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'250 in 250' tells many stories of St. Louis

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In “250 in 250,” a new exhibit at the Missouri History Museum celebrating St. Louis’ 250th birthday, the things that typically define this river city (like Stan Musial or steamboats on the Mississippi) share the stage with many lesser-known characters, places and items that have contributed to its heritage.

Take Eliza Haycraft, one of 50 people chosen to represent the city’s past. This illiterate prostitute went on to become a wealthy woman so beloved for supporting charitable causes that in 1871 thousands of St. Louisans lined the streets for her funeral procession.

The exhibit is divided into five areas with 50 items each: People, Moments, Images, Places and Objects.

Legible, well-written text accompanies portraits of the people chosen to represent St. Louis, such as Bob Cassilly, founder of the City Museum; Irma Rombauer, author of “The Joy of Cooking”; and Frankie Freeman, an African-American lawyer who helped end segregated public housing here.

The 50 Moments section draws listeners in with vivid eyewitness accounts of events, including an interview with Mel Stein, the policeman who foiled the Great St. Louis Bank Robbery of 1953. While describing the crime, Stein notes, “Now I know what it’s like for the hair to stand up on the back of your head, because that’s what happened to me.”

In Images, a 21-minute slide show with music by St. Louis’ own The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra showcases everyday moments in our city’s history: a woman tentatively crossing the frozen Mississippi River in 1903, a Depression-era family living in a metal shack, a family celebrating at the 2014 First Night party.

Interactive computer screens allow viewers to explore 50 places both existing and long gone, such as the Social Evil Hospital. The 50 Objects display includes artifacts St. Louisans love today reflected in the past, like a 1953 high school yearbook and an old Ted Drewes uniform.

What makes “250 in 250” so special is the way individual ideas or issues are interwoven throughout multiple sections. St. Louis’ penchant for partying, for example, is captured by the World’s Fair bench in Objects, the Fairgrounds in Places, a Charleston dance at City Hall in Images, and the Veiled Prophet in People.

This well-thought-out, enjoyable, free exhibit will remain open until Feb. 15, 2015. The Missouri History Museum is located in Forest Park.

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