It’s like a religious experience, it’s beautiful.
Frances Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society, is speaking about her favorite object at the new Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. It reopened on November 3rd after a $30 million renovation that took two years. The entire renovation was funded by anonymous donors. It’s a bell made in the U.S. It is dated 1906 and displayed in one of the original Art Deco cases within the newly refurbished interior.
Levine states, “There’s such an inheritance of service of ships with that named passing down through generations.” St. Louis’ connections and legacy, such as the keynote speaker at the grand reopening–St. The renovated memorial is centered on Louis native Brigadier General Jeannie M. Leavitt who was the first female fighter pilot in the Air Force.
Built-in 1938 by Mauran, Russell & Crowell, a St. Louis architect firm, to commemorate the St. Louisans who lost their lives in World War I, this building represents a time in architecture where traditional forms meet Modernism. Another connection: Gene Mackey (founder of Mackey Mitchell Architects), who was hired to renovate the memorial before his death in 2016, also collaborated. His late father’s original plans for a water feature at the Court of Honor to honor World War II veterans were realized by him. The Five Branches Fountain was the solution.
The historical society cleaned out the plaster and metalwork and upgraded the memorial to ADA compliance. The original core galleries will feature St. Louis in Service an exhibit that features nearly 300 items. This exhibit includes a sword from the Spanish Infantry Officer’s Corps made of Toledo Steel, which was the same type of weapon used by soldiers to defend St. Louis in the Revolutionary War Battle of San Carlos (1780). A sword with a different story: A blade that was cut in half by a brave, but surrendering soldier during the Camp Jackson Affair at the dawn of the Civil War. (Historically, the victorious soldiers would have handed over their weapons to defeated soldiers. Recent developments include Marine Sergeant Rocky Sickmann from Krakow, Missouri. He was held hostage in Tehran for 444 Days. After he was released, Rocky lent his diary and smuggled it out.
It is also noted that St. Louis played a prominent manufacturing role during the war effort. One wall features a large photograph of James Eads, an engineer who built Carondelet’s ironclad yards. Emerson Electric, a Ferguson-based manufacturer of gun turrets, is also displayed. Levine was moved by the tag that read “These parts save life” on the turret.
The historical society installed modern heating and air conditioning to protect these precious items. Scrims are giant translucent shades that allow light through while protecting artifacts. They feature photos of servicemen and their wives. Excavations have revealed a temporary gallery space below the main floor. Its first exhibit is focused on World War I and includes close to 100 objects, many of which were never displayed before. A German gas mask and a message capsule for carrier pigeons will be on display.
The renovated second-floor community spaces will host lectures, films, and panel discussions about each exhibit. They have been meticulously restored to their original details, including Vitrolite glass in bathrooms. Maplewood specialist who helped with the Hoover Dam’s bathroom renovations was a great help.
Levine states that exhibits “become an anchor”, but it’s the programming surrounding an exhibit that draws people back.