WWI, Union Station, and the History That Shaped Kansas City

Published: 10 January 2024

via the Union Station web site


Union Station invites you to pause to remember the thousands of souls who passed through our station on their way to defend this nation. You may have noticed our neighbor at the National WWI Museum and Memorial or know our friends at the VFW National Headquarters. These brave men share a bond built around their shared mission. Now Union Station shares the significance of our role in the Great War.

Up and at ‘em!

On November 1st, 1914, Union Station opened our doors to a world at war. Two months before Union Station was completed, international tensions reached a boiling point that led to all-out conflict on a level never seen before. For our first years of operation, Union Station played a pivotal role in sending supplies, troops, and weapons to the front lines. With the most modern fixtures at the time, our halls became a critical hub of travel and support. As brave soldiers boarded the trains, they took one last look at the land they devoted the rest of their lives to defending.

One Last Look at Home

In 1917, the great war raged on. As President Wilson declared war on Germany, there came the call for more support than ever. Union Station answered the call by sending up to 271 trains in one day—that’s almost 12 trains an hour! That year, we saw over 79,368 trains depart, many of them carrying men who hadn’t seen anywhere outside of their hometown, much less international warzones.

Over the next year, thousands of troops and travelers walked to their train under the security and grandeur of Union Station’s grand hall. The rail system became crucial to the war effort around the clock. Union Station became a post for the American Red Cross, other groups set up operations in our hall taking donations from the public. With one of the most advanced rail systems of the time, Kansas City played a pivotal role in the outcome of WWI. Our city was also one of the earliest affected before the US was even involved.

Belle’s Story

Once described as living an unusually wholesome life, Belle Naish and her husband Theodore (1) loved taking long walks in the country near Edwardsville, Kansas. The couple settled in Kansas City and lived a modest, comfortable life. In late April 1915, they departed from Union Station on a train headed to New York. Once there, they boarded the Lusitania to see Theodore’s family in Ireland.

Belle looked over the railing as the Lusitania edged ever so closely to their final destination. Wanting to tend to a seasick Theodore, Belle started to walk back to the couple’s cabin. On her way back, she heard a crash as the entire ship shuddered and water began to rain down on her. She rushed back to the cabin, where she and her husband helped each other into life jackets.

As the couple helped other passengers on the top deck, they were split up when a second U-boat torpedo struck the Lusitania, sending lifeboats and shrapnel flying. Belle was saved by a man overturning a lifeboat, but Theodore was lost at sea. The lives lost that day propelled the US to join World War I. Even after the war, Belle continued to keep her husband’s legacy alive.

After the loss of her husband, Belle returned to Edwardsville. She devoted her life to philanthropy throughout Kansas City, eventually donating 180 acres of land to the Boy Scouts of America. This land became Camp Naish as a memorial to her late husband. Belle never remarried and passed away in 1950.

Read the entire article on the Union Station web site here:

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