When I said I was in Oklahoma City, almost everyone I talked to asked if I had visited the memorial. Honestly, I had completely forgot about the bombing of April 19, 1995. I was really in the capital to visit Kayla. She had never been to the site either, so we decided our last day in the city should be scoping out the monument and a few museums.
We parked downtown and the first thing to catch my eyes was the St. Joseph church on the corner of Harvey and 4th. I didn’t realize it was linked to the memorial until we turned the corner. It captured my attention because I associated it with the church of my hometown.
As we walked down Harvey Street, I saw a fence lined with memorabila to my right. To my left emerged a few large stone crosses with a 20-foot statue of Jesus crying-his back turned to memorial. A sign stood underneath him with the caption “And Jesus Wept.”
I found out during the tour that a large portion of the church was destroyed during the explosion, and the diocese chose to rebuild the statue and benches as a commemoration to the families and friends affected by the act of terrorism.
As we crossed the street, a giant black tower with a small doorway greeted us. Above the doorway was etched “9:03”. Once through the doorway, an open reflection pool the size of a football field was revealed. Across the first tower is another tower with “9:01” mirroring the symbolism.
To the right are 168 different brass and glass chairs representing the fatalities; there is a name on each chair. To the left of the dark pool is a semi circle around an American Elm tree, with the phrase, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” The tree survived the blast and a few major ice storms in OKC.
In front of the entrance to the museum are children’s handprints and drawings sent from kids around the country. Most of them have sentimental sayings like “Heartbreak in the Heartland”.
The memorial itself is a self-guided tour, but the exhibit is so interactive that the senses will be stimulated for two hours. When you step out of the elevator, you see a wall-size picture of children from the day care and the saying “It started out like any other day.”
There are templates explaining the time table of a standard morning and the history of the Murrah building. To the left there is a small room dedicated to explaining the definition of terrorism, which before the Oklahoma bombing, was unclear to many Americans. It is described as an action thats purpose is to instill fear in people.
The end of the second floor has a layout of the 16-block radius to show what the area looked like at 9:01 a.m. There is a clock stopped at this time. Across from the layout, is a wall-sized picture of the Ryder truck parked across the street from the Federal building. It was captured by a hotel across the street.
Wooden double doors open and you are taken into a small room that is set up like an old courthouse. A tape recording starts. It is the actual reading from the courthouse at the time of the bombing. A clerk is reading names and then BOOM. You hear an explosion, people screaming, and someone yelling to evacuate. The lights go out and then another set of double doors open to reveal rubble and newscasts playing.
There are so many items that were confiscated from the site. Shoes, staplers, folders, etc. There is a big screen television playing a tape from survivors relaying their experience of being buried under debris, losing their family members and co-workers, and sharing the sheer fear they experienced that morning.
You round the corners and there are more newscasts from across the globe. President Clinton is giving a speech. Local people are staying up around the clock to help their neighbors.
The whole experience is sense-overload. There are so many different televisions on at once; the sound comes from the ceiling and you hear the different newscasts and radio transmissions.
The emphasis starts on how so many people volunteered their time to help. There are letters and postcards from around the country expressing their grief and hope.
The final part on the second floor, displays how the police found Timothy McVeigh, then Terry Nichols.
The opening of the top floor covers the trial and evidence that ended up convicting the two.
Then the room opens into a place of complete hope. There were golden origami doves hanging and huge bay-size windows that overlook the outside memorial.
There was also a shrine of every person who died that day; some with little knick-knacks that displayed their personality.
I had tears streaming down my face for two hours. I had no idea how much this was going to impact me. Neither Nick or I had enough will to visit any other museum that day. Instead we went to the library to write and reflect. I was so emotionally drained.
But what I found most interesting of the whole experience, is how much I left with a sense of hope. This event was a complete travesty, and the city could have focused on the negative aspects of McVeigh and Nichols, yet the primary concept was how many citizens and Americans united throughout the years after the devastation. It’s a shame that we have to let things like this happen before we work together, but it is nice to know that people do ultimately care.
I would recommend every American to visit this memorial. You can tell the volunteers and workers feel they have purpose and understand the importance of this commemoratory. Plus, it never hurts to be filled with hope.
This was probably the hardest thing I have had to write yet. In fact, that’s part of the reason most of my blogs are so far behind. I couldn’t find the words to capture how truly moving this experience really was for me. I hope you can walk away with something too.