Super-Sized Wonders in Kansas City
By Kristina Light
- Smokey Bear. If you grew up with commercials reminding you, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” a trip to Burr Oak Woods Nature Center will bring a bit of nostalgia. An animatronics Smokey Bear is on display there, and with the push of a button he cautions children to exercise fire safety. The nature center is a free field trip with wonderful hands-on activities and beautiful nature trails. Burr Oak Woods Nature Center (1401 NW Park Rd., Blue Springs, MO).
- Jumbo Penguin. Since 1964, children have been sliding down the gigantic penguin, climbing to the top of the elephant slide and peeking out of a kangaroo’s pocket at one of Kansas City’s most beloved parks. The whimsical characters at Penguin Park (North Vivion Road & North Norton Avenue, Kansas City, MO) create a true haven for kids!
- World’s Biggest Ball of String (not Twine). In the 1950s, Finley Stephens opened a museum in Weston, MO. One of the many artifacts was a ball of string weighing more than 3,700 pounds and measuring 19 feet in diameter. Stephens asked local postmasters to save string for him and he used it to create the ball. The museum no longer exists, but the ball of string does. It is now outside O’Malley’s Irish Pub in a glass display case (500 Welt St., Weston, MO).
- Giant Book Collection. The Central Library in Kansas City is located in the former Federal Reserve Bank. The five-story library is absolutely breathtaking with marble fixtures, chandeliers, the old bank vault serving as a movie theater, the Missouri Valley Room housing historic artifacts, a rooftop view and reading area, and one of the most fantastic children’s departments in the area. However, what makes the Library “odd” is the parking garage that is painted with gigantic books and features book-shaped stairs leading to the pedestrian exit. If you haven’t visited this library yet, you’re missing out on a true treasure (14 W. 10th St., Kansas City, MO).
- Not-Itsy-Bitsy Spider. Standing guard at the Kemper Museum of Modern Art (4420 Warwick Blvd., Kansas City, MO) is an 11-foot-tall bronze spider created by French artist Louise Bourgeois. The gallery lawn is home to the mother spider and her baby. Families never know what they’ll discover on a trip to the Kemper, and the spiders are a favorite for kids!
- 22-foot Needle and Thread. In the 1930s, Kansas City’s garment district was known as “Paris of the Plains.” It was home to many of the nation’s leading clothing manufacturers and was second only to New York City. Now, that history is preserved at the Historic Garment District Museum (801 Broadway, Kansas City, MO, 816.474.2112). Across the street at 404 Eighth St., you’ll find a statue of a gigantic needle and thread commemorating the area.
- World’s Largest Iron. If you ever need to press gigantic wrinkles after sewing gigantic clothes, visit Kansas City, KS … home of the world’s largest iron at the intersection of Wilson Boulevard & and Central Avenue.
- World’s Largest Collection of Hair. Prior to the common use of cameras to capture memories, Victorians saved hair from their loved ones and used it to create masterpieces … from wreaths to jewelry. Leila Cohoon, a beautician by trade, was fascinated by this art form, so she began collecting artifacts made of hair. With more than 2,000 pieces, she opened Leila’s Hair Museum (1333 S. Noland Rd., Independence, MO).
- The Shuttlecocks. An article on big stuff in KC would not be complete without the Shuttlecocks (more than 17 feet tall and weighing more than 5,000 pounds), perhaps the most recognized outdoor sculptures in the Midwest. Many are familiar with the Shuttlecocks on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but how many of us know why the unusual objects are the subject of sculpture? The artists imagined the museum as a net and a large game taking place on the lawn. The feathers and shapes reminded them of teepees and the Native Americans who first lived here. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (4525 Oak, Kansas City, MO).