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National World War I Museum and Memorial
National WWI Museum and Memorial
New logo in 2017, Intersections
Location Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Nearest parking Onsite (no charge)
National World War I Museum and Memorial
National World War I Museum and Memorial aerial.jpg
Aerial photo of the National WWI Museum and Memorial with the Kansas City skyline.
Location Kansas City, Missouri
Built 1926; 95 years ago (1926)
Architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, Westlake Construction Company
Architectural style Beaux Arts Classicism, Egyptian Revival
NRHP reference No. 00001148
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 20, 2006
Designated NHL September 20, 2006

The National World War I Museum and Memorial of the United States is located in Kansas City, Missouri. Opened to the public as the Liberty Memorial museum in 1926, it was designated in 2004 by the United States Congress as America's official museum dedicated to World War I. The Museum and Memorial are managed by a non-profit organization in cooperation with the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners. The museum reopened to the public in December 2006 with an expanded, award-winning facility to exhibit an artifact collection that began in 1920. The National World War I Museum tells the story of the Great War and related global events from their origins before 1914 through the 1918 armistice and 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Visitors enter the exhibit space within the 32,000-square-foot (3,000 m2) facility across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 combatant deaths.

Mission

The declared mission of the museum and memorial is to be "dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community."

History

Liberty Memorial Association

Soon after World War I ended, a group of 40 prominent Kansas City residents formed the Liberty Memorial Association (LMA) to create a memorial to those who had served in the war. They chose lumber baron and philanthropist Robert A. Long, who had personally given a large sum of money, as president. Others included:

  • James Madison Kemper was treasurer of the association. For a short time in 1919 he was President of City Center Bank that was founded by his father, William T. Kemper. His brother, Rufus Crosby Kemper Sr., became president when he left to take over as president of Commerce Bancshares, also controlled by his father.
  • J.C. Nichols, a real estate developer, was a lead proponent of the Liberty Monument.
  • William Volker, businessman and philanthropist, helped the city acquire the land for the memorial.
  • George Kessler, designer of the landscaping at the memorial.

In 1919, the LMA spearheaded a fund drive that included 83,000 contributors and collected more than $2.5 million in less than two weeks (equivalent to $30.8 million in 2018), driven by what museum curator Doran Cart has described as "complete, unbridled patriotism". There would not be the monetary problems that plagued the Bunker Hill Monument for the American Revolutionary War in Boston one century earlier.

Tribute at the Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, c. 1940
Commemorative ceremonies on its 14th anniversary at the Liberty Memorial, c. 1940

Dedications

In attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony on November 1, 1921, were 200,000 people, including then-Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, and General of the Armies John Pershing of the United States, along with 60,000 members of the American Legion. The local veteran chosen to present flags to the commanders was a Kansas City haberdasher, Harry S. Truman, who would later serve as 33rd President of the United States, (1945-1952). The finished monument was dedicated on November 11, 1926, by now 30th President Coolidge, in the presence of Queen Marie of Romania. Coolidge announced that the memorial "...has not been raised to commemorate war and victory, but rather the results of war and victory which are embodied in peace and liberty…. Today I return in order that I may place the official sanction of the national government upon one of the most elaborate and impressive memorials that adorn our country. 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."

Renovations

In 1935, bas reliefs by Walker Hancock of Jacques, Beatty, Diaz, Foch and Pershing were unveiled.

DiazVictoryMemorialKC
The Beatty, Foch, Pershing, Diaz and Jacques reliefs.

In 1961 the monument was rededicated by President Harry S. Truman. The local effort to restore the fading monument was headed by Armand Glenn the local head of the central district legion. Local company Hallmark provided support, and on November 11, 1961 on its 40th anniversary there was a large dedication ceremony held on the grounds of the memorial. 15,000 watched Truman preside over the service.

In 1981-1982, corresponding to its 60th anniversary, the building revealed new exhibits under improved lighting sources.

The memorial was closed in 1994 due to safety concerns, because aging had produced problems with drainage and the original construction. Local shopping malls voluntarily helped to put part of the museum collection on display while the memorial was unavailable. When the poor condition of the building became an embarrassment for the city, Kansas City voters in 1998 passed a limited-run sales tax to support the restoration. Plans were also made at this time to expand the site with a museum to accommodate the LMA's growing collection. Local, national, and international support for this undertaking provided $102 million (equivalent to $133 million in 2018), ultimately revealed at its 2006 reopening.

In 2004, Congress named the Liberty Memorial museum as the nation's official World War I Museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot (7,400 m2) expansion and the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the original memorial. The year that this was completed, Liberty Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark on September 20, 2006.

A substantial renovation, with a cost estimate of $5 million was undertaken beginning in December 2011. After several months of dormancy, the flame was "relit" on February 1, 2013. Other portions of the overall renovation included security upgrades along with repairs to certain limestone sections and brush removal.

An addition planned for completion in 2018 is the Wylie Gallery, which will occupy existing unused space on the east side of the museum building. It is part of a $6.4 million upgrade made possible by a fundraising campaign coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the museum's 2006 reopening. The gallery will house traveling exhibits from around the world.

Current designation

On December 19, 2014, President Barack Obama signed legislation recognizing it as "a 'World War I Museum and Memorial'", which resulted in redesignation of the entire site as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Design

The national design competition was managed by Thomas R. Kimball, a former president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). After discord within the organization locally, the design contract was finally awarded to New York architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle.

View from top of Liberty Memorial
View of Union Station and the city from top of Liberty Memorial

Liberty Tower

The main doors at the bottom of a large set of stairs are made from ornamental bronze, and the walls of the first floor lobby are finished in Kasota stone, which was quarried in Kasota, Minnesota. The first floor corridor and the grand stairway are finished in travertine that was imported from Italy. At night, the top of the 217-foot (66 m) tall memorial tower emits a "flame effect", steam illuminated by bright red and orange lights. This effect creates the illusion of a burning pyre and can be seen for some distance. Overall, the memorial rises 265 feet (81 m) above the surrounding area.

External buildings

The tower and buildings are designed in the classical Egyptian Revival style of architecture with a limestone exterior. The foundation was constructed using sawed granite, and the exterior ground level walls are made of Bedford stone. On opposite sides of the main deck of the Liberty Memorial are Exhibition Hall and Memory Hall. Memory Hall includes murals originally painted for the Panthéon de la Guerre in Paris, and adapted by LeRoy Daniel MacMorris in the 1950s.

Between each hall and the tower, above the museum entrance, sit two stone Assyrian sphinxes, named "Memory" and "Future," covering their faces with their wings. Memory faces East, hiding its face from the horrors of the European battlefields. Its counterpart faces West and shields its eyes from a future yet unseen.

Main museum building

The subterranean portion was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates and greatly expands the original facilities. The north side of the museum, opposite the main entrance and below the Liberty tower, contains a large work of art upon its wall, which can be plainly seen from Union Station across Pershing Road from Penn Valley Park:

The Great Frieze by Edmond Amateis. The main inscription reads "These have dared bear the torches of sacrifice and service. Their bodies return to dust but their work liveth evermore. Let us strive on to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Grounds

The grounds were designed by George Kessler who is also famous for his City Beautiful design for the Kansas City park and boulevard system. The road on the west side of the Memorial is Kessler Road.

Just outside the museum entrance is a large elliptical fountain, and on each side is a tapering staircase ascending to the memorial deck above. The approach from the south contains the "Walk of Honor," a series of engraved bricks in three sections commemorating veterans of World War I, veterans of all wars, and honored civilians.

Museum features

The primary museum consists of:

  • Two main galleries containing exhibitions with period artifacts. The first focuses on the beginning of the Great War prior to U.S. involvement, while the second focuses on the United States' military and civilian involvement in the war and efforts for peace. Items in these collections include:
Liberty Memorial 2008
Liberty Memorial, flanked by Exhibition and Memory Halls and the unseeing sphinxes. Beneath them sit the museum and research center
    • A Renault FT tank
    • Uniforms such as Paul von Hindenburg's Model 1915 Field Jacket
    • A 1917 Harley-Davidson Model J motorcycle
    • A 1918 Ford Model T ambulance
    • General John J. Pershing's Headquarter flag
    • Munitions
    • Maps and photographs
    • International Propaganda posters
    • Replica trenches
    • State-of-the-art interactive displays
    • Sound booths with audio recordings of the period
  • Two theaters that provide visitors with an educational narrative. One precedes the first gallery, and a larger one is passed through to enter the second gallery.
  • The Edward Jones Research Center, carrying 75,000 archival documents, 9,500 library titles, and additional objects.
  • R.A. Long Education Center: A multi-purpose conference room and classroom
  • J.C. Nichols Auditorium for special events
  • The Over There Café featuring flags, music, artwork, and menu items inspired by "the people and places of the Great War."
  • A museum store

Tree of Peace

On the North Lawn of the museum was planted a memorial tree called "The Tree of Peace" in honor of the memory of those who fought and perished in WWI. The international project "Tree of Peace" officially represents the Slovak Republic under the brand called "Good Idea Slovakia—Ideas from Slovakia". The Trademark License was granted by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. The planting of the memorial tree was carried out under auspices of the Honorary Consulate of the Slovak Republic to the Midwest USA and the Consulate General of the Slovak Republic in New York City.

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