DVD review: “The Missouri Maze”

The Missouri Maze
Nick Gerlich in “The Missouri Maze,” standing on a stretch of abandoned Interstate 44 near John’s Modern Cabins in Missouri.

Unoccupied Route 66 continues its mix of history and atmospheric images of forlorn Route 66 sites in its latest documentary, “The Missouri Maze.”

The 26-minute film ($14.95 list, shipping included), directed by KC Keefer and hosted by Nick Gerlich, tells about a mid-Missouri area where Route 66 ended up realigned, realigned again, then abandoned by Interstate 44.

Here’s the trailer:

The film primarily focuses on the rapidly deteriorating John’s Modern Cabins and other abandoned sites near Arlington, Missouri.

John’s began in the early 1930s as a motor court of crude log cabins and a beer hall called Bill and Bess’s Place. The region began to change with the construction of Fort Leonard Wood, necessitating changes in Route 66 shortly after John and Lillian Dausch bought it in the early 1950s and changed its name to John’s Modern Cabins. John Dausch became known as “Sunday John” because he flouted local laws by selling beer on Sundays.

The property became abandoned after being cut off by Interstate 44 during the late 1960s and the deaths of the Dausches.

(Disclosure: Emily Priddy and I researched John’s Modern Cabins 15 years ago to document its story before its details became lost to time. Its saga included a murder at Bill and Bess’s Place in 1935. That work culminated in a big story in Route 66 Magazine in Summer 2001.)

Adding insult to injury, the state realigned Interstate 44 again in 2005 — this time away from John’s and the adjacent Vernelle’s Motel — because the roadway was poorly designed. So the area not only contains abandoned 66, but abandoned I-44.

“The Missouri Maze” delves into the nearby ghost town of Arlington that sits on a dead-end road as I-44 traffic roars overhead at the Little Piney River. No trace of the original Route 66 bridge exists.

The filmmakers put the memories and knowledge of Jerry McClanahan (author of the “EZ66 Guide for Travelers” and co-author of the “Here It Is!” Route 66 maps) to good use, as he’s researched John’s since the 1980s. McClanahan and fellow historian Jim Ross also profiled the so-called Missouri Maze near Arlington in a 1998 documentary, “U.S. 66: Bones of the Old Road.”

“The Missouri Maze” also takes a look at the long-abandoned and once-popular Stoneydell swimming hole in nearby Jerome, the 1940s four-lane Hooker Cut alignment, and the old Devil’s Elbow alignment that features the Elbow Inn restaurant and the recently restored Devil’s Elbow Bridge.

Keefer, as usual, expertly shot and conceived the footage. He found historic images as well, including a few I never have seen. And the melancholy guitar by Jeff Keefer in the score adds to the sense of abandonment.

“The Missouri Maze” isn’t a feel-good film. It simply documents the abandoned and decaying sites as they are. Its message to travelers: Explore these places soon before they’re gone.

3 thoughts on “DVD review: “The Missouri Maze”

  1. Driving down the winding, tree-lined Rt 66 original road, reaching the end at Arlington, (it appeared to be occupied 2 years ago) with the RR tracks on our left and the river on the other side, was one of our favorite memories on the entire Rt 66 trip. We even stopped up on the highway bridge to look down where we had just been.

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