A 5-year-old in a striped navy sailor top stepped behind a cash register. He surveyed his customer’s purchase, a slice of bread and bowl of macaroni and cheese.
“That will be 11 cents,” Santana Martinez told Antoinette Martinez, who also happens to be his mom.
The mother and son from Belleville completed their transaction beneath an International Cafe sign. The child-size counter is in the Forest Park section of History Clubhouse, a new area for children at Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The charming set-up takes families back to the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. They can dress up, create artwork to be hung at the Palace of Fine Arts and serve fair fare.
Who can resist fun play food? Not the kids on hand that day, scooping pink ice cream and pouring imaginary tea from child-size pots.
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Antoinette, a Mary Kay representative, gave her son a choice of places to visit Tuesday morning. He chose the History Museum.
“It was the sweetest thing,” she said. “His dad (Ralph) loves history. This is our first time.”
Santana’s favorite part?
“All of it,” said the kindergartner who will attend Zion Lutheran School in Belleville.
That’s just what Lindsay Newton likes to hear.
Lindsay, who grew up in Columbia, helped design History Clubhouse, the museum’s first long-term exhibition created just for kids. It’s a place where families can step back in time, discover local history and have some fun doing it.
The free exhibit, open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is divided into four St. Louis-area places — downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River, Cahokia Mounds and Forest Park.
“We knew we wanted it to be about St. Louis history, and be different than other places in the region,” said Lindsay, 31, youth and family programs manager. “We definitely have a lot of places in St. Louis that are kid-friendly. We wanted a good mix.”
Museum staff spent about five years researching how children learn and how best to serve them. They invited input, had families vote on which St. Louis places they would like to see represented and even did a prototype.
“That offered an opportunity for feedback,” said Lindsay. “What’s working? What’s not working? We tweeked a lot of small things.”
For example, a small puppet theater in the prototype was not related to anything, but proved extremely popular.
“We saw how kids liked puppets, so we created a World’s Fair puppet theater,” said Lindsay. “The puppets are animals that you would see in Forest Park today.”
Except for one. A gargoyle puppet named Glory is the Clubhouse mascot. She’s based on a gargoyle at the museum entrance. On Saturdays, a lifesize Glory visits children at the Clubhouse.
The first stop in History Clubhouse is downtown. Families walk through a trolley with windows that show black and white photos of a downtown from long ago. They pass by giant recreated St. Louis buildings, including Union Station. The structure features a Lionel model train set from the 1920s. A table full of blocks invites kids to create a cityscape. The handsome wood blocks represent such places as the Metropolitan Square building, Thomas Eagleton Courthouse, Union Station and the Gateway Arch.
As Millstadt brothers J.T. Milton, 5, and Owen, 3, played with blocks, their grandpa, Joe Milton, noticed a giant, bold mural by St. Louis artist Cbabi Bayoc behind them. It included the Gateway Arch, the Delmar Loop trolley and Soulard Market.
“Their other grandparents have a place in Soulard Market,” he said. “It’s Scharf Farms.
“What are they selling now?” he asked his grandsons.
“Peaches and blueberries,” said J.T., who will be a kindergartner at Millstadt Primary Center.
“We knew there was a kids section, but didn’t know it would be this nice,” said Joe, of Swansea.
He and wife Karen take their grandkids on outings they call “Field Trip Tuesdays” during the summer. They’ve visited the zoo, Science Center, Cahokia Mounds and Excel Bottling Co. in Breese. Food stops have included CiCi’s Pizza and Dairy Haven in Caseyville.
The family’s next stop at History Clubhouse was a paddlewheel in the Mississippi River section. The boys took turns cranking the wheel, alongside a sign that read “You be the steam engine. Turn the crank to drive the paddle wheel.”
“Kids love anything transportation,” said Lindsay. “They were asking a lot of questions about transportation in St. Louis history. We incorporated a steamboat as well as trains. And the trolley. St. Louis used to have lots and lots of trolleys.”
Lindsay, a 2002 Columbia High School grad, earned an art history degree from Washington University, then completed a master’s in child and family studies, focusing on how children and families interact and work best. She liked field trips to museums when she was growing up, and is as enthused about History Clubhouse as its visitors.
“The Mississippian people had a really significant history,” she said, stopping at the Cahokia area that focuses on the native Americans who lived here more than a thousand years ago. “They are a little bit lesser known than the American Plains Indians. The Mississippian people had this vast village set up. They hunted, fished, grew crops. Kids love this section.”
What’s not to like? There’s a thatched hut, a harvest of play food, a hollowed out canoe to climb in and a magnetic fishing pond. Pick up a rod with a magnet on the end and see what you can catch. Or pick up a couple circles of rope and play a game of ring toss.
That’s what Angela Faul did with son Sam, 5.
“We have been here a lot,” said the St. Louis mom holding daughter Frances, 1. “This is our second time in the reopened clubhouse. We came up for story time and stayed to play.”
Where: Inside Missouri History Museum in Forest Park
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Open Tuesday evenings until 7:30 p.m. through Sept. 29
Story time: 10:30 to 11:15 Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays through Dec. 22 (No program on Sept. 6 or Nov. 27)
Information: 314 746-4599 or www.mohistory.org
Note: During busy times (typically weekday mornings), families must get free tickets for a one-hour session in the History Clubhouse. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come first-served basis beginning at 10 a.m. each day. When volume is low, guests may stay as long as they want.