How a Community Built the National WWI Museum and Memorial
Like much of the United States, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 did not have an immediate impact on Kansas City. That changed in April 1917 when the U.S. entered the war. Due to its location and the newly-constructed Union Station, Kansas City was chosen as a central place for American troops to gather before being shipped off to France. The city flourished in its wartime role.
When the war ended in 1918, Kansas Citians reacted with both celebration and solemnity. Despite the global Influenza epidemic, between 60,000 and 100,000 people turned out for a triumphant Victory Parade through the streets of downtown.
Kansas Citians were also aware of those who would never come home, having lost 441 service personnel locally, including Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons, the first American officer to be killed in the war, Red Cross nurse Loretta Hollenback and Private Wayne Miner, possibly the final American fatality on the battlefield, killed just hours before the Nov. 11 Armistice took effect.
Directly across from the entrance to Union Station, Penn Valley Park was chosen for the memorial's location, where visitors to the city would be immediately struck by the scale of the planned memorial.
Harold Van Buren Magonigle of New York, one of the nation’s leading architects and designer of the McKinley Memorial in Canton, Ohio, was chosen to create the structure. His plans for a soaring memorial tower flanked by two halls and sphinxes drew on Egyptian Revival Style and Art Deco, gaining praise from national publications like the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.
During World War II, the Liberty Memorial became a popular visiting spot for the many servicemen passing through Union Station.
Visitors would explore the Memorial’s two exterior buildings, which housed exhibitions and events, and take the elevator to the top of the Tower.
In 2006, an 80,000-square-foot nationally-acclaimed Museum expansion opened underneath the existing Memorial, which has since welcomed more than three million visitors. That same year, the Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark, a distinction awarded to less than forty properties in Missouri.
In the years since its reopening, the Museum and Memorial has welcomed many, including then-candidate Barack Obama, Senator John McCain and the country’s final surviving World War I veteran, Frank Buckles.
Curator of Education: Lora Vogt
Digital Content Manager: Liesl Christman
Special Projects Historian: Dr. Jennifer Zoebelein
Senior Curator: Doran Cart
Registrar: Stacie Petersen
Director, Archives and Edward Jones Research Center: Jonathan Casey
Made possible in part by the generous support of the William T. Kemper Foundation, the Regnier Family Foundation and the David T. Beals, III Charitable Trust.