It’s weird. People who are into music are called audiophiles, people call themselves a geek or a nerd about whatever subject they’re into, but it seems like I only ever hear two types of people call themselves ‘buffs’: film buffs and history buffs.
I’ve been a self-proclaimed film buff for years—I know there are tons of people who know way more about movies than I ever will, but to the average Joe I’m pretty knowledgeable. History, on the other hand, well…in school, history was up there with math as classes I’d sooner get a root canal than attend. Part of it might be because my teachers always seemed to make it so dry and uninteresting (what was up with that, Mr. Curi?). It wasn’t until college that I took a history class that was somewhat interesting, and it only covered up to the revolutionary war, but it did stoke my curiosity a little. So this past weekend when I was checking TripAdvisor for things to do for a trip to Kansas City with my significant other, I was interested when the first thing that popped up was the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
What I knew about WWI could fit on the inside of a matchbook, so everything I saw in the museum fascinated me. Everyone has at least a cursory knowledge of WWII, but The Great War seems to be somewhat overlooked in school.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the museum was the abundance of poppies—pictures of poppies on the walls, poppies on plates and keychains, on mugs in the gift shop, and this sight under your feet as you make your way from the lobby to the museum itself:
It looked odd, seeing all the flowers with no grass or anything green around them, and although it’s hard to tell in the picture, there are a couple of wooden planks in the middle of it all. What did it all mean? We wouldn’t find out until the end of our visit.
We were guided to a cozy auditorium showing a short film that tried to explain as quickly and clearly as it could what led up to the war, namely the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. In the virtual blink of an eye following the assassination, multiple countries had declared war on each other and all hell broke loose.
The museum had more content than you could shake a stick at: Uniforms of the soldiers and nurses; gas masks, firearms and artillery; life-sized recreations of the trenches on the battlefields and the enormous craters left by the rounds fired from a tank; and my personal favorite, propaganda posters.
There were dozens upon dozens of posters on display, and a really cool interactive feature that let you create your own mashup poster from the ones provided. There were also some newspapers from the time and various quotes from historic figures regarding the war.
And the poppies?
Unhappy with the lack of any real explanation, we wandered to the information desk where an elderly volunteer was more than happy to explain it to us. As it turns out, under the right conditions poppies can grow wild (being as much like a weed as they are a flower), and the atrocities of war gave them near perfect conditions to flourish: the heavy foot traffic and vehicle wear aerated the soil, the decomposing bodies fertilized it, and a chemical from the artillery shells killed off any pests that would eat or damage the flowers.
The result was that the battlefields that had been stripped barren of any sign of life (and instead were full of death and decay) soon were brimming with poppies. Soon after the war it became a symbol of remembrance not only for the Americans but for all the soldiers who died in the war worldwide. As for the scene under our feet when we entered? Each poppy below us represented 1,000 military lives lost in the war, 9 million in total.
We spent about two and a half hours at the museum, but could’ve easily spent twice that long. Your ticket is actually good for two days (although we had just one day to spend), which makes it that much more of a value. Being there over Veteran’s Day weekend meant that a) tickets were half price, and b) it was exceptionally crowded. I look forward to going back to the museum at a more relaxed pace to try and take it all in. If you’re ever in Kansas City, I highly recommend it.
I almost forgot to mention how cool the gift shop was! They had all sorts of things, from t-shirts to mugs to dishes to collectible replica helmets. I was absolutely tickled to find stoneware coasters with some of my favorite propaganda posters on them, and this mug which delighted my girlfriend to no end:
Considering I was already gaining an interest in war and general history, I may soon be adding history buff to my self-proclaimed film buff status, which is cool because I know damn well those are the only kinds of buff I’ll ever be.