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Whether it’s rifling through some 200 tons of “recovered” treasure, visiting the home of America ’s 33rd President, examining furniture from the Ming Dynasty, digging for dinosaur bones, or paying a visit to one of the world’s most famous street corners—culture is an integral part of the “Heart of America.”
Kansas City is home to some of the nation’s finest museums. The American Jazz Museum, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Arabia Steamboat Museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Truman Presidential Museum & Library are a few of the local attractions which help make Kansas City a great place to visit and call home.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ranks as one of the most comprehensive art museums in the United States . Its permanent collection contains more than 28,000 items dating from 3,000 B.C. to the present. The museum is proud to have large collections of Asian art, European paintings and modern sculpture. The extensive Asian collection is one of the finest in the world. Ming Dynasty furniture, Chinese scroll paintings, funeral art and Japanese screens are part of the breathtaking collection. Paintings by some of the great masters like Monet, Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh, Rembrandt and Rubens as well as notable contemporary pieces by Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning are included in the collection. Also located on the grounds of the museum is the Kansas City Sculpture Park , which includes an impressive collection of sculptor Henry Moore's monumental bronzes.
In 1994, four 20-foot sculptures of badminton shuttlecocks were strategically placed over the 17-acre lawn of this magnificent museum. This outdoor sculpture project is by internationally renowned artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The sculptures are constructed from fiberglass and aluminum, and were conceived as a whimsical rendition of a badminton game recently in play. "Shuttlecocks" is a permanent exhibit for the museum.
The museum, completed in 1933, was named for William Rockhill Nelson, the founder of the Kansas City Star newspaper, and philanthropist Mary Atkins, a reclusive former school teacher who developed an appreciation for fine art late in life. Their estates greatly endowed the museum with money for the building and its magnificent art collection. Built out of solid stone by skilled artisans, the huge neoclassical structure sits on 20 landscaped acres and contains 58 galleries and period rooms.
Currently under way is a $200 million, 165,000-square-foot expansion, the first major capital program since the museum opened in 1933. The expansion features the Henry W. and Marion H. Bloch Gallery of Art, designed by Steven Holl of Steven Holl Architects, recently named by Time magazine as “ America ’s best architect.” The Bloch Building , slated to be open in June 2007, will double the museum’s current space for special exhibitions and showcase the museum’s masterpieces of modern and contemporary art, African art and photography. The first phase of the project, an underground parking garage, reflecting pool and entry plaza opened in August 2002.
Unlike most great museums, the Nelson-Atkins was not built on existing collections of art. When the museum started to build in 1930, it didn't even own an etching. This apparent disadvantage proved to be an enviable stroke of good fortune. In the depths of the Depression, the new museum was in a buyer's market, armed with plenty of money. The museum's buyers were able to procure excellent pieces at relatively low prices. Today the Nelson continues to share its treasures with art lovers by way of special exhibits, public lectures, gallery tours, classic films and musical performances.
Union Station, the nation’s second largest train station, first opened on Oct. 31, 1914. President Woodrow Wilson called the 380,000 square foot building the “great gate to the West.” The massive structure was originally built at a cost of $5.7 million and featured a Grand Lobby with a 94.5-foot ceiling and two 3,000-pound chandeliers.
A mix of determination and cooperation has breathed new life into Union Station. It reopened in 1999 following a $253 million restoration that was partially funded by the nation’s first bi-state sales tax. The one-eighth-cent sales tax did paid for just under half of the overall cost of the project. Private and federal funding covered the rest of the expenses.
The restoration added Science City at Union Station, an interactive and entertaining science facility. Science City includes of adventures—ranging from taking a simulated space flight at the Challenger Learning Center to discovering what makes the human body tick at Dr. Hale N. Hearty’s Family Clinic. Union Station is also home to several unique restaurants and shops.
Kansas City 's role in nurturing the development of jazz during the 1920s and 1930s is known throughout the world. Famous talents were often featured in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, an area that once extended to 12th Street . These famed musicians included the George Lee Orchestra featuring his sister Julia Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Bennie Moten and the incomparable Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. This is an area not only of historical significance, but of commercial promise as well. A tribute to the area's heritage is the Museums at 18th & Vine. The facility features the American Jazz Museum , the Horace M. Peterson Visitors Center , Gem Theater and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum . The Black Archives of Mid-America and the Mutual Musicians Foundation are also located in this historic district.
The American Jazz Museum is the first museum in the country devoted exclusively to the musical art form. The museum’s interactive exhibits tell the story of “ America ’s classical music” in an entertaining and educational format. In addition to in-depth exhibits on such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, the museum includes a discovery room where visitors can listen to jazz performances. A giant video wall projects rare early performances, while displays include such artifacts as a Charlie Parker saxophone and a Louis Armstrong trumpet. In the evenings, visitors enjoy performances at the Blue Room, a jazz club attached to the museum.
One of the highlights of the district is the Charlie Parker Memorial Plaza , located just west of the American Jazz Museum . The memorial is a “tribute to Parker’s pivotal influence on American’s classical music—jazz. Internationally renowned sculptor, Robert Graham, designed the 17-foot bronze statue of Parker. The base of the statue reads ‘Bird Lives.’ “
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is the centerpiece of a historical renaissance of Negro Leagues baseball throughout the nation. The Negro National League was founded in 1920 at the former Paseo YMCA, just a block from the museum. The facility re-creates the look, sound and feel of baseball in the height of the Negro Leagues. The exhibit covers the entire history of the Negro Leagues from their inception after the Civil War through their demise in the 1960s. The museum wraps around a replica of a baseball field with life-size bronze statues of some of the early players. A photo gallery captures the earliest days of both integrated and then segregated play. Authentic re-creations of uniforms and a multi-screen video presentation in which former players talk about what it was like to play in the Negro Leagues are part of the museum. Interactive computer stations test visitors’ knowledge about Negro Leagues players.
When the Steamboat Arabia struck a submerged tree on its fateful voyage up the Missouri River on Sept. 5, 1856, the boat was packed with close to 200 tons of cargo (including some 400 barrels of Kentucky ’s finest bourbon) and about 130 people.
The boat, which took months to build, sank in a matter of minutes. Luckily, its passengers and crew made it to shore, but almost all the Arabia ’s cargo was lost. That is until a group of Kansas City “treasure hunters” decided to attempt the unthinkable—dig up the legendary ship.
Over the years, the banks of the Missouri River shifted. This left the Arabia buried underneath a farmer’s crops. On Nov. 12, 1988, River Salvage Inc. broke ground above the Arabia and about four months later the group saw their dreams realized. They used bulldozers, backhoes, wells, well-drilling equipment and a 100-ton crane to carve out a 45-foot hole, the size of a football field.
The project turned out to be such a massive undertaking that a professional well-drilling company from Iowa was brought in to install a 65-foot irrigation system to pump close to 20,000 gallons of water a minute back into the Mighty Mo. Over the following months, anticipation grew as more of the ship was revealed. One of the first artifacts recovered was a small shoe caught within the timbers. Little did the group know that they were about to excavate the world’s largest collection of pre-Civil War steamboat cargo.
In the end, River Salvage Inc. recovered more than 200,000 frontier artifacts which included four thousand boots and shoes, ten thousand printed calico buttons, five million glass trade beads and tens of thousands of other priceless pieces. The artifacts are now displayed at the Arabia Steamboat Museum , located in the City Market.
Worlds of Fun, patterned after the Jules Verne’s adventurous tale, “Around the World in Eighty Days,” opened in 1973. The park features five themed continent areas: Americana , Africa, Europa, the Orient and Scandinavia . Worlds of Fun covers more than 175 acres with a wide variety of wild to mild rides, special ethnic food favorites and an outstanding live entertainment lineup with shows daily.
Tens of thousands of thrill seekers visit the park each year. Some of the most popular rides include Camp Snoopy , Detonator, Fury of the Nile, RipCord, Monsoon, Boomerang, Hurricane Falls , Mamba, Timber Wolf and the ThunderHawk.
Worlds of Fun unleashed the biggest expansion in the park’s history in 1998, the Mamba. The steel roller coaster—guaranteed to shock even the most seasoned pro—is one of the tallest, longest and fastest roller coasters in the world. The coaster reaches speeds up to 75 miles per hour with a mind blowing 205-foot first drop. The encore performance features a 184-foot drop on the second hill.
Located next to Worlds of Fun, Oceans of Fun is the Midwest ’s largest tropically themed water park with over 60 acres of wet and wild adventures. A million-gallon wave pool, seven water slides, two special children’s areas and an assortment of water sports and activities are featured in this water paradise. Oceans of Fun opened in 1982.
Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun make up one of the Midwest ’s largest entertainment complexes with over 235 acres of rides, shows and attractions. Cedar Fair, L.P., a publicly traded company, bought Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun in 1995.
In its 95th year, the Kansas City Zoo is in the midst of a renaissance with new leadership, a new management structure and a new master plan for its long-term future. The Kansas City Zoo has grown from a one-building operation on 60 acres to one of the largest zoos in the nation—spanning 202 acres with more than 800 animals. Although an urban zoo, it has another 250-plus acres available for future expansion.
The Deramus Education Pavilion and Sprint IMAX Theatre are located at the entrance to the Kansas City Zoo. This was the first IMAX Theatre in Kansas City and the first in any zoo worldwide!
A unique diversity of other museums can be found in the Kansas City area. There are museums that house everything from a collection of African-American artifacts at the Black Archives of Mid-America to one of the largest collections of miniatures at the Toy & Miniature Museum .
Airline History Museum : Visitors can take a close look at a fully restored Super G Constellation, Martin 404 and a Douglas DC-3 that is being restored. The museum features films, books, designer hostess uniforms, a cutaway of an 18-cylinder engine and other airline memorabilia.
Alexander Majors House : Alexander Majors was a co-founder of the Pony Express. The headquarters for that operation along with two other early freighting systems were located in this restored 1856 farmhouse.
American Royal Museum & Visitor Center : The center provides the opportunity to learn more about the American Royal Livestock, Horse Show and Rodeo and the role of agri-business. The museum features interactive displays, “hands on” exhibits and a film tracing the early beginnings of Kansas City .
American Jazz Museum : Located in the historic 18th & Vine District, the sights and sounds of jazz come alive at the first museum in the country devoted exclusively to this uniquely American art form. The museum’s interactive exhibits tell the story of “ America ’s classical music” in an entertaining and educational format.
Arabia Steamboat Museum : The largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world, see m ore than 200 tons of recovered “treasure” from the sunken 1856 steamboat Arabia including an international cargo of china, jewelry, hardware, cookware and food. Full-scale replica of the 171-foot boat deck features a 28-foot working paddle wheel.
Bingham-Waggoner Estate : A 26-room Victorian mansion in Independence , Mo. , where artist George Caleb Bingham once lived.
Black Archives of Mid-America : This archives and African-American museum contains one of the nation’s largest collections of black art, paintings, sculptures, and research on the Kansas City area and famous local black leaders.
Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center : A living museum built to honor the contributions of African American residents of the Kansas City area by providing an arena for cultural events. It is dedicated to the late city councilman, Bruce R. Watkins.
Fort Osage : This restored fort (1808-1827) overlooks the Missouri River and was the first U.S. outpost in the Louisiana Purchase . The site was chosen by Lewis and Clark. This living history museum allows visitors to view artifacts in the blockhouse and trading house, as well as the officers’ quarters and soldiers’ barracks.
Historic Liberty Jail/ Visitor Center : This historical site is where Mormon founder Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders were confined.
Jesse James Bank Museum : Located on the historic Liberty Square , the bank was the site of a famous bank robbery—executed by the infamous James Gang. Built in 1858, the bank contains a museum of Civil War and Jesse James memorabilia.
Jesse James Farm & Museum : Tour the restored home where Frank and Jesse James grew up. It features original furnishings, exhibits and Jesse’s original gravesite.
Johnson County Museum of History : This museum explores the history of Johnson County and provides an excellent look at the history of suburban living and the changing idealized visions of the "good life." It includes interactive exhibits and a restored 1950’s all-electric house.
Kansas City Museum : Science, technology and history come alive with hands-on activities and exhibits at the Kansas City Museum . The museum's permanent regional history displays feature re-creations of a trading post, log cabin, covered wagon, Indian lodge, blacksmith's shop and much more. Also houses an authentic 1910 Corner Drugstore and old-fashioned soda fountain.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art: The Museum’s permanent collection features works by internationally renowned contemporary artists. The museum regularly presents temporary exhibitions, installations, performance work, film and video series and other programs. The Kemper also features a restaurant and museum shop.
Lanesfield School Historic Site : This one-room school, built in 1869, has been restored to its 1904 appearance. A visitor center is also on this site.
Liberty Memorial World War 1 (WWI) Museum and Monument : Since 1926, this national memorial has honored those who served in WWI. The museum holds the preeminent collection of WWI historical materials in the United States as well as a tower offering spectacular views of Kansas City. In December 2006, museum officials will unveil a 30,000 addition--an interactive museum recognized as the National World War One Museum that will house the world's second largest collection of WWI artifacts. The museum is being designed by Ralph Appelbaum, the man behind the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.
This is a great museum for learning about WWI. The multimedia presentations are not the typical movie-only. They are innovative and will hold your attention, and even the attention of young teens.
If you ever wanted to learn more about WWI, this is the place to do it.
Mahaffie Farmstead and Stagecoach Stop : Farm was established in 1858. Existing home was built in 1865 and used as a stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail .
Missouri Town 1855, Lake Jacomo / Fleming Park : Old houses, a church, barn, blacksmith shop and other buildings have been moved to this site and reconstructed into a typical 1850s Missouri town.
National Agricultural Center & Hall of Fame : This unique museum is an educational adventure and historic experience surrounding rural America from the late 1800s to mid-1900s. The 172-acre complex includes a Museum of Farming , Farm Town USA , Rural Art Gallery , nature trail, narrow-gauge miniature train and more.
National Frontier Trails Museum : Traces the arduous and inspiring journeys of pioneers as they headed west on the Santa Fe , Oregon and California trails.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum : This museum in the historic 18 th & Vine District re-creates the look, sounds and feel of Negro Leagues Baseball. Videos presentations, exhibits and memorabilia chronicle the history and heroes of the leagues from their origin after the Civil War, to their demise in the 1960s.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art : One of America ’s most comprehensive general art museums, the Nelson features 30,000 items dating from 3000 B.C. to the present. Completed in 1933, this magnificent stone neoclassical structure is considered the most distinguished art museum in the Midwest .
Puppetry Arts Institute : A museum that preserves and promotes puppetry through education and entertainment for all ages through workshops, puppet shows, birthday parties, puppet appraisal, repair, restringing and puppet research library.
Science City at Union Station : Part of historic Union Station, Science City provides real hands-on fun, all in the name of science. Kids (of all ages) can dig for fossils or land a space shuttle in a NASA-style simulator.
Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site : The Rev. Thomas Johnson established this mission school for Indian children in 1839. The mission was a stopping point on the Santa Fe Trail for such figures as John Fremont and Francis Parkman.
Shoal Creek Living History Museum: This living history museum of 18 buildings, homes and log cabins (relocated from surrounding counties) dated from the 1800's is located in Hodge Park, north of downtown. Free to the public, open from dawn to dusk, walk the grounds to view buildings and during events ($5 per person, age 5 and under free) re-enactors bring the village to life with demonstrations and tell the story of a simpler time and place. shoalcreeklivinghistorymuseum.com.
St. Joseph , Missouri : This town was the starting point for the Pony Express in 1860. It is now home to a variety of historical sites including the Pony Express Museum, Military Heritage Museum, St. Joseph Museum, Doll Museum and the home where legendary outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back by one of his own gang members.
Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center : Permanent and changing exhibits of Croatian and neighborhood ethnic artifacts are housed in an 1873 Victorian home.
Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site: The home and studio of the late artist Thomas Hart Benton features self-guided tours of the home and studio where he resided from 1939 until his death in 1975.
Toy & Miniature Museum : This museum is a treasure house of antique toys and fine miniatures that delight young and old alike. The museum is located in a renovated 1911 mansion and features 33 rooms of antique toys, dolls' houses and world-class scale miniatures dating from the mid-1800s to the present.
Truman Home : This Victorian mansion built in 1885 was known as the summer White House during the Truman administration. Harry S Truman lived in the home from 1919 until his death in 1972.
Truman Presidential Museum & Library: Explore the life and times of this unique American president. See Truman’s legacy of leadership from World War I captain to president. Special exhibits and numerous programs illustrate the Truman presidency and the world he helped rebuild and shape after World War II.
Watkins Woolen Mill : This state historic site features a woolen mill built and equipped in 1860. A steam engine power plant, the Watkins home, smokehouse and cemetery add interest.
Wyandotte County Historical Museum : Exhibits features local and regional history, plus a 1903 horse-drawn fire engine.
Wornall House Museum : This authentically restored pre-Civil War home of one of Kansas City 's earliest settlers was used as a hospital during the Civil War Battle of Westport.