REVIEW: The National World War I Museum [History Tour]

In 2021 I did a feature called History Boy Summer that was a lot of fun. It forced me to go out and try to experience a lot of awesome historical sites rather that sit at home and waste away as Covid-19 kept everything I find fun closed up. It was an educational tool for both my son and I, and I think we both learned a lot from it when it was all said and done. For a specific example, I honestly learned more about the Missouri and Kansas part of The American Civil War than any college level class I had, and that was simply from visiting sites and reading books. For me, “doing the research” myself (God that phrase has been ruined hasn’t it?!) works better for me because it allows be to absorb the information and draw my own conclusions without parroting an authority’s opinion on the matter.

I wanted to figure out a way to continue the project without constraining myself to such a short timeframe to complete my adventures, perhaps even changing this into a ongoing feature on my blog. Continuing to call it “History Boy Summer” is somewhat silly considering I didn’t even clearly remember the meme that I based the title on by the time I finished the first project! So, I think moving forward, I will call this project “History Tour”, largely keeping a lot of the premise the same, at least at first. I guess, for the most part, one could consider this a museum review of sorts, however, rather than simply talking about a particular historical site or museum, I want to show you how to group this along with other activities and perhaps readings to get a more enriching and fulfilled experience. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, in that I don’t particularly like just going and looking at something and leaving, so having this additional material makes the experience more fun for me.

Now for the topic at hand! FINALLY! This is a museum that I have been an fan of for over fifteen years, and even more so now since I became a card-carrying member – The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO. Ever since the first time I attended, right after it opened, I have loved that a museum as exquisite as this lies in Kansas City. I have been to two of the many Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C., and I would suggest that this is at least on par with them when it comes to quality and size. I find it hard to “see everything” on a single visit, which is especially true when the numerous special exhibits and attractions come into play. For a list of some of those that I’ve seen so far, I have them at the bottom.

National World War I Museum; Kansas City, MO – Visited in 2022

I have always had a fascination with World War I; largely due to the way that it upended the world and the utterly baffling way it started and persisted. The war was a case study on why having rich guys, largely untrained to actually command military units, in command positions was a colossally bad idea. One would think that after the utter debacle of the Crimean War (purchased commissions everywhere), Britain would have a better hand at getting their act together. However, the famous phrase “lions commanded by donkeys” was borrowed from Plutarch to describe the dichotomy between heroic conscripts and the buffoonery of their officers. This was not only an issue for the UK, as just about every other army was led in utterly crazy ways, especially The German obsession with going to war with France or Austria-Hungary under the military leadership of Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, a man one could say was basically the cause of the war.

Aside from issues related to the command structure, World War I was the turning point in military tactics for many nations. Technological advances with weaponry and logistics made this the war for many to show off their wares of death, but many were slow to adopt it whole-heartedly. While The United States learned that using Napoleonic battle tactics were largely obsolete back in the 1860s, the very start of the war saw armies trying to do just that, leading to an insane death toll.

Horseback spear charges, suits of armor, and and other things that seem anachronistic were commonplace as many tried to do whatever they could to get an upper-hand and see “what stuck”. Countries like France rode into battle with garish uniforms that made soldiers stand out like ducks at a shooting range. All of this had to change and it had to change fast. Sadly, the answer was digging down into trenches and pushing into a prolonged stalemate for over four years, slogging through poisonous mud and pushing corpses aside to get a clear shot. It was a dire period in history, and for that reason I LOVE reading about it.

Background:

For more information on how this museum came into being, click HERE.

““It [The Liberty 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.””

Liberty Memorial Dedication Speech, President Calvin Coolidge, November 11, 1926

Kansas City seems like an unlikely place to house THE National World War I Museum, considering just about every other major war memorial is in Washington D.C. That said, The National World War II Museum is actually in New Orleans, which is also somewhat surprising. The reason The museum lies where it does has a lot to do with a widely popular fundraising campaign shortly after the war ended. “Kansas City leaders formed the Liberty Memorial Association (LMA) to create a lasting monument to the men and women who had served in the war. In 1919, the LMA and citizens of Kansas City raised more than $2.5 million in just 10 days. The equivalent of more than $35 million today, this staggering accomplishment reflected the passion of public sentiment for the Great War that had dramatically changed the world.”

After falling into disrepair throughout the years, Liberty Memorial was closed in 1994 for safety concerns. The call went out again to the citizens of Kansas City and other nearby towns and astounding amount of money came in, not only to repair the near 100 year-old monument, but create a museum so that visitors could enjoy the large amount of artifacts that the LMA had amassed. Opening in 2006, the modern version of this complex’s mission is remembering, interpreting and understanding World War I and its enduring effect on the world and its citizens. Visitors will enjoy artifacts such as a Renault FT-17 tank, armaments and planes, a series of life-size war trenches, and interactive exhibits.

One of the main attractions is The Paul Sunderland Bridge, a glass walkway over a symbolic field of poppies. This bridge is a nightmare for those (like me) that are afraid of heights, but it’s definitely a cool thing to see (glad they put a rug on it!).

Reading(s):

I have read many books on World War I so far this year, and honestly many more are likely on the way! It’s hard to recommend just one as the all-encompassing “best book” on the topic that I have come across, but I would say that The World Undone by G.J. Meyer has been pretty close. Unlike a book such as The First World War, it stays away from “hot takes” on established facts about the war and tried to be somewhat concise as one can be regarding an insanely detailed conflict. I am currently reading a book called The War that Ended Peace by Margaret McMillan that is an exceptional account of the lead up to the war that has been pretty awesome so far. A review for that will be incoming, however it is a 700 page book! I have also enjoyed numerous comics, with The Stretcher Bearers being a candidate for one of the best comics I’ve read this year so far. For more reviews, look to the bottom on this post for a link to other WWI things and you will see them.

I have also included the book of the museum itself that can be purchased at the site, something that is a solid look into the collection and nature of the museum.

The Trip:

Located in downtown Kansas City, this museum is relatively easy to find and has ample parking as long as it’s not some sort of special event (I’m sure Memorial Day is a nightmare!). The prices are pretty good for such a large museum and feature a lot of stuff one can do. You can take an elevator ride to the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower for $5.00 by itself, or group it with a general admission ticket for a slight discount. For me, becoming a member was the best deal, since the cost is roughly the same as two trips, something I generally do every year. That also comes with perks for special engagements and member-only attractions.

Here are the prices for that combo pack and without:

There are numerous exhibitions available including a new one regarding Black Soldiers in the era of “Jim Crow”, a complete list is HERE.

Conclusion:

This is easily the best museum in the greater Kansas City area, at least in my opinion. It’s well developed and well maintained and always has plenty of activities to keep busy with. They rotate multiple special exhibits in and have weekly guest speakers, making it one of the more lively museums I’ve been to. Typically, it’s a sad state of affairs with Missouri/Kansas historical sites and the general lack of funding means many are pretty much falling apart and almost seem dangerous at times, thankfully this museum is maintained through grants and private funding and can dodge a number of those shortfalls. If you are in the area, there are 4-5 museums that really exemplify the city, and this is definitely my favorite.

See More:

Other visits to this museum:

For more WWI-related books and material, please click HERE

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