We took the family to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum recently.
I had been to the Memorial several times, but not the museum. The admission price of $10 for adults and $6 for children always seemed a little high to me. For our family, that’s $32, and that’s just because the baby doesn’t need a ticket to get in.
But I had been to the outside area, several times, so I knew what to expect.
We came on a Saturday, which apparently means free parking downtown. The meters say it’s free on Sundays only, so we fed the meter before someone wandered by and mentioned in passing that it was free the whole weekend. We were out of change anyway, so we took a chance and didn’t get a ticket.
The Memorial is such a quiet, serene place. Everyone is so introspective. It means different things to everyone, but it all revolves around what happened on April 19, 1995.
The first thing we saw was the fence. The fence is part of the fence that was installed shortly after the bombing to protect the site. People from all over (myself included) left items on the fence in the aftermath, and although it was not originally part of the plan for the memorial, planners later decided to keep a portion of the fence. A booklet from the memorial refers to the fence as America’s sympathy card.
It was sprinkling outside, so we went directly to the museum, in hopes of the rain lessening when we were finished inside.
Photography is not allowed inside, and the Memorial Foundation has been gracious enough to allow us to reprint their photos. All inside photos ©2009 Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.
When you enter the museum, you go directly to the third floor, where the exhibits begin. You start off seeing what was happening on April 19, 1995, in the hours before the explosion. Museum planners focus on how the day was like any other, and no one expected what was going to happen.
As you move through this floor, you’ll see pieces of art that were retrieved from the Murrah Building, newspapers from the morning of the bombing, information about terrorism across the country, and a section on Judge Alfred P. Murrah himself and the history of the building. The children were most interested in this area, since Murrah was from our town.
From there, you move into the moment of the blast. Museum visitors are escorted into a room that is designed as a recreation of a Water Resources Board conference room, where a recording is played of a meeting that started shortly before the bombing. Again, this reinforces how it was just an ordinary day until 9:02 a.m. A few minutes into the recording, the explosion is heard. A moment later, you are enveloped in silence. At the same time, pictures are flashed on the wall of the 168 people that were killed. It is a sobering moment.
The exit door opens, and you walk into a world of seeing chaos. News reports from the day roll by on television screens.
Here is also items from the bombing – personal items like phones, planners, briefcases and shoes. The children’s shoes are heartbreaking. A clock taken from the rubble, stopped at 9:02, helps to solidify the moment frozen in time.
After this comes survivor’s stories and the aftermath, news reports and official investigation.
The Gallery of Honor was where things started to fall apart for us. I had been worried about bringing three children to the museum, but the lady I spoke to before coming assured me it would be a good experience. The children weren’t scared or anything, so we had that going for us…but they were bored. The 9-year-old could handle it, but she said it was boring. The 6-year-old was getting wiggly by about this point. The 2-year-old started to fuss about being strapped in the stroller for so long. And Ben and I still wanted to look around. This did not make for a good museum experience.
We swept through the next areas, pausing for a portion of the 168 penny campaign that raised funds for the museum and the children’s area. The kids did a puzzle in the children’s area, but didn’t mess with the other items – rescue coats and hats for dress up, interactive computers with information about the memorial, and drawing areas to express their feelings…they mostly did the puzzle. I think a piece was missing, which bothered them.
The children’s area was actually a little dated, in my opinion, when you think about the fact that most of the people who actually would remember the bombing would be adults now. My children didn’t know about the bombing before we went. I gave them a little information before we got there, but I didn’t want to frighten them or anything. I was glad that going through the museum didn’t scare them or give them nightmares. I don’t think they saw it as something that could actually happen to them, and it didn’t touch them in any particular way. The children’s area was designed to help children cope with the bombing, but mine apparently didn’t need to cope with it.
I can also say that when you are trying to get out of the OKC Memorial Museum quickly because your baby is fussing and ruining the silence, it is hard to find the exits.
We did find them and went back down the elevator to the first floor. We went through the gift shop and stepped outside, where we were again greeted by drizzle. Although it was raining, there were still a few people outside.
I always wonder what brought them here today. Are they a friend or relative of one of the deceased, and this was a special day, like a birthday or anniversary? Maybe they were a survivor and needed to come that day. Maybe they are tourists from out of town and this was the only day they could come before heading back home. I wonder what the stories are for the people at the Memorial, and what they are thinking.
The east wall, representing the moment before the blast – 9:01 a.m.
The field of empty chairs.
The blacked out windows of the present museum building, representing the windows blown out the blast.
The survivor tree – this also has a section dedicated to it inside the museum.
The east wall, representing the moment before the blast – 9:03 a.m.
Okay. Here’s our take on it.
If you have not been to the Memorial, go now. It is worth a visit and is definitely something to see. It will stir up memories of that day and what you experienced. They turned something terrible into a place of beauty and serenity, and it is worth your time.
Take the kids to the Memorial if you like. You can give them a brief outline about what happened, and what everything means. It is park like, and they will enjoy seeing the different gardens, the chairs, the reflection pool and the Survivor Tree.
There is no charge to see the Memorial, and if you go on the weekend, parking is free too.
If you’ve never been to the museum, I recommend it highly…unless you are traveling with your children. Like I said, even the 9-year-old was very bored, but she was able to behave regardless. The younger two couldn’t do it. I know where they were coming from. It would have been boring to me as a kid. It was interesting to me because I could relate to it, and they couldn’t.
I think it might have been a better experience for the oldest if I had been before, and I had been able to focus on her entirely and follow her lead. But I wanted to see what was there too, so it wasn’t the right time for her to be there.
So, go, but don’t take the smaller kids. Teenagers could handle it, and might be more interested since they probably would have already learned about it in history class.
The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Memorial Museum is open seven days a week. Monday through Saturday they are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday they are open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors 62+ and $6 for students ages 6 through college. No charge for children ages 5 and under.
There is a lot more information online at their website: Oklahoma City National Memorial