Like many of Missouri's caves, Meramec Caverns was mined for saltpeter to make gunpowder during the Civil War. One of the Caverns' biggest boasts is that it acted as a hideout for the outlaw Jesse James, however, aside from the claims by cave guides that his name is scratched on the wall of a chamber (which you can't visit of course), there is no evidence to support this. It is likely though that James did visit the cave to destroy the Union saltpeter plant located there while he was a member of a Confederate guerrilla group.
Lester Dill bought the property in 1933 and upon discovering new passages, opened it as a tourist attraction. Dill, a showman and promoter in the spirit of P. T. Barnum, advertised the cave on the roofs of barns throughout the midwest. Approaching farmers with a gold watch, a box of chocolates and life-time passes to the cave, he would get their permission to paint the ads. He also, depending on the account, either invented the bumper sticker or popularized them by pasting them on every car that visited the cave in the '30's.
Formerly known as the world's largest free-standing, self-supporting cave formation, the "Wine Table" was damaged or vandalized some years back requiring it to be cemented back together and supported by a pole.
Photo courtesy TripAdvisor.com
Uh, folks, could you step back behind the rail please?
I'm so glad technological improvements have reduced the camera to something smaller than your head.
Meramec Caverns is still open (although temporarily closed due to flooding) and is a throwback to the golden age of road trips. The gift shop is filled with rubber tomahawks and the tour is filled with corny humor. The tour ends with a light show and projection of the American flag on a cave formation called appropriately enough the "Stage Curtain" set to "God Bless America" sung by Kate Smith.