6 St. Louis Spots History Lovers Shouldn’t Miss

A lot of visitors to St. Louis may catch a Cardinals game, take in the world-class zoo, or ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. But after Andrew took a look at the history of St. Louis in some recent programs, we decided to delve a little deeper and bring you some of the best spots for history buffs to visit in The Gateway to the West.

Forest Park

360px-Forest_Park,_St_LouisYou’d never know it to look now, but the vast expanse of green in St. Louis was a bustling city for a while in 1904. Forest Park was home to the 1904 World’s Fair, which included 12 temporary exhibition palaces and one permanent building known collectively as the “Ivory City.” Today, you can still see that permanent structure when you visit the St. Louis Art Museum, which it houses. Park volunteers even lead visitors on a “Then and Now” tour that takes a look at some of the park’s extensive history. And Civil War buffs will find several statues and memorials of interest to them, as well.


Missouri_Botanical_Garden_-_Seiwa-enMissouri Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is an oasis in the city, and is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States. History buffs will also be interested to know that it’s a National Historic Landmark. The garden was established in 1859, and covers nearly 80 acres within St. Louis. It includes a wide variety of gardens — including a recreation of an English Woodland Garden, and a Japanese Garden with lawns and a walking path around a central lake. Its Climatron dome also houses a simulated rainforest.



Cahokia Mounds

Monks_Mound_in_JulyBefore the great city of St. Louis sprang up — even before Columbus the Americas — another great city dominated the Midwest. Today, visitors can see what’s left of that city and learn about its history at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois. Archaeologists believe Cahokia was actually larger than London in 1250, and was the biggest city in the Americas north of Mexico. Today, you can learn about the impressive infrastructure that helped make such a large city possible, and find out more about the people who lived there.


800px-Lacledeslanding2640Laclede’s Landing
St. Louis locals know Laclede’s Landing primarily as a home for the city’s nightlife. But during the day, when the area is less crowded, the brick-paved streets tell the story of St. Louis history. French merchant Pierre Laclede Leguest landed in the area as he looked for a spot to build a trading post in 1763. That trading post eventually grew into the city of St. Louis. Today, history buffs can use their smartphones to follow along with a free walking tour that points out historical and architectural highlights of the area.


Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 12.28.53 PMThe St. Louis Arch gets the glory, but what’s underneath it may be even cooler. The museum beneath the Arch, operated by the National Park Service, examines the history of St. Louis as a “Gateway to the West.” That includes a look at the westward expansion that began in earnest with the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. For those interested in that world-changing journey, there may be no better place to soak it all in.


Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 12.29.39 PMMissouri Civil War Museum
One of the newest attractions in St. Louis is a Civil War historian’s dream. It’s the Missouri Civil War Museum, located in Historic Jefferson Barracks, the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee trained there, making it an ideal home for a museum that examines and honors the men who fought the Civil War. The museum focuses on Missouri’s unique role in the war, as a central battleground over the political question of slavery that helped fuel the war.

Five Places to Find Columbus in the New World Today

In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue. And ever since, people have been building monuments to him. In fact, one Internet site has a list of nearly 600 monuments to the European explorer.

Since we’re celebrating Columbus Day this week, we thought it would be interesting to help you find a few of the best Columbus monuments and other Columbus-related sites across the American Countryside.

Fort_San_Cristóbal_guerite,_San_Juan,_Puerto_RicoSan Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is one of the first places Columbus encountered, on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Puerto Rico is a great place to take a relatively inexpensive Caribbean vacation, and there’s still lots of history to see there. The sites include a huge stone fort built to withstand attack from both the sea and land. The fort is open to the public, and gives a glimpse of the world as Columbus experienced it hundreds of years ago.

640px-Salt-River-Bay-1Salt River Bay, St. Croix
Speaking of the world Columbus inhabited, you can get a great look at it in its natural form at Salt River Bay in St. Croix. People lived in Salt River Bay for 1,500 years before Columbus showed up, but to this day, you can see the natural ecology of the place. A national historic park preserves marine estuaries and mangrove forests. And you can also see the remains of a fort built by French explorers in the 1600s. You can also see the precise place where European explorers met and clashed with natives of St. Croix.

Santa_Maria_43215Columbus, Ohio
Columbus might never have visited Ohio, but one of the best places in the country to connect with his voyages is in the Ohio city named for him. For the 500th anniversary of the explorer’s first visit, Columbus, Ohio, built a 98-foot-long replica of the Santa Maria, one of his ships. Today, tourists can walk through the ship, and even book events there. The real Santa Maria never made it back to Spain, crashing off the coast of Haiti before the return trip.

Columbus_and_AOL_Time_WarnerColumbus Circle, New York City
One of the busiest spots in the world features one of the most well-known monuments to Columbus. “Columbus Circle” is a traffic circle with a marble statue of Christopher Columbus set atop a massive column. It was erected in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his voyage. Tourists in New York City almost always stumble across the monument, even when they’re not looking for it, because it’s right in the heart of New York City at the edge of Central Park and just north of the Theater District.

800px-Inner_Harbor_from_the_Baltimore_AquariumBaltimore’s Inner Harbor
Another of the largest monuments to Columbus is at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Carved out of Italian marble, the monument was dedicated in 1984. It includes intricate scenes of Columbus’s voyage and arrival in the New World, carved into the side. The statue is set in the middle of a larger area known as Columbus Piazza, dedicated to the memory of the explorer’s voyages.

Six D.C. Sites to Visit During a Government Shutdown

I was just in the nation’s capital gathering audio for our daily broadcasts.  For tourists, the government shutdown means many of the sites they planned to see are now closed.  However, there is still plenty to see and do in the D.C. area.  Here are my ideas for a great visit to the city.


guardsArlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the military, remains open. That means a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns should be on any visitor’s list of planned activities in Washington. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held every hour on the hour at this time of year.   You can get more information about a visit to the cemetery at its website. And the cemetery even has a mobile app that allows visitors to locate specific grave sites on the grounds during their visit.


220px-The_Octagon_House_-_Washington,_D.C.Two Executive Mansions.  Let’s face it, the chances of you getting inside the White House were slim anyway, so go to Lafayette Park (on the north side of the White House) and enjoy the view.  The last time I was there, I watched the arrival of a visiting head of state.  Just a couple of blocks to the southwest, you can visit the Octagon House, the executive mansion used by President Madison after the British burned Washington in 1814.  The American Institute of Architects owns the building, but call ahead and they can usually give you a tour. And for an added bonus, the Octagon House is supposedly one of the most haunted in the Washington DC area.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.09.50 AMMt. Vernon is privately owned and still open.  When I spent more time in D.C., I actually had an annual pass to Washington’s home.  I loved to go there and simply walk the grounds.  The home on the Potomac and its museum are great to see anytime of the year.

You might have seen that the parking lots at Mt. Vernon were briefly barricaded by overzealous federal employees, even though the site isn’t owned by the federal government. Mt. Vernon has gone to great pains to make sure everyone knows that was just a fluke — updating their website to include the words “We’re Open!” right on the front of the page.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.19.11 AMThe International Spy Museum provides a glimpse at the secret world of espionage.  There are lots of artifacts, hand-on displays and you can even play the role of a spy and compete against others in your group to successfully complete your mission.

The museum isn’t just about real-life spies, either. Right now, they have an exhibit called Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, where you can learn more about the bad guys who’ve squared off against James Bond on the Silver Screen.


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.24.07 AMAlexandria, Virginia is an easy metro ride from the city.  Get off at King Street station and walk around Old Town.  Many sites in this city are still open.  Log on to get maps for walking tours and hours of these sites.  It’s also a great place to catch lunch or enjoy a nice dinner along the Potomac. The local tourism bureau even has a list of free things to do in Alexandria.


10111735546_74f4f01349_qThe main sites are closed but…remember places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument are, after all, outdoors.  So while there are fences keeping people from going “inside” the site, you can still get a great view, albeit from a bit farther back.  It’s also a great time to take a bus tour of the city, or a boat tour on the Potomac.  The guides will help fill in the pieces you can’t currently see.


Remember, some of these sites do charge admission, others are free, but ALL are open and are worth a visit, even when the government eventually does reopen for business.

Five Texas Hotspots for JFK History Buffs

Today’s Dallas is a busy, growing city. But 50 years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it remains inextricably linked to a tragic piece of American history. History buffs, conspiracy theorists, and others visit the area in remembrance of that day. Here are some of the locations in an around Dallas that still draw visitors a half-century later.

180px-Hotel_TexasThe Hotel Texas
The Hotel Texas in nearby Fort Worth — now owned by Hilton — is where President and Mrs. Kennedy spent their last night before the assassination. Their suite, number 850, is no longer there because of renovations to the building. But visitors often ask for room 808, in approximately the same location.

President Kennedy delivered a speech outside the Texas Hotel during his trip, and attended a Chamber of Commerce breakfast before departing for Dallas and that fateful motorcade.

SchoolbookDepositoryThe Texas School Book Depository Building
The brick building from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his fatal shots is home today to The Sixth Floor Museum. The museum is dedicated to chronicling the assassination of JFK, interpreting the events and locations of that day, and putting modern Dallas in the context of those historical events. The museum should be one of the first stops of any serious student of history interested in information about the JFK assassination.

The museum is home to more than 40,000 items related to JFK and the assassination. They include photos, documentary films, and interactive exhibits. Visitors can also see the corner window from which Oswald fired his gun.

800px-Dealey_Plaza_2003Dealey Plaza
There was a time when Dealey Plaza was just an ordinary city park. That changed forever when President Kennedy was shot as his motorcade passed in front of it. The entire area was named a National Historic Landmark in 1993. That designation allows the protection of the area from further development. Even many of the street signs and street lights in the area are the ones that were being used in 1963, setting the plaza apart as a sort of time capsule that captures the time and place of the assassination. Even the spot on the street where JFK was first hit is marked for visitors.

320px-Grassy_Knoll_2003The Grassy Knoll
Actually a part of Dealey Plaza, The Grassy Knoll has taken on an identity of its own. Based on the fact that many witnesses claimed to hear shots fired from that direction — instead of the Texas Book Depository — the area has been fertile ground for conspiracy theories that pin the blame for JFK’s assassination on someone other than Oswald.

Nearby, visitors can see a plaque marking the location where onlooker Abraham Zapruder filmed the assassination, creating the footage that provided much of the information for investigators about the events that day.

800px-TexasTheatreThe Texas Theatre
Not long after the assassination, police officers learned that a man had slipped into The Texas Theatre without paying. More than a dozen officers stormed into the building and found Lee Harvey Oswald inside. The movie playing at the time? War Is Hell.

Despite the threat of fire and foreclosures over the years, visitors can still see The Texas Theatre, and even catch a movie there, and see the place where Oswald was sitting when the police rushed in on him. Historians and movie buffs are still working to raise the money to renovate the theater to its 1963 state.

Beyond Bismarck: Five Fun Visits in North Dakota

Some may think North Dakota has few places to explore. I have found quite the opposite. While cities such as Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck hold plenty of interest, here are five places I love in the Dakota countryside. Remember, every place I discuss is a place I’ve visited, so I always provide my personal opinion.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.55.34 AMThe Welk Homestead and Sitting Bull Burial Site
You could say these are “a one and a two” on the list. Sorry for the pun, but if you remember Lawrence Welk and his orchestra, it’s worth the time to visit the old homestead near Strasburg to see how it all began. Just a few miles away (but a long ways due to finding a crossing of the Missouri River) is the Sitting Bull Burial State Historic Site. Some say he’s actually buried in Mobridge, SD. Regardless, you can come here to learn more about the Native American leader.

320px-Enchanted_highway_fishEnchanted Highway (Regent to Gladstone)
This 32-mile stretch of highway will take you by the giant metal sculptures created by Gary Greff. Just look up some of the photos on the web. They are amazing, and a fun route on your way to/from your next location. (Check out the Real North Dakota site for a virtual tour of the highway.)
Theodore_Roosevelt_National_ParkTheodore Roosevelt National Park (Medora)
There are multiple units of this park, but most visit the site just off of the interstate. The area may remind you of the South Dakota badlands. Young Teddy spent 400 days of his life here. You can still see his cabin. Roosevelt once remarked, “If it were not for my time in North Dakota I would not have become president.” This is one of my favorite places in the nation, let alone the state. You can get more information about the park by following its Facebook page.
Captains'_Room_at_Fort_MandanFort Mandan and Fort Union
These locations are over 100 miles apart, but both are on the route taken by the explorers Lewis & Clark. The forts tell the story of their journey, but also the story of life before and after their visit. These are amazing locations to explore, especially for lovers of history.
Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.54.07 AMHatton-Eielson Museum (Hatton)
I must confess, I’d never heard of Carl Ben Eielson before coming to Hatton, ND. We could all learn much from the story of small-town boy who furthered himself through education and a love of flying. He accomplished a flight over the North Pole in 1928 and helped open Alaska to air travel. Come here to see one of his planes and learn more about the region.

Visiting St. Joseph, Mo.

We’ve spent a lot of time in historic St. Joseph, Missouri, over the past week. If any of our shows piqued your interested and have you planning a visit, we have some resources that can help out.

Your first stop should probably be the St. Joe Travel and Tourism Site. From there, you can find information on museums, hotels, restaurants, and anything else you need.

Of course, you’ll want to check out the Pony Express Museum, and the museum that sits in the home that was once occupied by notorious outlaw Jesse James.

And of course you can find more information on Andrew’s article, The St. Joe Seven: Great Experiences In One of the Midwest’s Most Historic Towns.

The St. Joe Seven: Great Experiences In One of the Midwest’s Most Historic Towns

All this week, The American Countryside is in St. Joseph, Missouri. I’ve been around St. Joe for most of my life and here are seven great things to experience there. I’m betting that even if you live in the area, there are items on this list you need to take time to experience for yourself!

The Pony Express and Jesse James are the two sites for which most people know St. Joe. It’s true, both the James Home and the Pony Express stables are not to be missed, but what many people unfortunately miss is the Patee House Museum. It was the headquarters for the Express and sits adjacent to the James Home. The Patee House is consistently ranked as one of the top museums in the Midwest for its collection of artifacts. It is a real gem.

454x326_sportsRec_3St. Joseph’s Parkway System is too often taken for granted by locals. They may not realize St. Joe was WAY ahead of its time when the 26 mile system was designed in 1918. It’s today on the National Register of Historic Places. You can enjoy a drive, bike or walk along its beautiful winding roads and trails.

Tranquilizer Chair 21000 Places to See Before You Die ranked St. Joe’s Glore Psychiatric Museum among it’s chosen stops. The Glore is very interesting and has plenty of exhibits to explore. HOWEVER, don’t miss out on other museums under the same roof! Part of the St. Joseph Musuem complex, you will find an extensive Native American Artifact collection (all for the same admission price with the Glore) and a current temporary exhibit on Civil War Medicine.

slide08Mt. Mora Cemetery is a fascinating stop. I used to never give any thought to “touring” a cemetery. This one is worth the time. The burial architecture here is not to be missed. The site dates to 1851 and there is an annual cemetery tour held every fall in which “residents” of the cemetery come to life to tell their story (in a respectful and “non-spooky way).

exterior_signBilled as St. Joe’s oldest restaurant, The Old Hoof and Horn has been around since 1896. It sits adjacent to the St. Joe stockyards. While most of the old stockyards are gone (but still operating) the mighty Stock Yards Exchange Building still stands as an icon overlooking the yards and the Hoof and Horn.

chiefs-12The Kansas City Chiefs now call St. Joe home for a few weeks every July and August for their training camp. If you have even a mild interest in sports, it’s worth the time to stop by and see some of the NFL greats and some NFL hopefuls put in their workouts at Missouri Western State University.

index1Along the river you’ll find some great stops as well. Ft. Smith Park is new to visitors, but long on history. The recently uncovered earthworks date to the Civil War. It offers great views of the river and city. Meanwhile, along the banks of the Missouri you’ll find the state-of-the-art Remington Nature Center which is great for young and old alike.

Seven Great FREE Places to Visit with the Family this Summer

Here are seven places my family and I have discovered in the American Countryside listening area that are not only fun to visit, but also free. The list isn’t ranked, because any of them might be a great fit for you and your family!

275px-Bob_Waldmire_van_at_Route_66_MuseumPontiac, Illinois
Pontiac boasts four free museums: the Route 66 Museum, the Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum, the International Wall Dog Museum (the billboard art once painted directly onto the sides of buildings and barns), and the Livingston County War Museum. Plus you can see their historic swinging bridges and do a “Looking for Lincoln” self-guiding tour of famous sites associated with our 16th president.
The Money Museum in Kansas City
925_Grand-former_Federal_Reserve-KCMOThis is one of two such museums (the other in Denver) operated by the Federal Reserve. You can visit the cash vault with millions of dollars inside (you’ll be behind the glass but “in” the vault), plus see many interactive exhibits that are fun for both kids and adults. The Kansas City location is also next to Union Station, which often has a mix of free and paid exhibits for visitors.
live_bird_at_milford_nature_center1_mediumMilford Nature Center & Fish Hatchery, Junction City, KS
Almost like a zoo–but better. You’ll find a large variety of animals both indoors and outdoors, interactive exhibits, hiking trails along Milford Lake, tours of the fish hatchery, and a great playground to boot. Don’t forget nearby Ft. Riley with the U.S. Cavalry Museum and 1st Infantry Museum, both free of charge.
TropicalIllinois State Museum, Springfield, IL
The lower level is full of great interactive exhibits for the kids. The main floor has displays on a wide range of state-minded exhibits, and the upper floor is an art gallery. This free museum is also close to many other museums and sites in downtown Springfield, some of which are free as well.
DisplayMustardMuseumMtHorebWI2007National Mustard Museum, Middleton, WI
Barry Levenson was the assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin. Then, in 1986, after his beloved Boston Red Sox lost the World Series, he had a vision to begin collecting mustards. The new found passion for mustard led to the creation of the National Mustard Museum. Meeting Barry is half the fun, and visiting his free museum is quite a treat as well. Middleton is a suburb of Madison, so you’ll find plenty to do in the area.
State Capitols: Indianapolis, IN and many more
State capitols in almost every state are a great option for a family outing. The one in Indianapolis just happens to be the first one we hit as a family, at the request of our five-year-old son, while I was in town for a convention. Capitol buildings are grand structures that are fun to explore. Many offer free museums somewhere within the building. They also serve as a place to begin to learn about the workings of government. If you go during Spring, Summer, or Fall, the grounds are often well kept and can offer a fun place to relax, or in some cases, even eat a picnic lunch.
2007-06-04-Gothic_HouseAmerican Gothic House, Eldon, IA
American Gothic by Grant Wood is said to be the second most-recognized painting in the world next to the Mona Lisa. The home in Eldon is the backdrop for that famous painting, which actually used Wood’s sister and his dentist as the models for the picture. The visitor center is free of charge. They even supply various sizes of overalls and dresses for people to put on. You can then take your own picture in front of the famous home and become your own stars in the famous picture (all for free). Or bring your version of clothing and make a Christmas photo or another image you send to friends. The center does a nice job of creating activities for the kids as well.