It’s hard not to be struck by the poppies.
Standing inside the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, we’re looking down on a display floor made up of thousands of red silk poppies. Our tour guide tells the story of how the poppy became a symbol of the human cost of the War.
When they’re planted, poppy seeds need to be placed fairly shallow, to get the most possible light; without strong light, the seeds can lay dormant for decades. During the worst of the fighting, in places like coastal Belgium and northern France, artillery shells churned up tons of dirt on the battlefields, raising long-dormant poppy seeds…just like agricultural work can bring up weed seeds.
After the fighting, area residents noticed the abandoned battlefields covered with a carpet of poppies, more colorful and more numerous than they’d seen before. The combination of displaced soil, nitrates from the explosives, and human and animal decomposition created a nutrient-rich environment in which the poppies grew and thrived, serving as inspiration for John McCrae’s memorial poem “In Flanders Fields,” and forever associating the poppy with World War I.
Today, the poppy serves as a grave and graceful reminder of the human cost of conflict. Nine-thousand poppies cover the floor of the Museum, each representing 1,000 human deaths directly attributed to the War.
Join us for this two-part premiere of “On Life and Land,” in which we hear from John Deere retiree and Museum volunteer Mark Dold about the history of World War I and its lasting effect on agriculture and food production. Meanwhile, be sure to read field editor Larry Reichenberger’s story, “The Great War: Ag in the Aftermath.”