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As a writer, I try never to use the word “unique” – because by definition, it means something is one of a kind, and that’s something that is exceedingly rare. Missouri is very special and very lucky to have one of those: the Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield.
The museum hearkens back to a specific moment during the Civil War, when Union soldiers set up camp in the almost-deserted town of Bloomfield. They had ousted the pro-South Missouri State Guard from the area, at least temporarily, and were enjoying a little breathing space.
A group of soldiers exploring the town discovered an abandoned newspaper office and decided to publish their own paper. They called it The Stars and Stripes – a name familiar to this day to military personnel and their families worldwide. The paper was published again during World War I and World War II and has been in continuous circulation ever since.
So what makes this place deserve to be called unique? It is the only museum devoted to the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
“We have a collection of bound volumes of the newspaper in our library, as well as loose issues stored in boxes,” says librarian Sue Mayo. “In World War II, there were 30 places it was printed. We have most of them.”
The museum gives visitors an intimate glimpse into why the paper was and remains so treasured by the G.I.s overseas. Each edition offers glimpses of home, cartoons and other humor, sports updates as well as news from battlefields.
The museum staff doesn’t stop with collecting the actual papers. They want to make sure the public understands and appreciates the newspaper’s role in both American and world history. That’s why they have created exhibits that pair articles covered by The Stars and Stripes with memorabilia (including uniforms, flags and even pieces of the Berlin Wall) and artifacts from the different conflicts.
Mayo loves showing visiting school groups the Shel Silverstein display in the library. Silverstein was a reporter for The Stars and Stripes; the kids know him from his book, The Giving Tree.
“The coolest thing is the paper itself,” says Mayo. “We have an original paper that was printed here. We only know of two others that have survived.”
One is at the Library of Congress, the other is at the University of Michigan, Mayo notes.
“This one was probably carried home by one of the Union soldiers who was here when it was printed,” Mayo says, referencing the museum’s on-site copy. “It was found in an attic in Indiana in the 1960s. The man first called the Smithsonian and asked $250 for it. They said it wasn’t in their budget and wanted it as a donation. But he wanted to be paid. He then called the local paper who contacted the historical society who came up with the $250 to purchase it.”
It only seems right that it came home to where it all started: Bloomfield, Mo.
The Stars and Stripes Museum and Library is located at 17377 Stars and Stripes Way, adjacent to the Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield. The museum is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sundays by appointment. Call or visit the website to verify off-season hours.
Anyone who loves history will enjoy spending a day in Bloomfield. Less than three miles from the museum is the Bloomfield Civil War Cemetery, the final resting place of 150 soldiers who died in the war. It’s a must-see destination for Civil War buffs. Between the two, the Bloomfield Murals
allow you to explore the history of the town through art, and you can get a glimpse of life before the Civil War at the Bloomfield Log Cabins, located nearby in the City Park.
It’s a bit off the beaten path, but Bloomfield Missouri offers something you can boast to your friends about: a genuine unique experience.
Written by Barb Brueggeman