The St. Joseph, Missouri, area has an embarrassment of interpretive riches, including museums and sites related to Lewis and Clark, the Pony Express, westward expansion generally, the Civil War, industrial development, ferry boats and steamers, the arts, and Jesse James, the latter having been shot by a fellow outlaw in a small house that’s now a museum. There’s also a museum covering hundreds of years (that’s what they claim) of psychiatric treatment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see everything and had to concentrate, of course, on my research topics.
Like many towns along major rivers in this (and other) parts of the country, St. Joseph developed its riverfront with a mind to industrial and agricultural production and trade, not a concern for wildlife, recreation, and beauty, which we seek today. The result is a waterfront that’s crowded with warehouses, docks, and thoroughfares, but also like many Missouri river towns today, the city has managed to squeeze in some green space and pathways along the river.
The Missouri River at St. Joseph. This peaceful photograph is misleading: behind me, indeed, virtually overhead, are multiple levels of Interstate 229 with the traffic roaring by.
I went to a museum of local history housed in a very impressive Victorian mansion, but, oddly, they had already removed the special exhibit chronicling Lewis and Clark. I say oddly because we’re still in the bicentennial and the expedition had to return along this same route in 1806. You’d think they’d want to wring every last bit out of the event!
South of St. Joseph is Lewis and Clark State Park on the shores of an oxbow lake where the expedition camped. Clark called it “Gosling Lake” due to its abundance of baby geese, but it has had various names since. There is a small town on the edge of the park called Lewis and Clark Village, the first such town I’ve seen actually bearing the name of the expedition.
Example of sign at Lewis and Clark State Park (MO).
Across the river in Atchison, Kansas, is a newly developed (or refurbished) park with new interpretive signs, landscaping, and pathways. I found that all the way along the river in both Kansas and Missouri, communities large and small had spruced themselves up in such a way.
Banner on lampposts in Independence Park in Atchison. This banner is flat; the crease in the flag is part of the design. It's also interesting and different, as banners go, because it includes no words.
Leavenworth, also, has gussied up, with a couple of different parks featuring L&C “signage” or exhibits. In the park called Leavenworth Landing is a small building housing a computerized touch screen upon which visitors can read all sorts of things about the expedition. The same touch screen was set up in other sites in Kansas as well.
Leavenworth Landing. The touch-screen interactive exhibit is in the small building in the background.
Older sign flanked by new signs in Riverfront Park in Leavenworth. I like it when communities leave their old signs up for comparison. This scene reminds me of sociologist Peter Berger's definition of memory: "reiterated acts of interpretation."
As an aside, I approached Leavenworth from the north, which gives the traveler an impressive view of the grand and intimidating maximum-security Federal Penitentiary. It looks like an enormous museum itself, which is what I thought it was for a moment, and is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
Next: Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come!
[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2005.]