When you mention Oklahoma City, one thing inevitably comes to everyone’s mind: the tragic day in 1995 when a couple of extremists loaded up a rental truck with fertilizer, and blew away half of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. 168 lives were lost that day, hundreds more were wounded, and the entire country received a taste of the senseless horror that can be caused by terrorists. Up until the September 11th, 2001 attacks, it was the deadliest terror attack in America’s history.
I know I remember that day, watching as the scene played out on my living room TV. I would guess that just about everyone does. So it’s no surprise that after so many years, the Murrah Building bombing site still draws people who need to see the place for themselves, and perhaps find a little closure. That’s why I went.
5th street used to run in front of the Murrah Building. Now, the street is blocked at Robinson and Harvey Avenues, with two gates. On the gates, two times are inscribed: 9:01 (the minute before the explosion, when everything was normal) and 9:03 (the minute after, when everything had changed). Walk through the gate and down the stairs…
… and you’re standing at the end of a long reflecting pool, which now covers the area where 5th Street used to be.
On one side of the reflecting pool, a path circles around the remaining foundation walls of the Murrah Building. Plaques on the walls list the names of people who survived the attack.
Inside the footprint of the building, there are 168 chairs, one for every person who died. The chairs are arranged in nine rows, symbolizing which level of the building each victim was on, when the bomb exploded. A few chairs stand off to the side, representing those who were killed outside the building.
On the other side of the reflecting pond, there is a seating area, and a 90 year old American Elm known as the “Survivor’s Tree”. That tree overlooks other fruit and flower trees, which grow in the Rescuers’ Orchard.
At one end of the site, a chain-link fence is covered with flags, ribbons, teddy bears and beads, all left by visitors to the memorial.
Designers of the memorial decided not to paint or make major repairs to the building next to the bombing site. It was damaged in the blast, and some of that damage is still visible in the form of chips and cracks. Perhaps most poignant is a spray-painted message left by rescuers on the day of the bombing.
That building also houses the OKC National Memorial and Museum.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.