KC: Take trips through the history of WWI, Negro Leagues, jazz and Harry Truman’s life
National World War I Museum: No location this side of the Atlantic better covers the Great War, and what better time to explore it than the year of the conflict’s centennial. Films, weapons and moving maps are mixed with mockups of a battlefield and a trench. (Mud and stench not included.) This museum also offers a grand view of Kansas City from the top of the 217-foot Liberty Memorial tower.
(Extra, extra! Just down the hill is Union Station, which has a visiting King Tut exhibit complete with mock-up of the tomb as archaeologist Howard Carter found it.)
Admission: adults, $14; seniors and college students, $12; children, $8. 100 W. 26th St.; theworldwar.org
Negro Leagues Baseball and American Jazz museums: Before Jackie Robinson changed the majors and the nation’s pastime, there were the Negro Leagues, with all their rich history and stories. Jim Crow kept these players separate, and in unequal circumstances across the country, but it couldn’t keep them off their own fields, where their skills thrilled their fans. James Earl Jones narrates a film that shouldn’t be missed.
Adjoining is the Jazz Museum, which the New York Times called an “interactive paradise.” The intriguing collection includes instruments played by the greats, and you can hear them in Jazz Central, the music library. Stay around for the Blue Room, a nightclub incorporated into the museum, where you can listen to contemporary artists for free on Mondays and Thursdays, and generally $10 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Truman Library and Museum: We’ve always been wild about Harry over here, and the features at this Independence institution make it clear why. One new exhibit that will run through the summer is “Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear,” detailing the paranoia rampant during the early Cold War years. Don’t miss the permanent exhibitions, either; note the Thomas Hart Benton mural as you enter, and if you wish go commune with Harry and Bess where they lie today.
The Truman Home, also open, is less than a mile south.
Admission: adults, $8; seniors, $7; children 6 to 15, $3. 500 W. U.S. 24, Independence; trumanlibrary.org
Steamboat Arabia Museum: In 1856, the muddy waters of the Missouri River closed over the wreck of the Arabia, hiding for more than 100 years a treasure — not many coins but 200 tons of fascinating cargo of everyday items headed for retailers upstream. From clothing to guns to dishware, these items are still being amazingly preserved and added to the collection.
The search for the sidewheeler, the dig and the saving of history, piece by piece, is a story well told in this City Market location.
Admission: adults, $14.50; seniors, $13.50; children, $5.50. 400 Grand Blvd.; 1856.com/the-steamboat-arabia
| Darryl Levings, The Kansas City Star
St. Louis: The Gateway Arch and Missouri History Museum
The Gateway Arch, the city’s signature attraction, is hard to miss. Architect Eero Saarinen’s tribute to Thomas Jefferson greets you as you drive west on Interstate 70 into St. Louis. At 630 feet tall, it’s the highest point downtown.
Learn about the 21/2-year construction of the monument, opened in 1968, and ride the tram up to the top of the Arch to see the view. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children; gatewayarch.com.
At the base of the Arch, visit the free Museum of Westward Expansion to learn about the explorers, pioneers and Native Americans of the Old West. If you have time, take the two-block walk to the Old Courthouse, the site where slaves Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom in 1846.
At the Arch, you may see one of the 55-inch-tall ornamental cakes, installed around town. Local artists have decorated nearly 250 of these cakes for the Cakeway to West, the public art project that is part of the yearlong celebration of St. Louis’ 250th birthday. The cakes stand outside museums, arts venues, churches, schools and other significant spots. (To see a list of the cakes, visit stl250.org.)
The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park also marks the city’s anniversary with “250 in 250: 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Images, 50 Moments, 50 Objects,” a free exhibit that gives snapshots of key times in St. Louis. Another exhibit at the museum this year is “American Spirits,” a peek at the bootleggers, flappers and temperance workers during Prohibition. Admission to “American Spirits” is $10 for adults; free for children; mohistory.org.
| Jody Mitori, St. Louis Post-Dispatch