Carfree Caribbean

A closer look at the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum reveals moving stories of tragedy, courage and triumph.
By Karen Eakins

A recording of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board meeting that began across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 9 a.m. on April 19, 1995 began to play. Two minutes into the recording, the sound of a bomb blast exploded across the routine meeting, which then broke into pandemonium. The nation’s worst instance of terrorism to date had begun.

Memorial

Above: The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum contains stirring exhibits that use artifacts and video to tell stories of tragedy and courage.

Below: Gates of Time and the Field of Empty Chairs are outdoor tributes to those killed in the Murrah’s bombing. These monuments are especially beautiful at dusk. Oklahoma City CVB photos

Memorial

The tape stopped, double wooden doors to our right swung open and we were lured into a cacophony of chaos–what can only be a weak approximation of the moment when hell broke loose in Oklahoma City that peaceful spring morning.

We walked into see artifacts almost too painful to view–tiny children’s shoes, coffee mugs from people’s desks, a piece of ripped and ragged column. But the videos are the hardest to see and the screens are everywhere. Interviews with survivors and victim’s loved ones are interspersed with news footage of that horrible day; we stood with other visitors in stunned silence, watching, crying, witnessing the pain.

A timeline that weaves its way through the third floor begins at 6:30 a.m. and counts off events across the hours: 2:30, rain begins; 4 p.m., one survivor transported from the site; 10:40, the last known survivor transported to the hospital. A nearby video shows a meteorologist in tears issuing a severe thunderstorm warning at 8:30 p.m. Also chronicled is the death count, which steadily climbs from 36 on April 20 to a final count of 168 on May 29.

As visitors wind their way through the museum, arranged in 10 “chapters,” the noise level noticeably drops and calamity eases, and the artifacts give way to stories of tribute, selflessness and hope. The iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of firefighter Chris Fields cradling 1-year-old Baylee Almon is on display, along with the story that Fields and Baylee’s mother sued to gain control of the image. They lost.

The displays continue on the second floor. Here is the Gallery of Honor, where each victim’s image and a keepsake are displayed, and the children’s area, where kids are taught of the incident in a gentler environment. A penny path includes 27,000 pennies donated by schoolchildren nationwide–each student contributed 19 pennies, one for every child killed.

Finally, there are extensive displays on the search, evidence gathering and prosecution of the terrorists responsible.

While the museum recounts the story, the memorial expresses hope and survival with symbolism in every design element. The Gates of Time, two massive bronze walls, bookend a 318-foot black-granite reflecting pool; 9:01 is carved from one wall, 9:03 from the other. The time of the blast–9:02–is represented between. Loblolly pines are planted in the Murrah’s footprint, and when mature, they will replicate the height of the building. Nestled among the pines is the Field of Empty Chairs, nine rows of bronze-and-glass chairs–one for every victim (smaller chairs for children)–each chair etched with a name. The walking path is made from granite slabs recovered from the Murrah.

Standing nearby is the Survivor Tree. A 90-year-old American elm, once coveted as the only shady place to park on the lot, it was shown in newscasts with cars burning under it. But the tree survived that day and through ice- and thunderstorms since, it embodies survival.

It is peaceful here, even during the middle of a busy workday. But to appreciate the memorial and pay homage to those who died and those who survived, it is imperative to visit again at dusk. As the bases of the chairs light up and the gates shine forth, a special reverence is felt and a hush descends.

Karen Eakins is features/copy editor of Home & Away magazine.

Mar/Apr 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, call the memorial at (888) 542-4673 or visit www.oklahomacity
nationalmemorial.org
.

To visit Oklahoma City, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices


Writer’s picks in Oklahoma City
By Karen Eakins

Chihuly at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Leslie Chihuly is an Okie. So, thanks to her, her famous glass-artist husband, Dale, has endowed this Southern museum with the most comprehensive exhibit of his works in the U.S. Those who love glass will know from the 55-foot tower sparkling at the museum’s entrance that this is mecca. The third floor holds the $3.1 million collection, and the displays–“Jerusalem Cylinders,” “Macchia Forest,” “Tiger Lilies” and more–do not disappoint.

Pops

A quick jaunt north of the city to Route 66 in Arcadia is a stop not to be missed. Part convenience store, part lunch counter, part gas station–POPS is just plain fun. Its glass-box architecture showcases more than 500 varieties of pop from around the world. Visitors can buy bottles of Black Lemonade, Brainwash and more than 50 types of root beer, including Round Barn that’s produced in Oklahoma City. The favorite: creme soda. Not recommended: celery soda.

Skirvin Hotel

This 1911 hotel was ahead of its time. Owned by oil tycoon Bill Skirvin, it was designed with chilled air and a telephone in every room. Once a microcosm of frontier life, the luxurious hotel has recently been renovated and now is a national historical landmark.

Glass
See works by glass artist Dale Chihuly at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. This stunning glass tower greets visitors at the museum entrance. Oklahoma City CVB photo

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