Pittsburgh is home to many fantastic museums, but one place that is easy to overlook, despite its size, is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is located in the Oakland section of the city, only a few steps from the University of Pittsburgh campus and the Cathedral of Learning. It was built in the early 20th century to memorialize soldiers from the Civil War but has since come to honor those who fought in every war in American history.
In fact, this is said to be the largest memorial in the country dedicated specifically to honor all branches of service.
While most of the building is taken up by a large and quite beautiful 2,500-seat auditorium, there is a really nice museum in the lobby that encircles that space. When no events are being held in the auditorium, visitors are allowed to check out this museum for a small fee. Make sure to check the hall’s website before visiting to make sure it isn’t closed for an event.
So, in my quest to visit all of Pittsburgh’s museums, I decided to check the museum out.
Walking up to the entrance of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, make sure to take a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of this Beaux-Arts building. There are even some large displays such as cannons, torpedos, and a ship’s bell outside of the hall.
As soon as you step inside the hall, you’ll notice that the beauty of the building isn’t located just on the outside, and I quite enjoyed marveling at the beauty of the interior throughout my visit.
The focus of the museum at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall is on the story of those that served during the various wars throughout American history instead of on the story of the wars themselves. This means that there are many artifacts and personal stories, but not much in the way of information about specific battles or even explanations of each conflict covered.
Unsurprisingly, given that it was started to honor Union soldiers from the Civil War, the museum has a heavy focus on the Civil War. There is also a lot of information about World War 2. Other conflicts from the French and Indian War to more recent conflicts are all covered but in less detail.
Most of the items and stories within the museum relate to soldiers from Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, though most of the information would be of interest to anyone interested in military history.
Two areas of the museum that I found especially interesting focused on Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Arsenal (a munitions factory in the city that exploded in 1862, killing many young women working in the factory) and what life was like in the city during the Civil War. These stories provided a little-heard look into the cost of the war and how it impacted the local citizens of the Pittsburgh area.
The museum’s collection of Civil War artifacts is quite impressive, but two items that really stood out as special are a camp chair used by Union General Ulysses S. Grant and a life mask of President Abraham Lincoln. The life mask was especially interesting as it allowed me to stare into the face of one of the most important figures in American history.
When Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall was first built, it was home to a chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Today, the room that housed the chapter features a great exhibit about the history of the hall, including photos from its construction. There are some items related to the GAR on display here, though those wanting to learn more about this group will want to head to the incredible Civil War Room in nearby Carnegie, PA.
The museum’s collection continues throughout the space, moving chronologically through the major conflicts of American history.
In each section, you’ll find many artifacts including weapons, rare uniforms, and other items from the war front. The majority of these items are housed within well-designed display cases along the walls, though a few items, like a 1953 Jeep used in the Korean War, are placed in the middle of the floor.
Sprinkled throughout the museum, you’ll also see cases devoted to different topics ranging from how medical treatments have improved over the years to what life was like for POWs.
All the while, you’ll be walking through one of the most beautiful buildings in Pittsburgh, so make sure to not get so focused on the displays that you don’t notice things like the amazing floors, ceilings, and stained glass windows.
Near the end of the loop around the museum, you’ll come to the Hall of Valor. This room showcases the stories of many soldiers from the Pittsburgh area who have been awarded medals for their valor during war.
It was especially neat to see the museum’s collection of Medals of Honor, each of which is presented with the story of the soldier who was awarded the medal.
Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to the museum at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The displays are very well done and the information presented is quite interesting and provides a great look into the impact of war on soldiers, as well as on the regular citizens of western PA.
It’s worth noting, however, that this museum doesn’t feature any interactive elements and there is a lot of signage within the space. While this is great for those interested in history, children might not find this museum to be overly interesting, so that’s worth considering if you are looking for something to do in Pittsburgh with kids.
However, for those that love visiting museums, and especially those interested in military history, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is well worth taking the time to visit.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10a-4p
Cost: Adults: $15, Children: $5
Address: 4141 Fifth Avenue