Day Trippin’: America’s National Churchill Museum

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Winston Churchill greets crowds during a parade through Fulton in 1946. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum

Sixteen months ago on March 15, 2020, America’s National Churchill Museum solemnly pledged to keep the lights on in its ancient church burning brightly 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to convey to the nation and the world a spirit of resilience against the global pandemic.

That also is the day the museum on the campus of Westminster College at America’s National Churchill Museum suddenly and temporarily closed its doors as a precaution in response to the growing pandemic that has since taken such a devastating toll on the United States and every continent worldwide.

Winston Churchill and Harry Truman stop on the porch of Westminster College President Franc McCluer's house. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum

Now, the museum will reopen to the public on Friday, July 30 marking the start of a weekend celebration, including remarks by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

Admission to the museum and related livestreamed activities will be free and open to the public throughout the weekend. The museum also will continue to follow recommended COVID-19 procedures, including masking and social distancing.

The museum welcomes visitors from throughout the United States and around the globe, and is the only museum in North America that is fully dedicated to commemorating the life and times of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston S. Churchill, who delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College on March 5, 1946.

During the museum’s closure due to the pandemic, the brass chandeliers hanging from the nearly 40-foot high ceiling of the 900-year-old British church — the venerable Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, a centerpiece of the museum — have remained on night and day as a constant and consistent reminder that “we will persevere through this pandemic,” said Timothy Riley, the Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the Museum.

A procession to the gymnasium before Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. Front row left to right: Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill, Westminster President Franc McCluer. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum

Riley quoted from one of Churchill’s WWII speeches, emphasizing, “If we persevere, and we will persevere, we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known.”

That Churchillian tenacity and determination reflects the ancient church’s perseverance as well. 

First built in central London in the 12th century, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, was rebuilt by Royal Architect Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s, and then was bombed and heavily damaged during the German Blitzkrieg in World War II.

The church was carefully disassembled in post-war London, and more than 7,000 stones were shipped, railed, and trucked here to Westminster College, where the church was carefully reconstructed in the 1960s according to Wren’s design. 

With the huge stones all numbered and laid out in sections, the Times of London said at the time it was “perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture.”

The church was rebuilt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, which presaged the Cold War between Western Allies against the old Soviet Union.

Westminster College President Donald P. Lofe, Jr., said the museum’s grand reopening is important for the College, the local community and the College’s global community.

“Winston Churchill’s historic address had a significant, enduring impact on this campus,” Lofe said. “Reopening America’s National Churchill Museum after a long closure as a result of the global pandemic is cause for celebration, and the College warmly invites our campus, national, and worldwide communities to participate.”

Winston Churchill delivers his Iron Curtain speech March 5, 1946, at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum

Riley said the upcoming celebration will highlight a crucial aspect of the ancient church. 

“It serves as a powerful symbol of steadfastness in the face of adversity,” he said. “It remains now, as it has been for centuries, a beacon of resilience.”

While the museum has been closed to the public, its staff has remained at work on important projects, including inventorying the museum’s vast collection, digitizing historical documents and other artifacts, continuing ongoing preservation work on the historic church, enhancing its educational programs for elementary and high school students and developing innovative webcasts.

The museum’s most successful webcast was the virtual March 5, 2021, commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, officially titled “The Sinews of Peace” speech.

“We are excited to be opening the museum once again for all of our visitors,” Riley said. “While we will still adhere to various COVID-19 precautions, we want to invite all Missourians and visitors from across the country and internationally to join us for this special occasion.”

The weekend festivities can be viewed from the museum’s website at www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org. 

A man sells “Welcome Winston Churchill” pennants for the parade in Fulton, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum

Here is the reopening schedule of events:

Friday, July 30

11 a.m. Grand Reopening Ceremony in Latshaw Plaza, including remarks by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. Rain Site: St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

12 p.m. Public guided tour of the museum

1:30 p.m. Unveiling of a new acquisition, inside the museum

2:30 p.m. Music at the Museum, Mander Organ demonstration, in St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

3:30 p.m. Gallery talk, Sinews of Peace: Power of Prose. Anson Cutts Gallery

5:30 p.m. Music at the Museum, Beacon of Resilience Concert, in St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

Saturday, July 31

11 a.m. Ice Cream Social and Dundee Cake with family activities

12 p.m. Public guided tour of the museum

1:30 p.m. Music at the Museum, Mander Organ demonstration, in St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

2:30 p.m. Gallery talk, Curator’s Choice: Five Treasures from the Collection, in the Clementine Spencer-Churchill Reading Room

3:30 p.m. Gallery Talk, Sinews of Peace: Power of Prose, in the Anson Cutts Gallery

Sunday, Aug. 1

12:30 p.m. Public Guided Tour of the Museum

1:30 p.m. Music at the Museum, Mander Organ demonstration, in St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

2:30 p.m. Gallery Talk, Preserving the Glory: Conservation of St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, in St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

Free admission to the Museum is being provided courtesy of the Callaway County Tourism Board.

Crowds gather outside the Callaway County Courthouse in Fulton, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the National Churchill Museum