The reopening of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis in November ushered in some amazing new exhibits that share the multiple perspectives of our history in creative, engaging ways to help visitors learn and discover by making connections between the past and the present.
On the first floor, the core gallery exhibit is “St. Louis in Service,” highlighting America’s military history from the Revolutionary War to today through the eyes of St. Louis.
“It features original artifacts, intriguing narratives and profiles, touchscreen interactives and great images that help connect visitors to the story,” says Mikall Venso, Military & Firearms Curator for the Missouri Historical Society and Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.
The exhibit utilizes the experience of the region and St. Louisans as the common thread to tell the story of service in the nation’s military on the frontlines and the homefront.
“By telling these important stories through a local perspective, we create opportunities for our community to see themselves as part of the broader national and international impacts these events have had historically,” Venso says.
The compelling narratives often evoke powerful reactions in visitors.
“Nearly everyone has either served in the military themselves or had a relative who has done so, whether it was the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam or today’s battlefields,” Venso says. “There is a sense of pride and often wonder as visitors learn something new or remember something that had been lost to time and faded memory.”
In the newly renovated lower level, the “St. Louis and the Great War” exhibit takes visitors on a journey from America’s debate about whether and when to join the First World War, through the trenches, across the homefront, as well as the triumphant return of St. Louis’s soldiers and their memorialization within Soldiers Memorial.
“The experiences of St. Louis volunteers, soldiers and nurses who trained across the region and then traveled overseas to fight in the trenches, on the waters and the air above are shared while connecting those stories with those who remained in the community and contributed in other ways,” Venso says. “The challenges that women faced before, during and after the war for recognition and the right to vote that ultimately led to the 19th Amendment is one many visitors find compelling.
“We also present the complicated relationship that citizens had with their German neighbors and co-workers, who were a significant portion of the community and often viewed with great suspicion and perceived questionable loyalty. There are small buttons that helped champion political causes and efforts to fund the war, a large depth charge made by Wagner Electric here in St. Louis, as well as several weapons and uniforms that were used in the grand battles of the war.”
The exhibits are filled with stories of those who lived, worked and trained in St. Louis, offering parallels to the experiences, places and people serving at home and abroad today.
“Many visitors are surprised at how much the world and technology has changed, and yet we are still having many of the same political, social and cultural debates that raged a century ago,” Venso says.
In addition to the compelling exhibits, the fully renovated building is worth a trip to see.
“Besides all the improved infrastructure and accessibility, the building itself is remarkable in design and aesthetic details,” Venso says. “The restoration and blending of old and new is striking in its subtlety. The new water features and the reconnection between the Court of Honor across Chestnut Street with the Memorial are wonderful new additions.”