Thursday, May 4, 2017

Meramec Caverns

If you've ever driven down the Interstate 44 corridor in Missouri between St. Louis and Springfield (don't do it now, it's flooded), you are bound to have noticed the abundance of billboards and barn roofs touting Meramec Caverns in Stanton.

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

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.


  1. Having read Neil Gaiman's "American Gods," i now have renewed appreciation for tourist traps. If you haven't read it [no spoilers], the basic gist spelled out early in the book is that the gods (old and new) didn't die -- they still exist as long as someone, somewhere believes in them, but their power is diminished the less people do so. In America, places that we know of as tourist traps became that way because those places are power points in the country, and the both people and the gods are attracted to them. I just love the idea that we are unknowingly drawn to tourist traps as mere mortals because they are power centers for gods to tap into the zeitgeist of the area.

    1. I haven't read that, but I'm familiar with Neil Gaiman from my comic book days. I know tourist traps attract me. I've always wanted to take a drive down 44 and old Route 66 and stop at every tourist trap on the way.

  2. coincidentally, i've spent the past week or three working on a brochure for the Nevada leg of the Lincoln Highway Association. Nevada has its share of highway stops, like any state.

    1. Cool. Maybe someone will be scanning and posting your brochure 50 years from now.


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