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Precious Moments

Bad Taste Tour: Precious Moments Museum
by Cash Peters

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When I heard about the Precious Moments Museum, you know what I was expecting? A small room full of dolls. That's it. But this place is vast, 3,000-acres of vast. And everywhere you look there are these droopy-eyed Precious Moments clay figurines, designed, sculpted, and painted by Samuel J. Butcher, who one day had this kind of religious epiphany.

Museum Video: "When he came to know the Lord, he thought he would use his talent only for the Lord."

And he began by making greetings cards. Then came the figurines, and, finally, I guess the Lord told him to build this huge, amazing park thing in Missouri for people to tour around.

Museum Video: "Your tour will begin at the front door of the chapel..."

Thanks, kid. He's right. The church is the first stop. It's filled with murals depicting scenes from the Bible. But hey, there's a twist. All the main characters are played by Precious Moments figurines. It's true. Lynn Onstot, the PR woman, was standing by with a bucket in case I threw up.

Lynn: "Well, it's not necessarily a church."

Cash: "It looks like one."

Lynn: "Correct. But there's not a cross, although Jesus is portrayed in one of the murals."

Cash: "As a Precious Moment?"

Lynn: "No. He is a real person."

Cash: "You know what you need here?"

Lynn: "What?"

Cash: "A Jurassic Park ride. The dinosaurs could have droopy eyes."

Lynn: "Well..."

Cash: "Just a thought. It's a money-spinner."

Lynn: "This is not a theme park."

Yeah, right. It's not a theme park in the same way that My Fair Lady isn't a musical. The theme is subtle, though. See if you can detect it as we go along.

Shelby: "Switch walls with me and let's do the New Testament side. Let's begin with the circular paintings of the life of Christ."

Back to the tour. As well as the Church, there's an art gallery, plus a bizarre Resurrection scene in which a five-foot tall Precious Moment guards Jesus' tomb. Then you get to wander through a garden filled with singing bushes. It's a little too X-Files somehow, but great. And eventually you come to one of Samuel Butcher's most inspired ideas: an island in a lake that they set aside for weddings. It's where Shelby Bates, my tour guide, was married.

Shelby: "I was. This is the Precious Moments wedding island and it's just beautiful. We're in the chapel right now and it looks as if it's a small church but you can seat 120 people in here. I had 150 in here and they fit just fine."

Cash: "And were they people you knew?"

Shelby: "Yes, they were all people I knew. There's a wedding bell right here."

Cash: "Pull it. Go on."

Shelby: "There it is. Every time someone gets married you can hear this all over the complex."

Cash: "So if I went round to your home, and I'm not saying I won't, I'd see all your wedding photos against this lake?"

Shelby: "They're just gorgeous. I have one of the mansion, then I'm over by the waterfall*."

Cash: "Then there's the one of you being dragged out of the lake after you fell in."

Shelby: "No. I didn't fall in."

Shame. That really would have been a precious moment. It's all beautifully done, although the wedding area alone is sweet enough to trigger diabetes, so be careful. But visitors are really impressed.

Tourist #1: "I think it's wonderful."

Tourist #2: "Ooh, I love it. I think it's awesome. And the story of Mr. Butcher*"

Cash: "He never sleeps, you know."

Tourist #2: "He couldn't. Look at all this."

Cash: "He hasn't slept since 1938."

Tourist #2: "Yes, it is an incredible place."

Cash: "So will you marry me?"

Tourist #2: "No."

Cash: "Will you marry me?"

Male Tourist: "No. It's not legal in Missouri yet. Come back. No, just kidding."

I don't think he was kidding. Anyway, in the event, Shelby saved the very best thing until last: a spectacular fountain display filled with what looked like children dressed as fairies.

Museum Video: "And now it's our privilege to present to you this fountain. It's our Precious Moments Fountain of Angels."


Cash: "Clap harder... Thank you, that's enough."

Museum Video: "Tonight we are in the presence of the most high God, the high and holy one who sent his son Jesus down to be the shepherd of our souls."

Cash: "Are these real children in the fountain?"

Shelby: "No."

Cash: "Because there are laws against that."

Cash: "They're cast from bronze. They're an inch thick and at the center is an angel. It weighs 1,000lbs. All those different effects, the big geyser, that's meant to represent our relationship with God."

I'm filling up. The dancing fountain lasts about 20 minutes. At the climax, this huge pink peacock tail of water fans out and then, well, then something miraculous, not to say mildly disturbing, happens.

Cash: "Oh my God."

Shelby: "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

Cash: "Never in a million years did I expect that."

Shelby: "You can't tell anyone, though. They'll have to come and be surprised. Mr. Butcher wants the ending to be a surprise for all the guests."

And oh boy, will you be surprised. But I really do have to keep it a secret. I swore I would, sorry. Still, you'll see it when you go. And you must go. It's well worth the eight-dollar admission and the inconvenience of converting to Christianity. In Carthage, Missouri, I'm Cash Peters for The Savvy Traveler.


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