WHEATON – When the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park reopens to the public Aug. 26 after a 10-month renovation project, visitors will see the history of the 1st Infantry Division told with new and updated exhibits and cutting-edge storytelling techniques.
"We pay tribute to all of our service members and veterans by telling them the compelling story," said Paul Herbert, executive director of the First Division Museum.
The museum will reopen to the public at 11 a.m. following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Chicago Brass Band will perform before and during the opening ceremony on the new plaza in front of the First Division Museum, and musicians will perform throughout the day.
Lincolnwood-based Luci Creative led the exhibit development and design, as well as production management for the project. AJ Goehle, director of strategy and design for Luci Creative, said they wanted the new exhibits to show what the soldiers felt like and their experiences from World War I until present day.
The museum’s reopening coincides with the 100th anniversary of the 1st Infantry Division, known as the “Big Red One" for the red numeral that has adorned its shoulder patch since 1918.
It became the first division of the U.S. Army in June 1917, assembling to fight in France in World War I. Col. Robert R. McCormick served in the division during the war and participated in the successful Battle of Cantigny in 1918. McCormick lived at what is now known as Cantigny Park from 1936 to 1955.
"Duty First" is a new gallery focusing on the modern – post-Vietnam – history of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. The museum's other major gallery, "First in War," which tells the story of the 1st Infantry Division from World War I through the Vietnam War, features new media and more artifacts.
A tank park featuring 11 vintage U.S. Army tanks outside the First Division Museum also will reopen Aug. 26. All the tanks have been cleaned and painted with historically accurate markings. Other improvements in the tank park include new plantings, walkways, seating and lighting.
Work on a picnic shelter south of the museum continues. The museum sees 175,000 visitors a year, Herbert said.
"Our mission is to preserve, interpret and present to the public the history of the 1st Infantry Division within the context of American history, so that people will understand more about their military and their military history," he said.
And the museum is trying to tell the story from the perspective of the soldiers in the division, Herbert said.
"I would say that's embedded in our mission because they are the First Division," he said. "You don't have to love soldiers, but we want you to understand who they are, what they go through and what kind of people they are."
If you go
What: Reopening of First Division Museum
When: 11 a.m. Aug. 26
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road near Wheaton
Cost: Museum admission is free with paid parking, which is $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends through September