Meramec Caverns is a giant among America's show caves and a tourism pioneer, beckoning visitors since the 1940s with free bumper stickers and painted barn advertisements in 13 surrounding states.
Meramec calls itself "Jesse James's Hideout," but the tiny cabin in the cave mouth (under the neon "Meramec Caverns" sign) belonged to a moonshiner, not Jesse; no bandit gold has ever been found here. Just beyond the cabin lies the Grand Ballroom, with a mirrored disco ball and signs along its walls listing the TV shows and movies that were filmed in it. Seven levels of passages lead everywhere, and all of them seem to be occupied by tour groups.
All tours end in the Theatre Room for "the greatest show under the earth," a triumph of 1940s technology that features a well-worn recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" followed by a slide of an American flag projected onto a wall of flowstone. The tour group, happy to be sitting after over an hour on their feet, bursts into applause.