The AC 2nd Travelogue: To Kansas City and Back

Today we’re kicking off what we hope will be a recurring series: The AC 2nd Travelogue. Last month two of our alumni, sisters Lynae (’08) and Dana Morrison (’12), mentioned that they were planning a trip from the Twin Cities to Kansas City, Missouri, to see its World War I museum and some other historic sites along the way. When asked if they’d be willing to write a post chronicling their adventures, they jumped at the chance. Here, on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, is what they wrote:

The Day the Music Died, The Great War, and Everything In Between

When we realized Steve Miller Band and Journey were only coming as close as Kansas City, Dana knew she had to see them. Lynae, however, was not sold on the concert. That is until we found out there are more historical destinations on the road to Kansas City, Missouri than at first glance.

Our first stop was unplanned. We had spent the night in Mason City, Iowa, and our dad mentioned that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper had played their last show in neighboring Clear Lake before perishing in a plane crash. We set out to find the memorial dedicated to the musicians and the pilot. The site is literally in the middle of two cornfields outside of Clear Lake and was marked by a statue of Holly’s trademark glasses. A half-mile walk on a dirt path brought us to a small steel tribute, decorated with tokens from fans all across the country.

We met one such fan and his father slowly making the long walk towards the memorial as we left. His steps were difficult due to the fact that he had been mostly bedridden for the past several years, recovering from a brain tumor he had as a child. Now a teenager, he had wanted to visit the site with his dad. They drove seventy miles from the Mayo Clinic, and as they pulled up to the field, “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens started playing on their satellite radio. They were awestruck by the coincidence and took a picture of the radio itself to capture what was for the teenager a dream come true.

Our next stop was St. Joseph, Missouri, where we visited the Pony Express Museum and the Jesse James Home. James and his family had been living in the home in St. Joseph for four months when Robert Ford shot and killed James as he fixed a picture on the wall.

Jesse James house in St. Joseph, Missouri

Independence, Missouri was the next destination. Located just outside of Kansas City, it is home to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Truman worked at the museum after it opened in 1957, giving tours to visitors and even answering incoming phone calls to give directions to his museum. In addition to two permanent exhibits, the museum features a temporary exhibit: “Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear” at the time of our visit.

One thing we both appreciated about the museum was that it didn’t gloss over the hardships and unpopular choices his administration faced. From quotations reflecting on the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both for and against the act, to letters of hate mail sent to Truman after the firing of General Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War, the museum presented his time in office in a realistic, non-idealized way.

After a full day of visiting the Pony Express, the Jesse James Home, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, it was time to enjoy the Kansas City air with the outdoor concert of Steve Miller Band and Journey. Both bands entertained audiences, just as they have been for the last 40 years.

The final destination on our Midwest tour was the Liberty Memorial, which houses the National World War I Museum. Initial planning for the memorial started almost immediately after the end of the war in November of 1918, with an opening in 1926. But it would be another eighty years before the museum, located under the memorial, opened for visitors.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial - Kansas City, Missouri

Immediately upon entering the museum doors, we were welcomed by a field of red poppies below a glass walkway. There were exactly 9,000 poppies below our feet, each one representing 1,000 military deaths during the war. The somber greeting led us to the rest of the museum, a detailed and expansive dive into the global war that raged for four years.

Poppies growing under the entrance to the National World War I Museum

The museum was split into two sections. The first section laid out the causes of war and the types of fighting in Europe during the first three years of the war. A brief film detailing the causes of why the United States entered the war ushered us into the second section, devoted entirely to the U.S. perspective.

 

An interesting tidbit presented at the beginning of the exhibit was how much importance was placed on pomp and showmanship at the onset of the war, specifically in military attire. The French initially wore a bright red and blue uniform originally used in the 1860s; it quickly proved to be an easy target. Also, soldiers soon found there was little need for swords and lances, relying instead on equipment that could be carried more easily and proved more effective.

 

The museum had an impressive collection of artillery, machinery, and weaponry, as well as recreations of British, French, and German trenches. It also featured an interactive section including study stations and booths that played audio testimonies from soldiers. It allowed us to submerge ourselves into the chaos and triumph that permeated through the world 100 years ago.

– Dana Morrison and Lynae Morrison

Thanks to Dana and Lynae! We’d love to publish more posts like this, so if you’re an alum or student and want to write about your encounters with history as you travel, just get in touch with Prof. Chris Gehrz.

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