Route 66 News

City Museum founder dies in industrial accident

Bob Cassilly, founder of the popular City Museum in St. Louis, died in an apparent construction accident Monday on the north side of town, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The newspaper reported that Cassilly died while operating a bulldozer at the construction site of his Cementland amusement park, formerly the Missouri Portland Cement Co., in north St. Louis.

Cassilly, 61, was found dead Monday morning inside the bulldozer’s enclosed cabin. Police say the bulldozer tumbled down a hill with Cassily inside.

More about Cassilly’s unique vision:

Cementland is located along Riverview Drive near the Mississippi River. Cassilly had been working on the site for more than a decade. Cementland, which was running far behind its scheduled opening of 2010, was supposed to be an attraction featuring a castle, man-made mountains, elevated paths, pools and a river with tunnels for rowboats and inner tubes. […]

A visionary and an entrepreneur, Cassilly created dozens of public art sculptures across the region, including Turtle Park. He salvaged St. Louis’ forgotten architectural treasures and redeveloped the International Shoe Building into the City Museum. […]

The City Museum, which he opened with his then-wife Gail Cassilly in 1997, was an instant hit among St. Louisans and tourists who loved its whimsical artifacts, art and activities. Today, visitors ride of the museum’s rooftop Ferris wheel and scamper across MonstroCity, the museum’s outdoor playground.

The City Museum’s website’s main page Monday night was all-black, except for this message: “City Museum is saddened by the loss of our founder and inspiration, Robert Cassilly. 1949 – 2011.”

Here’s a video about Cassilly, when City Museum was being built:

And here’s an irreverent but informative look at the City Museum (caution: It contains a bit of mildly vulgar language):

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact Cassilly made to the St. Louis area. His founding of the City Museum — along with renovating long-abandoned industrial buildings into lofts — helped spur the revitalization of the city’s Washington Avenue district and other downtown areas.

Having lived near St. Louis for eight years and observing Cassilly’s impact firsthand, the city benefited greatly because of him. Every city could use a Bob Cassilly-type character to remind us that great things are possible, no matter how eccentric they may seem.

UPDATE 9/27/2011: The Post-Dispatch has posted an overview of Cassilly himself. A key passage:

Whenever Mayor Francis Slay travels, people tell him they love City Museum. Fodor’s touts it as “an institution unlike any museum you’ve been to before,” and the New York Times calls it a “must-see for visiting gerbils of any age.”

“It has earned international acclaim,” Slay said on Monday. “He made this totally unique, phenomenal creation that no one else has and anybody can enjoy.”

Cassilly opened City Museum in 1997 in an abandoned shoe factory with his former wife, Gail Cassilly. Their first mission statement: “To reawaken the childlike imagination, joy and sense of wonder in all of us.” Today the museum draws 630,000 visitors annually.

And this:

“If you rank important people in the history of St. Louis — not just artists — you would have to include Bob Cassilly. He showed young people that you can take old, abandoned stuff and make it beautiful,” Christman said. “Hopefully these children grow up and don’t tear stuff down and ignore the everyday beauty of what’s around them.”

A vigil was held Monday night at the City Museum:


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