When your childhood’s spent roller blading, building forts and doing your homework among the rubble that would become St. Louis’ iconic City Museum, where else are you going to work when you grow up?
Max and Daisy Cassilly were in their early elementary-school years when their parents, Bob and Gail, began transforming the dilapidated 11-story former International Shoe building on Washington Avenue in 1995. The family practically lived there for two years.
Daisy, 25, remembers the many birthday sleepovers she had at the museum. How her dad would tie the kids’ hands behind their backs and laugh while they gobbled down their cake without utensils.
“Then we’d run around until 1 a.m. and he’d stay up with us the whole time,” Daisy said.
As teenagers, Max and Daisy began volunteering, then working at the museum, spending many hours among the museum's caves, slides and circus folk. But they each had their sights set on careers outside their parents’ massive playground and shared passion for visual art.
“I was going to be a nurse,” Daisy said.
“I wanted to be a musician since I was 15,” Max remembered.
‘Not good with words’
Max, 28, is a classically trained pianist who's learning to play drums and produce music, but not as a job. As for Daisy, after struggling with school for several years, she changed her mind about nursing.
In September 2011, while they were still navigating their early 20s, Bob died in a bulldozer accident at Cementland, an outdoor playground he was creating in North City. Not long after, Max would overhear museum visitors describing the tragedy in front of him.
“They would say, ‘I heard he died in a horrible accident,’ and I’d think, ‘You know you’re saying that in front of the kid, right?’” Max said.
Now, “the kid” manages the City Museum’s rooftop café. It’s a seasonal job but he hopes to soon begin working there year ‘round. Daisy’s part of the fabled Cassilly construction crew. Right now her main focus is the hand railings for a bridge between two new castles in the parking lot.
Every day is filled with memories of their father. They literally work in the world that he built out of salvage and the inner coils of his mind. His presence there is comforting. Each talked openly about their dad's creativity, intelligence, perseverance and work ethic.
“That was one hard-working dude right there,” Daisy said. But despite his long hours, he always managed to be a strong presence. Still, some aspects of parenting were more difficult.
“He could be harsh sometimes,” Daisy said.
He sometimes struggled, red-faced, with how to praise his kids.
“He might say, ‘Oh, you did a good job’ and then awkwardly walk away,” she said. “He was not good with words.”
Was he just a dad who found it difficult to express his feelings? Max wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know if he had many of them. Let’s face it; not everyone has the same range,” he said.
Max and his father were often at odds. They had just reconciled when he died, something that helped him work through the loss.
“If you just sit in the past wishing your father had lived, that’s not good state of mind to be in,” he said. “If your father is a good father, he would not want you to do that.”
Working at fun
Museum director Rick Erwin has known Max and Daisy since they were children. He was there through the fits and starts of their teen years.
“Both of them worked for me at one time, and both of them got fired or quit,” Erwin said.
But it was just kid stuff, not showing up, not wanting to do a particular job, he noted. Today, he sees how far they’ve come.
“Max — that kid, what can I say? — I love his tacos and he’s running a successful business up there,” Erwin said. “And Daisy, she’s really becoming an amazing craftswoman. You can really see her in her element, something she must’ve gotten from her dad.”
The crew is working on developments 10 years out, Erwin said, even while the ownership of the museum lies in limbo as the case works its way through probate. Heirs include Max and Daisy, Bob’s third wife Giovanna, their two young sons and a business partner.
Projects at the museum include the pair of parking-lot castles, made from stone salvaged from a mansion at Grand and Page. One will be a ticket booth.
A second Ferris wheel is in the works — a miniature one — that will protrude from the building and rotate riders from inside and out. Another slide is planned for the roof as well as a new garden.
Inside, the start of a brick exhibition — celebrating our red-brick city — is underway. Already in use is an expanded Toddler Town. The space includes a quiet area for nursing mothers.
“The museum, as a whole, is stronger than it’s ever been,” Erwin said.
Max and Daisy are excited to be part of that growth. For Max, it fulfills a mandate from both parents.
“My mom was always, ‘Get to work’; Dad was always, ‘Go have fun,’” Max said. “So I try to get to work and have fun at same time.”
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL
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