Just two weeks after an Armistice was declared to end World War I in 1918, Kansas City leaders met to discuss the need to create a lasting monument to the men and women who had served in the War, and most notably to those who had died.
After fundraising and three years of construction, the Liberty Memorial was completed. President Calvin Coolidge delivered the dedication speech to a crowd of 150,000 people. He spoke of how “the magnitude of this Memorial, and the broad base of popular support on which it rests, can scarcely fail to excite national wonder and admiration.”
But, over time, the physical structure of the Liberty Memorial deteriorated, and was closed in 1994 due to safety concerns. Four years later Kansas City once again came to the rescue by passing a half-cent sales tax for 18 months to support the restoration.
While revitalizing the Liberty Memorial, plans took shape for expanding the site by building a museum. The Liberty Memorial Association had been collecting objects and documents related to World War I since 1920. The new museum was envisioned as a showcase for the collection, much of which had never been viewed by the public.
Prior to the expansion, the memorial had only 7,000 square feet to present exhibits. The new museum was built as an 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the art facility.
In 2004 the Museum was designated by Congress as the United States’ official World War I Museum, opening to the public on December 2, 2006, as the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.
The site serves as the first American and only national museum dedicated to The Great War. The 30,000-square-foot core exhibit is housed beneath the existing Liberty Memorial and features more than 50,000 artifacts, the world’s second largest WWI collection behind Britain’s Imperial War Museum.
Visiting the Memorial and Museum
There is a lot of symbolism to take in while walking toward the building. Two stone Sphinxes — Memory and Future — guard the Memorial’s south entrance. And adorning Memorial Tower are four large stone figures representing Courage, Honor, Patriotism and Sacrifice.
Once inside guests walk across a glass-floored bridge. A field of 9,000 red poppies lies below, each flower representing 1,000 military deaths — nine million total.
As with many world-class museums, there is a comprehensive film at the beginning of the tour to explain WW I, how it began, countries involved, major battles and alliances.
From here, the self-guided tour of museum collections and exhibitions begins. The museum presents a comprehensive interpretation of events and their lasting consequences. . All the nations involved, reflecting both the battlefield and the home front, are represented.
From items carried by the soldier in the field and military uniforms, to field artillery and photographs, the museum provides visitors with an appreciation for the events that took place during WW I. The latest technology, hands-on displays and realistic battlefield scenes all help shape the visitor’s experience.
One key exhibit recreates No Man’s Land with a 90 foot-long replica trench and a three-story screen depicting scenes from the war. Heavily defended by machine guns, mortars, artillery and riflemen, No Man’s Land was often riddled with barbed wire and land mines as well as corpses and wounded soldiers who were unable to make it back to safety.
After your tour, make sure and take a short elevator ride to the top of the 21-story Liberty Memorial Tower for a view of the Kansas City skyline.
For more information call (816) 784 -1918 or check the website at www.theworldwar.org. The museum is located at 100 W. 26th Street, Kansas City, MO.