Monday, June 16, 2008

Remembering April 19th, 1995

Do you remember where you were on April 19th, 1995? I'm ashamed to say that I don't. I was much younger in those days, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, though a horrifying tragedy, just did not register in my brain the same way that 9/11 has forever been etched into my mind.

I remember visiting the site relatively shortly after the actual event, on the way back home from one of our annual family summer vacations. The memorial had not yet been erected, there was just a ton of chain-link fence, covered with momentos of visitors.

Memorial Fence

When I took the job in OKC this summer, I realized that I would be able to visit the memorial and take pictures. In the last few days, I've been twice. Once at night because I'd heard the memorial was gorgeous at night, and once during the day. For a location in the downtown of a major city, I felt remarkably safe photographing at night. There were rangers and security and a fair amount of visitors.

The memorial is simply gorgeous. It is bookended by two gates. One labeled 9:01 - representing a city of innocence. The other is labeled 9:03 - representing a city forever changed. The bombing happened at 9:02. What used to be the Murrah building is now the Field of Empty Chairs. One chair for every life lost, including 19 children. What I didn't realize until after touring the museum is that there were two unborn babies who also died that day. Loss of life is heart-breaking, but loss of young life just hurts a little bit more. Also represented in the Field of Empty Chairs are the five individuals who fell outside of the building. One of them, Rebecca Anderson, was a nurse who rushed in to help. While she was inside, she suffered a head injury. She died on the street outside in the arms of other rescuers. Heartbreaking.

What used to be 6th Street is now a shallow reflection pool spanning the distance between the two gates. Where the parking lot was, is a plaza, and next to it, a raised portion where the tree known as the Survivor Tree still stands. This tree survived the bomb blast - a pretty incredible feat considering its proximity to the bombing. A seedling from this resilient tree was presented to Rudy Giuliani after 9/11 by OKC.

The Journal Record Building still stands and is home to the National Memorial Museum - 2 powerful floors of exhibits. The museum starts with OKC history and the history of the building itself. Then you are taken into a room, and shut in. You listen to an official recording of a meeting being held across the street starting at 9am. It is slightly horrifying to sit there knowing what will happen 2 minutes into the recording. After you're done in there, you walk out and watch the first breaking news footage, and thusly, begin your exploration into the aftermath of the bombing.

You see relics recovered - personal effects or file cabinets from the building where you are currently standing. The blast blew out windows nearby. A cast member in the show who was quite young at the time was actually knocked out of her seat (I don't know how far away she was). The blast was certainly felt at least 5 miles away according to the news footage because it was felt at their building.

The devastation was incredible but OKC was resilient. Reading and hearing survivor stories and/or stories about those who died were just heartbreaking. At times, I felt almost physically ill because the emotions were so powerful.

The iconic picture of the firefighter with the baby? She turned 1 the day before she died. Isn't that heartbreaking? Could you imagine being a parent of one of those children at that daycare or the YMCA down the street? There was apparently much confusion in the beginning because there were injuries at that daycare as well.

There was a section about how they caught Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. I did not know that Ford (builder of the Ryder truck) voluntarily repurchased the truck immediately after the bomb truck so that they could better identify that truck forensically. Being a CSI fan, I enjoyed that part immensely.

I also enjoyed the 1000 golden cranes that flew above in the end of the exhibit. If you're unfamiliar with the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, you need to go read it. It's a touching true story about a girl named Sadako who falls ill after the atom bombing. She is told that if she folds 1000 paper cranes, that she will be healed. She perseveres, but she is often too weak to fold any. Before she died, she folded 644. They are a symbol of healing and many were left at the OKC site. There were also many that were left at 9/11 as well.

The day I chose to go to the Museum with a colleague was our day off, and coincidentally, Father's Day. My colleague arrived before I did and wandered around the outside Memorial. While he was there, he happened upon a weeping father, crying on the chair of his son or daughter. Heartbreaking.

Part of me was thankful to miss that sight, but discovered that "World's Best Dad" balloons had been tied to the chair of David Walker.

World's Greatest Dad

On a child's chair was a signed softball:

Ashley Megan Eckles


The memorial is gorgeous at night, each of the chairs is lit from below, like candles in a church. Please visit my flickr page to see the many pictures taken over both visits.

In short, really, how could I not visit, pay tribute and enjoy the beauty that has risen from tragedy?

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