Saint Louis media enthusiast Frank Absher is outside polishing the doorknobs of what was once the Third Christian Scientist Church at 3504 Russell Blvd as I pulled in front of the building’s front doors. Turns out I was the first visitor on a Sunday morning to check out a brand new Saint Louis media exhibit featuring promotional artwork from a local radio legend, Richard Miller.
The first thing you notice as you walk into the former church (besides lack of air conditioning) are two cool spiral staircases that lead to an upstairs sanctuary where worshipers had gathered for services since it opened in 1911. Today, the pews are empty and the only thing remotely close to a joyful noise is the hum of the over-sized fans that sit on the bottom steps.
Unlike most museums I visit – this one isn’t quite ready for prime time but the potential exists for a terrific showcase and rental space with the right refurbishments. Having said that -the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum here in Saint Louis is certainly still worth a visit.
The museum’s current main exhibit is small but awesome – featuring original documents related to the Wright Brothers first flight and the scenarios the men found themselves in after their initial success with air travel. Some hand written notes, others from typewriters (remember those?) showing eye witness accounts of the first successful flight. Other documents include correspondence regarding early military use of planes or “flying machines” as the early patent lists their breakthrough invention.
This new Saint Louis museum is one of 14 locations across the country that display the massive script and document collection of Dr. David Karpeles. Karpeles and his wife Marsha – both known as wealthy, successful real estate magnates started the string of museums in 1983. David began collecting historic documents decades ago and has amassed what they call the “largest private holding of important and original manuscripts and documents”
The documents rotate between the different museum locations and include pieces like Babe Ruth’s first contract, the piece of paper that Einstein first marked “E=MC2” and the first printing of the Ten Commandments. Other prizes include a note from Charles Lindbergh, the first Thanksgiving proclamation and Webster’s Dictionary.
For local flavor – the Saint Louis Media Archives has a small room on the main floor that will house a rotating collection of media history. As I mentioned, the current exhibit features promotional posters from Richard Miller who owned radio stations in the area including KADI FM which went through many transformations over the years Miller owned the 96.3 FM signal. including an easy listening format (Joy 96) and an oldies format (Juke Box 96).
Mr. Absher is known by many as the historian of Saint Louis media (and also a fine door knob polisher). He’s excited about the prospects of this old building but admits the future of museums may be in digital form. While on a quick tour we noticed areas of the building in need of serious repairs but it’s also easy to picture what the future could hold for this property.
The local media exhibit, while small, was great fun for me personally as the very first radio station I remember listening to was Juke Box 96. In fact, the first time I was ever on the radio was a recorded phone call I made to the afternoon DJ, Jackie McCoy, requesting one of those classic 60’s songs. As time went on – I was a regular caller into the station asking for requests. I’m more than certain I was a pain in the butt for many that worked there – but it was my first taste of radio and it changed my life. Seeing the sign that used to hang over the receptionist’s desk in the station lobby brought back such great memories of my own childhood.
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum is free – just like the other locations around the U.S. that include re-purposed buildings in second tier cities like Tacoma, Santa Barbara, Shreveport, and Fort Wayne. The museum’s official website includes many scans of the documents in Dr. Karpeles collection: http://www.rain.org/~karpeles/
For more information about the Saint Louis Media Archives – you can visit their website: http://stlmediahistory.com/