…wherever the four winds blow.” The lyrics from the song Blues in the Night are not entirely appropriate as we didn’t get to either Mobile or Natchez. But after arriving in Kansas City, Missouri on Monday afternoon we unpacked at our AirBnB and had a relaxing evening in preparation for the next day’s side trip to the St. Joe referenced in the song: St. Joseph, Missouri.
One of my former London work colleagues, Jeannine, actually hails from St. Joe and her mother still lives there. It turns out that she was visiting and her stay in the area and ours overlapped by one day, so we arranged to meet up and let her show us the touristic high spots of her home town. It transpires that there are more of them than a cynical foreigner (namely me) might imagine.
Our first stop was the Patee House Museum, a former hotel and headquarters of the Pony Express.
Launched in April 1860, the Pony Express offered the most rapid means of communication with America’s West. For about eighteen months. In October 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was established and the Pony Express became the Betamax of speedy messaging.
This spectacularly short life led to the Pony Express being romanticized as a service that attracted free-spirited adventurers, willing daily to risk their lives in service of the mail. I’ve known a romantic version of the Pony Express since I was a kid, and I suspect that’s true of subsequent generations as well. It didn’t last long but it had great PR.
Just out the back of the Patee House is another legendary location, which I had no idea was in St. Joe: the house where Jesse James was shot and killed.
This story is, of course, the basis of a fine Bluegrass song famously sung by Nick Cave in the movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The wall in the house where Jesse was hanging the picture when he was shot has a huge hole which, allegedly, started out as a bullet hole but was expanded over time as trophy hunters gouged out fragments to keep as souvenirs.
As Jeannine proudly said, her home town was quite the happenin’ place, 150 years ago.
The Patee House Museum contains what I would describe as an eclectic exhibition of pieces. You get the impression that any St Joseph resident could present the museum with anything and, so long as it was old, it would go on display. For example,
a giant ball of twine is…a giant ball of twine. At least the movie poster had the merit of a Jesse James connection, albeit a tenuous one.
There was only so much St. Joe based excitement we could stand, so we met up with Jeannine’s mother, Beverly, and the four of us had lunch together at The Belle Epoque Cafe. The food here was delicious, but the decor had a bit of a surprise in store for us. We did not expect to encounter in Missouri a wall covered in wallpaper from Glasgow’s cutting edge design firm, Timorous Beasties.
After lunch, we said farewell to Jeannine and Beverly and headed back to Kansas City, with one brief stop at the River Bluff Brewery. We wanted to try a local beer so took away some of their Bluff Session IPA for later enjoyment.