47.36 hours in Jefferson City (28-30 Jun 2022)
Updated: Feb 17
When states decided where to locate their capital, it appears that a few located them in the biggest city in the then territory - Denver, Boise, Des Moines, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta. But most decided to locate them in a (much) smaller city - Albany, Harrisburg, Springfield, Frankfort¹, etc. - most likely as some sort of compromise between the city slickers and the hicks. Missouri appears to have taken the latter approach.
Had just read the fascinating book Winston and Franklin by Jon Meacham courtesy of my brother-in-law and his brother-in-law. So I was very interested in seeing what the America's National Churchill Museum located on the campus of Westminster College in Fulton, MO had to offer. I checked out Trip Advisor where Diana P. commented, "I am not a huge fan of Churchill but I am glad we were able to visit this museum." I was hoping to meet up with Diana P. and ask her why she was so indifferent about the man who may very well have saved democracy. But figured it had to do with him being a foreigner, a one-time liberal, a Champagne drinker, and that he was a very good friend of a Democrat. On some level, I can understand someone who does not completely buy into the Churchill iconography, as he was a very human man who was on the wrong side of Irish independence, Indian independence, and that invading Turkey through the Dardanelles was the route to victory in WWI. But to publically acknowledge that you are not a fan!? What's next, publicly acknowledging you're "not a fan" of John McCain?
Churchill in Missouri? Well, there is a very legitimate connection. In 1946 the president of Westminster College (via President Truman) asked Churchill to visit and give a speech. Churchill agreed and the speech he gave titled "Sinews of Peace" famously mentioned the phrase "Iron Curtain." In 1965, the college had a Christopher Wren rebuilt London church, that had been significantly damaged during WWII, moved brick by brick to its campus. A Churchill museum was installed on the lower level . . . and the rest is Walking in the Footsteps of History.
As far as the museum itself, Wow! No expense has been spared. The museum chronologically covers every phase of his life, and really gives a sense of the man, the politician, the writer, the soldier, and the painter - with a gallery at the conclusion that contains five original Churchill paintings.
Inbound just prior to crossing the Missouri River, I stopped at Joe Wilson's Serenity Point at Noren Access (were the naming rights sold to Joe Wilson?). A nice spot to relax and photograph picturesque views of the Missouri State Capitol from the pedestrian bridge that transits the river and from a put-in beneath the bridge. Keep an eye out for the hundreds of cliff swallows that nest and swarm underneath the eastern span.
Dinner at the 5th best restaurant in Jeff City, the Grand Cafe. Restaurants #1 and #2 were BBQ joints and I was looking for something a little different. #3 was a pizza joint (unfortunately a Greek one) and #4 a diner (unfortunately not a Greek one), so the Grand Cafe it was. Started out with a solid Flackhattan that came with a little Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (the Grand Manhattan on the rocks). Then went with the small plates menu and was disappointed by every single one. The best plate was Steak Frites, as the strips of grilled ribeye (located atop the frites) were excellent, but the steak drippings and veal demiglace made the frites soggy. And the service was very strange: our bartender handed me a beer glass with her back turned - like she was passing a baton. She was consistent though as she used the same technique to deliver the check.
Inspected the grounds of the Capitol which contains the requisite statue of Lewis and Clark as the length of the adjacent mighty Mo is dotted with them - if they camped there, crapped there, or fished there (or not) a statue has been erected. There are two other more interesting statues on the river side of the Capitol building:
- Louisiana Purchase Statue is a high-relief bronze sculpture by Karl Bitter, that memorializes the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty on April 30, 1803, by James Monroe, Robert Livingstone, and François Barbé-Marbois. It's a nice touch that in a city named after Thomas Jefferson, a little glory is reserved for those who negotiated the treaty that he gets credited for. Take a look at the photo though: is it just me or do all three faces look the same?
- The Fountain of the Centaurs precedes the above statue and appears quite playful even though the two centaurs are in a life and death struggle with some sort of water creature.
Coffee at Three Story Coffee on Main Street. A nice cup of Joe³, with a nice view of the Capitol. I asked the barista why a one-story building was called Three Story Coffee? Apparently, the name refers to the connection shared between the coffee growers' story, the owner's story, and the customers' story. Apparently, as in most companies, the employees' story was just not that compelling.
At $25/pp, a tour of Missouri State Penitentiary seemed a little steep but hey, according to TripAdvisor, it's the #1 Thing to Do in Jefferson City. Besides the tour being given by a man named Green who was a guard from 1970 until the prison was closed in 2004, it also came with a liability waiver (which added a sense of danger) and a hand fan (it was a rather hot day).
Greenie (his prison nickname) relayed various prison facts (opened in 1836, Sonny Liston was a former "guest", it's the oldest prison west of the Mississippi) and history that contained the usual terms such as The Hole, shiv, riots, and the yard, peppered with personal stories that used such terms as The Hole, shiv, riots, and the yard that were interrupted by a stream of consciousness with some stories having no end or beginning. While he may not have been the best tour guide on the payroll, he is probably the most memorable.
Greenie did a good job relating the rather sordid history of the "bloodiest 47 acres in America" and all of its now deserted eariness, which was further heightened when I suddenly felt Mrs. AAR's fan stuck between my ribs, with her behind me whispering in my ear "You’ve just been shivved, motherfucker!"
The prison closed in 2004 and there has been only minimal upkeep, which has added a layer of dust, trees growing out of the roof, nine layers of peeling paint, and a family of groundhogs. If you're not into prison history, then those who are into ruin porn might still find this place interesting.
The tour ended in the abandoned gas chamber with Greenie relating perhaps the most ironic story I ever heard: how one of the inmates, Robert West, who helped build it, was later himself executed in the very same gas chamber.
Apparently sitting in the gas chamber can make one reflect on the sad state of penal conditions in the U.S while simultaneously stoking one's appetite, as I was now starving and a nearby place called Prison Brews seemed like the logical place for some chow. The prison bars enclosing the bar area, and cute-sounding beer names were a little too much (though the Misdemeanor Maibach lager was quite tasty and even more importantly quite cold). I'd go back, hey, everyone deserves a second chance . . . though I wouldn't give the Fish Sandwich one.
When states decided to design their Capitol⁴, it appears they took a few different approaches: design a version very similar to the U.S. Capitol - with dome, columns, and wings; design a version that looked very different than the U.S. Capitol - without dome, column, and wings; or design something that‘s just a little weird. Missouri falls very squarely into the first approach, with the building looking like a mini-me version of its inspiration.
The tour was ok, though I have nothing memorable to report. The highlight most likely would have been murals in the Senate chamber by Thomas Benton Hart, Missouri’s most famous artist. Unfortunately, they were unviewable as the senate was having new carpeting installed.
The first floor contains the Missouri State Museum which contains exhibits portraying the state's natural and cultural history - which of course includes an exhibit on Lewis and Clark. The former sailor in me found the large brass model of the battleship the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) interesting. It was used for antenna testing by the Navy in the 1940s.
- See AAR State Capitol (Forced) Rankings, to see where Missouri stands.
It was getting to be the Golden Hour, that period of daytime shortly before sunset, during which daylight is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky . . . or what I like to call "Beer O'clock." I needed to find a place where I could take a golden-hued photo of the Capitol while drinking a golden-hued Bud Light and I thought Sapphire's might just fit the bill.
With a name like Sapphire's, I wasn't sure if I would be entering a tired lounge located on the 12th floor of the Double Tree Hotel or a strip joint. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the former, though the views of the Capitol were quite nice. Just when I thought it couldn’t have been given a worse name, I noticed on the way out an old advertisement from back in the day, when the place was known as . . . Rapunzel's.
Was hankerin' for a steak, so stopped by O'Donoghue's Steaks and Sea Food. Solid, though no one would confuse it with the Smith & Wollensky's in Midtown Manhattan.
Bar Whiskey for an after-dinner drink of Grand Marnier on the rock. Modern and sleek with a beautiful blond wood bar. It's only a month old so it still had that new bar smell. It's like the bar next to Smith & Wollensky was teleported to downtown Jeff City. You may want to visit sooner than later, as it may be too cool.
A cup of coffee at Yanis Coffee Zone. With a name like Yanis, I thought this place was going to be Greek, but when I saw the name in the front window incorporated into a logo with a genie's lamp, my mind ran to someplace a little sunnier and sandier - Jordan. Besides the hot coffee and comfortable leather chairs, this place was a real score due to the delicious hamantash, which is a triangular filled-pocket pastry, associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim. A very nice way to end our stay in the capital of the 24th state.
The wife's shiv cum fan from the Big House contained a 30% off coupon for Carrie's Hallmark Shop across the street, so of course, a visit was in order.
I used the opportunity to pick up a heavily discounted Philadelphia Phillies bobbleheaded Christmas ornament. Interested? Well, it's now for sale here. 100% of the sale will be donated to the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust.
Stayed at the Baymont by Wyndham Jefferson City due to its economics ($71/night), proximity (two blocks to the Capitol), and rating (7.7 at booking.com). It was one of my better decisions ("sometimes I amaze even myself"): Superclean, with a friendly front desk clerk, a free copy of the Jefferson City News Tribune, and most importantly when it was all said and done: Mrs. AAR Approved.
I used Article #3 from The After Action Report: The Lodging Protocol to save 10% on my two-night stay:
"3. Use booking.com as a safety. Use it to book a Fully Cancelable accommodation that meets your minimum requirements (for price, location, etc.). Then between now and the Fully Cancelable date scour the internet for better/cheaper accommodations. Book, then cancel your Fully Cancelable booking.com accommodation."
I initially used booking.com to book a fully cancellable two-night stay, then found a 10% lower rate using Capital One Shopping (via Priceline). I booked it, then canceled my booking.com reservation.
Downtown Jeff City has a limited number of hotels with the Capitol Plaza Hotel Jefferson City appearing to be the grande dame. Normally I'm not a grande dame kind of guy, but its proximity to the Missouri State Capitol was appealing. Unfortunately, the place comes with a room rate that is 57% higher and a Bookings Review which is 25% lower than the aforementioned Baymont by Wyndham. While I'm reluctant to pay up for superior lodgings, I'm implacable when it comes to paying up for inferior ones.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ The best damn state capital joke ever told (courtesy of D.H.):
"How do you pronounce the state capital of Kentucky? 'Lewis ville' or 'Louey ville?'" After the mark responds with either pronunciation, then you say rather blithely, "Funny, I always pronounce it . . . Frankfort."
² The casual observer can't help but notice that this centaur is actually an ichthyocentaur, which is a subgenre of the centaur with the torso of a human, and the body of a horse containing fish features like fins and webbing.
³ Why is coffee called a cup of Joe? There are many theories, but one that is NOT correct is that it was named after Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who in 1914 prohibited alcohol aboard all Navy vessels and therefore afterward the strongest drink a sailor could consume was a "cup of Joe". His prohibition only affected officers, as the rum ration had been eliminated in 1862 and the term "cup of Joe" was only first recorded as entering the vernacular in 1930.
⁴ Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia all have capitols that were built prior to the U.S. Capitol.