The Missouri History Museum is housed in the Jefferson Memorial Building in St. Louis’ Forest Park. The park is a smaller version of New York’s Central Park and was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair. The fair gave St. Louis its Zoo, Art Museum, Jewel Box Floral Display House, and the Muny Opera building.
Not too many people know this, but most of the buildings built for the World’s Fair were supposed to be temporary, but some are still in use today. A good friend of mine who works at the Art Museum tells me that the building is crumbling. They just added a new, modern wing to the museum, so maybe eventually it will be replaced altogether.
But the Jefferson building was built to stay and to originally honor our third president. There is a huge statue of him in the rotunda of the building to greet you as you come in.
The latest exhibition at the History Museum is “The 1968 Exhibit.” 1968, also known as the “Summer of Love” was quite the defining year of the 1960’s, a decade that writer Hunter S. Thompson remarked was the time when we had taken a glimpse over the hill of what this country just might turn out to be. Of course, it all just turned out to be a dream when the Age of Nixon sauntered in.
The 1968 exhibit gives you a nice little glimpse back into the turmoil and tranquility of that year. And for those of you who are old enough, like me, a trip down memory lane. I was only 12-years-old in 1968; not old enough to really understand what was going on, but old enough to know that something wasn’t right with the country. Old enough to know that my brother was over in Vietnam, MLK and Bobby Kennedy had been shot and there were Black people marching in the streets.
The exhibit doesn’t dwell on any one aspect of that year, but even though it’s a self guided tour, it almost feels like you are on as the Grateful Dead once said: “a long strange trip.”
When you first go in, a huge Red Cross Vietnam-era helicopter assaults your senses, its huge nose, complete with a gigantic red cross painted over it, practically hit you right in your face. You hear the sound of the helicopter blades and a video blaring out the sounds of war. In an adjacent room is an Apollo capsule and an old fashioned tube TV with Walter Cronkite talking about the race to the moon.
Go into the next room and you are back in a ’60s style living room complete with a chair and a plastic covered couch and blonde furniture.
Music played a big part in the ’60s and there are exhibits about the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Led Zepplin, among others. All the issues of 1968 are covered: Civil Rights protests, The Vietnam War, environmentalism, clothing and politics. It’s kind of like walking through a Tim Burns documentary….if it was filmed by Tim Burton.
Out in the grand hall, a short 20-minute one-woman play was performed. It was a look at 1968 through the music that was popular at the time, all played on vinyl as the actress gave her thoughts and opinions not only on the music, but the timbre of the times as well.
The museum is open 10-5 throughout the week except until 8 on Tuesdays when admission is free.