Missouri History Museum

The performing and visual arts can bring history to life. During Black History Month, St. Louis is bursting with opportunities to celebrate and learn through movement, music, drama, film, painting and sculpture. (See list, below.)

Missouri History Museum employees dig through ash and scrap metal for artifacts on Jan. 29, 2015, at the burned-out Fashions R Boutique in Ferguson.
Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio

Owner of Fashions R Boutique, Juanita Morris was stunned when she got the call that her shop was on fire.

“No, not my building,” Morris said. “But you know, I looked, the building next door was burning and the building across the street was burning, so I just said, 'Well I was just caught up in the middle'.”

Evelynn Johnson, second from left, and her family meet with genealogist Kenyatta Berry, second from right, at Union Station in St. Louis during filming for PBS' 'Genealogy Roadshow.' Johnson's story will be shared in the show's Feb. 10, 2015, episode.
Courtesy of Jason Winkeler / PBS

When PBS’ “Genealogy Roadshow” asked for queries from St. Louis residents last year, Evelynn Johnson gave them her great-grandfather's name.

“I was asking my mom if were kin to another family that shared our last name,” Johnson told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. “She said ‘Well, this is your great-grandfather’s name. See if they know him.’”

For almost 100 years, Famous-Barr was a St. Louis shopping destination. Its holiday window displays in particular drew shoppers from throughout the St. Louis area to Famous-Barr’s downtown location. Many of those displays, and other well-known Famous-Barr events, were directed by Helen Weiss, the store’s public relations maven.

In 1833, two men from Giessen, Germany, decided to immigrate to the United States where they hoped to create their own utopia with the freedoms and democracy they desired but did not have under an aristocracy. They recruited hundreds of others and formed the Giessen Emigration Society.

“It was the year 1834 when 500 Germans came over here to Missouri with the big idea of creating a German state as a new state within the United States of America,” Peter Roloff told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

Parth Shah | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri History Museum's Teens Make History program was honored today with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

Part of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Arts award recognizes creative youth development programs that engage students in the arts and humanities. Teens Make History is one of 12 after-school programs being honored.

Map by T. Stackhouse, publisher 1783, prior to Louisiana Purchase.
Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

The Louisiana Purchase is much more complicated than most history textbooks portray.

That’s the message behind the Missouri History Museum’s new exhibition “The Louisiana Purchase: Making St. Louis, Remaking America.” Adam Kloppe, 30, is a writing and research fellow at the museum and took the lead in determining the content for the exhibit. He said the story of the Louisiana Purchase is a one of many doubts and tough decisions.

A few months after the jury announced George Zimmerman was not guilty in the Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, NBC News legal analyst Lisa Bloom published a book examining the case, “Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It.”

In “Suspicion Nation,” Bloom looks at what happened behind the scenes and why similar shootings continue to take place, including the August death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

A box full of LGBT periodicals. These items have been collected as part of the St. Louis LGBT history project.
Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly 40 years ago, Brian Hyland’s song "Gypsy Woman" played on a Jukebox and former St. Louis resident Lee Maynard found his name for performing in drag: Gypsy Lee. It was the first song that came on and someone said that was a great name. Maynard agreed.

When Maynard performed as Gypsy Lee around St. Louis in the 1970s, his standby song was Cher’s "Half-Breed." It’s a song that matched his elaborate costume.

Sherrilyn Ifill participates in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013.
afagen via Flickr

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, had planned to discuss the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision during her trip to St. Louis. That changed after Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson.

Romiyus Gause, right, plays troubled teenager Bobby, in St. Louis Now.
Parth Shah | St. Louis Public Radio intern

Updated with St. Louis on the Air interview.

The "Teens Make History" Players and are getting paid to act — but first they have to work through very serious issues and distill their findings into a play. Since 2007, this work-based program of the Missouri History Museum, brings together students to research, design and mount exhibits at the museum or to bring St. Louis history to life through their plays.

“It feels like I’m on Broadway,” said Romiyus Gause, who has been with the program for six years.

(Missouri History Museum)

The Missouri History Museum’s long-vacant Delmar Boulevard property — whose purchase contributed to the departure of former Missouri History Museum head Robert Archibald — will finally be put to use.

The Museum’s board of trustees has granted a license to use the land at 5863 Delmar to St. Louis’ Loop Trolley Development District.

photo of frances levine
From video by Nancy Fowler

Two months into her role as president of the Missouri History Museum, Frances Levine is making her presence known as she works to move past the controversy surrounding her predecessor.

Former museum president Robert Archibald resigned in 2012 amid questions about his compensation and the purchase of contaminated land on Delmar Boulevard.

Levine spoke with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about the future of the museum.

Museum Governance and Transparency

Courtesy Missouri History Museum

From 1920 until 1933, it was illegal to manufacture, transport and sell alcohol in the United States. In response, an underground culture of speakeasies and bootleggers sprang up, where covert groups met in unmarked locations to drink homemade gin, listened to jazz and danced the Charleston.

In St. Louis, those looking for a drink met in cellars and caves, said Tracy Lauer, an archivist at Anheuser-Busch.  Saloons and taverns shut down across the city, many to never reopen.

Oscar C. Kuehn / Missouri History Museum

To mark the 100th anniversary of St. Louis’ incorporation as a city, an imposing array of “gasbags” assembled at the edge of Forest Park in 1909 for the St. Louis Centennial balloon race.

(A bunch of politicians were there, too.)

statue outside soldiers memorial
St. Louis Beacon file photo

The Missouri History Museum is one step closer to working with the historical collection of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.

Courtesy Missouri History Museum

Last month, St. Louis Public Radio reported on the discovery of the first physical evidence of the French Colonial settlers in St. Louis at the Poplar Street Bridge. In response, the Missouri History Museum wrote a post on its History Happens Here blog about works in their collection that demonstrate life in French Colonial St. Louis. The historic town of Ste. Genevieve, Mo.


Beginning this fall, St. Louisans will be able to see the actual document that made what is now Missouri part of the United States.

In 1803, the United States bought more 828,000 square miles of land from France for $15 million – roughly four cents an acre – in a deal known as the Louisiana Purchase.

The parcel immediately doubled the size of the country and eventually became part or all of 14 states from Louisiana to Montana, including Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas.

Woodrow Wilson
Harris & Ewing White House portrait

American governmental structure began to take on its present form during the Progressive Reform Era, 1900-1915. Progressives decried the waste and corruption in government at all levels and desired professional administration based on fixed principles.

Provided by Missouri History Museum

The Missouri History Museum’s “250 in 250” exhibition is on track to make history, itself.

The exhibit promises to break attendance records, with more than 54,000 people having already visited the display highlighting 250 images, people, places, objects and moments in St. Louis history. That’s more than half the number who came through "The Civil War in Missouri” – the most recent exhibit originated by the museum – during its entire 18-month run.