Peaceful tribute to a hellish day: Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

Ruined computer monitor and blown out window blinds at OKC Natl Memorial (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Do you remember the Oklahoma City bombing? The photo above shows some of the destruction, including sobering displays of what those everyday government offices looked like after the explosion, their metal blinds unflowered and blasted computer monitors staring blankly.

From the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum website:

“On the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building [in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] and at 9:02am, a massive explosion occurred which sheared the entire north side of the building, killing 168 people.”

I couldn’t imagine many more depressing things to do than visit a museum that details such death and disaster, but I was wrong.

It is truly an uplifting experience to visit the site, and a reminder of our fundamental human goodness and resilience in the face of twisted evil. Those who are building the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum drew lessons and guidelines from the superb work done in Oklahoma City.

Lost keys from the Oklahoma city bombing on display at OKC's National Memorial and Museum (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

One of the ways that the museum most effectively conveys horror is by showcasing the ordinary lives that were suddenly and forever altered that day.

All of the sets of car keys in the photo above, with their widely varying styles of personalized keyrings, had owners. Who created the elaborate blue and black bead keyholder?  Did a child of one of the victims make it, perhaps at a camp craft workshop or in school art class? We’ll never know.

Part of the museum experience is listening to a recording made that day; a bureaucratic government proceeding on some dry topic that is suddenly cut short at 9:02 a.m. by the sound of a massive explosion.  It’s such a jolt to go from normalcy to insanity.

Oklahoma City Natl Memorial and Museum outdoor empty chair tribute (courtesy OKCNM on Facebook)

Those who died each have a designated empty chair in the museum’s outdoor memorial, as you can see in the Museum’s photo above. The chairs are lined up next to a reflecting pool; it’s very well-designed and effective.

There are a lot of interesting things going on in Oklahoma City, from the spectacular American Indian Cultural Center and Museum to Bricktown to the small but jaw-dropping Banjo Museum, plus – ahem – the Oklahoma City Thunder in pro basketball, but if you visit OKC, please do not miss the chance to see how the city turned tragedy into a world-class learning and reflective experience.

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