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.
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). 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.
If you can’t make it to France to observe the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, you can see it through the eyes of combat artists who were there in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO.
Seventy years ago, on 6 June 1944, the Western Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France, opening a second front against Nazi Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the massive operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies had gained a foot-hold in Normandy, but at an unbelievable cost; more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Yet, their efforts opened the way for more than 100,000 soldiers to land and begin the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
D-Day has been the topic of countless books (See my post on what to read before visiting the Normandy beaches) and movies including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. It was also the subject of a little-known group of artists, the U.S. Navy combat artists. The paintings of three of them—Mitchell Jamieson, Alexander Russo, and Dwight Shepler—are on display in an exhibit at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, entitled “D-Day Normandy: Operation Overlord.” The paintings are on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
During the war, newsreels and photos dominated coverage of events, but the generals wanted artists to interpret the war, which is quite different from straight-up photography. Painters can vividly depict subjects beyond the range of of the camera lens such as action at night, in foul weather, or action widely scattered over the sea or in the air. They could also omit the confidential technical details a camera might reveal, thus making many interesting subjects unavailable for publication. So, select soldiers from all branches of the military carried pencils, paints, and sable brushes into battle along with their rifles and fought furiously to communicate the experience of war to the public. “I was scared most of the time,” said combat artist Edward Reep in a PBS documentary (and book), They Drew Fire. “But I always put myself in a position where I could be part of the fighting. That was my job.”
The paintings in the National Churchill Museum portray everything from the horrors of the initial landing in which American soldiers literally fought an uphill battle, to the GIs building an artificial harbor on the beach, to the capture of German soldiers. It’s a lasting record of how soldiers lived and died during the invasion, all on exhibit in Fulton.
Why Fulton, Missouri, you may wonder. In 1946 Winston Churchill delivered one of the most significant speeches of his long career at Westminster College in Fulton. (President Harry Truman, a Missouri native, joined him on the platform.) That address, formally entitled, “The Sinews of Peace,” but best known for Churchill’s pronouncement that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” marked the beginning of the Cold War.
In the 1960s Westminster College set out to mark what would be the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s visit and to really make something of its connection to the event. The college settled on the the idea of moving a Christopher Wren designed Church from London. St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury, had stood in London since 1677 but was badly damaged during the London Blitz and narrowly escaped demolition. Instead, Westminster College moved the church stone-by-stone to its campus and rebuilt it to Wren’s original specifications.
The National Churchill Museum resides beneath the church. Its displays were recently rebuilt to incorporate the use of technology to better bring to life the story of Winston Churchill and his world. It features permanent and changing exhibits, along with a variety of related activities and was recognized by the United States Congress as America’s permanent tribute to Churchill. So, while former soldiers, private citizens, and dignitaries from Europe and and the U.S. will visit the Normandy beaches and battlefields to mark the anniversary this summer, those who can’t make it to France can see the invasion through the eyes of the combat artists, smack in the middle of the Midwest. The exhibit runs until July 20.
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