November 1st, 1921: Liberty Memorial

Many of you who frequent this space or follow my antics on Facebook, Twitter, and (more infrequently) Instagram have likely seen me posting pics and such from the National World War I Museum and Memorial here in Kansas City. For the past four years, I’ve served as a volunteer there, acting as a guest-facing representative while greeting and interacting with visitors to the museum and the Liberty Memorial tower. It has been tremendous fun, giving back in this way to the community I’ve called home for nearly 30 years.

Part of being a good volunteer for the museum is being able to discuss its history, going all the way back to the very beginning. I hold my own well enough, but I can’t hold a candle to some of our volunteers who can hold your attention all day if you let them. Soon after the Great War’s conclusion, with the armistice taking effect on November 11, 1918, prominent Kansas City leaders and other interested parties formed the Liberty Memorial Association, with a goal of establishing a permanent monument to those who’d served in the war, including more than 400 men and women from the Kansas City area. A fundraising effort was launched, collecting more than 2.5 million dollars in just ten days (about $35 milllion in today’s dollars). With these initial monies established, a plan for constructing a lasting memorial began to take shape.

On November 1st, 1921 — one hundred years ago, today — more than 100,000 people gathered at Union Station and the low, sloping hill just south of the station to dedicate the site which would serve as the new monument’s home. The occasion was marked with the attendance of the five supreme commanders of the Allied Forces during the war: Admiral David Beatty of the United Kingdom, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshall Ferdinand Foch of France, General Baron Jacques of Belgium, and General John Pershing of the United States. It was the first time the five men had ever gathered in one place.

General Jacques, General Diaz, Marshal Foch, General Pershing, and Admiral Beatty, November 1st, 1921.

Liberty Memorial was officially dedicated on November 11th, 1926, eight years to the day after the armistice that ended World War I. At the time, the site consisted of a courtyard atop which sits Liberty Tower and two buildings flanking the monument which served as the museum, with the Assyrian sphinxes standing vigil. Following years of deterioration, funds were raised in 2004 to repair the monument and expand the existing museum facilities. This was the same year the United States Congress designated the facility as the nation’s official museum dedicated to the First World War.

In September 2006, a brand-new museum constructed beneath Liberty Tower opened to the public. That same month, the memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2014, Congress came calling again, officially designating the site as the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Its mission statement:

“The National WWI Museum and Memorial is America’s museum dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.”

Despite its location in America’s heartland, the museum is not solely focused on America’s World War I experience. Instead, it’s devoted to memorializing and preserving the history of the entire conflict, from its beginnings in July 1914 – three years before the United States entered the war – through its official conclusion in the summer of 1919 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It houses a catalog of artifacts from the war that is unrivaled in its extent and diversity, and due to space limitations only a fraction of the total collection is visible to the public at any one time.

For the past several years, the museum staff has created a number of programs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of various observances about the Great War and its aftermath. I suspect we’ll be seeing a new slate of efforts to celebrate one of Kansas City’s foremost landmarks as we march toward its own centennial. I’m excited to see what our staff will come up with.

Meanwhile, whether you’re a local or just visiting one of these days, I hope you’ll find time to visit the nation’s official museum and memorial dedicated to the men and women who served and perished in the Great War.

3 thoughts on “November 1st, 1921: Liberty Memorial

  1. Very interesting – thank you, sir. Next time we’re in KC, we’ll do more than just walk around the perimeter of the site!
    By the way, did the various Congressional designations come with any more funding for the museum?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They told me you were the funny one.

      The museum is funded via charitable donations both big and small, ticket, merchandise and concession sales, facility rentals, and so on. There are various fundraising events each year.

      Liked by 1 person

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