50 States in 50 Days: Missouri – Show Me Missouri

Posted by: Doug Morrow, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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Mark Twain Paddle steam boat on the Mississippi River at Hannibal Missouri
Mark Twain Paddle steam boat on the Mississippi River at Hannibal Missouri

Missouri has always been a microcosm of the United States.   The 21st largest state, with the 18th largest population, its voting results have accurately predicted the Presidential elections in all but two elections since 1904.  It sits on the border between the “North” and the “South,” fusing Northern industriousness with Southern hospitality, and also straddles the dividing line between the Western frontier states and the “Eastern establishment.”  Ironically, a place so representative of the United States is a state that most Americans know little about.

The People

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

People in the United States of America carry with them many stereotypes about different regions of the United States, and the people who live there.  Those who live in the Midwest – including Missourians – often say that people living on the East Coast are too arrogant, too work-obsessed, and not concerned enough about “family values.”  By contrast, they often feel that those living on the West Coast are too liberal and too free spirited.  A common joke in the Midwest goes: “When God shook the tree of life, all the fruits and nuts landed in California.”  But those on the two coasts uncharitably get their revenge by calling the Midwest and Missouri “flyover country” – essentially a place you would only ever see from an airplane. Those who actually believe this are missing a lot that’s worth seeing.

Nonetheless, these stereotypes give us a good sense of the average person in Missouri: hardworking, but with a great respect for family; moderate politically and economically, and skeptical of radical policy changes; humble, and scornful of those who flaunt their power or wealth.   It’s a combination that allows for people with a wide variety of outlooks to live together in relative harmony.  In one town in extreme northeast Missouri, for example, three very different communities live side by side:  the Mennonites, blue collar whites, and the hippies.  Mennonites are a religious but moderate group who believe in modesty and eschew many types of modern technology, believing that constantly chasing after the new and the different makes it difficult for them to focus on their relationship with God.  (They have been compared to the Amish, but are less stringent in their rejection of twentieth century and later technology.) The blue collar whites in northeast Missouri embrace new technology, but share a social conservatism with their Mennonite neighbors.  And the hippies there share a love of technology with their blue collar white neighbors, but also share a deep appreciation for the “back to the land” movement with their Mennonite friends.

The History

U.S. President Harry Truman
U.S. President Harry Truman

At the crossroads of the United States, Missouri has also produced or welcomed some of the greatest figures in U.S. history.  It was the home of U.S. President Harry Truman, who ended racial discrimination in the armed forces, helped end World War II, worked to create the United Nations, bankrolled the Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe, implemented the Berlin Airlift, and helped create NATO.

Missouri was also the home of “America’s writer,” Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and also one of the United States’ most notable political satirists.  The state also gave us Jesse James, one of the “Wild West’s” most infamous outlaws, who came to notoriety through a series of daring train robberies.  Finally, Missouri was the final resting place and home of folk hero and frontiersman Daniel Boone, who was adopted into the Shawnee tribe of Native Americans before returning to action to defend European settlements in the Revolutionary War era.

Gooey Pumpkin Butter Cake
Gooey Pumpkin Butter Cake

The Sights

With millions of acres of rolling green hills, forests, lakes, rivers, canyons, cliffs, rock arches, river bluffs, fishing spots, hunting grounds, hiking, and opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, historic sightseeing, and more, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy Missouri’s pristine outdoors each year.   One of the most beautiful parts of Missouri is the “Lake of the Ozarks,” located in the center of the state, a little over three hours west of the largest city – St. Louis.  St. Louis, incidentally, is one of the premier Midwestern food capitals, boasting local delicacies like toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, the “prosperity” sandwich and also the original home of peanut butter and cotton candy!

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