Fulton celebrates 50th birthday of notable Churchill Museum
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — When Steve Stinson started giving tours of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, he thought it looked more like a consignment store.
“My father, who was in charge of a lot of things here, had one policy — never turn down anything,” Stinson told the Columbia Missourian recently while giving a tour during the 50th anniversary celebration of the museum.
As a result of that self-imposed policy, the museum was bombarded with donations of historical items that often had more to do with England in general than Churchill himself. Eventually, the items were sorted and either displayed or stored, and the museum doors officially opened in May 1969.
Stinson was one of the original three tour guides for the museum during the 1960s, and he traveled from his current home in Virginia to give another tour in honor of the 50th anniversary.
The museum was first dedicated in honor of the famous “Iron Curtain” speech Churchill gave at Westminster College in Fulton, where the museum is housed in the basement of a church originally built in the 11th century in London, England.
The church burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was redesigned by architect Christopher Wren. During World War II, the church was struck by an incendiary bomb and was later set to be demolished.
In 1961, Stinson’s father was on the committee charged with trying to bring the church to Fulton and was tasked with raising the $2 million needed to get it there.
While trying to raise money in New York, Stinson’s father was approached by a recruiter for the game show “Password.” His partner on that show ended up being actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who helped turn the project around.
“They performed really badly,” Stinson said through a chuckle. “After the show, my father and Fairbanks went on a pub crawl, which my father was very good at, and they became friends.”
Fairbanks was an “enthusiastic supporter” and helped open doors for the project in London, New York and Hollywood. Thanks to that unlikely friendship, the church went up during Stinson’s time as a tour guide in the 1960s, he said.
The church’s English Baroque architecture greets those driving through Fulton. To the side of the church, a sculpture made out of slabs of the Berlin Wall, created by Churchill’s granddaughter, can be admired by guests.
Inside the museum, the walls are lined with artwork, interactive pieces and signs that tell the story of Churchill’s life.
Juliann Budde drove over five hours from the Chicago area for the museum’s anniversary to see the history inside.
Budde became interested in Churchill when she was researching English history for her trip to the United Kingdom last year.
“I fell in love with the complexities of Winston Churchill,” Budde said. “He demanded self-confidence and strength. It’s inspiring.”
She decided to make her first trip down after seeing a Facebook post from the museum about the anniversary.
While it wasn’t Barbara Lamon’s first visit to the museum, she got the chance to experience it again with her husband, who recently saw it for the first time.
Lamon and her husband drove from Jefferson City to walk through the museum and take a quick tour.
“It’s exciting to be able to see a part of history,” Lamon said.
Eli , Liam and Maisy Henness followed their mother Kerri Henness around the museum, taking in the story of a man they’ve been learning about.
Henness homeschools her children and they’ve recently been learning about the Cold War.
“It helps them put the pieces together,” Henness said. “It’s nice to get to walk through the timeline.”
Jim Wallace, who grew up in Fulton, enjoyed getting a peek into Churchill’s life.
“He wasn’t the brightest guy in a deck of cards,” Wallace said, referencing the panel up at the entrance that talks about Churchill’s bad grades. “But he was a fighter.”
Wallace said it’s nice to see something so important attached to Westminster College, a smaller school.
“We’re not a big town,” Wallace said. “It’s nice that all of this came about because of one visit.”
Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com