Scouting Mission: 2017-Jan-06

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The Old Courthouse, in downtown Saint Louis, is a magnificent building, and the best time for locals to visit is on Epiphany, (the Twelfth Day of Christmas), which falls on January 6th of each year. On this day, the Old Courthouse comes alive with the sounds of music and dancing from 1767, hosted by re-enactors in period military dress and fancy long gowns.  The event is called the Twelfth Afternoon Ball, and it comes complete with little cakes and cookies for visitors to enjoy.

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Visitors are invited to join in the merry dancing, and the party culminates with the “King’s Cake” which has been baked with three beans.  Gentlemen eat the cakes, and whoever gets the bean, gets to be King, which means the honor of throwing the next party.  It’s a jolly festive atmosphere, but the real reason for a family adventure visit, is to climb the stairs of the magnificent rotunda, and get some exercise in winter.

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Explore until you find the staircase on the side halls, and climb each balcony to hunt for the next hidden set of stairs, until you’ve reached as high as you can go.  The Old Courthouse was crafted by hand, at enormous expense, and it is impossibly beautiful and grand by today’s standards.

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The skylight at the top of the cupola is called the “eye”, and allegorical figures are painted on the walls depicting law, liberty, justice and commerce. Some of the columns are made of cast iron and some are made of wood. Knock on them to see which is which!

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Look down on the dancers below, and peek inside the courtroom doors.

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The Old Courthouse is a National Park, and stands as a touchstone for the courageous struggle for freedom and justice, as it was the setting for the famous Dred & Harriet Scott case, which in part, sparked the Civil War. Be sure to visit the Dred Scott exhibit and add something new to your understanding about the battle for individual rights gone awry. Dred Scott eventually did become a free man, shortly before he died.

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Be sure to visit the gift store, which has an excellent selection of books on Lewis and Clark, as well as possibly the best collection of children’s books on African American history.  Step out on the East Steps, to see the Arch and stand on the spot where slaves were sold, along with such items as the Eads Bridge (to your left) and the St. Louis Dispatch to immigrant Joseph Pulitzer.  This is a good spot for a family photo.

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Because of the delightful dancing and music, not to mention easy parking, Epiphany is a great time for local citizens to visit the Old Courthouse, to get some exercise and cultural appreciation. The event is free and suitable for all, from toddlers to grandparents. On your way out, hunt for the turtle motif on the fence, an homage to a quirky custodian who once kept a turtle in the fountain.

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Every kid should visit the Old Courthouse at least once, to touch a monument to the dream of American equality, and to reinforce in the next generation the shared value of governance by the rule of law, without which we surely would be ruled by tyrants. Go anytime your schedule allows, but if you go to the King’s Ball on Epiphany, or perhaps the President’s Ball near President’s Day, the adventure is twice as fun.

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