Find Hidden Treasures in Jefferson City

The Missouri Capitol boasts murals, sculptures and a history museum.

Been to the State Capitol in Jefferson City lately? Here are a couple of reasons to go, especially if you can get there on the last Friday of the month this summer and fall.

First of all, the building itself is beautiful, inside and out. Completed in 1917, the Capitol sits high on a bluff, looking down on the Missouri River. The dome is topped by a bronze statue of Ceres, the goddess of vegetation.

Walk inside to the middle of the rotunda and look up – the view is gorgeous.

Tours point out the stained glass, murals, carvings and statuary decorating the interior. Don’t miss the House Lounge, where Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton painted a magnificent mural on all four walls in 1936. You can spend an hour or more just looking at the slave traders, politicians and legendary characters depicted in the painting.

The Missouri State Museum has exhibits on two wings of the first floor of the Capitol. “Civil War Missouri: A House Dividing” currently is the main exhibit, and runs through May 2015.

And that brings us to why you might pick the last Friday of the month for a visit.

The state museum keeps its treasures in the Riverside Collections Facility, which is a secured warehouse a mile east of the Capitol. You drive east on Capitol Avenue by the old state prison, a foreboding looking place that also is open to public tours. The facility is left a block or so on Riverside Drive.

On the last Fridays, from June through October, visitors arriving at Riverside at 2 p.m. can get a free behind-the-scenes tour of the collection, and there’s some very cool stuff there.

What's your shoe size? Ella Ewing wore a 24.

There’s the usual fare of vintage clothing, tools and furniture, but there’s also Ella Ewing’s shoes; size 24. Ewing was born in northeast Missouri in 1872 and grew to be a reported 8 feet, 4 inches tall. Billed as the “Missouri Giantess,” she toured with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a sideshow attraction.

Her story has a poignant side. While the folks of her hometown in the Rainbow and Gorin area treated her with compassion, she met a different reception when asked to read the Declaration of Independence at a July 4 celebration in Wyaconda. When she stood and rose to her full height, the crowd reacted with gasps and laughter. Ella was led away in tears.

That’s just one of the stories waiting at Riverside. There also are moon rocks, a mastodon tusk, rare Civil War mortars found nowhere else in the country and a piece of the curtain that hung in the Blue Room of the White House when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

The staff will open drawers to reveal pistols, derringers and German daggers with the Nazi insignia, and colorful beadwork from the Sac and Fox tribe that lived in Missouri.

Probably the weirdest artifact is an apothecary jar filled with brown, rounded blobs. Most people guess the blobs are intestines, or some other disgusting body part. Wrong. They actually are tobacco twists, which were routinely sold in a general store of a century or more ago.

The Missouri State Capitol and State Museum are open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to both is free. Free tours of the building are given Monday through Saturday, every hour on the hour, except noon. For more information about the State Capitol or the Riverside Collections Facility, call 573-751-2854 or visit MissouriStateMuseum.com and VisitJeffersonCity.com.

Written by Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks