A few blocks north of the Oklahoma City skyscrapers stands a plain building, looking like an abandoned paper mill, surrounded by a neatly trimmed green garden and a ribbonned fence. On the other side of the fence, a field of 168 empty chairs overlooks a reflecting pool, leading to a ninety-year-old American Elm tree, dubbed as the Survivor Tree. This is the site of the Oklahoma City bombing that took place on April 19, 1995, at 9:02am. Today it is a National Memorial and Museum dedicated to educating the public about acts of terrorism around the world and remembering the lives lost, the survivors, the rescuers, and the affected families.
Walking through the museum is a sobering and imperative experience. The tour begins with the moments before the explosion. The unassuming public moving through life as normal, parents bringing their kids to daycare and going to work under beautiful blue skies. The tour quickly leads to “the Hearing Room,” a dark room in which a recording is played of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board meeting from the morning of April 19, 1995. The recording lasts two minutes and thirty seconds. What started at 9am as a regular daily meeting of the Board ended two minutes later with the sound of an explosion, falling rubble, and silence. Then a screen lights up with the names and pictures of the perished board members.
Another door opens and leads to a room of the aftermath of the explosion. Carefully placed in display cases are personal objects found between the ruins, television screens play interviews with survivors and rescuers, and newspaper clippings from around the world recount the events of this dreadful day. The final area of the museum shows examples of acts of kindness and support from acquaintances and strangers alike. Donations were sent to the families of the victims, letters of encouragement arrived by the millions, and over a thousand origami doves made their way to the memorial.
Outside stand the empty chairs, each one engraved with a name of a victim. Next to the lone Survivor Tree is an important message to all: “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated.”
To learn more about the Oklahoma City bombing and visiting the memorial, check out the museum website at www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org.