Museum relives the assassinations that sparked World War I

National World War I Museum volunteer Don Turrentine (center) gave Nancy Carter (right) a lesson on the events of June 1914 with help from a sign held by Angel Kailus on Saturday.
National World War I Museum volunteer Don Turrentine (center) gave Nancy Carter (right) a lesson on the events of June 1914 with help from a sign held by Angel Kailus on Saturday. The Kansas City Star

The Jansens couldn’t have picked a better event for a family trip.

Just a few hours’ drive, quality time together, and a mix of fun and education. What’s not to like?

“We came here from Omaha just for this,” said Mary Jansen as the family joined hundreds of others Saturday at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

Those murders set off a series of events that led to the outbreak of the war.

“These three are history buffs,” Jansen said of her husband, Jim, and two children. “I’m along for the ride. And I love every minute of it.”

To tell the story of what happened, museum volunteers stood on the south mall and shared details of the assassination.

Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife, Sophie, were gunned down as their motorcade passed through Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Don Turrentine told how one of the conspirators threw a grenade at Ferdinand’s car, but it struck the car behind and injured two officers. Later that day, he said, Ferdinand wanted to visit the officers in the hospital. But on the way, his driver took a wrong turn and while trying to back up, the car ended up in front of another conspirator.

“While they were stopped, he took the shots,” Turrentine told those gathered around. “The grand duchess died immediately, shot in the abdomen, and the archduke died 10 minutes later. That didn’t start the war, but it started a chain of events that led to the war and forever changed history.”

Nearby, a group of local ham radio operators was broadcasting on the WWIUSA amateur radio station. Station operators planned to broadcast for 31 consecutive hours. Area operators also were on hand to answer questions about the station and ham radio.

“This is a first-of-a-kind partnership between the museum and outside amateur radio operators,” said Clay Wilson, a museum volunteer. “To see it come together is exciting. They’re contacting amateur operators throughout the world and trading information about where they are and how good their signal is.”

Wilson said amateur radios still can play an important role today, helping with public events and emergency preparedness.

“Even though we’re making contacts about the World War I Museum, we could just as easily be making contacts about an emergency operation,” he said.

Another feature at the event was an elaborate Twitter re-enactment of the assassination, with University of Kansas students, alumni and staff, along with local community members, taking on the personas of historical figures. They tweeted the events of the assassination day as though they were occurring in real time.

“We want this to be a fun experience and also be educational,” said Adrienne Landry, outreach coordinator of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at KU. “It allows each of the characters to have a voice. In a conflict, there’s always two sides. It’s important to see both sides.”

She said participants started putting up Twitter posts on the site, @KU_WWI, weeks ago to advance the event. Posts will continue, she said, as long as there’s interest.

Landry said it seemed to make sense to use social media to commemorate the war.

“When I think of World War I, I think of technological changes,” she said. “It drove so many advances.”

Mark Wilkens of Ogallala, Neb., toured the grounds with his wife, Shirley.

“I came out of curiosity,” Wilkens said. “My grandfather was in the First World War. I’d like to have spent more time here. This was very informative.”

The Jansens couldn’t have agreed more.

“It’s been great,” said Theodore, 12. “I knew a little about World War I, but not this much.”

Ten-year-old Virginia said she learned about the Black Hand, the secret society that recruited the assassins.

“I liked all the interactive exhibits,” she said. “That was my favorite part.”

Both Mary Jansen and her husband, a veteran, had family members in the service. Jim Jansen’s grandfather served in World War I, his father in World War II, and Mary’s father in Korea.

“We planned our entire weekend around this event,” Mary Jansen said. “And it’s been beautiful.”

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com.

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