Much more than a war museum

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Courtesy photo
The National World War I Museum, beneath Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., features the nation’s largest collection of artifacts from the Great War. The museum’s curator and education director are in Iola this weekend as part of the 17th annual Buster Keaton Celebration.

While the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo. is home to the nation’s largest collection of artifacts from the Great War, its name belies the museum’s full service to researchers. Not all the material housed at the museum, located beneath the iconic Liberty Memorial, is about war and death, said James Barkley, the museum’s education coordinator. Barkley noted reams of family records sought by genealogists and other historians.
While visitors look over photos, displays and other memorabilia, Barkley fields requests for records.
Barkley will speak Saturday morning at the 17th annual Buster Keaton Celebration about educational opportunities at the museum.
“We do not consider ourselves solely a museum about the war,” said Barkley in a telephone interview. “With our materials, you can teach every school subject, including art, literature, film, mathematics, science, all of the social sciences, and especially language,” he said.
Barkley coordinates student field trips, teacher workshops and educational outreach and produces and distributes lesson plans for educators. The subject matter can be quite diverse, such as World War I’s impact on the subsequent 90 years since it was fought.
“One of the themes that runs through the museum is to note that nearly every significant conflict since then, be it World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Wars I and II, Israel and the Middle East, are tied somehow to World War I,” Barkley said. “Learning about World War I helps develop an understanding about what led to those other conflicts.”

THE LIBERTY Memorial tower has accentuated the Kansas City skyline for more than 80 years.
The idea for the memorial came just two weeks following the Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice, when Kansas City leaders — led by R.A. Long, who operated one of the country’s most prominent lumberyards — met to discuss the need for a lasting monument to honor the men who died in the war.
An aside, Long’s career brought him to southeast Kansas, where he operated a sawmill and lumberyard in Columbus.
The site for the Liberty Memorial was dedicated in 1921, ground was broken in 1923 and the project was completed in 1926. The dedication was noteworthy itself because it marked the only time in history that the five supreme Allied Commanders — Gen. John J. Pershing of the United States, Adm. David Beatty of Great Britain, Gen. Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France and Lt. Gen. Baron Jacque of Belgium — were together in one place.
Through the years, the memorial became to deteriorate, and in 1994 it was closed due to safety concerns.
In 1998, a bistate tax initiative was passed to refurbish and expand Liberty Memorial. While those plans took shape, they were expanded to include the 80,000 square-foot World War I Museum. The $102 million project was completed with the museum’s opening in December 2006. It was designated in 2004 as the official U.S. World War I Museum.
Among the museum’s most prominent features is a glass bridge that spans a giant poppy field as visitors enter. Each of the 9,000 poppies represent a thousand combat deaths, or a total of 9 million killed in the war.
Only about 8 percent of the massive collection of memorabilia, artifacts, pictures and other records are on display at any given time.
Saturday’s presentation in Iola carries an added appeal for Barkley, who taught middle school history in Parsons briefly, “back when I had a lot more hair and a lot less stomach.”