No trip to New Orleans would be complete without visiting the monuments to the men and women who helped shape the city, and indeed the nation, into what it is today. Although the world of political correctness and revisionist history are hard at work to try and dismantle them, the city contains some of the oldest monuments to the southern cause in the Civil War still in existence.
One of the largest of these is Confederate Memorial Hall, which holds the distinction of being the oldest museum in the state of Lousiana. It contains historical artifacts related to the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War. Historically also known as “Memorial Hall,” it houses the second largest collection of Confederate Civil War items in the world. The museum is also known as Louisiana’s Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall.
The museum’s building, located just steps from Lee Circle, is known as the “Battle Abbey of the South” due to its elaborate stained glass windows and distinctive church-like architecture. History buffs, and even people interested in a glimpse at how life used to be, would enjoy spending a few hours exploring this amazing place.
Only a few feet away is the National WWII Museum. On June 6, 2015, The National WWII Museum commemorated the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy and the 15th anniversary of its opening as The National D-Day Museum in 2000. After receiving Congressional designation to become America’s WWII Museum in 2004, the institution launched a major campaign in order to expand into a world-class educational institution that preserves the stories of the Greatest Generation, while benefiting and inspiring future generations.
Museum president and CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller recalls the “daunting challenge” of creating a national institution based on the dream of Stephen E. Ambrose, Mueller’s longtime colleague at the University of New Orleans. “He had a deep understanding of the need to tell the stories of the many men and women who put their lives on the line in that war,” Mueller said of his friend and fellow historian. “Steve founded The National D-Day Museum not only to bring these stories to life, but to make clear that we, as a country, owe our freedom to these servicemembers of the WWII generation.”
On June 6, 2000, Ambrose’s original vision came to life—The National D-Day Museum opened its doors in the city of New Orleans, the very place Andrew Higgins designed, built and tested the landing craft that were vital to the war’s many D-Day invasions. Ambrose passed away before Congress designated the institution the official National WWII Museum, but the Museum’s programs and exhibits attracted a wide audience—and the future looked bright. Unfortunately, disaster struck in the form of Hurricane Katina the following year. While the Museum was spared flooding, the city of New Orleans faced devastation, with dim prospects for attracting tourists who sustain cultural institutions. The Museum’s future suddenly seemed in doubt.
Due to bleak conditions in New Orleans, Mueller asked the Museum’s national board to hold an emergency fly-in meeting in Dallas, Texas. “We had to act fast,” said Mueller. “We made some tough decisions—the Museum was forced to cut staff and we had to reevaluate the feasibility of the expansion campaign without any funding source aside from a national member base and some generous donors. Through this effort, the board made the courageous decision to eliminate some of the planned pavilions and preserve the campaign for a National WWII Museum, even if it would take longer to build.”
The board directed its chief executive to reopen the Museum as soon as possible, tapping the strength and resilience of the same American spirit that made victory possible during the war.
“We reopened in December 2005, and Museum Trustees committed to develop a national education outreach program,” said Mueller. “We were all determined to take the WWII story into classrooms and universities through distance learning technologies while the Museum and the city recovered and rebuilt.”
Government resources and leadership at all levels helped spur the Museum’s recovery. The institution secured state and federal contributions along with private help to sustain the Road to Victory Capital Campaign, which would ultimately set a fundraising goal of $325 million. The Museum gained momentum with the opening of The Solomon Victory Theater Complex in 2009, which features Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D journey through World War II narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks.
In 2011, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion opened its doors, giving the public a permanent, behind-the-scenes view of the restoration and preservation of priceless WWII macro artifacts. A $20 million grant from Congress combined with a $15 million gift from The Boeing Company, led to the opening of The US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center in 2013. The US Freedom Pavilion tells the story of Americans at war–on land, in the air and at sea–through exhibits, images and experiences that engage the senses, the mind and the heart. In 2014, the first phase of Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters, which explores how the war was won, opened with Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries. Completion of the second phase is set for this December with the launch of Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries.
New galleries, innovative education programs and online access to digitized archival materials—including oral histories gathered from veterans around the country—work together in advancing the Museum’s vital mission.
“The expanded Museum is not simply a display of artifacts—we are creating a series of engrossing multi-media exhibits that allow visitors to experience the story of World War II as never before,” Mueller said. “Through advanced technology, immersive environments and personal artifacts, we enable visitors of all ages to explore the American journey through the war years, whether on the Home Front or the front lines of battle.”
Since 2004, the Museum has raised $245 million of the $325 million needed to complete the Road to Victory Capital Expansion. When finished in 2018, the project will have quadrupled the size of the original D-Day Museum, adding state-of-the-art programs and exhibits, as well as collections, conservation and education spaces. The expansion will include building the Liberation Pavilion, which will explore legacy of the war and fruits of victory, as well as the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, an iconic architectural structure made possible by a recent gift of $20 million from longtime Museum Trustee and former Board Chairman Boysie Bollinger.
The gift by Boysie Bollinger and wife Joy ranked among top donations in the country to a non-profit organization in 2015, and represents the largest private gift ever received by the Museum. The Canopy, which Bollinger calls “the crowning glory” of the Museum’s expansion, will symbolize the hope and promise of freedom unleashed by Allied victory and the end of World War II hostilities. Additional future projects include development of the Hall of Democracy pavilion to house outreach, education and research initiatives, as well as a stand-alone hotel and conference center for visiting students, teachers and scholars.
Today the Museum receives nearly 600,000 visitors annually—quite a leap from 67,603 recorded in the year following Hurricane Katrina. The institution is rated among the world’s top museums by TripAdvisor users and maintains a national membership of more than 130,000, the largest of any US museum.
“Steve would be stunned, but not surprised to see the scope and popularity of the Museum on its 15th anniversary,” said Mueller. “He always believed Americans could achieve anything when, as everyone always said during the most trying times of World War II, ‘We’re all in this together.'”
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage, and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front.
Next week, we’ll explore some of the wonders of the French Quarter, both alive and dead!