The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today. That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.
The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006. Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies. You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.
Not familiar with World War I history? Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.
I never expected to see a cathedral like this in St. Louis, Missouri. Completed in 1914 this spectacular building would be a natural in some European capital, but a surprise in the heart of the U.S. From a distance, the walls and ceiling of this cathedral look painted. With a closer look you see that they are covered in 41.5 million glass pieces in more than 7,000 colors. Covering 83,000 square feet, it is the largest mosaic collection in the world. More than intricate, it’s staggering. These photos are just a sample.
The bar, the courthouse, the house on the Mississippi river where “I could step right in the sucker, an easy three-foot drop, and be on my way to Tennessee.” For authors such as Gillian Flynn in her huge fiction bestseller Gone Girl, the setting of a novel plays as crucial a role as the characters themselves. It creates atmosphere, foreshadows what is to come, and sets the pace. But when director David Fincher and his location scouts set out to make a movie based on the novel, it was a challenge to find real world places to match those of Flynn’s imagination. They found them in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
The movie, released today, has received some pretty great reviews. So, between the book and the movie, I’m betting that plenty of Gone Girl fans will be looking for her in Cape Girardeau, a lovely river town in southeast Missouri, where the movie was filmed.
In case you’ve missed it all, in Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) disappears from the North Carthage, Missouri, home she shares with her philandering husband Nick (Ben Affleck) on their fifth anniversary, leading him to be investigated for her (maybe) murder. “If there are married couples here, maybe you should change seats” rather than sit together, said Ann Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, when the film premiered in New York. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.’ David Fincher will personally escort us there.” As the story progresses, we learn that this is one crazy couple and we find that the narrator isn’t necessarily giving us the straight story. (To see a fun discussion among readers of the book, see Book Journey‘s spoiler page.) The realistic setting adds to the tension.
Stacy Dohogne Lane of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau told me, “North Carthage doesn’t actually exist, though there is a Carthage, Missouri. The Mississippi River plays such a big part in the book that they wanted to capture a true Missouri river town. Steve Mapel, the film’s location scout, came to Cape Girardeau in the Spring of 2013 and spent quite a bit of time here doing a very intensive search for specific locations. We had such a good time sitting around our conference table with Steve…he’d say ‘I’m looking for a place that has x, y and z’ and we’d all brainstorm a variety of places that fit within those parameters.” David Fincher has said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau as North Carthage. Gillian Flynn later told Fincher that Cape Girardeau was the place she had in mind while she was writing the book, and he joked in an article that he wish she’d told him that sooner and saved him some time.
Alas, Gone Girl fans probably won’t find Ben Affleck or Rosmund Pike on the streets of Cape Girardeau but the river town makes a great weekend getaway (about two hours from St. Louis). The town offers a terrific map of Gone Girl sites that you can download for a driving tour. It’s a lovely way to see the area even if you don’t care about Nick and Amy. Beyond Cape Girardeau’s movie role as North Carthage, you’ll find intriguing historic and outdoor sites, antiques and shopping, and it makes a great spot for a girls getaway weekend with wineries, spas and more.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.