If you live in Missouri, you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by fascinating museums that are sure to inspire. From world-class to unique, Missouri has many gems to discover. Without an eclectic mix of the captivating and important, there’s something for just about everyone! Of all the exciting museums to visit in Missouri, here are our 9 favorites.
As the Treasures of the Steamboat Arabia’s website tells us, “The legend of the Steamboat Arabia is a blend of two stories.” The first story takes place in 1858, when the Steamboat Arabia sank in the mud of the Missouri River. Over time, the Missouri changed its course, and the Arabia was concealed beneath the earth. The second story takes place in 1987, when the Arabia was discovered a half mile from the present Missouri River, and excavators struggled to exhume the steamboat and its perfectly-preserved treasures to display them to the public. Their efforts were successful, and now visitors can view the world’s largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts recovered from a sunken steamboat.
It’s hard to describe the City Museum of St. Louis. The official description says “the museum is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” What it turns out to be is a hands-on, activity-based experience with objects collected from all over St. Louis, preserved, and re-purposed for visitor’s enjoyment. Part learning center, part art gallery, part thrift store, everything in this museum invites visitors to touch, play, step out, climb on, and experience. This may be one that you must see to understand, but the relatively low admission prices and expansive hours make that possible.
The Missouri History Museum is one of a collection of museums and activities in St. Louis’ Forrest Park. Founded in 1866, when there barely was any Missouri history to exhibit, the museum is one of the oldest in the country. It includes extensive exhibits of Missouri history, including artifacts from the whole state, from elsewhere in the nation, Native American culture, and the St. Louis area. Some of the most famous items include a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s plane “The Spirit of St. Louis,” artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition, toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and items featured in the current Route 66 exhibit. The Missouri History Museum is free to all visitors.
It’s hard to believe that Branson, home of bright lights and vaudeville-style acts, can house one of the best museums in the state, but it’s true. The Titanic Museum in Branson is owned by John Joslyn, who went on an expedition to recover artifacts from the actual Titanic in 1987. The museum itself is shaped like the ship, at half scale, and visitors enter though an iceberg shaped doorway. It is set up with a 90-minute self-guided tour designed to make visitors feel like they are inside the Titanic experience. When visitors enter, they are given a boarding pass with a real passenger’s name on it, and in the museum’s final room, they learn the fate of those passengers. In between those two rooms, there are 20 exhibits filled with over 400 original items taken from the Titanic itself, including dishes, clothing, jewels, and Madeleine Astor’s life jacket.
The U.S. Army Museums is actually three museums located in the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex at Ft. Leonard Wood. It includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Museum, The U.S. Chemical Corps, and the Military Police Museum. It’s a fascinating look at the lesser-known, but vitally important, roles these behind-the-scenes soldiers have played in protecting the United States, from a history of gas masks to a re-creation of an underground Viet Cong tunnel system. For those who respect our nation’s soldiers, the U.S. Army Museums are a compelling way to learn more of the stories behind the stories.
In 1919, all five Supreme Allied Commanders from the Great War gathered in Kansas City—the only time all five were ever in the same place—to dedicate The Liberty Memorial. It was more than just a monument to the dead, but an act of gratitude for the liberty their lives had bought. As keynote speaker Calvin Coolidge said, “It has not been raised to commemorate war and victory, but rather the results of war and victory which are embodied in peace and liberty.” Even so, after about 70 years, the memorial fell into disrepair, and then in 1998, Kansas Citians approved a limited run tax to fund its restoration. It re-opened in 2006 and was designated a National Historic Landmark, a rare honor bestowed only by Congress. Its mission statement said, “The National World War I Museum and Memorial is America's museum dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.” When planning your visit, be aware that the museum closes at 5 p.m. daily.
According to the website, “The original ‘State Lunatic Asylum No. 2’ opened in November of 1874 with 25 patients on land located east of the City of St. Joseph.” The best museums tell us something about the human condition. In an age where mental health issues affect almost everyone directly or indirectly, we forget that those who suffered the same illnesses in the past couldn’t just take a pill or talk to a counselor. The displays in this excellently-curated museum include treatments for the mentally ill and artwork done by those seeking peace from the unrest inside their heads. Visitors experience empathy, awe, discomfort, and above all, gratitude for the work of the ages that led to the advances we enjoy in our time. Adult admission is $6, students are $4, and children under six are free, though curators warn that some exhibits may not be appropriate for children.
The St. Louis Art Museum (known as SLAM) is situated in the rolling hills of Forrest Park, along with several other of St. Louis’ cultural attractions. Admission is free every day, and SLAM was recently nominated for “Best Free Museum in the United States.” With over 33,000 works of art, SLAM holds one of the premiere collections in the country, including unparalleled collections of Asian military art and 20th century German art. They also house such masters as Matisse, Gaugin, Picasso, and Moliere. Museum representatives suggest allowing at least two hours, but recommend an entire day, to enjoy their collections and exhibits.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is in the heart of Kansas City, across sprawling green grounds. The grounds themselves are a work of art, with landscaping, walking trails, and outdoor sculptures to engross guests before they ever enter the building. The museum opened in 1933, and an award-winning addition was built in the 1990s. It houses one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, as well as a significant and world-class collection of European and Impressionist art. Among its other claims to fame is the world’s largest collection of works by Kansas City native, Thomas Hart Benton. Admission to the main building and all satellite buildings is free.