In the pantheon of American explorers, there are few names as revered as Lewis and Clark. After securing the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson needed someone to map out the newly doubled national borders. The two U.S. Army officers were the men for the job. They set out into the great unknown in May of 1804, and except for the one Cracker Barrel they stopped at mid-journey, St. Charles was the last familiar piece of America they knew until their return trip in 1806.
As a testament to their momentous voyage, the Lewis & Clark Boat House & Nature Center houses full-scale replicas of the explorers' boats, half-scale 18th and 19th century buildings, and displays about the Native Americans that Lewis and Clark met along the way. Outside its walls, the museum also gives visitors a glimpse into the ecosystems that the pair explored. Visitors can walk on trails through the woods and wetlands to find herons, deer, and indigenous plants.
Fred M. Kemp, Sr. fell in love with the first Mercedes-Benz he ever bought. So he bought 40 more. Over the course of 30 years, his obsession created a collection of some of the rarest and most groundbreaking cars ever made. Upon his passing in 2004, he deeded his cars to the public for exhibition and education, founding the Kemp Auto Museum born to house his extensive collection.
Kemp's legacy includes one of Karl Benz's patent Motorwagens, which captivated the public's imagination when Mrs. Benz drove the device 112 miles to visit her mother in 1888. At the other end of the spectrum sits the 1960 Mercedes 220SE Cabriolet, whose 134-horsepower fuel-injected engine could have ferried Mrs. Benz to her mother's house in about an hour. Visitors can take either docent-led or audio tours to see the standing exhibit, or catch one of the touring special exhibits, featuring classic cars such as department-store Crosleys and classic engines such as Fred Flintstone's feet.
Though built as a private home in 1901, the Victorian mansion stood vacant for years—until its first children's hands-on exhibits opened to the public more than 30 years ago. Since then, The Magic House's curators have worked to engage children of all ages in learning and creative thought through a range of interactive multimedia exhibits. Their exhibits enable visitors to service cars, climb treehouse ladders, and go fishing in a child-centric community, or play with pumps and pipes in a waterworks playground. They can also climb a three-story fairy-tale beanstalk or use detective skills, fingerprint analyses, and secret passageways to solve mysteries.
Museum staffers also organize a range of themed birthday parties, during which attendees play and complete special tasks as time travelers, scientists, or fairy-tale nobility. Family programs encompass monthly visits from outside professional artists, and special events designed to get the whole family moving. Visitors can refuel for exploration at the on-site Picnic Basket Cafe, whose menu highlights whole grains and healthy ingredients.
Laclede's Landing Wax Museum has been scaring and astonishing sightseers since 1983. Behind its 1885 cast-iron façade, the museum harbors more than 200 life-size figures across five levels and 10,000 square feet of museum space. The display of doppelgangers includes presidents, superheroes, historic figures, and movie stars, allowing visitors to gaze upon scores of famous faces without taking the rigorous paparazzi entrance exam. In the Chamber of Horrors, fictional villains old and new, including Freddy Krueger and the Phantom of the Opera, test the mettle of onlookers. Patrons can stop by the museum's gift shop before leaving or replenish the energy spent arguing with the statues with the help of ice cream, hot dogs, and other snacks at the ice-cream parlor.
Something new is always happening at Saint Louis Science Center, where hundreds of staff members and volunteers ignite visitors’ passion for science and technology with educational exhibitions and special events. The center houses a four-story Omnimax Theater, a hands-on life-science lab and atrium, and a variety of constantly changing exhibitions that draw 1.2 million visitors every year. More than 9,000 stars revolve around the 80-foot domed ceiling of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, whose two levels of exhibits explore the future of space travel, life on the international space station, or Pluto’s bureaucratic search to regain planetary status.
The Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry traces its roots back to 1967, during the centennial celebration of Alaska becoming a territory of the US. At this time, it exhibited only six retired railroad cars that served as troop carriers during World War II and formed the Centennial Train, a traveling historical exhibit. Today, nearly 50 years later, the museum stays put at its 20-acre location that includes a train yard and an exhibit hall, where the staff collects, conserves, and restores artifacts relating to the state’s industrial history.