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During the NFL Draft in Kansas City, Liberty Memorial will glow red with poppies

An artist's rendering of the “Horizons” installation, on the iconic Liberty Memorial Tower and the North Terrace wall.
National WWI Museum and Memorial
An artist's rendering of the “Horizons” installation, on the iconic Liberty Memorial Tower and the North Terrace wall.

The symbolic flower will grace the National World War I Museum and Memorial beginning Tuesday, just as thousands of travelers visit one of the biggest sports events to come to Kansas City.

Some 300,000 fans are expected to gather at Union Station to take part in the NFL Draft. Across the way, at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, another display will light up the night sky.

The projection is called “Horizons.” It’s inspired by the poppies that flourished across Europe after WWI. The bright red flower quickly became a symbol of remembrance and sacrifice, says Lora Vogt, curator of education and interpretation at the museum.

“Being able to show this beautiful artistic reminder of the sacrifices made by those who died to protect and defend our freedom, while the nations looking at us right here in Kansas City, is really important,” Vogt says.

Also projected on the north wall will be quotes from Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces: "Lest we forget," and "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

The native Missourian landed in France with the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops on June 26, 1917. He later helped set the stage for how the nation remembers those lost in war. West Pershing Road in front of Union Station is named for the general.

From 1914 to 1918, the Great War left more than 8 million soldiers dead. The unparalleled scale of death and destruction led it to be described as "the war to end all wars.”

John McCrae, poet, physician, author, lieutenant colonel of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in uniform photographed in 1914.
Public Domain
Poet, author, physician, and Lt. Col. John McCrae, of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, photographed in 1914.

The European landscape was transformed by years of trench warfare, but poppies sprang up bountifully in the battle-scarred fields. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war, according to the American Legion website.

The bright red flowers inspired Canadian doctor and Lt. Col. John McCrae to write the poem "In Flanders Fields" while serving on the frontlines.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war. But his poem struck a chord with the people who wanted to commemorate the loss of life.

Inspired by the poem, Moina Belle Michael, an American professor and humanitarian, took up the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in WWI. It's become a symbol of remembering and honoring veterans across the English-speaking world.

"Moina Belle Michael committed herself to wearing a poppy for the rest of her life in honor of those (Allied soldiers), and really specifically American soldiers ... who sacrificed for democracy," Vogt says.

The memorial itself is a testament to Kansas Citians who, more than 100 years ago, determined to find a way to commemorate the war and the men and women who served.

National WW I Museum and Memorial
In 2018, Liberty Memorial was illuminated with more than 5,000 poppies, as shown in this rendering, from Nov. 9 to 11 as part of the museum's Armistice Day centennial event.

"That phrase, 'Lest we forget,' it is deeply a part of Kansas City," Vogt says. "One hundred years ago when they created this memorial, they felt and believed you create a memorial for the future."

"We are able to show, with this beautiful, artistic reminder, the sacrifices made by those who died to protect and defend our freedom," she says.

The museum and memorial will be open to the public during the NFL Draft.

The "Horizons" installation begins at sunset on Tuesday, April 25 and continues each evening through Sunday, April 30 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, Missouri 64108.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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