’d put one there.”

Before moving on, take a stroll through a life-sized whale and be sure to find the Puking Pig, an old boiler atop an 1880s fire pump. It periodically fills with water, then swivels and dumps its load into the wave cave below.

Now start making your way upstairs, where you’ll be amazed at the working vintage shoelace machines that once used to make bootstraps for U.S. soldiers during World War II. Now, they crank out brightly colored shoelaces, bookmarks, bracelets and necklaces that you can buy.

Kids can ride on a miniature train while adults ponder the creatively decorated shops nearby that sell sandwiches and drinks. Dine amidst colorful neon signs, vintage posters, movie lights, pinball machines and the world’s largest pair of underpants.

When it’s time to move on, check out the insect and pencil collections and the intricate gargoyles and other architectural gems saved from the wrecking ball.

Belly up to the long wooden bar and imagine a cowboy standing beside you. Or walk inside the ornate elevator cage or bank vault you’ll find on display. Study a primitive toilet and bathtub, then touch that iconic American statue – a smiling Big Boy holding a thick burger on a plate over his head.

Like vintage clothes? Do you need an authentic red or blue band member’s jacket? City Museum has them. There’s a whole floor of old-time sweaters, ties, jeans and dresses for sale.

And there’s more for the kids to do, too. They can build something big using hundreds of building blocks or learn how to swing on a trapeze. They can make some crafts to take home or use some ramps for running and ropes for swinging.

What am I missing? Lots! City Museum has nearly 100 displays.

Copyright 2012 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Spring break 2012: Hello St. Louis!

(Photos above by Phil and Sherry Roberts)

My wife’s a teacher. And each year for many years during Sherry’s spring break, we travel somewhere new and different. We’ve been all over the country.

Depending on our destination for a particular year, we sometimes run into wintry weather. Most of the trips, after all, fall in March. We walked through snow, for example, to see the ocean in Maine. And we stayed with snowmobilers at a motel in the hills of Vermont.

But the upside of a spring break trip is that there generally are no long lines at our destinations. The only other travelers, for the most part, are other older folks or families who also are on a spring break trip.

This year we decided to visit a familiar and favorite place, St. Louis. That’s also where our son Brendan and grandsons, Pierce and Cade, reside. Brendan works during the day, and his boys were in school – their spring break had not yet begun.

But our visit allowed us to stay with them, spend time with them each evening and go sightseeing on our own during the day.

We drove down on a Monday and back home the following Friday. Tuesday through Thursday were spent visiting various attractions.

We toured the St. Louis Zoo on Tuesday; the City Museum and a historic Route 66 attraction, Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard, on Wednesday; and the shops and beautiful old buildings of St. Charles’ historic district on Thursday.

Copyright 2012 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Whew! That was a close call!

We were all smiles after a ride to the top of the Arch on June 8. Not everyone was smiling June 16. Arch photo.

My wife Sherry and I were gone on a sightseeing trip much of Friday, June 17. When we arrived home, there was a message on our answering machine from my friend John.

He told me he had heard on the news that a tram that had been taking visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis had malfunctioned a day earlier, trapping the passengers for a time.

Was he joking?

I jumped on the Internet and saw it was no joke. There they were several stories about the frightening incident. John knew the news stories would strike a chord with me; that’s why he had called.

My wife, three grandsons and I had visited the 630-foot monument on the St. Louis riverfront on Wednesday, June 8, a humid, 97-degree Missouri day. Despite my better judgment and my fear of heights and confined spaces, I decided to join Sherry and two of the boys (the third one declined to go) inside one of the small tram capsules for the four-minute ride up the inside of one of the monument’s legs to the top.

All the way up, I kept thinking to myself, “You’re taking a chance; this thing was built by the low bidder.” But the trip went off without a hitch for us, the view from the top was great and I wrote about the experience in a North Scott Press column published Wednesday, June 15.

According to news accounts regarding the June 16 tram malfunction, a power outage brought the north leg tram, the same one we had taken, to an abrupt halt about 430 feet from the ground and two minutes into the ascent to the arch’s observation deck at its apex.

Forty or so riders were trapped. The small, windowless tram cars went dark, and the air-conditioning stopped. The temperature in them built to more than 100 degrees.

The anxious passengers had an hour-long wait while Arch workers and firefighters manually pulled the tram the rest of the way to the top. I can only imagine what the visitors were going through emotionally and physically during that time.

One passenger reportedly passed out after suffering a panic attack. Some workers also received minor injuries. The cause of the power failure was under investigation.

When the little tram car we were riding in descended on June 8, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had survived what, for me, was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now I can guarantee that — it was, indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa

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Posted by on June 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Dashing my demons at the Gateway Arch

The majestic Arch from a highway. Phil Roberts photo.

Pierce, Sherry, Harrison and Cade before heading inside. Phil Roberts photo.

Waiting to board a tram car. Phil Roberts photo.

(Note: There are additional photos posted at the end.)

A “Bucket List” is a listing of those things you want to do and those places you want to see before you die.

One of the items on my Bucket List is traveling what’s left of America’s highway, Route 66.

There should also be a “No Way List” (that’s my term) for things you don’t want to do and places you don’t want to see before you cash it in.

One of the items that’s been on my No Way List was riding up the inside of a leg of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis aboard a tiny tram – supplied by the lower bidder — all the way to the top.

But that experience is no longer on my No Way List because recently, in a moment of extreme bravery, or perhaps weakness, I decided to take that high-rise ride with some other family members.

The Gateway Arch is America’s tallest manmade monument. My first trip to the breathtaking, 630-foot attraction on the St. Louis riverfront was, I think, in the 1980s when Sherry and I took our then-young four children to St. Louis for a short vacation.

I fear heights (the word for people like me is acrophobia), and that was true even before I fell off a roof many years ago. I also don’t like being in confined spaces (that’s claustrophobia).

So when our children asked if we could all ride to the top of the Arch during our visit, I cringed and my heart skipped a few beats. A normal rhythm returned, and I breathed a sigh of relief, when we learned the tram was out of service that day.

That wasn’t the only time our kids were disappointed when it came to tall structures. When we visited Chicago and walked by what then was called the Sears Tower, we did just that. We walked by.

Most people go up to the top and look down. We stayed outside and looked up. I wish I had been braver then, but I wasn’t. You never know, after all, when an earthquake might strike and cause the whole works to tumble to the ground.

Beginning in the 1990s, though, I began meeting at least one of my two demons — the fear of heights — head-on as Sherry and I traveled.

When we were in Florida, I climbed 203 stairs in a mostly open circular staircase all the way to the top of the 175-foot lighthouse at Ponce Inlet near Daytona Beach just to prove to myself that I could do it.

Sherry started up, too, bless her heart. But her legs were shaking so badly she turned around and went back down. My legs were weak, too, but I just forged on out of determination, I guess.

Since then we’ve gone to the top of New York City’s 1,250-foot Empire State Building, Seattle’s 605-foot Space Needle and San Antonio’s 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas.

I wasn’t comfortable in any those high places, but the views made the ascents worthwhile. And, when the trips to the top were over, I did feel like I had accomplished something worthwhile.

That brings me back to the Gateway Arch.

We recently found ourselves in St. Louis enjoying a day on the town with three grandsons, Cade, Harrison and Pierce.

Harrison wanted to see the Arch, so we drove by it and I took a couple of photographs, hoping that would be adequate. But no, he wanted to see the Arch up close and personal, so all of us journeyed there.

After walking through a museum at the Arch, it was time for a ride to the top for those who wanted to go.

Cade wasn’t interested. I could certainly relate to that. Sherry, Harrison and Pierce did want to go. And I was on the fence. Riding to the top, you see, meant I’d be battling both my acrophobia and claustrophobia.

But as Sherry neared the head of the line to buy the tickets, I mustered what courage I had and said I’d go too.

Little cars on the tram launch from both the north and south legs of the Arch. As I recall, there are eight cars in each leg. The cars interiors are all white. They seat five and are air-conditioned. Thank God for that because it was a record-setting 97 degrees and quite humid in St. Louis the day we were there.

A door slides open and you enter your tram car through what looks like a hatch on a ship. A recorded voice on a loudspeaker tells you to be sure not to bump your head, which is what I promptly did. Then the door slides shut, and there’s no turning back for cowards.

The ride to the top takes only four minutes. (Going back down it takes just three minutes.)

When your little cocoon is near the top of the Arch, the tram stops and the door slides open so you can depart. You walk up a short flight of steps and into a long, narrow viewing room. The curved floor leaves no doubt that you’re at the top of the Arch, the section that holds it all together.

The carpeted room — it’s like a long hallway — is quite bright because of the many viewing windows on each side of it. On the east side your view is of the Mississippi River and Illinois. On the west side, you can see downtown St. Louis, including Busch Stadium.

You can see 30 miles on a clear day.

Even on a hazy day, the view is spectacular and makes for some wonderful photos. You can stay at the top of the Arch as long as you wish, then you catch the next available ride back down.

It’s a wonderful experience. But, if you’re claustrophobic like me, do make sure you ride in a tram car with people who know and love you.
There are two reasons for this.

First, if you go berserk because of your claustrophobia and start whimpering uncontrollably, you certainly don’t want to be among strangers.

Second, if you’re with people you know, you won’t imagine that the stranger seated across from you is a serial killer with four minutes alone with you in a confined space.

I know, I’ve been watching too many movies.

Happy travels, everyone.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece has been provided as an Everyday People to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

In the tram nearly ready to go. Phil Roberts photo.

Pierce going up. Phil Roberts photo.

Harrison and Sherry going up. Phil Roberts photo.

Phil going up. Sherry Roberts photo.

In the viewing room. Sherry Roberts photo.

The room at the top. Phil Roberts photo.

What a view! Phil Roberts photo.


Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


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There, I’ve eaten at a sushi bar and broadened my horizons

Our waiter took this shot of us at Blue Sea, a sushi bar. Some of us were broadening our horizons.

I’ve been to a bar or two in my life. OK, OK, the truth is, I’ve visited a lot of bars in my 62 years. I prefer to think of them as pubs; it sounds better.

But Thursday night, March 31, 2011, marked my first visit to a sushi bar.

Sherry and I had spent the week in fabulous Branson, Mo., and were headed home.

We had stayed Saturday night, March 26, on the way to Branson, with our son Brendan and grandsons, Pierce and Cade, at their home in St. Peters, Mo., a St. Louis suburb.

And we did the same thing March 31 on our return trip home.

On the 26th, Sherry and I had treated everyone to dinner at the Village China Wok in St. Peters. On the 31st Brendan said he was going to broaden our horizons and treat us to dinner at a sushi bar, Blue Sea in Chesterfield, Mo., also a St. Louis suburb.

What is sushi?

In my terms, it’s little cakes of fish — or something similar — surrounded by rice and wrapped in seaweed. says sushi began as a method of preserving fish centuries ago but has evolved into an artful, unique dining experience.

“In its earliest form,” the website says, “dried fish was placed between two pieces of vinegared rice as a way of making it last. The nori (seaweed) was added later as a way to keep one’s fingers from getting sticky.

“Technically, the word sushi refers to the rice … but colloquially the term is used to describe a finger-size piece of raw fish or shellfish on a bed of rice or simply the consumption of raw fish in the Japanese style.”

The site also says, while sushi is not solely a Japanese invention, these days the Japanese style is considered the de facto serving standard.

Sushi “can be eaten as is or is often dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and then eaten. Great care is taken in the creation of the dish and the many methods of preparing the food indicate the importance of appearance to the educated consumer.”

I’ve eaten a little sushi before at oriental buffets but never considered making a meal of it. But that’s what Brendan and I did at Blue Sea.

While Sherry, Pierce and Cade ate more conventional meals, Brendan and I opted for the $25 all-you-can-eat sushi entree.

A checklist was provided to us so we could order different varieties of it, and we certainly did. Shrimp, eel, squid, salmon and octopus are some that we tried.

But before we ordered the sushi, Brendan suggested we have an appetizer.

“Great!” I proclaimed.

Now to me an appetizer is chicken wings, onion rings, fried mushrooms, cheese sticks and the like.

But those items apparently don’t fly for someone broadening his horizons at a sushi bar. Brendan ordered two bowls of edamame — that’s a fancy name for green soybeans.

Edamame in pods, I was instructed, is eaten by squeezing the beans out of pods with one’s fingers.

Edamame is OK, but I’m not really a fan of it.

Perhaps that’s because the first time I ever ate it I was uneducated about it and, thinking it was merely peas in a pod, ate both the soybeans and the pods — with disappointing taste results.

This time I ate only the beans, which I found tolerable, particularly when washed down by Sapporo beer.

The sushi, taken by itself, also was good but seemed a bit bland for my taste buds. So I spiced them up by dipping them into a bowl of soy sauce.

Soy sauce and I go back a long way. Whenever I have rice, I drench it with soy. Yummm!

I started the evening at Blue Sea using — or, actually, trying to use — chopsticks. But my only success was spearing food items with them. So I soon switched to silverware.

The bottom line for our night at Blue Sea is that I got full on sushi and broadened my horizons in doing so.

I also may have avoided gaining weight that night, something I certainly can’t say after every meal.

“Is sushi healthy?” I asked Brendan at one point.

He replied, “Other than sumo wrestlers, have you ever seen a fat Japanese man?”

Good point.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


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