Notes from the State Historical Society of Missouri President

SHSMO President Bob Priddy stands in front of the near-completed Center for Missouri Studies, July 2019.

There will come a time, I suppose—although I cannot yet envision it—when I will not approach the Center for Missouri Studies and think, “Oh, My Lord!”

The thought came to me one morning in mid-June as I stood on the sidewalk across from the south entrance. Workers high above were putting the remaining stone facing in place. I had visited the building many times during the construction process, awed by what I was seeing. But until that moment in June, the building had not grabbed me emotionally.

It burst from the ground and soared higher than its three-story height. It was—symphonic! It was the Empire Brass Quintet with Organ and Henry Purcell’s “Rondeau” from Abdelazer. How odd that something so modern should provoke a thought of something so magnificently baroque.

The nineteenth-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described architecture as “frozen music.” We aren’t sure what kind of frozen music the Center for Missouri Studies is, but we suspect a lot of brass would be involved. Offenbach and Copland, some Wagner and Beethoven mixed with some Bird and Basie and Hawkins with a little rocking guitar by Berry. And in all of that is heard the quiet dulcimer, banjo, and guitar of Cathy Barton and Dave Para doing a Bob Dyer song about our history and our river.

We have watched with excitement as the “score,” drawn on paper by our architects, Gould Evans, has been arranged into a three-dimensional composition on a half-city block by River City Construction. This is getting a bit thick, isn’t it? Please excuse the gushing. I hate gushing. But something happened that morning as I stood in the shade of a tree in Peace Park and watched this incredible structure rearing up in front of me. We’ve cut the ribbon. The speeches have been made. The doors are open. It is business as usual at the headquarters of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Except, it’s not “as usual.” Everything we had in our old quarters is in the new building—and more. But this is more than old wine in new skins. It is a new beginning for the Society, and for the way Missouri history is preserved and made available to all who come seeking to understand who and what we are.

Abraham Lincoln told Congress in 1862, “We cannot escape history.” And the Center for Missouri Studies is a bold embodiment of those words. Our unique building at the north edge of the University of Missouri campus makes sure we cannot ignore history. Our shared history is a confluence of the events and emotions, people and places, motives and sacrifices that we add to each day. Here is where history, geography, folklore, anthropology, journalism, and other disciplines join like flowing streams into one great reservoir of understanding. 

We cannot ignore the soaring notes of history. Nor can we ignore its discordant noise. This is a place where we can strive to hear what all that sound tells us about ourselves.

Welcome to the symphony. Welcome to the statement. Come often.

—Bob Priddy