Let’s keep exploring unique road trip destinations. JS
To appropriate a Winston Churchill statement, I have taken more out of travel than travel has taken out of me. For this journey, the destination was remarkably close to home, but it was still equally historic in multiple ways.
Today, let’s make a brief stop at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.
Fulton was founded in 1825 but not incorporated until 1859. Originally named Volney for French philosopher Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, the town was renamed for engineer Robert Fulton within two to three months. No reason has been found, leaving one to simply speculate.
Despite the time of its founding, the oldest building in Fulton was originally completed in 1677. For those less familiar with American history, the Louisiana Purchase – in which the United States purchased a large land mass from France which included where Fulton now sits – happened in 1803. The oldest settlement in Missouri is Ste. Genevieve (mentioned here) and it was founded in 1735. For that matter, this church was completed 99 years before George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and company told King George III to go pound sand in 1776.
So what is the story behind this building? Let’s fast forward.
Winston Churchill was born in 1874 to a British father and an American mother, proving US-British relations had improved considerably in the intervening century. As we all know, Churchill would be British Prime Minister during World War II. What we don’t all know is Churchill visited Westminster College in Fulton in March 1946, giving a speech entitled “The Sinews of Peace”. It is better remembered as the “Iron Curtain” speech due to Churchill’s introductory use of that phrase.
In late 1945, Westminster President F.L. McCluer had invited Churchill to speak in Fulton. A postscript to the letter, handwritten by President and Missouri native Harry S Truman with an offer to personally introduce Churchill at Westminster, is what sealed the deal. Churchill had only met Truman once, this being at the Potsdam Conference, and Churchill knew it was a prime opportunity to set the stage for his goal of becoming British Prime Minister again.
Churchill and Truman took a train from Washington, D.C., to Jefferson City, Missouri. It is reported they played poker during the trip, with Truman dominating Churchill.
Here’s a newsreel with a portion of the speech, with Truman’s introduction. Churchill jokes about the name “Westminster” seeming so familiar to him.
To emphasize this article isn’t completely devoid of cars, the motorcade is seen at the beginning of this clip.
By 1960, Westminster College sought something to mark the twenty year anniversary of Churchill’s highly historic speech. Inspiration and determination certainly took hold as the right sort of commemorative building was decided upon. It was the St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury church building. It had been vacant since 1941 and was ideal.
There was but one little problem; the building was in London.
The church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and had been completed in 1677. The Battle of Britain saw the church bombed in 1941, where it had sat untouched for nearly twenty years by the time it was chosen for use. It was dismantled and shipped to Fulton, a new facet of Britain’s philosophy of heavy exports subsequent to the war.
The building is still being used as a church, serving the students of Westminster College. In the basement, however, is the Churchill National Museum.
The Churchill National Museum is a comprehensive look at Churchill’s life and includes a considerable number of Churchill’s paintings and sculptures. Also to be found are the chair and podium he used during his visit to Westminster.
During the tenure of its operation, the Churchill Museum has grown, with the most considerable item coming about in the early 1990s.
Sculptor Edwina Sandys was inspired to provide the Churchill Museum with a sculpture to celebrate the elimination of the Berlin Wall in 1988. Seeking to acquire a section of the wall, she quickly learned four-foot lengths of the wall were selling for as much as $200,000. Meeting with East Berlin officials, Sandys revealed she wanted to provide the Churchill Museum with a section of the wall, along with the fact she was Churchill’s granddaughter.
The officials were appropriately impressed, allowing Sandys to acquire a thirty-two foot section of the wall from a location of her choosing. Given the colorful graffiti she found near the Brandenburg Gate, Sandys chose a segment from there.
It is now happily residing in Fulton. For what is otherwise an eleven foot tall concrete structure, this section of The Wall is very imposing, dripping with history and possessing a very foreboding aura. It is a phenomenal addition to the museum.
The Churchill National Museum is a few miles off US 54 in Fulton, Missouri, with Fulton being just over 90 miles west of St. Louis and 150 miles east of Kansas City.
Author’s Note: This piece was nearly finished upon the realization my pictures had disappeared when a former iPhone died. Thus, these pictures have been liberated from various sources, but I assure you I have visited the museum!