The curator for The National World War Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, said they try to bring the war to life.
Doran Cart, senior curator for the museum, said the collection of history never stops. Cart was the featured speaker at the First Friday Forum at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan, Ottawa.
He said the museum collects items from all 36 nations involved in the war. In November 1918, a group formed the Liberty Memorial Association to create a lasting monument to those men and women who served and died in the world war, regardless the country.
“That is exactly what the museum still does today,” Cart said.
The museum and memorial began celebrating the centennial of the war in 2014 and still have two years left.
“It has been a busy time for us,” Cart said.
He said there are several misconceptions of the war. The Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, ended the fighting on the western front, but did not end the war.
“The war officially ended in 1919,” Cart said. “There were still Americans fighting overseas [in Russia] until 1923.”
Kansas Citians raised $2.5 million in two weeks, he said, which would be equivalent to $47 million today, to build the memorial. Even Harry Truman donated $40.
“On Nov. 1, 1921, the five main allied leaders came to dedicate the site of the Liberty Memorial across from Union Station,” Cart said. “It was attended by 250,000 people, which was 100,000 more than lived in Kansas City at the time.
He said construction began in 1923 and was completed in 1926.
“Another huge crowd came for the dedication,” Cart said. “President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the Memorial. At that time, he named it National World War Memorial. Congress in 2015 got around to signing the papers. It took them 97 years to get that accomplished.”
Construction of the new museum began in 2005 and was completed in 2006 at a cost of $26 million. The museum has surpassed two million visitors, he said.
He said each year of the centennial the museum attempts to gather exhibits that take place in that corresponding year a century ago. That led to the On the Brink exhibition of 1914. He said the museum tried to depict it was a global war in 1915. He said there were two major battles in 1916.
“We are always trying to find things new in our collection,” Cart said. “This was a major effort with millions of lives lost or damaged and really accomplished nothing.”
In 2017, Cart displayed graphic images of the war from that time period.
“To show what was going on in these battle fields,” Cart said. “This was a horrific time of our history.”
He said the museum keeps growing and changing.
“I like to put new things in,” Cart said. “I learn things every day. We acquire new objects as we put together new exhibits. Documents play a huge part of our museum collection. We have more than 200,000 photographs in the collection. We are trying to digitalize all of them.”
The Revolution exhibition from 1917 can still be viewed, he said. It contains quotes from the time.
“You have to look at the exhibit to see who said these things,” Cart said. “They sound like quotes from today. Posters are a large part of our museum collection.”
One unique part of the exhibit is a German U-boat sailor’s cap.
“It is the first U-boat sailor’s object in the museum collection,” Cart said. “The museum has been collecting since 1920.”
Next year’s celebration will include two exhibits. Cart said the first is a painting by John Singer Sargent, which measures 21 feet wide and 9 feet high. He was considered the leading portrait painter of his time.
“It is a huge monumental painting the American artist painted in England for his contribution to the war effort,” Cart said.
The other is the Crucible 1918 exhibition.
“It truly did forge America and other nations,” Cart said. “It was getting to the point of either winning or losing the war.”
The final year of the centennial in 2019 will focus on the commemoration of the war, Cart said.