The National World War I Museum and Memorial at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City has broken its attendance record for the second straight year. The museum at Liberty Memorial drew 257,830 through the third week of November 2015, breaking last year’s record of 235,271.
“Without question, the global community is embracing the centennial commemoration of the Great War,” said Memorial president Matthew Naylor. “It’s particularly fitting that the announcement comes during the week of Thanksgiving, as we’re eternally thankful for each of our supporters who have helped propel this organization into the international spotlight.”
A new exhibit, “The Second Battlefield: Nurses in the First World War,” is proving particularly popular. According to the museum, nursing played a crucial role during the First World War. Emergency medical practices evolved enormously during the war years (1914–1918) and thousands more medical workers were involved than in previous wars. New and innovative practices included blood transfusions, the use of antiseptics, local anesthetics, and painkillers.
Scheduled to be open from Nov. 3, 2015 to March 6, 2016, in the Research Level Gallery, the “Nurses” exhibit is comprised of predominantly French WWI artwork aligning with the quasi-myths of wartime nursing as described by author Christine Hallett: the courageous voluntary aid detachment, the romantic nurse and the “nurse-as-heroine.”
Another special exhibit called “Sand to Snow,” about the global nature of the war, runs through April 10 in Exhibit Hall. An exhibit about American volunteers in the war opens in April, and an exhibit about the Somme and Verdun opens in May.
The museum opened in 2006, and that year Congress designated it the National World War I Museum. As it nears its 10th anniversary—dovetailing with the World War I centennial—attendance has annually been growing about 15 percent a year.
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) fought for five years to make the museum the nation’s official World War I Memorial before the bill finally passed the House and Senate in 2014. “We clearly have the most majestic World War I monument and museum in the world. And when we first started pushing this, most people even in Congress had no idea,” he said. “This will be the only place on the planet that the descendants of those men and women, primarily men, who died in World War I, can come to connect with it,” Cleaver said.
Built on the top of Vinegar Hill—one of KC’s highest points—and overlooking Union Station, which opened in 1914, the facility consists of the cylindrical tower, connecting the original museum building with the new one. The tower is laden with symbolic extras, including four 40-foot-tall “Guardian Spirits” surrounding the top of the tower; and two Assyrian sphinxes—part lion, part bird, part human—at the tower’s base. One, called Memory, faces east toward France, where most of the fighting took place. The other, Future, faces west, to uncertainty ahead.