Retro WON: Johnny Morris’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium
It’s one of the best perks of this job of being an outdoors writer — getting a special invite to events such as the grand opening of Johnny Morris’s Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri, recently. We spent a September morning touring the beautiful space, but not all 350,000 square feet of it. That will merit return trips. We also witnessed a special press conference, conducted by students of the WOLF school with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who donned scuba gear and answered questions while in the shark tank.
Visonionary and founder of Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris, expanded the defunct Wonders of Wildlife Museum that sat next to the flagship store in Springfield, and increased its capacity by at least four. Morris welcomed us, surrounded by notables in the conservation world. “This facility,” he said, “is really all about sportsmen and women, hunters and anglers in our country that have meant so much to conservation, and make no mistake about it, we want to celebrate them. … It’s an amazing story and that’s the story we’re trying to tell.”
In this photo gallery, we tried to capture the essence and pulse of the numerous wildlife and art galleries and gallons of aquariums. We highly encourage you to explore this unique setting for yourselves at your earliest convenience. We think you’ll appreciate the results of the team here, which included at least 40 leading wildlife conservation agencies, along with 2,000+ talented painters, sculptors, artists, woodworkers, ironworkers, taxidermists, illustrators, designers, and biologists.
Johnny Morris’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium
Simply breathtaking. The entry to the museum area is filled with this larger-than-life bronze elk. The museum contains several gorgeous bronzes, created by renowned artists. (Jason Baird photo)
The museum contains 1.5 miles of trails leading into galleries that hold precious artwork and mounts. This is a bronze sculpture titled “Distant Hope,” and it stands imposingly at the end of a gallery that features Native American artifacts. As with most things founder Johnny Morris does, there’s a story behind the object. Morris gave a generous donation to the Sheeva V. Foundation, which invests in the lives and the future of Native American children. Mark James is the sculptor. (Jason Baird photo)
Do you recognize this dapper hunter? If you said, “Why, that’s Teddy Roosevelt!” you were correct. In a tribute to conservation, the museum created a reproduction of Roosevelt’s hunting cabin, Elkhorn Ranch, in North Dakota, from the late 1800s. Nearby, a visitor gets treated to The Boone and Crockett Club’s National Collection of Heads and Horns, founded by former President Roosevelt, which includes mounts of at least 40 North American game animals. These animals once appeared at York’s Bronx Zoo in 1908. (Jason Baird photo)
A special gallery holds the artwork, on loan, of Charles Fritz, known for plein-air pantings of Western history and landscape and in particular, the voyage of Lewis and Clark. Fritz traveled the trail and cast himself as a player in the journey, camping out from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast and capturing the light and atmosphere of each setting along the way. (Jason Baird photo)
It’s one thing to go to a zoo, but it’s another thing to see beautiful mounts of African animals up close, where you can examine every detail. In the the Great African Hall, elephants create their own parade. Attention to climate has been paid throughout, and in this area, the temperature will be a bit higher than in other areas. (Jason Baird photo)
You will find plenty of live, wild animals onsite, as well. There are at least 34,000 aquatic creatures, and 1,000 other species, such as snakes, alligators, beavers, bears and this turkey vulture, shown with its handler. (Jason Baird photo)
It’s like a petting zoo underwater, where visitors can touch horseshoe crabs, starfish, a bamboo shark and more animals. (Jason Baird photo)
It’s called the “4 D” experience, in that sights, sounds, temperatures and smells vary within the galleries. For example, in the Sheep Mountain gallery, a 7-minute timer creates a full day of light and dark exposure on the lovely animals. (Jason Baird photo)
Such attention to taxidermy detail. Can you spy the fly on the Cape buffalo’s nose? (Jason Baird photo)
Nature’s artwork. The backlighting is gorgeous and shows off this clam shell perfectly. (Jason Baird photo)
One of our favorite galleries held life-size dioramas or scenes in our National Parks. Check out this incredible one. (Jason Baird photo)
When it’s time to go from turf to surf, it’ll be a grand entrance. Check out the beautiful signage for the aquarium, which holds more than 1.5 million gallons of freshwater and saltwater habitats, filled with creatures of the sea. (Jason Baird photo)
There’s a special section, dedicated to presidents who fish. Here’s Harry S Truman, looking rather stress free. The collection also includes Bass Force One, George Bush’s personal float boat. (Jason Baird photo)
Children will especially enjoy the aquarium’s pop-up tanks, where they can find their own Nemos, and view sunken ships and other treasures of the sea among beautiful swimming creatures.
Bass Pro CEO Johnny Morris donated his tuna boat for a display, and check out the action below the boat. (Jason Baird photo)
The gift shop offers something for everyone to remember a special day and time, and the memories evoked from a walk through this fantastic place. (Jason Baird photo)
There’s so much more than these photos, such as the replica of The Brown Derby liquor store, where Bass Pro Shops began. I especially liked the video where Mr. Morris walks the aisles of the original store in Springfield, the one his dad owned, and reminisces. It’s a nice way to get grounded before heading in to the world of wildlife.
For hours and fees, visit the Wonders of Wildlife website.
This Retro WON first appeared November 6, 2017.
About Barbara Baird
Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. She is a contributing editor at "SHOT Business," and her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications. She also is a travel writer, and you can follow her at ozarkian.com.
View all posts by Barbara Baird