Kansas City is the largest city in Missouri and the third largest city in Kansas. Say what? Non-Midwesterners are often surprised to learn there are actually two municipalities named Kansas City, separated only by the boundary between the two states. To further complicate matters, the Missouri version, founded in 1850, was originally called the town of Kansas. The name was changed to Kansas City in 1889. On the Kansas side, ‘old’ Kansas City that was founded in 1880 became ‘new’ Kansas City in 1886 when it expanded to encompass additional communities. Perfectly clear, right?
Today, KCMO (the Missouri city) is approximately 3.5 times the size of KCK (the Kansas municipality). The Kansas City Chiefs and Royals sports teams play in Missouri, not Kansas. And during our road trip to Kansas City last month, we opted to stay on the Missouri side with close proximity to our desired sightseeing destinations.
So let’s get to it. Listed below in no particular order, here are three gems we checked off the list. (Three more coming in the next article!) First time visit for all.
World War I Memorial & Museum
Bill’s knowledge level about WWI was fair, and mine was minimal at best. Reading a couple of historical novels doesn’t go very far. So a visit to this outstanding museum was a ‘must do,’ even though we knew it would be intense to spend the day being immersed in one of the most horrendous periods during the 20th century.
The exhibits were organized around a timeline that walked visitors through the events that led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia in 1914, all the way to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Several key takeaways emerged as we tried to digest what we learned about everything that went down between 1914 and 1919:
- Russia Quit the War. 1917 was a bad year for Russia. In the spring, an internal rebellion overthrew Tsar Nicholas II’s monarchy and established a provisional government. A few months later, that regime was ousted by the Bolsheviks, who assumed control and immediately signed a cease-fire with Germany, thus ending Russia’s military participation in the War.
- U.S. Armed Forces Were Only Involved for the Final 18 Months. In the U.S., public opinion was not in favor of sending troops to Europe. The tide turned, however, after Germany became increasingly hostile in international waters and tried to enlist Mexico as an ally.
- The Treaty of Versailles Was Never Ratified by the U.S. Senate. Despite the involvement of 36 countries in WWI, the terms of its conclusion were essentially negotiated by only four: the U.S., Great Britain, France and Spain. President Woodrow Wilson was unable to secure passage of the treaty by Congress, so a separate agreement called the U.S.-German Peace Treaty was developed and signed in 1921.
- Post WWI Resentments in Germany Likely Played a Role in Hitler’s Emergence as a Leader. Many historians believe that German reparations set forth in the Treaty of Versailles were excessive and “contributed to German economic and political instability that allowed for the formation of the National Socialists (Nazis) just a year later.” (Source: National Geographic)
That’s the end of the history lesson – here are a few photos from our visit, starting with an example of the detailed timeline that guided visitors through the exhibits.
If there is anything you want to know about World War I, there’s a good chance you can find it at this excellent museum. Enlightening, gut-wrenching and overwhelming, with far too much to absorb in a single visit.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
This beautiful building and museum opened its doors in 1933 during the Great Depression, funded by the bequests of two generous donors, Mary McAfee Atkins and William Rockhill Nelson. At the time, the global art market was in the doldrums, which led to attractive deals that helped the new museum build its collection and get off to a good start.
We didn’t even try to see it all. Two hours after we arrived, I was still winding my way through extensive Asian exhibits – Chinese, South Asian and Japanese. We met a friend for a delightful lunch at the Rozzelle Court Restaurant, then split up again for another three hours of perusing the galleries, of which I especially enjoyed two – the Chinese collection and the Impressionist paintings.
On my first draft of this article, I included photos of 28 favorite pieces. You’ll be glad to know I whittled it down to 12.
This FREE museum is fantastic!
In its heyday, Union Station was a beehive of activity, with as many as 79,000 trains passing through in a single year (1917) plus 678,000 passengers (1945). Designed by architect Jarvis Hunt, the Beaux-Arts style building was a grand addition to the city and source of pride for residents when it opened in 1914.
The station incorporated several varieties of stone (limestone, granite, marble and slate) from locations throughout the U.S. and Great Britain.
Twelve railway companies operated at Union Station in those early years.
Things were off to a good start, but Union Station garnered unwanted attention in 1933 with the occurrence of a high-profile deadly incident.
And really hard times hit in the 1970s, as passenger traffic declined sharply. When Amtrak moved its operations out of Union Station in 1985, the building was shut down and abandoned. In 1996, voters in parts of Missouri and Kansas approved a redevelopment tax for a major renovation project. By that time, the building was in serious disrepair.
The ambitious restoration effort was completed in 1999, and the reimagined Union Station opened as a ‘go to’ entertainment spot. Plus Amtrak returned in 2002. Now visitors can spend a leisurely day exploring Science City, City Theatre for live performances, the Planetarium, and frequently a special traveling exhibit. It’s a family-friendly place.
We didn’t do any of those activities, but we strolled among the 8,000 square foot model train gallery, studied the extensive history exhibits, took in the stunning architecture and had a nice lunch at Harvey’s.
Bill and I spent our honeymoon in Kansas City at the Crown Center Hotel, which having opened in 1971, was the newest and fanciest place in town, or at least we thought it was. We could only afford to stay two nights, and our big splurge was a nice dinner at Trader Vic’s, where tropical drinks were served in coconut shells. We kept those way cool glasses for many years before deciding it was time to move on.
The hotel, now a Westin brand, was just across the street from Union Station, so we went on a little side trip to take a peek. It still looks the same on the outside (you know, that chic concrete bunker look), but the inside is quite nice, including the five-story tropical rock garden and waterfall in the lobby.
It was a quick jaunt down memory lane.
Stay tuned for three more sight-seeing excursions in Kansas City coming up in the next article.