There He Goes Again

If you liked the City Museum, just look at what Bob Cassilly is doing now

"There was no life, then all of a sudden life tried everything. It came to all these dead ends. They were fascinating dead ends, but they were dead ends. So I want to compare the Precambrian explosion with the Industrial Revolution, which was the equivalent of the Precambrian explosion. Mechanically, things became wide open, things exploded with possibilities. There were 50,000 kinds of cars. Now there's one car -- they all look the same. There were all this simple kind of mechanical machines and monster things."

Not surprisingly, Cassilly has a collection of old, outmoded machines. And, of course, he says they all appear to be in working order. He says he has a "million pounds of monster machines" in storage, including "giant steel punchers, big giant trip-hammers, a planer that has a giant electromagnet that clamps on these master pieces of steel and goes through it, and there's these other things that chop steel."

Stacking these implements of industry throughout the plant will create a theme, he thinks.

"I want to have these galleries of these dying machines," Cassilly says. "It'd kind of be like a morality play. These machines would be up on these multistory buildings cranking away kind of like Nazis, then I'll have this industrial stuff, then I'll have these green wetlands going through, with reeds and stuff and reflecting lakes. I'll have these raw, industrial ruins combined with this nature; I'll balance off the two."

Nazis?

Well, in any morality play, somebody has to play the heavy, and in Cassilly's fevered brain, the old machines are cast as the Gestapo. Asked whether the machine backdrop is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's character who gets caught in the gears of a giant machine in the 1936 movie Modern Times, Cassilly is quick to buy into that analogy. Just how many folks fresh from a dip in the cement bins will be hip to the Precambrian explosion or willing to ponder man's relationship to machine is unclear. But Cassilly has other things in mind for those unwilling or unable to wrestle with such dense topics. How about throwing stones off a 250-foot-high smokestack?

Less than 50 yards from where the water slide may end up, there's a metal walkway about 25 feet above the ground that leads to the smokestack. Cassilly has an idea: Put a circular stairwell around the outside of the stack all the way to the top. Then, anyone at the top could throw down bricks or stones, aiming at targets painted on the bottom of the flooded area around the base of the stack, or there could be floating targets in the pound.

"It'd be an event," Cassilly beams. "People would be horrified. Kids would drag their parents up there.

"There's a huge pent-up demand for throwing stuff off these things. We climbed up on top of the chimney, and there was all these loose rocks up there. We threw them all off. It was kind of flooded down at the bottom. That's the random chance -- there happened to be a puddle after a rain. You could make targets and stuff. It's pretty far up there."

Hold on, Bob. What about people who are walking across the bridge to get to the spiral staircase on the smokestack?

"Yeah, I forgot about the bridge. We'd have to do something about that," Cassilly admits, but he is not deterred from his rock-throwing concept. "I haven't worked out all the details, but the theory's sound. Everyone likes to throw rocks. It's like if you're selling a mass-consumer object. Everybody uses toothpaste. Underneath every person is this desire to heave rocks off of high places."

Brushing your teeth, heaving rocks -- much the same thing. Asked yet again how he's going to describe his mutation of a vacant cement plant, he feigns disinterest in image.

"Let somebody else figure out what to call it. I just thought it was a perfect place to play with equipment, work on big projects and do all the things that are fun in the world. Do the things that you can't normally do anymore, just because there's no vacant lots, there's no pyramids, no slides," Cassilly says, and before the listener can try to make a connection between the paucity of vacant lots, pyramids and slides with the modern-day lack of fun, the tour continues, with Cassilly walking away from the chimney and toward a structure that has a row of four concrete silos. "You got to go up this one -- it's amazing."

Amazing is not what most folks would call this. Abandoned, yes. Vacant, useless, a relic of a bygone era, another tombstone in the industrial cemetery that is the city of St. Louis -- it's all that. But amazing? Surely Cassilly must be wearing rose-tinted contacts.

But everything is contagious, even indiscriminate enthusiasm. After 20 years of neglect, the limestone dust is thick on the way up to the top of the silo, but the structure seems sound. Climbing up the metal stairs past several platforms Cassilly throws off a thought that he won't pursue.

"I was thinking this would be a really neat vertical nightclub. You could put glass all across the front here, and with all these platforms," Cassilly says, as he keeps going up the steps. "But I hate nightclubs."

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