Location: Kansas City, Missouri
General Description: Soon after World War I ended, the Kansas City leaders formed the Liberty Memorial Association to create a lasting memorial to the “War to End all Wars” that had profoundly affected so many people. They began collecting donations in 1919 beginning with $2.5 million in the first 10 days. In 1921 the Liberty Memorial was dedicated and over 100,000 people saw the ceremony highlighted by the gathering of all five of the supreme Allied commanders. Completion of the classical Egyptian Revival style monument in 1926 was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in front of over 150,000 people. The original Liberty Memorial consisted of the 217 foot tall, 36 feet in diameter Liberty Tower and two small exhibit halls named Exhibition and Memory Halls at either end of a granite plaza “guarded” by two sphinx like sculptures with their eyes covered by their wings, named Memory and Future. In 1994, the memorial was closed due to serious structural issues and a major renovation project was initiated. Since the museum collection had long outgrown the area of the two exhibit halls, a new museum was constructed underneath the monument along with a reflective pool and grassy approach to the new museum. This massive construction was completed in 2004 and Congress named it the official National World War I Museum. The museum presents artifacts from the war in chronological order spaced out with short videos about each phase of the war. Visitors enter the exhibit space over a glass walkway looking down on 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 combatant deaths. Visitors then proceed into the first of the videos presenting the many factors that led up to the Great War in 1914. Upon exiting the theater, visitors are presented with a huge collection of artifacts from the first three years of the war. This area is followed by another presentation of the factors why America was neutral during these years and why it entered the war in 1917. After this presentation there are exhibits about the war effort in America and many artifacts from this period of the war. Finally, these is a short presentation about the aftermath of the war before exiting the main exhibit hall. However, the visit is far from over as the original Liberty Memorial stands above the main hall. Today Memory Hall contains a portion of the Panthéon de la Guerre, a monumental French painting depicting the Allied nations of World War I and maps of all the main battles and offensives during the war. Exhibit Hall was the original exhibit room for the memorial and today hosts a rotating set of exhibits about interesting facets of the war along with the central section of the Panthéon de la Guerre and flags of each of the Allied Nations. Finally, tickets can be purchased to take the elevator to the top of Liberty Tower which provides spectacular views of Kansas City and the surrounding area.
1) The World War I Museum is an excellent museum and certainly a must see for anyone interested in US History. It brings together hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the war into one place. In particular, I liked the organization of the museum which could be overwhelming. Instead, you are presented with an introduction to the war, the time period before America entered the war, and then the contributions and sacrifices we made during the war. Each section is introduced with a video. They also did a great job in depicting the battle conditions during the war, which was primarily fought in trenches. They have recreated a trench with mannequins and artifacts that can be viewed through a series of peep holes in the side of the trench. Very well done.
2) The original exhibit halls of the museum are also interesting, especially the Panthéon de la Guerre which was brought to display at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1933-34. This massive panorama is 402 feet in circumference and 45 feet high is the largest painting in the world. It depicts 6000 prominent Allied wartime figures from all the Allied Nations. After the Worlds Fair is was forgotten and left in storage outdoors in Chicago. It was bought at auction in 1953 and donated to the museum in 1957. Obviously it was in sad condition after over 20 years of not being protected, so MacMorris saved what he could, cutting and pasting the recoverable sections into the displays not presented at the museum. An amazing story and a wonderful work of art. You can see sections of the work in both of the exhibit halls. The battlefield maps were also interesting, but far to much information to take in with a limited amount of time.
3) The ride up the Liberty Tower and view from the top are also memorable and worth the cost of admission.