I travel fairly often for work, and usually not to the most glamorous of locales. Business travel though can be a great opportunity for exploration and I’m always surprised at some of the amazing things I find in the least likely of places. Such was my experience during a recent trip to Kansas City, Missouri.
I briefly glanced at the conference schedule before leaving and noticed a small block of time that was meeting free when I could explore the city. Usually, especially if it’s a longer work trip, it is always possible to eke out a few hours to explore the city for yourself. Part one of my mission was complete, but I had no idea what the city to offer. Luckily, fate took care of that pesky little detail for me when it placed my hotel next to the impressively large Liberty Memorial.
I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I never knew that we had a national memorial or museum devoted to World War I. In fact, I thought it was the one war that did not have such representation. I realized the magnitude of my mistaken assumption when I stood in front of the massive Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.
The Memorial was conceptualized soon after the Great War; originally as a means to honor the fallen of Kansas City, but it soon grew into a National Memorial. Not wasting any time, the final structure was completed in 1926; the limestone and granite structure on a scale matching the horrors of World War I. The colossus soars above its surroundings and the centerpiece is a 217 foot tower.
I love construction projects from this time period, not only for their aesthetics but for the hidden details throughout the design. Everything means something and was done with reason, features lacking in today’s great construction projects. The most poignant to me were the twin sphinx statues, both with their eyes shielded. The Memory Sphinx hides its eyes from the horrors of the past and the Future Sphinx protects itself from an uncertain future. Poignant and important pieces most people simply saunter past.
If this impressive monument to the fallen soldiers of the first global war weren’t enough, contained within Liberty Memorial is the equally impressive National World War I Museum. The Museum is the new kid on the block, only completed in 2006. It was designed by the same expert who planned the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the interpretation is on par with some of the best museums in the world.
Personally, there is nothing I like more than a great history museum, and within a few minutes after entering the WWI Museum I wished that I had days to explore this one. The guest enters by crossing a glass bridge, below which is a field of poppies. The red poppy has long been a symbol of both the War and Armistice Day, mostly because of the poem In Flanders Fields. Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders, their bright red color a poignant reminder of the blood spilled there.
After a brief, but excellent, film introducing the visitor to the antecedents of the war, guests are then free to browse on their own.
I’m about to make a wildly unscientific supposition here, and please call me on it if I’m wrong, but I don’t think many Americans truly understand either what led to World War I or know what actually happened during the war itself. Much more attention, for a variety of reasons, seems to be devoted to World War II.
The Museum seeks to alleviate this hypothetical ignorance by leading the visitor, step by step, through the events that led to the global conflict. It’s not an easy task either, but the massive amount of information compiled is presented expertly and by the end it is impossible for even the least interested to not have a greater understanding of the Great War.
The exhibits themselves come mostly from items donated to the Memorial since it opened in the 1920s. The task of sifting through a treasure trove of items is a daunting one, but the curators on site clearly know their work. As is the case with many modern museums, technology is also interwoven throughout in an impactful, but not overbearing way.
The most impressive use of technology are large, touch screen tables where the visitor may explore various aspects of the war, from armaments to the culture of the day. There are also private booths where guests may reflect and also listen to the music and voices of the era. Real people from the past speaking across the decades into the new century.
The museum takes as long to explore as you have time, and I wished I had much more than an hour. I finished the tour by ascending the massive tower at the center of Liberty Memorial, which affords stunning views of the city. It was a perfect reflective moment to conclude my visit to one of the most important monuments in the country.