Or take some time to listen to fighting men's letters read aloud as you look inside a typical trench. A German soldier gets teary-eyed on Christmas Eve in 1915, thinking about life in his hometown that night as he keeps company with his own little tree in his trench. A Belgian lieutenant complains about rats in his trench. A French infantryman offers, "Shells of all calibers kept raining on our sector. The trenches had disappeared, filled with earth. The air was unbreathable. Our blinded, wounded, crawling and shouting soldiers kept falling on top of us and died splashing us with their blood. It was living hell."
As the political map evolved as a result of World War I, so did the means of warfare. A virtual armory is here. Body armor, straight from the legends of Lancelot and Arthur, was tried early on, but soon tanks became the ultimate battlefield weapon.
Yet no other dimension of the war saw such fast-paced high-tech advances as air combat. The heavier-than-air flying machine, just a decade past its birth at Kitty Hawk, evolved from a reconnaissance machine to fighters, dropping bombs, strafing trenches and gunning for one another. By the end of the war, pilots were flying planes with two or three wings and maneuvering swiveling mounts for a second machine gunner. Three replicas of biplanes hang from the ceiling, examples of the growth of air warfare during the conflict.
The home front is not omitted. A poster calls on women at home to do their part. "Joan of Arc saved France," is printed above a photo of the martyred saint, "Women of America. Save Your Country. Buy War Savings Stamps." Representing the other side are the posted words of a 12-year-old German schoolgirl, Piete Kuhr: "Another collection has been announced at school, for copper, tin, lead, zinc, brass, and old iron I turned the whole house over from top to bottom. Grandma cried, 'Why don't you give them your lead soldiers instead of cleaning me out?' So my little army had to meet their deaths."
The museum building has its own intriguing history. It opened in 1926 with a tower and two exhibit halls. By the 1990s, the property was declared unsafe.
City leaders decided to convert the expansive space under the original structure into a state of the art museum. The two original galleries are used mainly for rotating exhibits, and yes, one can take an elevator and short stairway to the tower summit as World War I veterans did shortly after they returned stateside decades ago.
If you go
Hours: Year round, summer, daily and major Monday holidays, 10-6; rest of year, daily except non-holiday Mondays, 10-5. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Admission: $14 adults, $12 ages 65 and up and students ages 18 and up with ID; $8 ages 6-17; free: active and career retired military.
Information: National World War I Museum, 100 West 26th Street, Kansas City, Mo. 64108, (816) 784-1918, www.theworldwar.org
Lodging: Sheraton Suites Country Club Plaza, 770 West 47th Street, (816) 931-4400, doubles: $129-$309, packages including breakfast available, http://www.sheratoncountryclubplaza.com; Holiday Inn Aladdin (boutique hotel), 1215 Wyandotte Street, (816) 421-8888, doubles: $109-$229 http://www.hialaddin.com; Sleep Inn, 7611 NW 97th Terrace, (816) 891-0111, doubles: $44.99-$64.99, continental breakfast included, http://www.sleepinn.com
Note: This is barbecue country. Some of Kansas City's highly regarded barbecue restaurants include: Arthur Bryant's Barbecue (three locations), http://www.arthurbryantsbbq.com/index.htm Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue (four locations), http://www.jackstackbbq.com/ Gates Bar-B-Q (six locations) http://www.gatesbbq.com/ and Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue (two locations), http://www.oklahomajoesbbq.com/
Michael Schuman graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 1975 and received an MFA in professional writing in 1977 from the University of Southern California. He lives with his family in New England and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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