250 Years in the Making

 In Culture, Feature

The Missouri History Museum celebrates St. Louis’ sestercentennial with an ambitious “250 in 250” yearlong exhibition.


Packing 250 Years Of City History into one museum exhibition is no easy task. Just ask Jody Sowell. As Director of Exhibitions and Research for the Missouri History Museum, Sowell spearheaded the effort to create “250 in 250,” the museum’s yearlong, multimedia exhibition that kicks off Feb. 14 as part of the citywide effort to celebrate the founding of St. Louis. The History Museum will tell the city’s tale with 50 people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments and 50 objects that illustrate the great variety of stories and events that make up St. Louis’ 250 years. “We’re not trying to pick the most important in any of those categories,” Sowell says. “We’re showing the richness, complexity and diversity of the city’s history.”

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will encounter St. Louis history, from monumental moments and people—including Charles Lindbergh and Auguste Chouteau—to lesser known stories that will surprise and delight museumgoers. Making each section feel different was a high priority for museum staffers. The 50 moments section, for example, features stories from the museum’s oral history collection, in which recorded readings from diaries and letters give firsthand accounts of history as it happened, while the 50 people section will feature “politicians and poets, murderers and musicians, a cardinal and a clown,” says Sowell. “When people see this exhibit, they’ll realize how fascinating St. Louis history [is].”

The exhibition isn’t the only event the museum has on tap to celebrate the city’s anniversary. Throughout the year, special events include workshops, book signings, theater presentations, films, family activities, a night at the museum and more. At one of these events, “Step Inside a St. Louis Historic Image,” the magic of green screen technology will allow visitors to insert themselves into a historic St. Louis image, such as walking across the frozen Mississippi, and keep the photo for free.

“250 in 250” isn’t just an exhibition full of celebratory stories. It will feature some darker moments in local history, such as the St. Louis race riots, slavery and battles over discrimination. “Some of those stories will be inspiring, some will be depressing, but all will cause us to think,” Sowell says. “We talk about the tragedy as well as the triumph.” The director believes that celebrating the city’s anniversary serves as a sort of a “pause button,” where we can take a moment to reflect on our past, think about where we are today and make plans for the future. “250 in 250” opens Feb. 14, 2014, and runs through Feb. 1, 2015. For more info, visit mohistory.org.



“Chuck Berry’s Bandstand.” Irving Williamson, 1966


St. Louis Browns baseball uniform


Female Hospital, F.D. Hampson, 1900


St. Louis Browns baseball uniform


Photo credit: Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

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