LEST THE AGES FORGET
IN EARTH OR HEAVEN BOLD SAILOR ON THE SEA
— MAJOR GENERAL PETER E. TRAUB
"At 11:00 in the morning on November 11, 1918, the Armistice ended the fighting on the Western Front. It did not solve the conflicts, but only crafted an uneasy peace. The celebrations on the Allied sides showed joy and great relief. As the cheering slowed, the somber realization of the number of people lost in the war led many to wonder how to honor and remember. In Kansas City, Missouri, that same November of 1918, a group of citizens gathered to create a lasting monument to those who served and those who died."
— From the foreword by Doran Cart, curator of the Liberty Memorial Museum
Lest The Ages Forget: Kansas City's Liberty Memorial tells the story of the national monument to World War I. In this industrious agricultural metropolis, a group of community leaders led an ambitious campaign in 1919 to raise money for the construction of a lasting tribute in stone for the brave men and women who served their country in The Great War.
In only 10 days, and in the middle of a deadly influenza epidemic, Kansas Citians gave generously to the fund drive, whose slogan was "Lest the Ages Forget." The final tally came to over $2.5 million, of which $2 million would go to construct the Liberty Memorial.
A national competition led to the selection of New York architect H. Van Buren Magonigle. His designs of a massive limestone shaft, mysterious sphinxes and stately frieze wall won unanimous approval by the competition jury. Construction began in 1921, marked by a lavish site dedication ceremony attended by General John J. Pershing of the United States, Admiral Lord Earl Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, and Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium. It was the first and only time the five principal Allied commanders gathered together in one place.
Towering above Kansas City from its hill at Main and Pershing, Liberty Memorial became one of Kansas City's most prominent landmarks. Acclaimed architect Edward Durell Stone, designer of the U. S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, and the U. S. pavilion at the Brussels World Fair, hailed the monument in 1961 as "one of the country's great memorials, in a class with the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials."
Now in the middle of a major renovation and expansion, the memorial is being restored to Magonigle's original luster. Through historical photographs, newspaper accounts and memorabilia, Lest The Ages Forget documents Liberty Memorial's proud beginnings, slow decline into disrepair, and decisive victory in a 1998 public vote to restore the monument.
Derek Donovan is the director of research and information at The Kansas City Star. He also writes frequently for the paper, contributing theater, music and arts reviews and features. Before he came to The Star, he worked as a scenic and lighting designer, and he holds a master's degree in theater history, theory and criticism. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.