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Travelling World War I Exhibit

Updated on May 2, 2014

Outside the WW I Exhibit

Visitors watch an introductory video as they wait to enter the air-conditioned trailer.
Visitors watch an introductory video as they wait to enter the air-conditioned trailer. | Source

No Admission Charge

Thanks to two corporate sponsors, a travelling exhibit affiliated with the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri is making one-day stops throughout the country. It comes in a 53-foot tractor trailer gallery which has a pull-out awning creating 900 square feet of shaded space for the visitors to view the wide screens providing a narrated brief background before entering the air-conditioned trailer. This exhibit packs a lot of wallop into the small space it utilizes. If the Great War is of any interest to you, I highly recommend making time to see this. Bonus points: there is no admission charge.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The Introductory Video Explains the Rumblings of Trouble

While continuously showing archival still photos and moving pictures contemporary to the turn of the 20th century, a skillful script explains the changes occurring in Europe which led to the conflict. It lasts approximately 15 minutes and distills the causes into these sections:

1. End of an Era

The imminent loss of power by monarchs is foretold.

2. Industrial Revolution

Advances in the technology of travel, communications, and weapons help explain why World War I “looked” the way it did.

3. The People

The rise of socialism and Marxism may have been due to the poverty of people moving into cities.

4. Imagined Communities

Nationalism rose in the second half of the nineteenth century as loyalty shifted from monarchs to fellow people with the same language and cultural background. Sadly, this realization also fostered prejudices against people “not like us.”

5. The Desires of Empires

Colonialism was brisk before WW I. (The video focuses on Europe, but the United States was just as guilty.)

The Trailer is the Museum

The media kit describes the trailer as a 710 square feet gallery with

66 artifacts, such as weapons, tools, equipment, uniforms, flags, posters,

A walk‐through trench that simulates the war environment,

Videos and audio tracks,

Headlines and historical descriptors.

It really is squeezed into the exhibit. I found the artifacts to focus on France, Great Britain, Germany, and then the United States. Considering the amount of space available and the intended audience, this is totally understandable. Also, it is incredibly well presented. The walk-through trench, I guess, is as good as it could be in such a compact exhibit. Certainly, photos showed a few varying forms of trenches. Nonetheless, to say that the walk-through trench (yes, it was that) simulated the war environment is a bit pretentious. To satisfy me on that count, they would need to include 1 foot of cold, filthy water with rats and lice AND piped in battle sounds much louder than the ones provided. Also, smell-a vision of some sort providing all sorts of human, gunpowdery, and earthy sensory input. Well, that is the way it was.

Medical kit and artifacts in the trailer.
Medical kit and artifacts in the trailer. | Source

The Staffers

Financial advising firms Waddell & Reed plus the Ivy Funds are helping underwrite this exhibit. Since the founders of the former both fought in the Great War, this is a logical connection. The permanent staff of the exhibit are the truck driver plus two employees. Remaining greeters and helpers are recruited from the local Waddell & Reed office. As friendly as all get out, the individuals with whom I chatted were equally as ignorant about the exhibit and about WW I. That is regrettable. I totally sympathize with them having full-time work which commands their attention. However, couldn’t the firm release them for a few more hours to gain knowledge about their travelling museum and/or about the World War? I recommend the movies Gallipoli, Behind the Lines, or All Quiet on the Western Front for quick introductions to this period of Western history.


Cooperation Among Museums

The traveling gallery partners with local museums and cultural institutions. It stops at museums of all classifications — art, history, local culture, sports — across the country, raising awareness and funds for the National World War I Museum. Although there is no admission charge, donations are accepted. Funds raised at each stop will be divided between that local host and the National World War I Museum.

The Schedule

The exhibit will stop in at least 75 communities across the country.

"The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time" -attributed to British statesman Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the First World War.

Photos and text copyright 2011 Maren Morgan


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