Trip Summary Calendar - Where we went and when

August 23, 2004

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain...

We had a decent little visit in Oklahoma City. We gave ourselves a three night rest, and brought the truck to Chevy for some TLC and new spark plug wires.

Oklahoma City is a nice little city, but it was hard for us to determine a unique identify of the place. On one hand it's like a suburb of Texas, with quite a bit of western culture such as the Cowboy Museum (really!). On the other, many locals have a southern accent not present in Texas.

We stayed in a park just off the highway at the west end of town, a short drive to Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, and most other retail stores and restaurants known to mankind. Very convenient. Oklahoma City isn't exactly a tourist draw but there was more to do than we expected. Being more interested in R&R than touring we only did two notable things.

The first was a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, an outdoor memorial and indoor museum of the domestic terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Timothy McVeigh said he did this out of anger for what the government did (in his opinion) in Waco, TX a few years earlier. We visited the Waco site and memorial earlier in our trip, so for me this was an interesting bookend to that earlier visit. It's impossible to make comparisons, both to the events and the memorials, as they are so dramatically different.

The outdoor memorial is, in a way, a minimalist sculpture. The footprint of the building is now a very structured collection of glass-and-metal chairs, one for each of the 168 bombing victims. Along the road where the truck bomb exploded is now a long reflecting pool. At each end of the pool is a very tall black metal wall; one is labeled 9:01 and the other 9:03; the bomb exploded at 9:02 AM. Outside the walls is a metal fence with items placed by family members and the general public, similar to the fences near the WTC site if you've seen that. I won't bother explaining more of the outdoor area as we took many photos, hopefully to be posted soon.

Inside is a somewhat large, modern museum which I'll try to explain since photography was not allowed. The museum is housed in half of a building that existed prior to the bombing; the other half of the building continues to house the offices of a weekly newspaper. The building was damaged in the explosion but not destroyed.

The first floor on the museum tour (the third floor of the building) covers in great detail the timeline from early in the morning of April 19, 1995, to the time of the bombing, and through the rescue and recovery efforts. In one room visitors walk into a replica of the Oklahoma City Water Resources Board meeting room. A recording is heard of a hearing the morning of the bombing, which went quickly from an introduction of a dull water issue to a loud explosion to panic. This is a real audio recording, the only (as far as I know) one of the bombing itself.

The majority of the remainder of that floor is the story of the rescue and recovery, and stories of those injured and killed in the blast. There are cases each of shoes, watches, keys, and other items recovered from the site. Also included are details of McVeigh's and Nichols' arrests. It is all very well presented.

The second floor of the tour (also the second floor of the building) more generally covers terrorism and isn't specific to the Oklahoma City bombing. One very unique item is a section of floor made of pennies covered in polyurethane. A school collected pennies for the museum, which spread to other schools, and millions were collected. A small number make up this part of the floor. Another exhibit are "golden cranes," a collection of origami birds relating to a children's book.

This floor also has the most direct evidence of the bombing, a small room intentionally left undisturbed since the explosion. Concrete and ceiling tiles are everywhere, books from a closet line the floor, etc. The room is enclosed in glass.

The first floor of the building is strictly an entranceway and gift shop.

What I felt was missing from the museum was the "why," both of this bombing and terrorism in general. The exhibits barely mentioned McVeigh's claim of the Waco retaliation, and digs no further. A large room about terrorism in this country and abroad only describes events and perpetrators, without a broader context to help understand the deeper reasons why someone or some group would do such a thing. I think the "why" is a core part of the story, and here it is all but left untold.

On the whole this is a very impressive site and museum, well worth the visit if you're ever in the general area.

Our other visit was to a far less depressing location, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A huge building, it's dedicated to, well, cowboys and western heritage. More than you've ever wanted to know about cowboy hats, saddles, and blue jeans. Really. A large section of the museum is western art, mostly paintings and sculpture, some of which was very nice. Another room covers western films and movie stars. In a massive room is an indoor recreation of a small western town, with several small buildings. Photos will come soon on this, too. While the topic wasn't 100% up our alley it was enjoyable; certainly not something we'd see in Massachusetts!

Posted by Mitch at August 23, 2004 09:14 PM
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