Spend a couple days on back roads moseying westward through Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma: small towns of tree-shaded, child-filled neighborhoods/subdivisions; downtowns of single-story shops (no “boutiques” here); lovely, well-kept churches; and unimaginative, architecturally sterile schools. Plus, natural beauties: long stretches of forests, hues of green changing as early autumn sun shifts across a curulean sky; long/wide brown and green fields stretching toward horizon’s promise; and mirror-like rivers reflecting cloud armadas overhead.
In Oklahoma City, this Norman Rockwell euphoria is jarred.
On April 19, 1995, a truck, filled with explosives detonated outside downtown Oklahoma City’s Federal Building. Death came to 168 adults and children; more than 600 were injured.
An Oklahoma City Memorial bears witness to this madness: an outdoor area spans the street on which this building existed; a museum is housed in a bomb-damaged building a block away.
At either end of this outdoor space, rise twin, near-black monoliths. Each bears an analog display of hour and minute: one, “9:01”, one “9:03”… detonation occurred at 9:02 that morning. Between these two monoliths, covering what was once a paved street, a long, wide, shallow reflecting pool. On this pool’s north side, a series of stone-block-lined grass terraces lead up to an “Surviving Elm Tree”… scarred, but alive, and a viewing platform. On a long, narrow, inclined lawn along pool’s southern edge, 168 sculptured chairs (full-sized for adult victims; scaled-down for children) which represent each victim, are clustered where their bodies were recovered. Just outside memorial’s west edge, a chain-link fence has become a repository of individual mementoes.
“Ranger Rick”, an Oklahoma State University student volunteers as guide. In conversation, he admits, that his responses to visitor questions often bring tears to his eyes, as well as theirs. (“When I no longer feel this sadness, it’ll be time for me to move on” he suggests). Visitors wander: some take guide pamphlets; some read every sign – but all speak softly, reverently… and an occasional intake of breath, or barely perceptible sob testify to their feelings: palpable pain.
Its museum is a bit overwhelming: and, its sense of clarity and organization impact feelings, but are, more truly, an intellectual exercise. “What”? “How”? “Why”? (So MUCH data: but how are we ever to understand a mind capable of killing innocent adults and children?)
Just beyond this memorial, St. Joseph Cathedral adds its own memorial respecting Catholic victims. Each is represented by a single, human-height, black shaft. Back turned on carnage, a white Christ weeps.
There was more to see: “Automobile Alley” – once a line of beautiful, old, auto dealership (now, apparently, all have fled to suburbs) buildings which now provide succor to OK City’s effort to attract a 20-something entrepreneurial crowd. Some huge old office buildings being restored; some attractive churches; a “gabble” of young women, who, emerging from Packard’s Kitchen brunch are curious about my recording its “emblem”.
A Capitol Complex which includes an old Phillips 66 oil derrick as an accoutrement.
Am disappointed that a Museum of Art has so narrow a permanent collection on display.
Then, it is time to move on…