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I, like thousands of other St. Louisans, was stunned by the news that Bob Cassilly had died. I found myself thinking about the various ways he had left his mark on the city, the many things he had built. I then thought about another great builder, the English architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed and built more than 50 churches in London after the great fire of 1666. Of these many churches, the most famous by far is St. Paulís Cathedral, where Sir Christopher was buried in 1723. The plaque by his crypt bears the same inscription in Latin that can be found on the floor beneath the dome of his cathedral: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. If you need a monument, look around you.
Directly overhead is the magnificent dome of St. Paulís, which is still one of the largest in the world, rising to a height of 365 feet. From the time it was completed 300 years ago until 1962 St. Paulís Cathedral was the tallest building in London. This monument to Sir Christopher Wren was and is indeed impressive.
Itís easy to imagine a similar plaque at the City Museum: If you want a monument to Bob Cassilly, just look around. Unlike the monument to Christopher Wren, Cassillyís monument is not found in the magnificence of the building, but rather in its contents. His monument includes the Enchanted Caves, the Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem, MonstroCity, the Baby Bob Ball Pit, the Worldís Largest Pencil and of course the infamous Puking Pig. But, even more than the delightful exhibits at The City Museum, the monument to Bob Cassilly consists of the gleeful looks these exhibits inspire on the faces of children and adults alike. His monument exists in the thousands of lives he enriched. It endures in the hearts, minds and attitudes that he changed.
When visitors to the City Museum venture outside its doors, they encounter another monument to Bob Cassilly. Up and down Washington Avenue they can see and experience thriving development and bustling urban street life, a stark contrast to the moribund scene west of downtown St. Louis before the museum opened 14 years ago. Bob Cassillyís monument extends throughout the City from his Turtle Park alongside Highway 40 to his incomplete Cementland on Riverview, where he lost his life.
The monument to Bob Cassilly is not limited to his many artistic creationsÖ whimsical, delightful, imaginative and provocative though they may be. No, the real monument to Bob goes beyond the things he made and is also more subtle. It includes the countless ways he broadened our horizons. Because of Bob, adults in St. Louis have felt the freedom to experience once again the joys of childhood. Because of him, St. Louis can rightly claim to be a Petri dish for artistic creativity, a place where artistic conventions are flouted along with dozens of other societal conventions. No longer do those with artistic inclinations have to look with envy towards the east or west coast. Itís cool to live in St. Louis. Bob Cassilly proved that it was.
Nearly 40 years ago Bob happened to be in St. Peterís Basilica in Rome when a madman named Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangeloís Pieta with a hammer. Bob was the first person to grab him and, with the help of others, wrestle him away from the priceless work of art.
The very same man who helped save the Pieta for posterity was the guy who brought the Puking Pig to the City Museum.
We need more people like him in St. Louis.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Tom Schlafly is an attorney in St. Louis.