Wednesday, July 7, 2010

National World War 1 Museum

Image from
The main museum is beneath this courtyard/tower structure

Even tho I've lived in Kansas City most of my life, I never made it to our National World War 1 Museum at Liberty Memorial until today. I went with my friend Bob, who'd also never been there, and we had a really great time. Also, since it was Wednesday, we got a 2-for-1 ticket deal, which was GREAT cause it's a bit expensive: $12 per ticket.

I can't go to museums anymore without being very observant to how they flow, treat guests, display objects, etc., etc. since I have a degree in museums, and I have to say I think the WW1 museum is the most well put-together, interactive, multi-layered museum in this area that I've ever seen. It blew me away!

Some of the spiffy display techniques they used were:
An interactive display table with many different sections that discussed things like camouflage. Using little flash lights you could answer mini quizzes, move from one "slide" to the next, and find out a bunch of multi-layered information. This was one of the most popular sections for both kids and adults.

Close-up of one section of the interactive table display.

To one side of this table, were four small rooms, each seating about 4 people, where you could close yourself off from the rest of the museum, rest your eyes, and listen to a variety of selections from the WW1 period.

Touch-screen display goodness!

You could pick from music, poetry, quotes and... uh, dang, I already forgot what else. Bob and I listened to the entire poetry selection since we like poetry. That was just slightly over 11 minutes long and had 4 or 5 poems with short introductions. We listened to most of the songs as well, which also were briefly introduced before a partial clip was played.

The museum also showed some films. Many were simply playing silently while splashing across a space in the museum floor. One introduced the museum by laying out the general events that led to the war starting, and one was splashed across a HUGE screen you watched from a balcony that overlooked a huge diorama (below) where sometimes other additional silent films would show troops marching or loading artillery.

This film was mostly about how the Americans joined the war and it did a good job of covering the many viewpoints that existed at the time (i.e. not just the tired ole "we did it cause of the Lusitania" story that normally one hears in school). This film also discussed the experiences of the soldiers and the general state of the war at that time. It was short, but managed to pack a lot of information and images in.

This last display was much simpler than that, but it was so unique I was absolutely delighted by it:
That's my friend Bob using the WW1 museum's moveable magnifying glass on a case of old photographs. Being able to bring the people's faces closer to yours really brought out the humanity in these group photos and helped me to pick out details I never would have noticed otherwise. It's such a good idea! I wish more museums would use it.

This gives you an idea of the scale of the place. Since most of it is underground, you really don't realize how HUGE the museum is. This picture shows two very large artillery pieces. They were surrounded by cases full of many different artifacts, a side wall with the timeline of the entire war, and the opposite wall where cases were interspersed with an audio-visual trench scene set-up. And this was just one of the very first sections! The size of the place was just astounding.

I loved all the historical uniforms! The fashion is one of the major draws of studying history for me and this place was STUFFED full of uniforms for both men (the majority) and women for all sorts of warfare and in many different armies. There were so many uniforms that I was actually astounded to keep finding more every time I entered another section of the museum. Just SO MANY!

Red Cross uniforms
British nurse uniform, like my heroine Vera Brittain would've worn.

Asian uniforms

Unusual uniforms, for the time, since the others were all more dandified

Uniforms were usually displayed along with the types of items a person wearing it would use, such as the battle garb shown with hand grenades and knives below:

Of course, there were many cases that were just dedicated to all the neat STUFF that military and civilians used and read:This shows many personal items a soldier might carry in his pack, as well as military-issued supplies.

Sharp and shiny bayonets & knives.
I actually did a happy dance in front of this case.
I <3 knives!

A French death certificate. Fancy, huh?

Telescope (on the left) and sighting thingamabob I forgot the name for.

Gas mask

Partially wooden Ford!

Mmmmm.... antique motorcycle ::drools::

A very uncomfortable-looking hospital bed

Love the airship drawing!
Of course, no trip to the WW1 Museum would be complete without going up into the tower AKA Liberty Memorial (which, incidentally I used as the background for a zombie painting recently), which you reach first by elevator...

Then by stairs.

Here I am at the top, my eyes watering from the sunlight (I'm really getting much more sensitive to light than I once was):
Recognize that top from anywhere?

And here's the obligatory cool-view-from-the-top photos:

Union Station and downtown Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas)

I love how our horizon (minus the city skyline) dissolves into tree tops & sky.

But our trip wasn't over yet!! There are two little buildings up near where the Memorial are, that once housed all of the WW1 museum (from what I'm told). In them were some awesome old paintings like this:

And a special temporary photography exhibit "American Women Rebuilding France, 1917-1924." I never knew that so many American women were involved in the rebuilding of French society. They were strong, independent women who drove their own cars, brought food and supplies to communities, taught classes and more.

These ladies were mechanics for the group's personalized Fords.

Teaching domestic skills to young women.

Traveling lending library

It was on this positive note that we ended our trip, after walking the wrong way down the stairs and having to walk all the way around to the back where our car was... I should not be allowed to navigate in public areas X_x

But the WW1 Museum is definitely what I consider to be the best museum in the area. There are multiple ways to interact with information and objects. Kids as well as grownups (and even *gasp* TEENS) were all there and having a great time from what I could tell. It generated tons of conversations between me and Bob, and taught us both things we'd never known before. This is the hidden jewel of our community! Go see it!

Related posts:
3 Visions In Glass @ the Nelson-Atkins
Life on the Road as a Traveling Exhibitions Registrar
Adventures in Collections Management

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Kris the Vagabond said...

I love the WWI museum! But I hated the top, I'm scared of heights!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post very much, May. I love history & I appreciated the pictures taken from the top of the tower as I've never been to Kansas City. We hillbillies call places like Kansas 'flatland', strangely enough.

May said...

Thanks, Kris! You're right, the top is pretty freaky. I'm normally a big baby around heights, but the sun was srsly distracting me! Lol :)

Byron - Kansas IS flat! I swear! But I live in Missouri! It's a totally different - and far better - state :)

Radioman KC said...

Yup, great post, lots of pictures. My great Aunt Emily was over there and was active for years in the KC Women's Overseas Service League. Going to war in Europe was pretty brave stuff for young women in 1917. One of her uniforms was displayed for years in the same room where the big torpedo was the centerpiece during the fifties.

I had some of her relics from the war including a pristine copy of George M. Cohens sheet music "Over There". I offered it to the museum as they were working on the changes and they said they had several copies and lots of things that aren't even displayed in their storage areas.

Sometimes I think Museums are going overboard on the interactive stuff, highlighting the museum more than the artifacts. But that's just me. They certainly don't do that at the Smithsonian's Air Museum in Washington. The hardware IS the exhibit, and the same is true of the Aircraft Carrier Museum in NY's harbor. Metropolitan in NY is also incredible.

I need to revisit the Memorial. Haven't been there for 40 years. Thanks for the great layout, May.

PFL0W said...

one of the top things to see in KC--Union Station, the WWI Museum and Liberty Memorial, the Nelson Gallery, the new Bloch Gallery of Contemp. art at the Nelson, Bryant's BBQ, etc., etc.

thanks! I hope this gets the word more out so people get here and see this. the architecture is terrific, too

Mo Rage
the blog

May said...

Radioman - Personally, I'm cool with interactive displays being used cause normally, you can totally skip them without losing any of the experience of seeing the historic objects. But I can see what you mean about them getting overused, though I think, in part, that's how museums assume you have to reach out to the digital native kids.

PLOW - I agree. That's some good stuff. Though I don't eat BBQ myself these days :)

Eric said...

That really is a fabulous museum. I'm glad I got to see it when we were there.