Celebrations are planned all weekend for the reopening of America’s National Churchill Museum in central Missouri’s Fulton, which is southeast of Columbia. The Fulton museum is the only one in North America that’s fully dedicated to commemorating the life of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who delivered his famous 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College.

The Churchill statue at Fulton’s historic Westminster College (2017 file photo from Missourinet’s Ashley Byrd)

The facility reopens Friday morning, after being closed since March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. Museum director and chief curator Timothy Riley says they’ve used the 16 months wisely.

“We closed for the pandemic but we chose to remain closed to accelerate some very important preservation projects, some new construction projects at the museum, some renovations. All told, we’ve invested $1.3 million into the facility,” Riley says.

He says most of that money has been invested in the historic Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, which was first built in the 12th century.

“The building is 50 years, 52 years in Fulton going on 900 years old when it was originally built in London. So it needed a little nip and tuck and we’ve done much of that, and we’re going to do even more in the year ahead,” says Riley.

The church was bombed by the Germans during World War II. The church was disassembled after the war, and more then 7,000 stones were shipped to Westminster College. The church was rebuilt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. The 20-year anniversary was in 1966.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the church took place in Fulton in 1964, and former President Harry Truman had the first shovel at the 1964 ceremony.

Friday morning’s grand reopening ceremony begins at 11 in Latshaw Plaza, where Missouri Governor Mike Parson will deliver remarks. Officials will also unveil a new acquisition inside the museum at 1:30 on Friday afternoon. Riley says the museum is continuing to follow recommended COVID procedures, including masks and social distancing.

There will be free admission to the museum all weekend, compliments of Callaway County’s tourism board.

One of the things Fulton residents have noticed during the pandemic is that the lights in the ancient church burned brightly 24-7, to convey to the world a spirit of resilience against the pandemic.

Riley quotes from a Churchill World War II speech: “If we persevere, and we will persevere, we shall come through these dark and dangerous valleys into a sunlight broader and more genial and more lasting than mankind has ever known.”

The last major speech at Westminster took place before the pandemic in September 2019, when the nation’s first female Secretary of State traveled to Fulton, a town of about 13,000 residents. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized then-President Donald Trump that day, and warned that democracy appeared “to be in retreat.”

Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s interview with America’s National Churchill Museum director and chief curator Timothy Riley, which was recorded on July 23, 2021:

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