The last time I visited a museum, before COVID-19 caused the United States to shut down, was on March 1, 2020. On that day, I visited the Civil War Museum of Kenosha, WI. Located a little over an hour away from Chicago, Kenosha has certainly been receiving a lot of national attention this week due to police/racial tension. I am not sure if that is the reason why the Civil War Museum’s website is currently not working, but that is why I wanted to write some positive news about Kenosha.
The key states in the American Civil War were the eastern ones since that is where most Americans lived during the mid-nineteenth century. However, the American Midwest also played a role in the War, even though no major battles occurred there. Built in 2008, Kenosha’s Civil War Museum focuses on the experiences of the seven upper Midwestern states that sent their men to the battlefield: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
A highlight at the museum is a 10-minute 360-degree movie called “Seeing the Elephant,” referencing a phrase soldiers used for seeing a battle. Visitors watch the film standing up on a heightened platform in the middle of the room. Meanwhile, the film uses the entire top perimeter of the room as a screen, so that you need to keep turning around to see everything. The film provides a brief overview of a battle from the perspective of three Midwesterners. The 360-degree aspect of the film helps make you feel as if you were there.
The museum’s main exhibit provides visitors with a chronological view of the American Civil War, emphasizing the experiences of soldiers and other participants from the Midwest. That means that most of the artifacts at the museum have a Midwestern connection, as do most of the stories told on the signs. The design of the exhibits includes a recreation of a town, and a recreation of a battle camp, which help make the museum feel more interactive.
Upstairs, the Civil War Museum has a library filled with books about the American Civil War, with a special emphasis on the American Midwest. The library also includes a play area for children, where they can dress up in different Civil War-era clothing. Due to COVID-19, I wonder when that activity will resume. Downstairs, across from the main exhibit, is a darkened room that serves as a war memorial to those who perished in every U.S. war. The room’s ceiling is filled with lights that look like stars, and the walls each memorialize a different U.S. war. There is still room for more wars to be added onto the walls.
Since Kenosha is located on Lake Michigan, you might be tempted to walk around the area outside the museum, which includes two lighthouses and a path along the Lake. Additionally, if you drive about five minutes away, you can visit the oldest of the Kenosha Public Library buildings, which has a Winged Victory Civil War memorial in front of it. Both the library and the memorial were built in 1900. The Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library was actually built by Daniel Burnham, the man responsible for planning Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Approximately, 750,000 men from the American Midwest served in the U.S. Civil War for the Northern (Yankee) cause. Since the Midwest is often overlooked when studying the American Civil War, it is nice that Kenosha tried to make sure that they were not forgotten.
Sources and Further Reading
“The Civil War Museum.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/CWMKenosha/ (accessed August 28, 2020).