February 14, 2009

Jesse James Home - St. Joseph, MO

On April 3, 1882, Jesse James was murdered in his home. Bob Ford, a member of the notorious outlaw James' gang killed him to collect a $10,000 reward being offered by the governor. At the time, 34-year-old James was living as Tom Howard with a wife and two children. As he was straightening a picture, Ford shot him in the head from behind.

At the entrance of the home, is a small display of news articles showing the history of the museum and the famous people who have come to visit. Most interestingly, was a middle-aged Johnny Cash with a mustache that made him almost unrecognizable in the newspaper picture. In the next room is a series of portraits showing Jesse James at various stages in his life. The museum is not about his adventurous outlaw career. It shows Jesse James as a man. There is a leather vest of his namesake uncle in a glass frame. In another room is the bed he once slept in and the safe he kept in the kitchen. It is a museum occasionally mundane in its details, but in that aspect it memorializes Jesse James as a human being and not just a Wild West caricature of pop culture.

One aspect of the museum is just plain morbid. In 1995, the body of Jesse James was exhumed by forensic scientist James Starrs. There had long been rumors that James faked his death and actually lived to a ripe old age under another assumed name. However, DNA tests concluded with 99.7% probability that the corpse was Jesse James. But that's not the really morbid part. They made a casting of his skull to show where the bullet entered his skull behind the right ear. The cast is displaying in a rotating class case in the museum along with casts made of his teeth. So at the Jesse James home, you can see where he was shot and...well, where he was shot.

As I looked through a small glass case that is the museum's gift shop trying to find something to commemorate my visit, I talked with the curator about all the history St. Joseph has to offer. Really, it is a sort of roadside attraction goldmine. A place proud of its history and always looking for a way to memorialize it. There are at least four other museums I can see from the entrance of the house. As we talked about where my next stop should be, I saw my souvenir - a cowboy hat!

But this was only the first stop in St. Joseph! I had one more place to go see. And this won't be my last trip here either. Like I said, this town was like a roadside attraction goldmine. I have lots more to see and many more trips back to see it all.

Travel Time: 4 hours roundtrip
Distance Traveled: 160 miles roundtrip
Soundtrack: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins "Rabbit Fur Coat"

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