History of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum
The initiative to construct a memorial plaza and memorial building to honor the gallant sons and daughters of Missouri, and of our city, who "made the supreme sacrifice in the World War," began in 1923. Over the course of several years, the City of St. Louis and its citizens raised money for the project. Under the leadership of Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, and with some funds coming from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (Project No. 5098), the construction of the building, development of the memorial plaza, and improvements to the parks began on October 21, 1935. The memorial and museum officially opened on Memorial Day, May 30, 1938.
Right: Statues in front of Soldiers Memorial building during construction work by Mayor Stone Setting Company. Photograph by Isaac Sievers, 1939. Sievers Studio Collection.
"This magnificent edifice, erected as a perpetual reminder of the valor and sacrifice that has enabled America to live, will spur us on as a people to make America greater. We, who live, because others have died, should make of this shrine a place of love and a monument of peace."
—Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, May 30, 1938
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to St. Louis to dedicate the site for the Soldiers Memorial building on October 14, 1936.
“…here will rise a fitting structure—a symbol of devoted patriotism and unselfish service. We in America do not build monuments to war: we do not build monuments to conquests; we build monuments to commemorate the spirit of sacrifice in war—reminders of our desire for peace. The memory of those, whom the war called to the beyond, urges us to consecrate the best that is in us to the service of country in times of peace. We best honor the memory of those dead by striving for peace, that the terror of the days of war will be with us no more. May the beauty of this monument, which will rise on this site, cast a beneficent light on the memories of our comrades, may a substantial structure typify the strength of their purpose, and may it inspire future generations with a desire to be of service to their fellows and their country."
Seemingly, the poignancy of FDR's words weren't lost on his audience: The quality and pride of craftsmanship and careful attention to detail and design confirm the depth of commitment and steadfast appreciation Great Depression–era St. Louisans had for those who served in the armed forces and those who made “The Supreme Sacrifice.” Further, these St. Louisans didn't forget the families, understanding that war reaches beyond the battlefield and to the American home, with lasting effect long after peace treaties are signed.
Soldiers Memorial was designed by St. Louis architectural firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell in the classical style but with limited ornamentation. Its entrances are flanked by four monumental sculptural groups carved in Bedford stone, representing figures of Loyalty, Vision, Courage, and Sacrifice. Created by sculptor Walker Hancock they stand, with their horses, on the North and South sides of the building.
Ornamental pylons on the terrace level name major World War I battles in which St. Louisans participated. Inside the building, a 38-foot-high ceiling of mosaic tile tops the loggia area. The tiles form a large gold star dedicated to the mothers of St. Louisans who died in combat. A black granite cenotaph in the center of the loggia is inscribed with the names of 1,075 St. Louisans who lost their lives in World War I.
Above: Veterans of the Spanish-American War in the 1946 Memorial Day Parade in front of Soldiers Memorial. Collection of the Missouri Historical Society.
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