Design and symbolism in Kansas City’s World War I Memorial

A sphinx statue covering its eyes with the KC skyline in the background

“Memory,” one of the memorial’s two sphinxes. | Photo by KCtoday

Kansas City’s downtown skyline wouldn’t be complete without the Liberty Memorial Tower. Here are some of the other unique architectural elements + symbols carefully placed around the World War I Museum and Memorial.

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Did you know Kansas City is home to the National World War I Memorial?

… Just kidding. If you’ve ever seen the downtown skyline, you know it wouldn’t be complete without the Liberty Memorial Tower. But you may not have noticed some of the other unique architectural elements + symbols carefully placed around the memorial to spread the message of peace and honor “the war to end all wars.

Assyrian Sphinxes

Flanking the south entrance of the Liberty Memorial are two sphinxes, with feline bodies and giant wings.

  • Sphinxes appear in many cultures, often representing strength, intelligence, and royalty. These sphinxes are similar to lamassu, Assyrian + Mesopotamian protective deities.

The Liberty Memorial sphinxes cover their eyes with their wings.

  • “Memory,” the east (France)-facing sphinx, is shielding its eyes from war.
  • “Future,” the west-facing sphinx, shields its eyes from the unknown.

Guardian Spirits

Guardian spirit at the top of Liberty Memorial Tower

The four Guardian Spirits | Photo by KCtoday

Four sword-bearing Guardian Spirits protect the museum from the top of Liberty Memorial Tower.

  • Each stands 40-feet tall. That’s about one fourth of the tower’s 217 feet.
  • The spirits’ names are “Honor,” “Courage,” “Patriotism,” and “Sacrifice.”
  • Robert Aitken carved the statues. He is best known for designing the West Pediment of the US Supreme Court Building.

Cinerary urns

Two large urns at the

These aren’t the original urns — they were replaced in the 2000s. | Photo by KCtoday

Two pairs of empty cinerary urns stand at the entrances of Memory Hall and Exhibit Hall.

  • The laurel wreath designs are symbols of victory in Ancient Greece and Rome.
  • Each wreath bears an emblem of one service branch: the Army and Navy, the Red Cross, Agriculture and Manufacturing, and Transportation.

The Great Frieze

The Great Frieze on Liberty Memorial's north wall

The frieze depicts progress from war to peace. | Photo by KCtoday

The 148-feet by 18-feet Great Friezea horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration — runs along the North Wall.

  • It shows the progression from war (soldiers, wounded, and mourners) to peace (musicians, builders, and children).
  • Part of its inscription reads, “Let us strive on to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace…”
  • The Frieze was sculpted by Edmond Amateis, an Italian immigrant to the US and WWI veteran.