On April 19th, 1995 the United States witnessed it’s most devastating attack on home soil to that date. A rental truck packed with a bomb made of diesel-fuel-fertilizer was parked outside the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building located in the heart of Oklahoma City. At 9:02 am the explosion tore off the front of the building and took the lives of 168 people, with 19 of those being children, who were in the building’s daycare.
Even though it has been almost 20 years since this sad event took place I can still recall the horrific photos I saw on the news of the rubble where the building once stood. It is hard to understand why anyone would do something of that magnitude to other people. As painful as it is to visit a memorial, I believe it is important to learn from and about our history, even if it is dark and disheartening.
Fueled by the end of the Cold War era and the dislike of president Clinton’s gun-control ideas, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas plotted their attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh and Nicholas were also radicalized by events that happened during an August 1992 shootout between Federal Agents and fellow survivalist, Randy Weaver in Northern Idaho as well as the April 19th, 1993 Waco Texas standoff.
Either approach to the memorial you will enter through the large “gates of time”. The east gate has the time 9:01 listed above the entrance. This marks the minute just before the bombing, where the people of the city were going about their typical day. The west gate has the time stamp of 9:03. This marks the minute just after the attack took place and the history of this city would be changed forever.
As you walk into the memorial you will see the reflecting pool between the two gates (sorry for the photo but the pool was emptied during our visit for some reason). The pool lays where NW 5th street once was.
Looking to the south is the most powerful statement of the memorial, the field of empty chairs. There are 168 chairs, representing the lives of every soul lost that day. The smaller chairs for the children and the larger chairs for the adults. The chairs are placed in nine rows to signify each floor of the Federal Building. Each victim’s chair is placed in accordance to what floor they had either worked on or visited that day. At nighttime the base of the chairs glow as “beacons of hope”.
On the north side of the memorial stands the 90+ year-old elm tree that witness the events of April 19th, 1995. It has been named The Survivor Tree, giving strength to the families who lost loved ones, the survivors and the rescue workers.
After we completed the exterior tour, we moved inside the Memorial Museum. As we walked from one section to the next we learned about the history of terrorism and the site. We were then led into a room where we listened to an actual recorded meeting of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board that occurred during the time of the blast. The meeting was taking place in a building across the street from the Federal Building and you could clearly hear the explosion and the chaos that preceded afterward.
After the recording completed we walked into the next room filled with displays of rubble, a clock stopped in time and a somber collection of personal belongings left behind.
The displays continued on teaching us about the rescue efforts. After the devastating loss of life that day, the rescue workers had to also endure rain storms followed up with a tornado warning. The people of Oklahoma responded to the storm, donating rain slickers and protective booties for the rescue dogs to wear.
One of the most interesting exhibits to me was the “A Penny For My Mom”. Located just outside the Children’s area is a path of pennies on the floor leading in to a room dedicated to helping children understand what happened on April 19th, 1995. What started out as a local fundraiser by Nancy Krodel, a principal at Coronado Heights Elementary, grew into a 44 state-wide memorial fundraiser. Krodel asked her students to bring in 19 pennies, a penny for each child who lost their life in the bombing. The money was then contributed to the memorial fund. The penny donation idea began to spread and raised more than $50,000 USD. By 1998 the collection of pennies changed to 168, to honor all who died that day. The “168 Pennies Campaign” was launched with support from Miss America, Shawntel Smith, an Oklahoman native and Clint Seidl, who had lost his mom in the bombing. In the campaign video that was distributed throughout United States elementary schools Seidl asked students to give “a penny for my mom” . This campaign raised more than $450,000 USD to help build the memorial.