On April 19, 1995, at 9:01 AM the United States experienced a terrorist bombing attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, OK. The blast killed 168 people including 19 children under the age of 6, injured 680+ people, and destroyed or damaged 624 buildings in the surrounding area. Like other catastrophic events in our recent history, most of us who were adults at the time remember where we were when we heard the news. I was in Columbus, GA at an education meeting. So out of respect for that memory, there was no doubt that we would visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
On Tuesday afternoon, after leaving the National Cowboy and Western Museum, we headed to the memorial. Unfortunately the museum had just closed. But, like most things in life, it worked out for the best. Since the grounds are open 24 hours a day we chose to explore the area where the building once stood. A path of salvaged granite from the building’s plaza marks the footprint of the building. On the east end of the Memorial are the only surviving walls of the building. These walls evoke thoughts of those who managed to survive the explosion. Over 600 names are carved in salvaged pieces of granite from the building’s lobby.
A Reflecting Pool occupies what was once Fifth Street on which the Murrah Building faced. On either end of the Reflection Pool stand the East Gate marking 9:01 as the minute before the blast and the West Gate marking 9:03 as the minute after the blast. On the north side of the Reflecting Pool stands the amazing Survivor Tree, a 90-year-old American Elm that miraculously survived the blast and is a symbol of the resiliency of the human spirit. The flower and nut-bearing trees that surround and protect the Survivor Tree represent those who rushed in to help after the blast.
Immediately after the bombing, a fence was constructed to protect the site. People began to leave tokens of respect and love on The Fence. To date over 60,000 items, some of which have been preserved in the archives, have been left on The Fence. In front of the Memorial Museum is the Children’s Area. A wall of tiles painted by children expresses their feelings and words of comfort in the aftermath of the attack. In addition, a series of giant chalkboards enables children and others to continue leaving messages of healing and hope.
But our most lasting memory was the Field of Empty Chairs. We were awestruck by the sun’s setting light penetrating the translucent bases of the 168 bronze memorial chairs representing the fallen. There they sat with a name etched in each base and arranged in nine rows according to the floor on which they worked or were visiting. Especially poignant were the 19 smaller chairs representing the children who were killed. It was truly a spiritual moment.
October 2, 2012