Oklahoma City has been a ‘bucket list’ item for me for many years. In particular, visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial. April 19, 1995 is a day cemented in my memory, as it started out with an early morning telephone call from my sister Margie, saying she was in labor, and heading to the hospital. I had asked if I should come to the hospital, and she said no, she would call later and let me know. And then I went to work and waited and waited (remember, this was before text messaging, and the days of “instant” everything!). But then I received word that my sister had a beautiful baby girl, Hannah Catherine! A wonderful start to the day!
But the world as we knew it, greatly changed at 9:02 am, April 19, 1995, with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. What started out, for me, as a joyous occasion, became a day of sorrow and confusion. Even though it has been 23 years, I do remember that day well. When I went to see my sister in the hospital, and met my niece for the first time, I recall my sister was emotionally drained by the days events. She had just given birth to her first child, only to turn on the television in the morning to see babies and children being carried out of the building. It was a horrifying scene. Of the 168 people killed in the bombing, 19 of them were children, as there was a daycare in the federal building that many employees used.
This is a picture that I took of a photo on display at the museum, showing the devastation from the blast.
And the site as it looks today, as viewed from a window in the museum.
It was an emotional day 23 years ago, and it was an emotional and difficult day for me when we visited the memorial. I had to choke back a lot of tears in the museum and at the memorial site. I just kept thinking about what my sister had gone through that day, but kept telling myself that out of something so horrible, life does keep going on. There are really two parts to the memorial: A museum which chronicles the events of that day, with many first hand survivor stories, and an outdoor memorial, honoring the victims, survivors, first responders, and children.
The museum is located in a building that was across the street from the federal building. (it is the building in the foreground from the photo above). It was an office building at the time, and was one of over 300 buildings in the downtown area that sustained damage from the blast. Although no one was killed in this building, many were injured from ceilings collapsing, and broken glass from the windows getting blown out.
The outdoor memorial consists of the gates of time, a reflecting pool, field of empty chairs, survivor wall, survivor tree, rescuer’s orchard, children’s area and the fence. Today’s blog will just cover the outside memorial.
When you approach the museum from the parking lot, 200 feet of the original chain-link fence that surrounded the bomb site is still in place. Over 60,000 items were put on the fence, and have been collected and archived in the museum. And even today, people continue to place items on the fence, especially shoes, in memory of the victims and survivors. Many of the bombings survivors talked about how they had their shoes literally blown off their feet during the blast, and first responders reported finding many shoes, but no bodies, during their initial search and rescue efforts.
After viewing the fence, you walk up through the gates of time. Two very large walls that frame the time of the events. 9:01 am, when it was just another day…
And then 9:03 am, when the time for healing began…
In between is the reflecting pool, symbolizing 9:02 am, when the bombing occurred, and the world was forever changed. The pool and gates of time is where N. W. Fifth Street, the street in front of the federal building, was located at.
After the Murrah building was imploded, a few walls remained standing, despite going through not one, but two blasts. These walls were left in place, and the names of the survivors are on one of the walls.
An American Elm tree was located between the Murrah building, and the office building that is now the site of the museum. Despite the blast, that tree survived, and has become known as the Survivor Tree. Arborists have carefully maintained this tree, and every year seeds from the tree have been given out to families of the victims as well as the survivors, for planting. It is a symbol, once again, of life continuing on from a tragic event.
The Survivor’s Tree overlooks the Rescuer’s Orchard, to honor all the first responders, medical personnel and volunteers that helped out. The inscription along the base of the survivor’s tree states “To the courageous and caring who responded from near and far, we offer our eternal gratitude, as a thank you to the thousands of rescuer and volunteers who helped.”
Right in front of the entrance to the museum is the Children’s Area. Thousands of tiles painted by children were sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing, and they have been placed on a wall.
The most somber area is the Field of Reflecting Chairs, located where the Murrah building was located. There are 168 chairs, each bearing the name of a victim of the bombing. Nineteen of the chairs are small, for each of the children. There are nine rows of chairs to represent each floor of the building, and five chairs are off to the right, representing the five victims killed outside of the building. The chairs have a light underneath them, but we did not go back to see the memorial at night.
Across the street, and not part of the official memorial, is a statue, Jesus Wept, on the grounds of St. Joseph Catholic Church, which was also damaged in the bombing. There are 19 black granite pillars surrounding the statue, for the children.
I found the outdoor memorial to be a well-designed tribute and remembrance to the victims, survivors, first responders and volunteers that came together after this tragic event. It was very emotional and humbling to see.
There was just too much to put in one post on this memorial. My next post will be on the museum itself. As I started this post about my sister Margie, and niece Hannah, I will end it with them as well. Happy Birthday Hannah!
My Quote for the Day is from the quote on the back of the Gates of Time:
“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this Memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”