Celebrate the Grand Reopening of Soldiers Memorial in St. Louis!
The six-pointed gold star embedded into the surrounding deep red mosaic tiles represents the ultimate sacrifice. Its profound beauty belies the crushing reality that lies behind its purpose — a life lost. Military buffs know the Gold Star made its first appearance during WWI when it was placed over the service flag’s blue star whenever a soldier was killed. Today, this particular piece of stunning mosaic art lines the ceiling of the loggia, or gallery, that houses the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis.
Soldiers Memorial Renovations
Opening to the public on November, 3 2018 in time for Veteran’s Day, the museum has undergone a three-year $30 million transformative renovation, both inside and out. As a result, the illustrious Gold Star shines brighter than ever. Several hundred missing tiles have been replaced and shined, its gold reflected brightly against the sun’s rays. Beneath it, lies the cenotaph monument with the names of all St. Louis soldiers who perished during World War I carved into its sides, including that of Edith Ferguson, a local nurse.
Located at Chestnut and 13th streets, across the street from City Hall, the museum is within walking distance from any of the downtown hotels and nearby amenities. Or, hop on MetroLink and exit at the Civic Center stop.
As part of the renovation, Chestnut Street, which runs directly in front of the museum, has been narrowed by 50 feet to make way for an expanded Court of Honor. Dedicated as the city’s WWII memorial in 1948, the Court of Honor, which also lies at the base of the museum’s impressive front steps, now includes a rear edge reflecting pool; a Five Branches Fountain; five XX-foot flag poles, one for each brand of the service; and green space for performances and other military-related events. For visitors just wishing to sit and reflect, silver metal lawn chairs are placed throughout the area. At night, newly installed LED lighting enhances the famous Broken Bayonet carved statue that dates back to 1948, the year the Court of Honor opened. Historical tidbit: President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the museum site in 1936.
A bright white, perfectly edged aggregated stone sidewalk provides ample space to walk among the monuments that honor lives lost in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as the world’s more recent conflicts.
The exterior of the historic art deco landmark museum appears to dazzle in the sunlight. Soap and water were used to painstakingly remove years of coal dust and embedded dirt to restore the original luster of the exterior surface, including the four impressively sized sculptures created by St. Louis Walker Hancock that sit on either side of the two large loggia entryways. The carved sculptures feature enormous horses flanked by figures representing Loyalty, Vision Courage and Sacrifice.
For history and military buffs, this is your kind of place. Spend an hour, spend a day — between the two renovated galleries, assembly hall and a new downstairs exhibition hall that doubles the facility’s space, you can immerse yourself in any of the world’s battles, from the American Revolution and Vietnam War to the Gulf War and today’s current conflicts. The difference between this and other military museums? Soldiers Memorial tells the story of these wars through the lens of St. Louis.
Visitors can meet the St. Louis soldiers and their families, as well as the city’s contributions to these wars, through interactive media elements, oral histories, innovative display kiosks, and a rotating supply of more than 300 artifacts.
Highlights include: Uniforms worn by locals from every major conflict including one from Tuskegee Airman Wendell Pruitt, a pioneering African-American military pilot; the diary of Iranian hostage and former U.S. Marine Rocky Sickmann; the brass indicator from the USS St. Louis, “Lucky Lou,” one of the few ships that survived the Pearl Harbor bombing; three Medals of Honor bestowed on St. Louisans and US Marines Gunnery Sergeant Fred Stockham, Sergeant William Button, and Private Louis Rene Gaiennie; Spanish American war trinkets carried by a local soldier; St. Louis WWI chapter banners from the Red Cross and YMCA; bullets and an employee’s uniform from a former munitions manufacturing plant located just outside of the downtown area; Blue Star flags that covered the coffins of local heroes, and more. Even the thousands of artifacts not on actual display can be pulled up on the interactive kiosks located in the St. Louis in Service interior west gallery.
The extensive facelift includes original art deco light fixtures that have been cleaned and rewired. The mahogany-lined elevator, with its art deco metal doors has been brought up to code. Make sure to notice the two soldiers carved in silver that adorn the elevator’s front door panels. Even the restrooms are worth a visit – the original vitrolite glass paneled walls have been repaired and restored in all their wonder.
When it opens in November, the museum’s inaugural exhibit on the lower level, titled WWI: St. Louis and the Great War, will allow visitors to experience what life was like living in St. Louis during a time of great change, both domestically and abroad. Scheduled from November 2018 through December 2021, the exhibition will feature more than 200 never-before displayed artifacts including uniforms worn by local men and woman overseas; victory medals; a carrier pigeon message capsule; a German gas mask; the first military x-ray, which was developed at Washington University; and a portable reed organ used during the war.
Soldiers Memorial Grand Reopening Events
November 3 and 4
After the completion of a $30 million revitalization, Soldiers Memorial will once more open its doors on Saturday, November 3. The grand reopening will begin with a 9am concert honoring veterans, followed by a formal ceremony at 10am. Brigadier General Jeannie M. Leavitt, a St. Louis native and the US Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, will give the keynote address.
Discover the new exhibits and explore the revitalized Soldiers Memorial and Court of Honor after the ceremony. The first 5,000 visitors will receive commemorative pins.
Enjoy a special musical performance of All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, performed by Mustard Seed Theatre. Experience the story of soldiers who defied their commanders with a night of peace on the battlefield. Performances will take place daily at 3pm and 7pm, and the exhibits will remain open until the show begins each evening. Reserve your tickets at mohistory.org/all-is-calm.
Start your day at the 3rd annual St. Patrick Center Veterans Day 5K, which raises awareness for veteran homelessness. Afterward, head to Soldiers Memorial at 10am for the 35th Annual Regional Veterans Day Observance, a ceremony honoring area veterans. Stick around for the 35th Annual Veterans Day Parade, which will begin at 12pm at Chestnut St. and Tucker Blvd. and pass by Soldiers Memorial.
The armistice that ended hostilities during World War I was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. To commemorate the centennial of this important moment, join representatives of the American Legion 11th and 12th District for their annual veterans ceremony and wreath laying, starting at 10:55am.
For additional activities taking place between November 3 and 12, please visit mohistory.org/soldiers-reopening.