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Cassilly's death leaves questions about future of City Museum, Cementland

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 28, 2011 - Following the death of Bob Cassilly, one thing is certain: City Museum will re-open Wednesday as scheduled. What happens after that is not clear.

Cassilly was found dead Monday morning in a bulldozer at Cementland, the under-construction site of his ongoing project in north St. Louis. The museum is always closed on Monday and Tuesday, so Wednesday is the first day museum-goers will enter what is now a giant shrine to the late colorful artist.

City Museum is owned by a partnership between Cassilly and American Milling LP, which is owned by downtown real estate developer David Jump. Jump has not yet returned Beacon phone calls, but according to museum director Rick Erwin, Cassilly's death will change nothing in the immediate future about the museum's operations.

"We'll continue as normal, at least as normal as possible," Erwin said.

One huge question: Did Cassilly leave a will? If so, Erwin said the museum will be "happy to work with" whoever inherits Bob's share and "continue the work he was trying to do."

But many who knew Cassilly understand that he was not a fan of official documents, leading them to wonder whether the estate will eventually be settled in court.

"Bob was a handshake kind of a guy," Erwin said.

The Show Must Go on

One document Cassilly did sign was with the nonprofit World Aquarium, housed in the museum.

"We have a contract for continuous operations, which could be forever," said Aquarium president Leonard Sonnenschein.

But the director of Circus Harmony, also located in City Museum has no such agreement.

"The only contract I ever saw Bob write was on a chalkboard," Jessica Hentoff said. "Nobody knew what was going to happen when Bob was alive -- now people really don't know what's going to happen."

But, until further notice, jugglers and acrobats will continue performing under the glass tent that Cassilly built.

"As the saying goes, the show must go on," Hentoff said.

Museum-wide, that show includes plans for an airplane on the museum's rooftop and the construction of new walls, according to Erwin. Numerous drawings and designs exist for other future projects.

A memorial service, open to the public, is scheduled for 2 p.m., Sat., Oct. 1 at the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard in Grand Center. City Museum will be closed Saturday because of the funeral.

Nothing's every completed here -- it's all an evolving sculpture," Erwin said. "But Bob has a competent corps of workers who know how he works and about the things he wanted to do, so we plan to just go forward."

The Cassilly family is also dedicated to ensuring the future of the nationally known St. Louis attraction, according to Richard Callow, who does public relations work for City Museum.

"Everyone we have talked to -- staff, artists, family -- are all committed to continuing it," Callow said.

Cementland's Future is Hardly in Concrete

The fate of Cementland, a planned amusement park with tunnels, a watchtower and a moat, is less certain than that of the museum. That project is not part of the City Museum partnership and was owned solely by Cassilly.

"Many of us hope they continue it," said Erwin, "but I don't think a decision has been made yet."

Dionne Flowers, the St. Louis alderman for the area in which Cementland sits, hopes the project will move forward. Flowers speculated that Cassilly's wife, Giovanna, will ultimately ensure Cementland's completion.

"I'm not really sure what will happen, but I do know that Giovanna was deep in his corner," Flowers said.

Another, more immediate question concerns the funeral plans. Erwin and Callow said the family is still trying to make decisions but confirmed that services will be held this Saturday, Oct. 1 at local Catholic church, which has not yet been named. Cassilly will be cremated, and, in a private ceremony, his ashes will be spread over the Mississippi River near the Cementland amusement park site where he died in an apparent bulldozer accident.

Meanwhile, according to Hentoff, one certainty, besides the Wednesday museum opening, remains amid the uncertainty following Cassilly's death.

"There is never, ever, ever going to another Bob Cassilly," Hentoff said.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.