In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…
—from “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae in 1915 to honor a fallen comrade.
More than 5,000 poppies, the symbol of the fallen soldiers of World War I, will illuminate Kansas City's Liberty Memorial beginning on Nov. 2. The display marks the centennial of Armistice Day, the Nov. 11 truce that ended four years of horrific slaughter in Europe.
The simple red flowers made famous by John McCrae’s poem also spill throughout the fountain pool at the entrance to the nation’s only museum dedicated to the memory of what was once optimistically described as the “War to End All Wars.”
When the final bell tolls in the National WWI Museum and Memorial Courtyard on the morning of Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., it will ring down the end of a milestone year and a half at the museum.
It has had a prominent national role since the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the war began in April 2017.
“We see ourselves as stewards of the memory of those who served, the Americans, but also a global memory,” said Matt Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War I Museum. “This whole period has been tremendous for our work.”
Naylor said the museum website has been viewed an average of a half-million minutes per month and millions of students have used the resources made available by the institution.
A traveling photography exhibition, “Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace, The Doughboys 1917-1918,” has been seen by 4 1/2 million people in Kansas City, Atlanta, New York and Chicago.
“That’s been an extraordinary success exposing the public to think about World War I and its ongoing effect,” Naylor said.
Last summer, the Kansas City artist Ada Koch created 117 metal poppy sculptures, each representing 1,000 American soldiers killed in a war that claimed the lives of more than 9 million soldiers and sailors on both sides.
For the Armistice Day centennial finale, the museum has mixed some very new technology with a venerable symbol of remembrance dating back to the war itself.
The poppies that will illuminate the tower above downtown between next Friday and Nov. 11 are comprised of nearly 55 million pixels and were created by DWP Live, a stage and special effects producer for major concerts and Super Bowl halftime shows.
The bell that will toll in the courtyard comes from an old federal building in downtown Kansas City that was rung daily by the Daughters of the American Revolution during America’s involvement in World War I.
It also tolled 11 times at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1926, during the dedication of Liberty Memorial.
Other events include the symposium “1918: Crucible of War” next Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 3, featuring scholars and historians from around the world; a “Craft Your Own Poppy” event for children and families Nov. 10 at 10 a.m., and a chance to for the public to handle Great War artifacts on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.
The museum will offer free admission for veterans and active duty military personnel and half-price general admission for the public Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-11.
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.