Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oklahoma City Memorial: Every Item Had a Story

We visited the Memorial of the Oklahoma City bombing on Thursday, and it saddens me how oddly fitting that visit now is given Friday’s rather similar tragedy in Norway.
Visits to memorials are always sobering but for some reason I find the collection of objects left by the dead especially heart wrenching. This has been true for me at any visit to a concentration camp memorial, and again in Oklahoma City the cases of keys, glasses, shoes, briefcases, day planners etc. had me swallowing tears.
The exhibit reconstructs the timeline of events by taking the visitor through the innocent morning of April 19, 1995 at 9:01 a.m., to hearing a recording of a meeting in the Murrah Federal Building which captured ordinary proceedings until you hear the explosion at 9:02, to the destruction and mass chaos afterwards, to the tragedy of having to find survivors, to the investigation that eventually convicted the perpetrators. I was touched to find that one of the many investigators had eloquently expressed the tragedy of the items left behind:
“We set up containers for money. We set up containers for documents. We set up containers for personal belongings. As we were sifting through, we might find a coffee cup. We might find a purse or a briefcase. We might find a Social Security card. Each time you’d pick up a personal item of some type, you’d catch yourself wondering, ‘Who did this belong to?’ or ‘Gee, I hope that person made it.’ You’d pick up a personal belonging, and it’d have on it ‘love’ from some relative, and it kind of kept you thinking. Every piece had a story.”
Trooper Fred Horn, bomb technician


  1. "Every piece had a story." You've touched on a discussion my husband and I were having just this weekend. Terrible tragedies like this, or deadly diseases, wars... sometimes we get so lost in the horror of the sheer numbers that we can lose the humanity of every individual involved. Thank you for the tender humanity in your own memorial today.

  2. Heart rending. Words fail. Wonderful post.

  3. Shelly - thanks!

    Naomi - I think you figured out why I find all those objects left behind so sad: because they do emphasize the tragedy of each individual life lost. Thanks for summing that up!

    Bookworm - thanks!

  4. Annette, I'm a native Oklahoman (now living in Georgia) and happened to be in OKC this past week, too, with my family. We considered another trip to the Memorial, but my girls, 2 and 4, are too young for these stories just yet. But someday, we will tell them, story by story, chair by chair, what happened here and abroad.

  5. Jenni - you are right, your girls are still too small. My kids are now old enough and given that their frame of reference has been 9/11, we felt it was important for them to know what came before.