SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
St. Louis is mourning the loss of one of its most creative residents, Bob Cassilly. Bob Cassilly founded City Museum, a fantastical place that features caves, a five-story jungle gym and lots and lots of slides. The artist recently died in an accident while working on his latest creation. St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman reports.
MARIA ALTMAN, BYLINE: It's hard to miss City Museum when you're in downtown St. Louis. There's a school bus teetering over the edge of the roof and a giant praying mantis standing on its hind legs. Then there's the working Ferris wheel.
J. WATSON SCOTT: And only Bob would say it's time to put a Ferris wheel on top of the building.
ALTMAN: That's J. Watson Scott, who knew and worked with Bob Cassilly for decades. He says the artist never lost his inner kid. Cassilly loved to create an experience that was fun and just a bit scary, from the museum's ten-story spiral slide to the tunnels that burrow under the museum's ground floor. Scott sums up his philosophy.
SCOTT: If you can't climb on it and you can't slide on it, what good is it?
ALTMAN: Last year, more than 600,000 people visited City Museum. Few could have predicted that an old shoe factory in a run-down part of downtown St. Louis would become a major tourist attraction. Barbara Geisman is the former development director for the city and had known Cassilly since the 1970s.
BARBARA GEISMAN: He was a risk taker of the highest order. Nothing scared him. He was never afraid to try anything.
ALTMAN: Trained as a sculptor, Cassilly dabbled in real estate and made enough money by the early 1980s to buy the huge space that would become City Museum. But his canvas kept getting bigger. His latest vision was a place he called Cementland, a 54-acre complex on the site of an old cement plant on St. Louis' north side riverfront.
BRUCE GERRIE: I remember in the early days, you know, it was basically flat ground. Now it's hills and giant pyramids and castles. He was a great builder.
ALTMAN: That was Cassilly's long-time friend Bruce Gerrie, who says the artist began sculpting with a bulldozer. But it was a bulldozer that took Cassilly's life. On the morning of September 26th, the 61-year-old was found dead in the cab of one, which apparently had rolled down a large hill. His work can be seen throughout the country, from the cement hippos in New York City's Riverside Park to the giant giraffe outside the Dallas Zoo.
Back on the Ferris wheel on top of City Museum, J. Watson Scott says Cassilly loved pushing boundaries, always climbing higher than anyone else.
SCOTT: He was just looking for a better view of the world so he could create something for us to marvel in.
ALTMAN: Scott and others hope to eventually open Cementland, Cassilly's biggest and last creation to the public.
For NPR News, I'm Maria Altman in St. Louis.
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