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Monumental magnificence


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POSTED: Sunday, October 18, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO. » The city of Honolulu is planning to demolish its memorial to the sacrifices of World War I—the “;War to End All Wars”;—Kansas City, Mo., has used its WWI memorial to create a world-class museum and visitor attraction.

Created in a six-year period and dedicated on Armistice Day in 1926, the Liberty Memorial is located in downtown Kansas City in a sweeping expanse of green park. The primary feature is a 217-foot tower flanked by Egyptian-style “;galleries”; and sculpted sphinxes, all of quarried stone. It was designed by memorial architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, with detail sculpting by Robert Ingersoll Aitken. The magnificent outdoor monument can be seen from most parts of the city (it helps that Kansas City has wide streets!) and has a feeling of solemn grandeur. The tower used to vent steam at night, illuminated by orange spotlights, as a kind of “;eternal flame”; visible for miles, but this has been shut down except for special occasions, such as Memorial Day.

Like the Waikiki Natatorium, the monument was allowed to deteriorate over the years. In 1981, however, Kansas City began an extensive renovation, bringing the structures up to modern building codes, plus a restoration of the gallery buildings, stabilizing the interior murals and exhibits.

But what is special about the site can't be seen from outside. During the last decade, an enormous underground museum was created beneath the structure. Dedicated as the National World War I Museum, it opened in 2006, attracting thousands of visitors. It is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

               

     

 

LIBERTY MEMORIAL, THE NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM

        Where: 100 W. 26th St., Kansas City, Mo. 64108
       

Admission: $8 for the museum, $4 for the Liberty Memorial Tower and $10 for both, with discounts for juniors, seniors, museum members and military

       

Hours: Open every day except Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

       

Parking: Within easy walking distance and free

       

Information: www.theworldwar.org or (816) 784-1918

       

 

       

Entrance is through bronze doors in the base, and a ticket is good for all of the site's attractions, including a trip to the top of the tower. Visitors are immediately reminded of the human cost of the conflict as they pass over a glass-floored bridge floating above a vast field of 9,000 poppies—each symbolizing a thousand deaths in combat.

The scope of the museum's story line reflects the arc of the war, from the origins before 1914 to the resultant peace conferences after, and their effect on subsequent history. Unlike many military museums that are simply collections of military artifacts aimed at buffs, the theaters, interactive displays, photographs and graphics work with the displayed items such as uniforms, guns, artillery pieces, propaganda posters, aircraft mock-ups and the personal mementos of soldiers in the trenches.

The interactive displays are particularly well done, with picture and informational graphics and sidebar information popping up at the viewer's discretion. There is also a large library and archive for researchers.

There are even original “;Peanuts”; cartoons depicting Snoopy flying against the Red Baron.

The museum is handicapped accessible, and wheelchairs are available for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Visiting the tower will be a challenge for some; to reach the top visitors must ride an elevator and then climb 45 stairs.

Plan several hours for your visit, and be sure to begin your tour by watching the excellent orientation film that explains the causes of the war.

Make sure to examine the bas-relief sculptures by Robert Aitken, who also carved the pediment on the U.S. Supreme Court building. As one 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.”;