Winston Churchill’s legacy will be remembered during three days of celebrations in May at the Midwestern museum that bears his name. The 50th anniversary of America’s National Churchill Museum will bring several of the former British prime minister’s descendants to Fulton, Mo., a small town 100 miles northwest of St. Louis.
The museum, located on the campus of Westminster College, was created to memorialize a speech Churchill gave at the school in 1946. At a podium in the school’s gymnasium, with President Harry Truman seated a few feet away, Churchill warned of the new-found power of the Soviet Union and coined the phrase “iron curtain.”
“From [the port of] Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” he prophetically warned his audience.
If not for a nudge from Truman, it is doubtful that Churchill would have ever seen the college’s invitation to speak, let alone accepted it. “There was a postscript at the bottom of that letter that said, ‘This is a wonderful school in my home state. I hope you can do it. I’ll introduce you. Harry Truman.’ ” said Timothy Riley, the museum’s director and chief curator.
“When Churchill saw the president of the United States signed the letter, he knew he was back in the game,” Riley said. “The world would once again would listen to what he had to say.”
Westminster College hosts a museum with exhibitions about Churchill’s life and legacy as well as an adjoining church. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury was built in 17th century London and designed by Christopher Wren, also the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the English capital.
“[College administrators] had a bold idea to relocate from central London to mid-Missouri a Christopher Wren church which had been bombed in the Blitz, under Churchill’s watch, and left in ruins into the 1960s,” Riley said.
Stone by stone — there were 7,000 in all — the church was disassembled and shipped to the U.S. to be rebuilt. “Churchill himself knew of this,” Riley said. “He was 88 years old at the time. He called it ‘an imaginative concept.’ ” The museum and church opened in May 1969.
A related site on the campus also has a Churchill connection.
“Breakthrough” is a sculpture incorporating eight large sections of the Berlin Wall. It was created in 1990 by Edwina Sandys, a sculptor who is Churchill’s granddaughter. Sandys will be among the family members returning to Fulton for the May 3-5 celebration.
Highlights of the weekend include museum tours, during which new exhibits will be unveiled; an organ recital and commemorative worship service in the restored church; and a parade along the route taken by Churchill and Truman in 1946.
The weekend’s schedule indicates which activities are free and which require tickets.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Adult admission ticket costs $8.50, including a visit to the historic church.