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Jump the Shark

What could make the City Museum even better? Fifteen thousand sea creatures!


It seems nary a month goes by without something being written in these pages about the City Museum. While this may be perceived as laziness, it is in fact a testament to the never-ending wonder of the City Museum. The mammoth warehouse on 15th Street is the closest thing to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Every visit uncovers something new -- or at least unexpected -- in Bob Cassilly's dream factory. The City Museum's recent evolution includes the creation of MonstroCity (ridiculous!) and the opening of the Caves (sublime!). The question soon becomes not "What will the City Museum do next?" but "What won't the City Museum do next?"

The answer is astonishing, even by the museum's standards: the complete transfer of the St. Louis Children's Aquarium from Hanley Industrial Court to the City Museum, stingrays and all.

Loyal readers of the RFT (hi, Mom!) may remember Niles Baranowski's trip to the St. Louis Children's Aquarium last year (see the November 12 issue), wherein the wonder of the aquarium's sea life and educational mission was mitigated slightly by the lackluster, quasi-industrial surroundings. That problem has been completely nullified, thanks to the dream-world quality of the City Museum.

After the Children's Aquarium closed its doors to the public on May 31, its staff and employees of the City Museum spent the next eight weeks transporting the aquatic life (some 15,000 specimens) to the City Museum, an endeavor that came with a few risks. To safely move the crocodiles, the reptiles were first chilled to slow their metabolism and retard their feisty nature. As anyone who's ever tried to race through summer traffic with a box of rapidly thawing ice cream bars knows, some melting occurs in transit. With frozen novelties, this results in sticky car seats; in the case of crocodile-sicles, it results in a slightly logy/slightly pissed toothy reptile looking for someone to get even with. Fortunately, thanks to a quick-thinking Bob Cassilly (think Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin without the accent), no crocs were injured in the move -- nor were any people.

The crocs joined the sharks, stingrays, fish and other aquatic life in the 13,500 square feet of tanks and interactive exhibits that now fill the City Museum. And, in keeping with the City Museum aesthetic, when they say "interactive" they mean interactive. Stingray City allows visitors to feed and pet the creatures, and caves have been constructed so you can crawl "through" the tank, creating the illusion that you're in the water with the sea life. The Water Cycle exhibit encourages you to climb to the highest point of the World Aquarium to discover waterfalls and secret passageways.

And then there are the sharks. Sharks! (the exhibit) provides a hands-on experience with sharks (really!), along with educational material that dispels the myths built up around these fearsome predators. There's also a slide that shoots you directly over the shark tank -- if you dare! It wouldn't really be the City Museum if you didn't have the poop scared out of you while you were learning, would it?

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