Thursday, December 6, 2012

A New Collection of Short Stories Brings Out The Darker Side of Kansas City

If you’re a fan of shadowy crime fiction, local authors, and well-written literature, then Kansas City Noir is a book you’ll definitely want to add to your reading list.

Just published in October as part of a noir series by Akashic Books and edited by Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor for the Kansas City Star newspaper, Kansas City Noir is an anthology of 14 new stories by some of this area’s fiction masters.

Contributors include Daniel Woodrell, the seasoned author of Winter’s Bone and several other novels, Mitch Brian, a screenwriting and film studies professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and Nadia Pflaum, a former reporter for The Pitch newspaper who now works as an investigator for the Midwest Innocence Project.

With such an eclectic group of talent, the variety of stories and writing styles showcased in Kansas City Noir is exceptional.  Even better, the collection does not have the regurgitated feel of  “typical noir.”  Instead, each piece, with its specific setting and distinctly twisted characters, leaves its own unique gritty impression on the reader.

Some stories, such as Grace Suh’s Mission Hills Confidential, have a very suburban vibe while other selections, like Nadia Pflaum’s Charlie Price’s Last Supper, have a more urban feeling.  Each selection offers an edgy cast of characters, ranging from children of serial killers to police officers in turmoil, and as for subject matter, everything from missing persons to arson is explored.

Picking any standouts from Kansas City Noir would be hard because every tale is so deliciously disturbing and cynical.  Nancy Pickard’s Lightbulb does a great job of examining remorse and retaliation.  Linda Rodriguez and Catherine Browder add strong character conflict to the mix, and Andrés Rodríguez blows a smoky cloud of Kansas City history our way in Milton’s Tap Room.

Although Kansas City Noir barely tops 200 pages and is conveniently organized into three distinct sections (Heartland, Crazy Little Women and Smoke and Mirrors), it is not necessarily a fast read.  Additionally, if you are the type of person who prefers light mysteries and tidy endings, don’t expect that in this compilation.

Kansas City Noir is more of a book that makes you ponder.  After finishing a selection, you find yourself wondering,  “What would I do in that situation,” or  “Would I ever take things that far.”  In fact, Kansas City Noir’s hook is that it intriguingly gets you to spend as much time thinking about stories as you do reading them.

If you’re interested in discovering some talented area authors, exploring the murky noir genre, and want to enjoy some well-crafted fiction, Kansas City Noir is an anthology worth checking out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Egg, Sausage, & Spinach Breakfast Bake

The holiday season just wouldn't be complete without out-of-town company.  Whether it's rarely-seen relatives or dearly-missed friends coming to visit you here in Kansas City this time of year, you can start their day out right by serving this flavorful breakfast bake:


1 lb of pork sausage (TIP:  if you want to reduce the fat calories in this recipe, use sliced-up Canadian bacon instead)

1 small package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed until dry

6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled up (TIP: to make it easy, use a jar of real bacon pieces - found by the salad dressing at the grocery store)

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper  (TIP:  chop onion and red pepper quickly by using a small food processor)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

10 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp dill weed

1 tsp garlic powder

1 1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp salt


If you are using sausage, cook it over medium heat until it is no longer pink.  If you are using Canadian bacon, you do not need to precook it.  

Spread the sausage or Canadian bacon into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan.  

Next, layer the spinach, bacon, onion, red pepper, and cheeses into the pan.

In a bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and seasonings.

Pour the mixture evenly over the top of the layered casserole.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the breakfast bake comes out clean.

Let the breakfast bake sit for a few minutes before cutting into pieces.

Serve to hungry family and guests!

TIP:  If you want to make this dish ahead of time, it keeps well in the fridge or the freezer.  It also tastes great leftover. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Give Your Tastebuds a Bite of "Gourmet On The Go" at Orange Box

Read more here:

Some of the delicious food choices at Orange Box
Tired of the same old lunch spots?  Longing for a new eating place that’s unique, offers a variety of fresh food options and is absolutely delicious?  Introduce your taste buds to Orange Box.

Discretely tucked into a small brick building on the corner of 27th and Jarboe, Orange Box is a quirky, original restaurant which opened earlier this year for midday diners. 

Their menu includes regular daily specials like buffalo chicken and prime rib sandwiches on Mondays, soul food and fish and chips on Tuesdays, Reubens and gyros on Wednesdays, fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and sunrise salads on Thursdays and fish tacos and grilled hamburgers on Fridays.

Besides the regular daily specials, Orange Box also offers a variety of other fresh salads, deli sandwiches, side dishes and desserts that change often – depending on ingredient availability, the season, and the chef’s culinary mood.

Pork tenderloin sandwich with tomato/mozzarella salad

On the day I was there, Orange Box's menu also included a turkey and Brie sandwich with blackberry mayonnaise, seafood salad, spicy beer cheese soup with cheddar biscuits, gyros, and an adult pig-in-a-blanket. 

Available side items were baked potato salad, a vegetable medley, fresh-sliced fruit salad with strawberries, pineapples and cantaloupe and a tomato-mozzarella salad. 

For dessert, just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and homemade double-layer coconut cake rounded out the menu.

Turkey and Brie sandwich
Everything I sampled at Orange Box was extremely yummy - including the pork tenderloin, turkey and Brie sandwich, spicy beer and cheese soup, baked potato salad, tomato-mozzarella salad and a chocolate chip cookie. 

In fact, by the time I was done eating, two things were certain.  First, I was really full.  And second, I would be visiting Orange Box again because everything was that tasty.

More than anything, it was the unexpected flavor of the food that made it so memorable.  I had no idea that blackberry mayonnaise could make a sandwich so wonderfully sweet and tangy or that potato salad could be so addictive – and the truth is, I hate potato salad, but the baked potato salad at Orange Box was so good that I devoured every last bite.

Orange Box is conveniently set up for anyone who wants to run in and grab a to-go order of homemade goodness, but they also offer several tables, a couch and an easy chair for those who want to dine in.

The prices at Orange Box are slightly higher than drive-thru, fast-food lunches. My tenderloin sandwich with a generous side of baked potato salad ran $8.50. 

Inside Orange Box
I felt like I got what I paid for, however, because the quality, uniqueness and flavor of Orange Box’s food versus many other lunch spots was worth it. 

The only problem I had while at Orange Box was a broken fountain drink machine.  It was no big deal, however, because they had plenty of bottled water, sodas, and other drinks to choose from.

As far as the service, it also met expectations.  The counter help was not the most knowledgeable about all the food items, but she was so friendly and willing to find out the answers to my questions, that it was easy to overlook that issue. 

Orange Box does have a small parking lot and plenty of street parking for patronsIt is owned by Scott Welsch, who is also the executive chef there as well as longtime owner/chef of Cuisine KC and Metro Catering.

Welsch's big goal at Orange Box seems to be providing great gourmet food “on the go,” and as far as I am concerned, he is doing just that.

Orange Box is located at 2700 Jarboe.  They can be reached at 816-756-5200 or found on the web at

Their hours are:  Monday thru Friday 11:00 a.m – 2:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  To find out up-to-date information about Orange Box, including their daily menu offerings, simply click on their Facebook page.

Orange Box on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Case of Finding A Great Independent Bookstore Is Solved at Mysteryscape

A display at the Mysteryscape bookstore
Finding a great independent bookstore is thrilling, and that is exactly how I felt when I  discovered Mysteryscape, a full-scale mystery bookstore in Overland Park, KS.

Open since May, Mysteryscape has appeal not only for whodunit, paranormal, foreign intrigue, detective series and legal suspense fans, but for anyone who loves books.

One of the seating areas
A very relaxed vibe greets you when you enter Mysteryscape.  Soft jazz plays in the background and a pair of comfortable-looking leather chairs beckon to you, “Come sit down and read.”  Plus the decor has an intriguing modern Agatha Christie/early silent movie era feel to it.

Toward the back is a miniature coffee/refreshment bar with lounge-like seating tucked in nearby.  For sale is fresh-brewed coffee, hot or cold tea, soda, water, brownies and other items if you are thirsty or feel like snacking.
A gathering/seating area

SkullGirlz T-shirts
On the other side of the store is a small gift area.  Some of the items available for purchase include SkullGirlz t-shirts, which are designed locally by Michelle Hoffine, purses, intriguing board games, coffee blends, mugs and teas.

Begin browsing through the used books at Mysteryscape, and you'll see that they are in very good condition, well organized and reasonably priced.    

Items from the gift area

Mysteryscape also offers new book releases and current top sellers.  Even better, it is possible to pre-order certain upcoming titles and receive a ten-percent discount.

If you need a book suggestion, the co-owners, Acia Morley and Cheri LeBlond, are both highly knowledgeable about the mystery genre and can make some great recommendations.

 And if that's not enough, Mysteryscape now sells new and used BBC and PBS mysteries, dramas and cooking shows on DVD, and their collection continues to grow in size and variety.

A glimpse inside Mysteryscape
The store contains all the popular sections for mystery fans…thrillers, crime fighters and so on…but the areas that caught my interest the most were Twisted (crafting mysteries with some great names!), the $1 books, collectible first editions, and across the pond selections. 

The only section that I did not see that would have been nice is true crime.  According to Mysteryscape, though, they are working on that area.

As far as activities, Mysteryscape fills up the calendar.  They have five active book clubs including “Passport to Murder” and “Women of Intrigue.”  There are monthly game nights, workshops, speakers and author events as well as other frequent fun happenings.

The local chapter of Sisters In Crime also meets regularly at Mysteryscape.  This Saturday their speakers will be Steve Paul, editor of Kansas City Noir, a recently released book of dark short stories with local connections, along with local authors and contributors to Kansas City Noir, Linda Rodriquez, Nancy Pickard, and Catherine Browder, who will all read excerpts from the book.

If you would like to visit Mysteryscape, they are located at 7309 W. 80th St. in Overland Park.   Their phone number is 913-649-0000, and their hours are:

Tues. & Wed. - 11 am to 5 pm

Thurs. & Fri. - 11 am to 8 pm

Saturday - 9 am to 5 pm

Sun. & Mon. - Closed

November 22 - Closed

Dec. 25 - Jan. 1 - Closed

To find out more about this enigmatic bookstore, how to trade in gently-used books or to view Mysteryscape’s current events calendar, visit their website at

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walk in the Footsteps of the Mentally ill at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO

Entering the Glore Psychiatric Museum
Disturbing, fascinating and insightful is an accurate way to describe the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO, about an hour north of Kansas City.

Named after George Glore, who worked for the Missouri Department of Mental Health for most of his 41-year career, the museum focuses on the history and evolution of mental health treatment.

Located on the grounds of the old State Lunatic Asylum #2 (a.k.a. State Hospital #2 and St. Joseph State Hospital), which opened in 1874, the museum successfully captures the feelings of fear, helplessness and internal confusion that a mentally-ill patient might experience.  It also gives a great overview of how much the treatment of mental health has advanced.

Today, the State Lunatic Asylum #2 no longer exists.  A new mental health facility, the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, stands across the street from the old asylum buildings, which have been converted into the Western Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center, a state prison facility.

The Glore Psychiatric Museum began its existence in one of those old asylum buildings, but now resides in a newer building on the property that was completed in the late 1960s.  This newer building was used for hospital admissions and as a patient clinic before the rehabilitation center across the street opened. 

The museum was created when Glore, with the help of other hospital staff and patients, decided to build “full-size replicas of 16th, 17th, and 18th century treatment devices.”  Glore wanted to make the public more aware of mental health issues and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Over the years, Glore continued building popular displays and began collecting everything to do with mental health treatment.  Today, the museum has grown to four floors of captivating exhibits and memorabilia that will do nothing less than unnerve you.

The Morgue/Autopsy Room
The basement is actually a good place to begin a self-guided tour of the museum, where a morgue and autopsy room awaits you at the end of the hall.  The morgue was once used to house the bodies of patients until families could make arrangements for them. 

Additionally, the state of Missouri used the morgue/autopsy room anytime there were suspicious deaths, bodies pulled from the nearby river, or deaths involving foul play.  It was even used to house a Northwestern Missouri family of four after they were murdered.

Although the morgue is no longer in use today, the refrigeration units, which can hold up to four bodies at a time, still work and are kept at an average temperature of 40 degrees.   

Rugs being created in the weaving shop
Other museum highlights on the basement level include a therapy room and examples of items created by patients while working in various occupational areas of the old hospital, including rugs made in the weaving shop and an artificial leg made in the cobbler shop.

Artificial leg made at the hospital
Moving up to the first floor of the Glore, you will find a gift shop, old photos and letters from the asylum, and even a prescription log from 1927-1930 which shows alcohol as the medication given for anything from the flu to cancer.

Staircase from 1880
Toward the back of the first floor is also an exhibit showing the lower portion of the grand staircase from the asylum’s administration building, which dates back to 1880.

Stomach contents of patient
On the second floor of the museum is one of the strangest exhibits you will ever see, the artistically displayed stomach contents of a woman who was a patient at the hospital in 1929.  She suffered from an eating disorder and complained of stomach pains.  When the doctors performed surgery on her, they found 1,446 items inside her stomach, including nails, safety pins, buttons, carpet tacks, thimbles and a nail file.  Unfortunately, the woman died during surgery.

Restraint Cage
The second floor also displays scenes with authentic equipment that was used for different therapy methods on mental health patients throughout the years, including hydrotherapy, wet sheet packs and electro-convulsive therapy.  There is also a room with original examples and replicas of various containment devices used in the past to subdue mental illness sufferers, including a restraint cage and a tranquilizer chair. 
Tranquilizer Chair

Walking up to the third and last floor of the museum, you are greeted by a row of antique wheelchairs and a collection of crutches.  These are examples of what would have been used in the hospital during its more than130-year history. 
A row of wheelchairs

Moving down the hall, rooms with exhibits explaining the use of music therapy in the hospital, what church services were like, how the kitchen worked and meals distributed, and a replica of what a patient room would have looked like at the hospital are fascinating windows into the world of the mentally ill at the old hospital.  Patients at the facility had very little privacy, and the rooms in some buildings were crammed with up to four beds.

Replica of a patient room

Eggshell Mosaic
Also housed on the third floor is artwork created by patients during therapy.  Some of the artwork, including an eggshell mosaic is beautiful, while other things like a life-sized cloth doll named Robert are a bit creepy.  All of the art, however, is interesting, revealing, and seems to be screaming out for a sense of mental balance.

The most memorable items on this floor are a collection of 100,000 cigarette packages which a patient believed he could redeem for a new wheelchair, a television set stuffed with papers and letters that a patient possibly thought would be transmitted if they were placed inside the TV, and a framed embroidered sheet which a mute, schizophrenic female patient used to communicate.  Instead of speaking, she embroidered words and phrases into the sheet.
Robert the Doll
100,000 cigarette packages
Not accessible to the public on your visit are the underground tunnels that once connected the Glore  Museum building to the other buildings still standing on the old hospital grounds.

These tunnels were once used to transport patients from building to building without having to go outside.  Today, however, the tunnels connecting the museum building to any of the nearby prison facilities have been walled up for security reasons.
TV stuffed with letters and notes

Embroidered Sheet
If you go to the Glore Psychiatric Museum, it will be unlike any museum you have ever experienced before, and it is filled with many more fascinating items and exhibits than I can possibly describe in this blog. 

All the time and energy George Glore put into creating this museum and educating the public about the history of mental health was well spent.  The Glore Psychiatric Museum will horrify you, captivate you, and maybe even give you a feeling of empathy for those afflicted with mental illness.

This attraction is definitely not geared toward children, but for adults who go, I doubt you will be disappointed. It is worth the admission charge.


The museum is located at 3406 Frederick Avenue in St. Joseph and is part of the St .Joseph Museums, Inc. system.  They are open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m, Sundays from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., and closed on major holidays.

Admission is:

Adults - $5.00
Seniors (60 and above) - $4.00
Students (ages 7-18) - $3.00
Children under 6 – free
Group rate – (20 ore more) - $4.50
Museum members receive free admission

Guided tours can be arranged for groups by calling 1-800-530-8866 or 816-232-8471.

One a side note:   For your $5 admission to the psychiatric museum, you also have access to the other exhibits throughout the building that are not part of the Glore.  They include a great exhibit on Civil War medicine plus a small Jesse James area and a decent-sized doll display.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Becoming An Artist One Stitch At A Time

Kansas City native, self-professed cat lover and Midtown resident Julie Tenenbaum has never seen herself as an artist, but over the past year, that is exactly how others have begun to view her. 

Julie is the creator of  “Benny Cat,” a wonderful, whimsical, embroidered cat who seems to be popping up on coffee shop walls and in venues all over town.

The Benny Cat Inspiration
Benny was “born” a few years ago when Julie was learning to embroider.  She was wondering about what to make and remembered a pottery piece with an adorable cat face she had seen at Urban Mining Homewares.  She pulled out a simple drawing she had made of the cat, put her hands and creative spirit in gear, and before she realized it, Benny had entered the world. 

Since then, Benny has blossomed and developed a unique feline personality all his own.  According to Julie, “Benny is intelligent, fearless and full of adventure.  He will go places no other cats would dare to go.”

Baker Benny
Benny is also quite a chameleon in his appearance.  Sometimes he is purple or pink.  At times he has stripes, and he may or may not have whiskers.  “You never know with Benny,” says Julie.

Benny’s environment often changes as well.  He may pop up in a trash can, in a bowling alley, in the rain, in a chair reading a book or just about anywhere else you could imagine.  He’s a very mobile and versatile cat.

The whole “Benny movement” has been quite surprising for Julie who, when she isn’t creating new artwork, owns and runs a secretarial service, is a yoga enthusiast who taught the exercise technique to beginners for 12 years and holds a B.A. in psychology from Washington University. 

To satisfy her creative streak, Julie has always enjoyed sewing and has gone through phases of knitting, crocheting, drawing and painting small wooden objects and Altoid® boxes.    

Something about embroidering and Benny Cat, however, grabbed Julie’s inner artist, and she has never looked back.  From a beginning sketch to matting and framing, Julie enjoys the entire creative process, even when tackling large, detailed pieces, which can take up to two months to complete.

Benny In The Bathroom
Julie and Benny’s first public show was in November 2011 at the St. James Lutheran Church in North Kansas City.  Since then Benny has found a permanent display home at The Rainbow Pet Hospital and can also be seen this month at One More Cup, a coffee house in Waldo. 

So what’s next for Julie and Benny?  Julie is busy checking into licensing and merchandising Benny along with expanding her artistic side while Benny is busy exploring life and making people smile.   Together, they want to see as much of the world and meet as many nice folks as possible.

If you would like to learn more about Julie, Benny pieces for sale and other additional information, visit Julie’s website at 

In the near future, there will also be a “Benny Cat at CatStitch Studio” page on Facebook where you will be able to “like” Benny.

Benny and the Buddha

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kansas City Author Linda Rodriguez Publishes Her First Mystery Novel - Every Last Secret

Local author Linda Rodriguez offers readers a strong female protagonist, an intriguing mystery and a local setting in her debut novel, Every Last Secret.

As the story begins, Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion” has had all she can take of big city life.  The stress of being the highest ranking woman and a homicide detective in the Kansas City Police Department, dealing with a jealous ex-husband who keeps popping up in her life, and the disgrace of having her alcoholic father retire from the police force under suspicious and possibly immoral circumstances force Skeet to seek a calmer and quieter life.

Hoping she will finally find peace, she resigns from the KCPD and heads for the fictional small town of Brewster (which sounds very similar to Parkville), located just outside of Kansas City, to take a position as the chief of a college campus police force. 

Everything seems to be going well for Skeet until the student editor of the college newspaper is found murdered in his office.  What unfolds for Skeet is a death investigation filled with a pool of unlikeable suspects, layers of academic bureaucracy, and all of her old problems resurfacing with a powerful vengeance.  

Whether she likes it or not, Skeet knows she must put her former homicide detective skills to work and unravel the dark secrets of the university and the seemingly perfect small town of Brewster in order to solve the gruesome and heinous crime.

As the body count rises and the case grows more dangerous, Skeet also realizes she needs to stop avoiding her own problems and face her demons back in Kansas City once and for all. 

Released in April, Every Last Secret is a recent winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and a good read, but from a critical point of view, this first attempt at the mystery genre by Linda Rodriguez would grab even more attention if the characters were more atypical and the plot not quite so predictable. 

The story needs a bigger dose of originality and surprise to make it a true hard-to-put-down, “I’m not going to get any sleep until I finish this book” page-turner. 

Also, the novel would benefit from an edgier, grittier writing style which would help its audience not just read about the danger and tension pulsating from the devious plot, but instead almost feel the disturbing emotions jumping off the pages and into their minds.

That being said, if you are from the Kansas City area, you will probably find this is a fun read because of the familiar locations described in the book.  Downtown, Westport and the Plaza are mentioned along with Union Station and Jack Stack Barbecue in the freight district.

Additionally, if you read and enjoy Every Last Secret, you’ll be glad to know that Rodriguez is currently working on a second Skeet Bannion book.  So, who knows – maybe this will be the first selection in an evolving mystery series with a big spoonful of Kansas City flavor.  We’ll just have to wait and see…

Monday, October 1, 2012

KC BBQ Is A Scrumptious Food Choice At Kansas City's First Fridays

Brisket Sandwich w/chips, pickle and drink
Heading to Kansas City's Crossroads District for First Fridays is a great way to spend an evening...a little art, a little entertainment, and some really good food.

But what has made First Fridays even better over the last year or so are the numerous food trucks that are now allowed to set up shop (you can find them all at approximately 21st and Wyandotte) and serve anything from tacos to snow-balls.

On one recent trip to First Fridays I decided to try the offerings of the KC BBQ truck.  First of all, it was hard to miss.  It was a huge red truck with flames on the side.  But what really drew me to them were the free pulled pork and brisket samples they were handing out - yummy!
The KC BBQ Truck At First Fridays

As I ravenously checked out their menu, not only were my taste buds pleased with their delicious "teaser" meat samples, my nose was happy as well.  Coming from their truck was the irristible smell of fresh smoked meat.

On the menu that evening was either a pulled pork or brisket sandwich with chips and a pickle for $7 or a rib basket with either potato salad or coleslaw for $8.

They also offered several kinds of soda, bottled water and frozen lemonade.  The side items by themselves (potato salad and coleslaw) were $2.

Lots of BBQ Sauces To Choose From
I ordered the brisket sandwich with chips, and it was delicious.  I also had my choice of four different BBQ sauces - mild, sassy, zesty and hot.  Additionally, they had onion and pickle slices available to top off their sandwiches.

After I wolfed down my food, I told the gentlemen working on the KC BBQ truck how much I enjoyed my meal and that I was going to write about them in my blog.  They were nice enough to answer questions about their business and give me a tour of their truck.

Inside The KC BBQ Food Truck
When I stepped inside, the first thing I noticed was how clean it was.  I also noticed that besides a full kitchen, they had two built-in smokers in the truck.  And when they opened those smokers, the smell made me want to eat all over again.

I also learned that KC BBQ has been catering for aproximately eight years.  They work most First Fridays, state fairs, and cater for many special events in the area.

Imagine How Good This Smells!
I found their brisket to be juicy, flavorful and a choice I would make again.  They also stressed to me they only make and serve what they call "honest food."  That means their premium cuts of meat are minimally processed, the rubs they use are MSG free, they don't believe in using fillers or "mystery solutions" to enhance taste, and they only use fresh, natural ingredients for all of their dishes.

So, with First Fridays coming up again at the end of this week, if you find yourselves in the Crossroads and hungry, consider giving KC BBQ a try.  I don't think you'll be sorry, and you might even find yourself heading back for more!

KC BBQ at the Crossroads

KC BBQ Truck on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City Is A World-Class Museum With A Home Town Feel

The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City
Not many things take me by surprise, but my recent visit to The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City did just that.

When I decided to check out the museum, I pictured myself entering a small building filled with a boring collection of old, dusty toys and a few miniatures for viewing. 

I could not have been more wrong.  This facility is a world-class museum filled with more fascinating items than I could ever begin to describe.

First of all, the massive collection of priceless toys and miniatures is housed in the gorgeous 38-room Tureman Mansion, which was designed by architect John McKechnie and completed in 1911 for prominent Kansas City physician Dr. Herbert Tureman and his family.

Entering the Toy and Miniature Museum
The home sits majestically back from the street atop a hill on the western edge of the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) campus and has its own interesting history.

Nell Donnelly, wealthy owner of the Donnelly Garment Factory, and her husband were leasing the mansion in 1931 after Dr. Tureman passed away. 

On December 16 of that year, Donnelly and her chauffeur, George Blair, were kidnapped at gunpoint from the driveway of the home and held for ransom in Bonner Springs.  To everyone’s relief, both were rescued two days later with the help of James A. Reed, a local politician and attorney, and John Lazia, a Kansas City mob boss.

In 1966, UMKC became the owner of the Tureman Mansion when Marie Tureman passed away and left the home to the university. 

A View of Tureman Mansion From The Street
The Toy and Miniature Museum moved into the building in 1982 and has since expanded twice to its current size of 33,000 square feet.

The museum was created by Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall.  Both women were avid collectors, but Francis liked collecting antique dollhouses while Marshall enjoyed miniatures. 

Eventually, their individual collections grew so large that they were urged to open a museum.  In 1979, they formed a not-for-profit foundation and the Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City was born.

Francis and Marshall also had assistance from Jerry Smith, who was a Kansas City Buick dealer before his retirement, and a passionate toy collector himself.  Many of his priceless toys and commercial pieces are also displayed within the museum’s walls.

When you enter the building, you are greeted by a docent.  This is nice because you get an idea of what you will be seeing and learn details about some of the museum’s oldest, most interesting, and most unusual pieces.

The toy collection, which spans the first and second floors of the mansion, includes one-of-a-kind antique dollhouses, mechanical toys, teddy bears, board games, child-sized kitchen and home appliances, furniture, foreign toys, specialized collections and much more.

The largest dollhouse in the museum, known as the Coleman House, stands nine feet tall and seven feet wide.  It originally belonged to the prominent Coleman family from Lebanon, Pennsylvania and appears to have had gas lighting and running water at one time. 

Georgiana is the oldest doll in the museum and dates back to the 1750s.  She is made of wood, has glass eyes, and even sports a wig made from human hair. 

As you walk from gallery to gallery, you slowly realize how many items are actually in the museum’s inventory.  There are collections of cars, trains, planes, circus toys and patriotic items, which include George and Martha Washington dolls along with a number of Uncle Sam collectibles. 

There is a room devoted to numerous Noah’s Arks with animals, a collection of toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, jungle animals, tea sets, fire memorabilia, paper dolls, banks, churches – including a lovely wood church made by a German cabinet maker, a large grouping of Star Wars dolls and figures, which was the most successful movie-related toy line ever, and the list goes on.

Additionally, the museum houses one of the largest marble collections in the world.  An entire space is devoted to marble art, marble games, marble jewelry, marble contraptions, and drawers full of marbles of all sizes and designs for visitors to examine.

And if you are a Barbie fan, the museum has a special Barbie exhibit running through 2012.  In this gallery, you are able to view the very first Barbie and everything else Barbie you can imagine, including a Barbie dictionary, records, jewelry, purses, puzzles, and even Barbie dolls wearing gowns created by famous designers Vera Wang and Bob Mackie.

I learned a lot about Barbie by walking through this exhibit.  For example, did you know that Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, that her hometown is Willows, Wisconsin, that she is the oldest of seven siblings, and that she has had more than eighty careers since she was created in 1959?

In fact, Barbie has been such a sensation over the years that the Mattel Toy Company has used more than 105 million yards of fabric creating Barbie fashions, which makes them one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world.

After you finish looking at all the toys in the museum, it is time to check out all the fascinating miniatures displayed on the first floor.

There are miniature homes complete with everything that you would find in a full-sized house.  There are tiny instruments, books, jewelry, cameras, clocks, needlepoint pieces, paintings, animals and everything else you can imagine.

What I found most interesting about the miniature area of the museum was the room lined with microscopes.  When you look into each of the microscopes, you are able to see miniature pieces that you can barely distinguish with your naked eye  - such as intricate designs created on the head of a straight pin. 

Also in the miniature section of the museum is a film showing how artists create their tiny pieces of art and a small display that shows you step by step how a miniature violin is created and pieced together.

Overall, there are so many items to look at in the Toy and Miniature museum that it is truly hard to take it all in at one time. 

You should know that if you leave before seeing everything, the museum allows you to return the same day with your paid admission receipt and reenter at no charge, which I actually recommend.

You can spend the morning enjoying the huge toy collection.  Then, take a break and head to one of the nearby yummy Plaza restaurants for lunch. 

After you have given your brain a break and made your stomach happy, return to the museum in the afternoon ready to absorb the magnificence of the miniature collection on display.

While in the museum, be sure to also check out the fireplaces and beautiful woodwork in several of the rooms.  This gives you an idea of how opulent the museum was when it was a private residence.

At the end of your day at the museum, if you are still wanting more, there is a fun gift shop to look through which contains toys, trinkets, jewelry, dolls and more for you to purchase.

A Giant Windup Bear on the Lawn of the Museum
Note that the Toy and Miniature Museum does not allow photos, a guide can be arranged for tour groups, it is not a good place to take young kids, and kids under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time students, $5 for children 5-12, and free for children under 5, museum members, and students, faculty and staff of UMKC.

The Toy and Miniature Museum is located at 5235 Oak and is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.  They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.