In recognition of the 250th anniversary of St. Louis, the Missouri History Museum will open an exhibit called "250 in 250," next week. The exhibit highlights 50 people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments and 50 objects. It opens on Friday, February 14th - the day before Auguste Chouteau landed in St. Louis.* It's one of many events planned for the city's birthday weekend.
The year-long exhibit is not simply a top 250 exhibit, but also acknowledges the dark points in St. Louis' history. "It doesn’t mean that we aren't proud of St. Louis," said Jody Sowell, Director of Exhibitions and Research for the museum, but the staff wanted to portray all aspects of St. Louis’ history."
“It was incredible. It was a monstrous undertaking, but for someone who loves doing this kind of research and finding these kind of stories…it really was a wonderful chance,” added museum researcher Andrew Wanko.
Each section of 50 selections will be presented differently. The 50 moments section will include audio recordings of first-hand accounts. The 50 images section, on the other hand, will be compiled into a video. The exhibit also includes two additional films – a short, 250 Years in 250 Seconds, and a silent film that wraps-up the exhibit called A Portrait of St. Louis at 250 Years. The films were scored by a local band. The museum will be further supplementing its content with a number of programs, and adding a monthly contribution, chosen by visitors, to the exhibit.
For more information about the exhibit, see our post from August on the topic.
To pare down 250 years of history into just 250 pieces, the staff of the museum met and discussed possible candidates for inclusion, each lobbying for their favorites. “We know that we can’t include everyone and everything from St. Louis history,” said Sowell, “but we really want to include the richness, diversity and complexity of the city’s history by telling this wide range of stories.”
Gwen Moore, curator of urban landscape and community at the museum, added that it was important for them to include recent pieces of history. “We have people who are still alive in the exhibit. History is not just about dead people.”
“Some of these stories are stories we think everyone knows because we are around this history every day,” said Sowell.
One such event is the Great Southwest Bank Robbery, which served as the material for one of Steve McQueen’s early pictures, but is no-longer well known. The exhibit includes a first-hand account of the event from the police officer, now 100 years-old, who foiled the heist.
While the exhibit is comprehensive, its vast spread prevents the staff from going in-depth on the pieces. “I hope it piques people’s interest so that they really want to delve into some of these stories.” said Moore.
Sowell agrees, “We hope we are connecting St. Louisans to their city in a deeper and richer way.”
"It's absolutely free so this is our gift to the city for its 250th birthday." said Sowell. "I think this is an exhibit people will want to come back to time and again."
*Many historians of recent works about the history of St. Louis have written that St. Louis was founded on February 14, 1764. However, Auguste Chouteau's journal, the only original document available today, shows the founding date was February 15, 1764. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about the controversy in 2010.