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WWI Museum highlights century-old war

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 27, 2014 at 8:25 am •  Published: May 27, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The site of the National World War I Museum has weathered a whiplash arc from prominence to decline and back to distinction. With the centenary of the start of World War I being marked this summer, the museum is working to highlight the story of a war that is often overshadowed in U.S. history by other conflicts.

The museum is located on the 26-acre (11-hectare) site of the Liberty Memorial. The obelisk homage to soldiers of the First World War was completed in 1926 after Kansas City residents raised more than $2 million in two weeks to build it. At the memorial's dedication, President Calvin Coolidge called the Egyptian Revival-style monument "one of the most elaborate and impressive memorials that adorn our country."

That was then.

Decades and a few major wars and monuments later, the towering 217-foot (66-meter) Liberty Memorial, neglected and deteriorating, was closed in 1994. But in 1998, Kansas City residents rallied once again, passing a tax aimed at restoring the structure. Plans then evolved to include a museum showcasing the site's World War I-era collections.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial opened in 2006.

"This museum is a result of the action of the citizenry," said Matthew Naylor, president and chief executive officer of the museum, which he called "the foremost museum in the U.S. in remembering and interpreting the Great War and its enduring impact."

The museum, designated a national site by Congress in 2004, drew about 150,000 visitors in 2013, museum spokesman Mike Vietti said. It expects a boost in attention this year as the world marks 100 years since the Great War began. An assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, led Austria to declare war on Serbia. The U.S. entered the war in 1917. Millions of soldiers, including some 120,000 Americans, died by the time the war ended Nov. 11, 1918.

The museum, located south of downtown and funded largely by private donations, admission fees and the city, has garnered considerable praise, including from Diane Lees, director?general of the Imperial War Museums in England. Lees said the World War I Museum, which she visited in January, "punches well above its weight as a museum" and is a "must for anyone who wants to learn about the impact of the First World War."

"Its narrative is international; the broad range of objects on display are compelling; and the personal stories they tell brings the people who lived, endured, served and died during the war a century ago, to life," Lees said in an email.

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