When the American Kennel Club announced in 2009—its 125th anniversary year—that the Museum of the Dog would relocate from Edgar M. Queeny County Park to AKC headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, the leading citizens of Town & Country, Missouri, saw the pee on the paper.
Could they sniff out a replacement at least as good for T&C tourism as MOD, ideally one that belonged in Greater St. Louis, one that the dog’s breakfast of corporations and nonprofits could get behind?
Two years to conceive and another five to deliver, the Missouri Museum of Reproduction emerged this fall, over Labor Day weekend. Its acronym, MMOR, is pronounced—you guessed it—amor.
But why reproduction? Read my lips: Monsanto. Local wags are already calling it the Monsanto Museum of Reproduction.
The agrochemical giant, next door in Creve Coeur, was founded in 1901 by Edgar M. Queeny’s father, John Francis Queeny. E.M.Q. himself was Monsanto’s chairman for more than 30 years. The park was part of his estate.
In 2001, assisted by the Danforth Foundation and the State of Missouri, Monsanto gave birth to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, also in Creve Coeur. Its mission: “to improve the human condition through plant science.”
“The notion that the new Queeny Park facility would be some sort of science museum, but different from the [Saint Louis] Science Center, was always a twinkle in our eye,” said Jack Russell, an advisor to Town & Country Mayor Jon Dalton. “Science, education, these were the things that got all the players—the corporations and research centers, the hospitals, universities, the school district—fired up.”
The city gets half of MMOR’s admission fees—$10 for adults, $5 for seniors, and free for ages 12 and under—plus a share of merchandise sales and rental income. If the forecast 40,000 adults and 20,000 seniors show up by the time the museum is one year old, admissions alone will have generated $250,000 for Town & Country.
That won’t begin to pay off MMOR’s total cost of just under $40 million, but the city could get its $10 million contribution back in 30 years if the museum’s a turn-on. The other funders—the State, Monsanto, Nestlé, Pfizer, BJC HealthCare, Washington University, Showtime, and a handful of private individuals—at least have their names on the wall.
Did Showtime catch your eye? Well, you’ve heard of Masters of Sex. MMOR is also a Masters and Johnson tribute.
William Masters and Virginia Johnson came together in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of their creation of the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation, later the Masters & Johnson Institute (it closed in 1994). And the museum’s opening marks another 50th: Human Sexual Response was published in 1966.
The museum has handled the age-appropriate challenge by using barriers and color-coding. Instead of “You must be at least 36 inches tall to ride,” signs read: “You must have reached puberty to enter.” But it is more a children’s museum than anything else, and by focusing on biology and health MMOR has avoided taking positions on the hot-button topics of birth control and abortion (not to mention transgender equality and GMOs).
The expression “strange bedfellows” comes to mind, but on a recent visit MMOR’s director, Connie Kennelly, had another raring to go.
“You know that saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee? That’s us,” Kennelly said. “Camels are my favorite animals. I made sure we lassoed one.”
She escorted me through sliding glass doors to a covered outdoor pavilion known as the W.O.M.B. (Witness Our Mammals Birthing), where human kids were transfixed by their just-born, four-legged counterparts. Nearby were a cow, a sow, and a camel, enceinte.
Although they’re not in your face about it, the museum’s overall plan is a schematic of the female reproductive system, with fallopian corridors leading to ovary-shaped pavilions. The design is the brainchild of 85-year-old, Brooklyn-born architect Indira Cuyp, a Stevens Institute graduate who worked in Edward Durell Stone’s office in the 1960s.
“I was one of the first successful female architects,” Cuyp told me in the museum’s plant-filled cervix. “But I gave up having children to do it. By the time I became disenchanted with office buildings, it was too late. This project reached out to me. It resonated with my entire being.”
One of the ovaries houses a small auditorium and the other the museum store, littered with baby-animal merchandise, gifts for expectant and new mothers and infants, and every how-to book from Dr. Spock to All Joy and No Fun. Like the museum, the store has children’s and adults-only sections.
Rental income from weddings, baby showers, and “birth-day parties” is expected to swell. Jarville House and Gardens, a 19th-century mansion that was part of the Museum of the Dog, has been restored for private events.
And what became of the rest of the Museum of the Dog? It had to be put down.
Baltimore-based freelance writer Richard Selden is cultural editor of the D.C. biweekly The Georgetowner. He has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Yale and a master’s degree in tourism management from the New School.