What are your plans for Presidents Day? Shopping for bargains? Good plan, since the third Monday in February is traditionally the second largest discount day after Black Friday. But maybe you’d like to spend a little time during your long weekend thinking about U.S. history or helping your kids connect their school lesson plans with some local landmarks. Here are St. Louis’s top five places to learn about presidential and American history.
Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63112
The Missouri History Museum is the Lou’s primary destination to connect with history. Ongoing exhibits about the World’s Fair and local St. Louis history provide a backdrop to rotating exhibits of national and international interest. Until June 2, the museum is housing a massive Civil War collection that highlights Missouri’s role in this monumental piece of American history. The museum also hosts lecture series and films for history buffs; visit www.mohistory.org to check on upcoming events. Admission to the museum is free, although some special exhibits have a fee.
The Old Courthouse
11 N. 4th St.
St. Louis, MO 63102
www.nps.govThe dome of the Old Courthouse is almost as recognizable to St. Louisans as the Gateway Arch. Local schoolchildren come in groups to act out the historic Dred Scott trials that helped launch the Civil War and learn about slave auctions that were held on the courthouse steps. But there’s more to the Old Courthouse than the Dred Scott trials. It was also where Virginia Minor fought in court for a woman’s right to vote in the 1870s. Today, the Courthouse is home to dioramas, films and exhibits that bring history to life. Admission is free.
Museum of Westward Expansion
11 N. 4th St.
Saint Louis, MO 63102
Even many locals don’t realize that an underground museum sits beneath the Gateway Arch. Exhibits here focus on the hardships faced by the original settlers as they migrated west across the continent. Displays include stagecoaches, buffalo, Native American artifacts, a Lewis and Clark film and other symbols of the pioneer spirit. The museum is operated by the National Parks Service, along with the Arch and the neighboring Old Courthouse. Admission is free.
The Griot Museum of Black History
2505 St. Louis Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63106
It’s impossible to talk about American history in the St. Louis area without including the history of African Americans. The Griot Museum has been educating visitors about African American history in St. Louis since 1997, when it opened as the Black History Wax Museum. The museum uses “life-size wax figures, art, artifacts and memorabilia” to tell the stories of African American history in general and of specific heroes like Josephine Baker, Dred and Harriet Scott and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $3.75 for children.
The Magic House: Star-Spangled Center
516 S. Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, MO 63122
Within St. Louis’s Magic House Children’s Museum, there is a section called the Star-Spangled Center that replicates several Washington environments for students. Kids can sit in a replica of the Oval Office and speak to the nation or confer with their Vice President. They can play trivia games about presidential history in the Presidential Rotunda, push bills through the Legislative Chamber or put on judge’s robes and preside over a courtroom. The Star-Spangled Center is designed to be a field trip for classes studying civics lessons or it can be used by individuals as an educational play environment. The Magic House is a massive exploratory museum in Kirkwood for children of all ages with a wide variety of hands-on educational exhibits. Admission is $9.50 for ages one and up.
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Lauren Haas is a writer who specializes in finding the fun! Lauren was the publisher of the St. Louis Area Family Gazette for eight years, and now writes freelance articles on St. Louis events and attractions, budget travel, arts and entertainment and fitness topics. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.