Report from the Road:
The National World War One Museum
By Doug McNair
Let me say right from the beginning that if I lived in Kansas City, I would be volunteering at this place regularly. The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is a piece of heaven for history enthusiasts. From the moment you spot it, the memorial conveys the enormity of the task that American troops undertook when they landed on the shores of Europe in 1917. Built in 1926 in gorgeous Art Deco style, it’s a huge and striking war memorial that sits atop the highest hill in Kansas City:
The sphinxes in the foreground look toward and away from Europe. One shields its eyes from the horrors of war overseas, while the other faces the future here in America, but with its eyes shrouded since the future is unknowable (something European rulers in 1914 should have considered before proclaiming that the boys would all be home by Christmas, and which present-day world leaders seem all too eager to forget).
The stone buildings flanking the tower hold memory halls with maps and paintings from World War I, and a ride to the top of the tower offers impressive views:
The museum, which sits underneath the tower, was extensively remodeled earlier this decade and reopened just a year ago. Huge steel doors at the entrance give the impression of a reinforced bunker and lead into a dark corrridor that ends at a glass bridge over a field of poppies. At the end of the bridge is a theater where visitors view a short documentary covering the factors that contributed to the outbreak of war. The first exhibit hall picks up where the movie left off and gives details on the arms race that preceded the war:
And then visitors encounter the most impressive collection of World War I artifacts I have ever seen. The field artillery pieces stretch on and on; just a few examples are the Bavarian 15cm field howitzer:
The British 5-inch heavy field gun (on the right):
The Austro-Hungarian 8cm field gun (with front and back views for 119694_avalanche Press President Mike Bennighof):
And a very well-traveled deck gun:
The museum will even add an FT-17 tank next spring!
A continuously running audio-visual presentation analyzes all the major battles of the war, zooming in and out on a map of Europe to show how the front lines moved back and forth from 1914 to 1918:
Then come exhibits on the naval and air wars:
A multimedia theatrical experience covers the events that led the United States to declare war on Germany. Exhibits give excellent detail on American mobilization efforts in 1917:
Included are American artillery pieces and other weaponry and materiel sent “over there.” The exhibits explore the lives of U.S. soldiers in Europe, and of particular interest are the exhibits on servicewomen in World War I. Beyond the well-known roles they filled in nursing and aid work, women were the “Hello Girls” of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who “worked so close to the front that they kept their gas masks and helmets on the backs of their chairs. … The girls had to speak both French and English, and they also had to understand American doughboy French.”
Additional artifacts of note include a World War I era Harley Davidson:
And one of the first examples of anti-tank weaponry, a German Mauser T-Gewehr 13mm anti-tank rifle:
Additional exhibits include an interactive Hall of Reflections where visitors can scroll through animated records projected on a long table, and sound booths with period music, prose and poetry, the recorded voices of Kaiser Wilhelm and others, and old radio documentaries about the Great War.
One could easily spend days exploring the museum without exhausting its resources, and it also hosts lecture series, historical photo exhibitions, film screenings and other events.
If you haven’t been to the National World War I museum, there is no excuse not to go ASAP. And if you have, go again because the collection is updated constantly (I will definitely be there in the spring to see that tank). If you’d like to support the museum, click here.