COLUMBIA — Speaking in “hushed tones” isn’t conducive to cell phone conversation. Tipping one's cap is a seemingly dated gesture. However, passing through the Gothic archway of Memorial Tower, a daily practice for some MU students and faculty, calls for both customs.
While many know of these outward signs of respect, meant to honor fallen MU World War I veterans, the historical significance of Memorial Union is less obvious, although certain parts are literally carved in stone.
How is Memorial Union significant to you today? Please leave us your comments in the "Comments" box below this story. You will need to register on the Missourian's Web site, but it will only take a minute, and then you can contribute to a virtual scrapbooking about Memorial Union and Tower.
The "Transcendent Tower" exhibit now in the lobby of Memorial Union North aims to celebrate this history as well as the architectural significance of the Memorial Union building through pictures and text.
“It’s all about bringing past, present and future together,” said Arthur Mehrhoff, academic coordinator for MU’s Museum of Art and Archeology.
In conjunction with the exhibit, Mehrhoff and Michelle Froese, public relations manager for student and auxiliary services, are encouraging students, faculty and community members to pen their memories and thoughts of what Memorial Union means to them. Mehrhoff said these written memories are a valuable form of virtual scrapbooking, tying people to the community.
Both Mehrhoff and Froese said the tower and union had a significant role in shaping the way they saw MU. Mehrhoff recalled seeing Memorial Union for the first time while attending an MU football game with his father and uncle, both World War II veterans; for him, the Memorial Union contains their memory. And Froese said that when she saw Memorial Tower for the first time as an 8-year-old, "it seemed like a castle."
The effort to preserve and present the history of Memorial Tower began a year ago when the Missouri Union commissioned Rebecca Dunham, a former research assistant for the Museum of Art and Archeology, to assemble the display. Froese said the intent was to create an exhibit that would present the information in an “easily digestible” fashion.
Dunham embarked on six months of research, sifting through photographs and documents in Campus Facilities and University Archives, Froese said. The display was installed in Memorial Union over the summer, covering wall space above armchairs and flanking construction of the lobby’s new fireplace.
The exhibit explores and illustrates the first movement toward building a student union in 1915 as a place where alumni could visit and current students could congregate. The idea was to create a sense of community.
“In this building that also celebrates the past, and sacrifice, it celebrates students who were trying to accomplish something here," Froese said. "It recognizes they were part of an institution.”
The construction of the student union was put on hold when the United States entered World War I.
When the war ended, students and faculty began the push for a union that would not only foster a sense of community, but also stand as a monument to the people who had died in service to their country. Construction began in 1921 with Memorial Union Tower and ended with the completion of the South Wing in 1963. A copy of an invitation to the 1926 dedication ceremony of the tower and Memorial Stadium (now Faurot Field) declares the tower was “erected in honor of those who lost their lives in the Great War.”
The exhibit includes copies of building plans and a poem by Graham Hall namesake Robert Graham. In-depth descriptions of the building’s architecture further detail the commemoration of MU’s “fallen sons” in the stone of Memorial Union and Tower.
Froese stressed the relevance of the exhibit for students today.
“Students were the ones who initiated the building of the tower after World War I,” Froese said. “Students need to know that they have the power to catalyze an event."