News Column

It's party time: St. Louis hits the big 2-5-0

February 13, 2014

By Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 13--How do you measure the history of St. Louis?

In people? In places? In images, moments, objects?

Try all five.

With its latest exhibition, the Missouri History Museum has found a practical yet inspired way to celebrate the city's 250th birthday, and it's all there in the title: "250 in 250: 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Images, 50 Moments, 50 Objects."

And if you're thinking that's probably a lot to take in -- well, it is. But relax: The exhibition, which opens Friday, will run through February 2015.

"We knew when we decided to do an anniversary exhibit that we didn't want to just focus on one aspect of St. Louis history, or just talk about the founding of the city," says Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research at the museum.

"We really wanted to capture the richness, diversity and complexity of the city's history as a whole -- from the very beginning, up until today," he says. "So that's why we came up with these categories."

The exhibition defines St. Louis broadly, taking into account neighboring towns, cities and suburbs. That flexible approach also applies to the exhibition's timeline.

"You'll find stories that actually happened before the city was founded," Sowell says, such as background on a ceremonial lance used by the Osage Nation.

The exhibition doesn't give equal weight to all of the years from 1764 to the present: "It's always harder to find materials from the very early days of St. Louis," Sowell says. Still, one of the images included is from an early 19th century sketchbook.

As to deciding what to include in "250 in 250," he says the process involved "debate and discussion, and a few fights."

"We brought a big selection of our staff together," Sowell says. "And we'd get together and hash it out. It was really just through messy, long conversations. None of us got all of our choices, which I think was part of the fun."

Among those included in the "50 People" category: Phyllis Schlafly, nationally renowned political conservative and opponent of feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment. Among those excluded: Tennessee Williams, internationally renowned playwright, who spent his early years in St. Louis -- the setting of his classic drama, "The Glass Menagerie."

"We really were trying to find people who made their mark in St. Louis," Sowell says. "Every time I go out and speak about the exhibit, someone asks, 'Did you include this person, or this place?' -- and they never ask it in a nice way."

But "250 in 250" is not intended to be the last word on who -- or what -- went into creating the place known as the Gateway to the West.

"We can't possibly capture every story that should be told about St. Louis' history in one gallery," Sowell says. "But we can give you 250 fascinating snapshots of that history."

What "250 in 250: 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Images, 50 Moments, 50 Objects" --When Opens Friday; runs through February 2015; hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Monday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday --Where Missouri History Museum, Lindell and DeBaliviere boulevards in Forest Park --How much Free --More info 314-746-4599;


Erin Bode has played a lot of outdoor events. Still, the singer and St. Louis favorite says that being part of the lineup at the "Burnin' Love Festival" -- to be held Friday evening in Forest Park -- promises to be something special.

"This will be one of our first events outside in the winter," Bode says. "So it'll be interesting. But one of the challenges of playing live music is having to deal with all of the different variables."

Presented by stl250, the organization spearheading the yearlong celebration of the city's milestone year, "Burnin' Love" is one of several events to be held this weekend in honor of the founding of St. Louis in 1764. That "Burnin' Love" coincides with Valentine's Day is a nice plus, says Erin Budde, executive director of stl250.

That it also coincides with a recent run of horrendously frigid weather, not so much. But that aside, Budde has high hopes for the turnout.

"We're thinking 25,000 people, if the weather's not bad," she says. But if it doesn't turn out that way, Budde says, there's the option of moving the action under heated tents.

And there should be plenty of action -- including fireworks, fire dancers and the star of the show: a 25-foot-tall heart that will be set on fire. With safety precautions, of course.

In keeping with the Valentine's Day theme, couples are also registering to become engaged or re-engaged at the event. Refreshments will be available for purchase from local vendors, including Local Harvest, Sugarfire Smokehouse, Three Monkeys, Bissinger's, Hank's Cheesecakes, Kakao and Piccione Pastry, with beverages by A-B, Kaldi's, Stone Hill Winery and Traveling Tea.

But organizers are hoping that music will enhance the romantic mood and attract audiences. Also performing are Elvis impersonator Steve Davis, nationally known roots musician Pokey LaFarge and the Royal Rhythm & Blues All Stars (including Denise Thimes and saxophonist Willie Akins).

The idea was to feature artists who "sound like St. Louis," Budde says.

Because of its name, some people may think of the "Burnin' Love Festival" as St. Louis' answer to the weeklong "Burning Man" event held every fall in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. The ritual burning of the wooden effigy has taken on an international cachet.

But "Burnin' Love" refers to St. Louisans' passion for their city and each other, Budde says.

"Hopefully, we won't disappoint them," she adds with a laugh.

What Burnin' Love Festival --When 4:30-10:30 p.m. Friday; fireworks at 10:20 p.m. --Where Art Hill in Forest Park --How much Free --More info


stl250 Re-enactment

When 10:30 a.m. Saturday --Where St. Louis City Hall, 1200 Market Street --How much Free, but seating is limited --More info --Local re-enactors will take part in a series of tableau evoking the early days of St. Louis, followed by an encampment from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the southern leg of the Gateway Arch.

The Biggest Birthday Ball

When 6-10 p.m. Sunday --Where Missouri History Museum --How much $100-$500 --More info --An evening of entertainment including music by Kim Massie, Arvell Keithley, Theo Peoples and Charles Glenn in the Grand Hall and performances by MADCO and the Black Rep in Lee Auditorium.

The Biggest Birthday Bash

When 3:30-7:30 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Monday --Where Missouri History Museum --How much Free --More info --Cupcake decorating, sing-a-longs and a puppet show are all part of this family-friendly celebration of St. Louis' 250th anniversary.

Cakeway to the West

When Starting Friday --Where 250 locations --How much Free --More info --Don't be surprised if you see a lot of cakes around town as the city celebrates its 250th. The Gateway to the West is now the Cakeway to the West -- as in birthday cake. Two-hundred-fifty cakes -- fiberglass sculptures, each decorated to commemorate their location -- will be stationed at key spots. You can't miss them: Each cake is 4 feet tall. stl250's smartphone app includes an interactive directory of the cakes and their locations' historic significance.


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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