Oklahoma City has learned the importance of finding hope and remembering.
As what happened to a community, a state and a nation on April 19, 1995, is remembered once more, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum again reminds visitors of the importance of remembrance in order to heal 17 years later.
Part of the inscription on the wall at the Gates of Times leading to the Reflecting Pool attests to that fact. It says, in part “... to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — April 19, 1995.”
The Memorial Museum takes visitors on a tour through the story of April 19, 1995, and the days, weeks, months and years that followed the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
It is through remembering that day and the days to follow that visitors are educated as to what happened, to whom it happened and the resulting actions that followed.
“Michael Berenbaum played a role in the creation of the process,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. “He helped us understand the importance of preserving memories.”
Berenbaum is a museum development consultant and contributed to the conceptual design of the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum and oversaw the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Berenbaum will give a presentation at 4 p.m. Tuesday on “Culture & Memory: The Importance of Documenting Our Stories” in the Center for Education & Outreach at the museum.
“Dr. Michael Berenbaum is one of the most well-respected Holocaust scholars globally and we are fortunate to be able to welcome him to Oklahoma City for our Yom HaShoah program on the 17th,” said Melinda Parks, director, Holocaust Education and Community Resources for the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.
“Our longtime community partner, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, also has ties to Dr. Berenbaum, as he consulted in the planning stages of the Memorial complex. Dr. Berenbaum’s visit, particularly so close to the anniversary of the Murrah Building bombing, is a marvelous opportunity to join with the Memorial as we unite to remember those lost to violence and to oppose hatred and intolerance.”
By way of CDs, videotapes, digital documents, cassettes and photos the story of anger and hate is told, and it is through these very elements and remembering what happened the story of hope emerges.
1 Million Artifacts
Jane Thomas, now retired, was the first collections manager for the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and she was working at the Oklahoma Historical Society when the Murrah Building was bombed.
She volunteered to work with the Memorial Task Force collecting items for the archive, collecting artifacts from individuals, collecting contemporary history and later decided to stay with the memorial and began collecting items from the memorial fence.
Visitors to the memorial who leave notes of hope, flowers, wreaths, stuffed animals and photographs leave behind messages of remembrance and those are periodically gathered and placed in the basement to be archived at a later date.
Today, collections manager Helen Stiefmiller gives a glimpse into items left on the fence as well as on the chairs in the Field of Empty Chairs.
“More than 1 million artifacts, pictures and cassette tape recordings have been collected and archived since the inception of the museum,” Watkins said.
Along with the artifacts in the museum is a Gallery of Honor with photos and tributes to the 168 who were killed.
Watkins and her staff of 25 full- and part-time employees are responsible for maintaining the outdoor memorial site as well as the museum.
“The museum itself covers more than 50,000 square feet,” Watkins said, “and we have a huge basement where we store our archives. We are an accredited museum and follow the specific guidelines for the archival process set by the American Association of Museums.”
The Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives came into being in the fall of 1995. Following the bombing, a 350-member task-force was created to deal with aspects of memorializing the tragedy.
One of the 11 task force sub-committees was the Archives Sub-Committee. In October of 1995, a survey was conducted by the Archives Sub-Committee to ascertain what materials relating to the bombing were available. From this survey, a plan for the development of an archives was created.
“Once the memorial fence was put up around the area we immediately saw items on the fence and sought advice of the Holocaust museum and Vietnam wall and began to develop policy around what should be done with the items,” Watkins said.
“Dr. Berenbaum met with us early on to help set framework of what it would feel like, telling the story and keeping the memory alive,” Watkins said.
“We met with him in D.C., and he has been to Oklahoma to visit the memorial museum,” Watkins said. “I am excited that he will be here Tuesday speaking at the memorial.”
He also will speak Tuesday evening at the Yom HaShoah Remembrance ceremony, which will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Meinders Hall of Mirrors in the Civic Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear an expert in culture and memory,” Watkins said. “We all have history to preserve and he is an expert in preserving it. We cannot forget where we came from, and we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
How to Confront Evil
Watkins told a team of young swimmers from Nebraska who were visiting the museum recently, “You can survive the worst, you can overcome evil and that is the reason you have to keep the memory alive.”
Evil affects real people with real lives and there are consequences to actions. We have to teach a generation that consequences in real life are far more devastating than what is on TV or in their video games, Watkins said.
Watkins said she was in New York recently and spoke with Jamie Orenstein, one of the team of federal prosecutors in the Timothy McVeigh trial. She asked what made the trial so personal for him.
“He said he thinks back on the testimony of the trial, and one man asked him how does he teach his kids not to hate,” Watkins said.
Orenstein told Watkins, “Kari, I grew up with my father who was a Holocaust survivor, and it made me sensitive as to how to confront evil.’”
Watkins said the Oklahoma City Memorial and the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance ceremony are opportunities to help remember atrocities that happened during two different periods in time, but both are necessary to remember so they will not be repeated. The Jewish Federation in Oklahoma City gave the first donation to the memorial museum and helped start the museum project.
“It is easier to go on without remembering,” Watkins said. “It is harder to rebuild and flourish.”
The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is at 620 N. Harvey, Oklahoma City. It is open 365 days a year and National Park Service Rangers are on the site daily except for holidays.
FOR MORE information on the Archives & Collections, or to take advantage of opportunities for research, visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum or call 235-3313.
Memorial & Museum events
April 17 — At 4 p.m. in the Center for Education & Outreach at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum will be a discussion on “Culture & Memory: The Importance of Documenting Our Stories, A Conversation With Michael Berenbaum.” Space is limited. Register at OklahomaCityNationalMemorial.org.
April 17 — Remembrance: Keep the Flame Burning, a Yom HaShoah event, begins at 7 p.m. in the Meinders Hall of Mirrors in the Civic Center in downtown Oklahoma City.
April 19 — Remembrance Ceremony: The 17th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony will begin at 8:55 a.m. Thursday on the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial. Gov. Mary Fallin and Mayor Mick Cornett are scheduled to join this year’s ceremony. Similar to previous years, 168 seconds of silence will be observed at 9:02 a.m. Edmond North High School Orchestra will provide the music. The weather alternate site will be called at 7:30 a.m. The location is First United Methodist Church at N.W. Fifth Street and Robinson.
April 19 — Cox Community Day: Cox Communications will again sponsor free admission to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum for all visitors on Thursday. The museum will open at 10 a.m., following the Remembrance Ceremony and will remain open until 5 p.m.
April 21 — The 5th Annual Memorial Motorcycle Run will start and end at Margarita Island, at 8139 N.W. 10th St. in Oklahoma City. Registration begins at 11 a.m., at $20 for a single rider and $30 for double riders. For more information, email Stacey Weddington at sw@
April 29 — The 12th annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon begins at 6:30 a.m. followed by the Kids Marathon at 8:15 a.m. Sunday. There is still time to register for the marathon at OKCMarathon.com.
May 10 — Reflections of Hope: The 2012 Reflections of Hope Award will be bestowed posthumously on two-time Pulitzer Prize journalist Anthony Shadid. The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is presenting this award for his life’s work as a foreign correspondent, his understanding of the Middle East and his role in giving people impacted by terrorism and violence a voice through his storytelling. Shadid’s widow Nada Bakri and their children will accept the award on his behalf at the Reflections of Hope Award Luncheon at noon. The luncheon will be at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Sam Noble Special Event Center. Tickets are available at ReflectionsofHopeAward.org.