Thursday, July 25, 2013

Around the Town Thursday - Liberty Memorial

Welcome to Around the Town Thursday!  Around the Town Thursday is a way for me to highlight interesting, fun or useful places around my beautiful hometown of Kansas City.

In the spotlight today is one of my favorite places: The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

Liberty Memorial (during maintenance)

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is the United States' one and only World War I museum.  It was that way from the beginning and in 2004 the Memorial finally got designated by Congress as the nation's one and only official World War I museum.  The official museum website has a great brief history at the Museum and Memorial page but, in brief, Kansas Citians rallied after the war ended to memorialize the sacrifices made by those who served during The Great War.  In a mere 10 days, Kansas City raised over $2 million to create this memorial.

The Memorial suffered after many years and fell into disrepair and was eventually closed due to dangerous conditions in different parts of the Memorial.  But in 1998, Kansas Citians rallied once again, this time to save the Memorial.  Restoration of the Memorial began and the Memorial was re-opened to the public in 2006 at a grand celebration.

I was just 29 years old when the Memorial was scheduled to re-open on May 25, 2002.  My son was twelve that year.  On a whim, we got in the car the day of the re-dedication and went to watch the festivities.  Many famous people were there making speeches, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts paraded around the circle drive along with military units, retired military and many local bands.  And I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, it was even attended by one of the last surviving World War I veterans at that time.  Little did I realize that was to be the beginning of my fascination with the Memorial.  I have since begun volunteering at this wonderful museum.  It's amazing to be surrounded by so many fantastically preserved artifacts.  The amount of information housed in the museum is overwhelming at times.  I learn something new every time I work a volunteer shift.

The Memorial was built in the style of Egyptian revival.  There are two sphinxes on the deck of the Memorial and four Guardian Spirits which circle the Memorial tower.

One of the two sphinxes on the Memorial deck
One of the four Guardian Spirits on the tower

One of two satellite exhibit buildings. These were original to the Memorial.
And if that's not impressive enough, the Liberty Memorial is home to one of the most unbelievable pieces of artwork ever created.  Many people aren't aware of it's existence until they're introduced to it at the museum.  Housed in the two satellite exhibit buildings of the Liberty Memorial are pieces of the great Pantheon de la Guerre.  You can read more about the Pantheon de la Guerre here but essentially the Pantheon was a huge (and I mean HUGE) mural painted during the War.  It was so large, it was housed in its own building after it was finished and it was a mural that required one to walk around it to see it all.  402 feet around and 45 feet high, I'll bet it was a sight to behold when it was whole.

Long story short, the Pantheon traveled to the U.S. for exhibition at a World's Fair, was forgotten after the fair, resided outside a storage facility for years until it was finally auctioned off.  Purchased by a Baltimore, MD man, William Haussner, it wasn't until 1957 that a Kansas City artist, Daniel MacMorris, was able to convince Haussner to donate it to the Memorial.  Because of MacMorris' efforts, the Pantheon is now preserved at the Liberty Memorial and is an amazing testament to the patriotic efforts of many French painters.

The last item at the Memorial to be highlighted is a little known gem: the research center.  There are over 75,000 archival documents and over 8,000 library titles housed in this research center...all for use for free by anyone who may be interested.  There is a research center attendant available to assist you on-site but the research center staff are the only ones with access to the archival collection so they do request that anyone wishing to view items from the archival collection make an appointment with the staff.  More information on the research center can be found here.  The research center is located on the bottom level of the museum building.  Even if you don't plan to visit the research center, make it a point to go to the bottom level, where you can get a unique view of the poppy field which resides under the glass bridge to the main gallery.  You can also get a view of the base of the tower.
A view of the poppy field from the glass bridge on the main level

Another rarely viewed jewel of the Memorial is the Great Frieze on the north wall of the Memorial.  Many people simply don't take the time to walk down the stairs at either side of the deck to see this beautiful carving.  Keep walking all the way down past the Great Frieze to Pershing Road in front of the Memorial and you'll get to see the bronze busts of the five Allied leaders present during the original site dedication.

There is so much to see and experience at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.  I highly recommend taking advantage of the fact that the ticket is good for two days.  The cost of the ticket is well worth what's there.  Before going I recommend looking at their website so you have an idea of what to expect.

Happy exploring!