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THE OKLAHOMA CITY NATIONAL MEMORIAL
AND THE TWENTIETH CENTURY MEMORIAL PROCESS
ALBERT J. BELMONT
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
As the site formerly occupied by the World Trade Center was cleared of debris,
and questions began to arise concerning the future of the space, it became increasingly
clear how important Oklahoma City's recent memorial endeavor would be in redefining
lower Manhattan in the twenty-first century. I am greatly indebted to the staff of the
Oklahoma City National Memorial, especially to Archivist/Collections Manager Jane
Thomas, for her time, patience, and helpfulness during my visit to the memorial in early
2003. She made herself available for questions and three days of site visits, despite the
staffs deep involvement in the World Trade Center process, as well as in the day-to-day
operation of the memorial in Oklahoma City. I am also very grateful for the time,
suggestions, and willingness of Dr. Glenn Willumson, Director of Museum Studies at the
University of Florida's College of Fine Arts. Our conversations soon after September 11,
2001, helped to direct my research early on. In addition, I would like to thank Dr.
Alexander Alberro, Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Florida's
College of Fine Arts, for sharing his knowledge of the subject as well as his time and
editorial skills. I am also extremely grateful to Kerry Oliver-Smith, Curator of
Contemporary Art at the Samuel P. Ham Museum of Art. Her insights from the
perspective of a museum professional have added much to the outcome of my work.
Most importantly it is the support (and often patience) of my friends and family
that made this work possible. I am most grateful for the hard work and support of my
wife, Lindsay Noelle Belmont. As my research assistant in Oklahoma she was invaluable,
and in all other things she is much more.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: MEMORIAL FUNCTION .............................................. 11
CHAPTER 2: THE CONSTITUENCIES ...................................... ........... 27
CHAPTER 3: HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS ..............................................39
CHAPTER 4: OKLAHOMA CITY ..............................................................53
CONCLU SION ..............................................................................................70
APPENDIX: ILLUSTRATIONS ..................................... ................... 76
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........................................................................ 83
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
THE OKLAHOMA CITY NATIONAL MEMORIAL
AND THE TWENTIETH CENTURY MEMORIAL PROCESS
Albert J. Belmont
Chair: Glenn Willumson
Major Department: Art and Art History
Examination of the process through which memorials have been created during the
twentieth century offers insight into recent memorials constructed in the United States.
The progression of memorial building is evaluated through a review of the process through
which the Oklahoma City National Memorial was created in the years following the April
19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building.
The process now underway in New York City, through which a memorial to the
attacks of September 11, 2001, will be realized, results from many earlier memorial
projects. This thesis explores the issues that have made the making of memorials a
democratic process committed to designing memorials that contain personal narratives, are
open to interpretation, and stand as effective tools for teaching future generations.
This is accomplished through the study of memorial function, the constituencies involved
in memorial processes, and twentieth century historical precedents as they relate to the
creation of the memorial in Oklahoma City. In the analysis of the committees responsible
for the memorial competition in Oklahoma City, the changing attitudes toward
memorialization are evident. By including more constituencies and inviting personal
narrative into the process, the memorial that resulted was a reflection of the people for
whom it was built.
The organizing committee in New York City has desired the same atmosphere of
unity and, having reviewed the Oklahoma process, memorial plans for the World Trade
Center have followed a path much like that of its most recent predecessor. Through an
understanding of the function of memorial building, progression in twentieth century
memorial creation, and the constituencies involved in the process, memorials recently
constructed will stand not only as sites of memory but as institutions of learning for
generations to come.
The tradition of memorial building has long been a method of commemorating
moments of great historical significance. In the last century, the tradition of memorial
construction has developed into a complex process, through which personal and
communal memory is preserved. As memorials have become multifaceted many
including museums, interpretive and symbolic structures, and tributes to individuals -
the process through which society creates a memorial has greatly changed. This change is
a direct result of three factors: time, space, and the constituencies involved. This paper -
through the examination of memorial function, the various roles of the constituencies, and
past memorial projects will explore the process through which a recent memorial was
established. The Oklahoma City National Memorial, constructed in remembrance of the
bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, is an excellent
example of the various steps by which contemporary memorials are created.
Memory is the most ambiguous subject widely represented in memorials and
memorial museums around the world. Whether this stems from a human desire to control
how past events are viewed to steer history in a particular direction or a need to
personally recover from emotional or physical changes or traumas is debatable. Susan A.
Crane, editor of Museums and Memory, writes that rather than a quiet process, memory
is a catalyst, based on the aspiration to remember or to forget, to remain in one moment or
to move on forever.'
SCrane, Susan. Museums and Memory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000: 1.
Though essentially formless, memory can be assigned physical form through a
collection of artifacts or the construction of memorial objects. To give structure to
memory, especially with regard to catastrophic circumstances caused by fellow human
beings, can be problematic in that there is never a single perspective to memory. Every
individual recollection is unique and no matter how solid a consensus exists in creating an
institutional view of an event, there will always be an opposing angle. Objects are often
used for the purpose of solidifying a view or an explanation of the memory. A museum
object has immediate value as it has been declared worthy to be collected by the
institution in which it resides.2 However, presenting an object in an exhibition that
memorializes can become a politically charged situation because deciding on an
institutional view of particular circumstances is a very difficult undertaking.
In 1995 the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. opened a
small display of the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the aircraft that carried the atomic bomb to
its destination over Hiroshima at the close of the Second World War. However, the doors
opened after a long political battle over what exactly the exhibition should be
memorializing the end of the war, American military superiority, or Japanese loss.
The planned exhibition memorializing the end of World War II was thus stripped down to
a single object and little to no context. Despite the original intention of the exhibition -
to pose questions regarding the "crossroads" of history the intended dialogue became a
pre-exhibition argument, as though a consensus was necessary before opening the
2 ibid., 2-3.
3 Gieryn, Thomas F. "Balancing Acts: Science, Enola Gay, and History Wars at the Smithsonian," The
Politics of Display: Museums, Science, and Culture, New York: Routledge, 1998: 197.
4 ibid., 200.
Those participating in the building of a memorial, whether a temporary exhibition
or permanent structure, often have power in the process simply as a result of their
involvement in the memory itself. The constituencies involved are integral in that they
propel the memorial process. The groups and individuals responsible for creating the
committees, making design decisions, and putting a public face to the memorial phase of
the event greatly affect the other two factors that drive the outcome of a memorial: time
and space. As the group trusted with overseeing the creation and execution of a memorial,
the committee or governing body has direct control over the time taken to implement
chosen plans, the redefinition of the space, and the ability to mold the recollections of the
various constituencies involved.
Time can be a very sensitive issue for many participants in the event and
memorial phase. As family members, survivors, and others directly impacted by a
catastrophic occurrence struggle to deal with the resulting trauma, anxiety, and general
feelings of loss, the pressure to offer a solution falls on the shoulders of those responsible
for steering the memorial process. This pressure can no doubt lead to the wish to speed
up plans, simply to satisfy the parties seeking closure or distance from the event being
observed. There are many theories that revolve around trauma, grief, and mourning, all of
which are important to understand the motivation behind those involved. Tragic events of
such unprecedented proportions as the attacks of September 11, 2001, leave an enormous
percentage of the population in mourning and searching for finality.
The time factor is the most unambiguous of the three. All events, whether as
dramatic as war or as inconsequential as dropping a dish on the kitchen floor, seem to the
witness of the action to be of consequence immediately following. Their feeling
diminishes in significance as time passes. In the weeks following the September 11, 2001,
attacks on the United States, even as rescue workers continued to search for survivors in
New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, preserving the memory of the events, the
victims, the survivors, and the structures themselves was already foremost in the
minds of the general public. Proposals for memorial spaces at the site of "Ground Zero"
in lower Manhattan began to arrive at City Hall shortly after the attacks and continue to
this day. However, unlike many modern memorial debates, the desire to recreate the site's
prior status was unexpectedly popular with Americans eager to make a statement of
fortitude and New York developers intent on rebuilding thousands of offices lost in
downtown Manhattan. A mere two and a half months after the attacks, incoming New
York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took a clear step away from former Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani's stance against economic development on the site. In January of
2002, Bloomberg cited New York's recent economic troubles as proof that the city could
not afford to turn over the full acreage at "Ground Zero" for the creation of a memorial.
The space, he argued, would best serve as a mix of office, retail and memorial space.5
The remarkable difference between the redefinition of the space at the World
Trade Center and the space once occupied by the Murrah Federal Building, the site of the
1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, is in the debate surrounding the site's future. At no
point in the decision making process in Oklahoma City was the suggestion that the
structure be rebuilt, or the space returned to its previous use ever considered.6 Aside from
New York's need to replace a tremendous amount of office space, the drive toward the
redefinition of space has taken the route followed by the projects predecessors. While the
debate between families of the victims and the Lower Manhattan Development
s Kimmelman, Michael "Out of Minimalism, Monuments to Memory," New York Times (January 13,
a Goldberger, Paul. "Requiem: Memorializing Terrism's Victims in Oklahoma," The New Yorker (January
14, 2002): 90.
Corporation continues,7 the process of conceiving a memorial for the space has followed
a basic structure that has inevitably driven most contemporary memorials. Committees
are formed, constituencies defined, and the space redefined all in an attempt to create a
place through which the memorialized event can be better understood. However, as the
three ingredients that inevitably drive the memorialization process fluctuate in each
individual case, the process and outcome are decidedly different.
Plans for a memorial at the site of the World Trade Center attack have pressed
forward quickly. The only other example of such a speedy response exists in the planning
and implementation of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a multifaceted
memorial/museum dedicated to victims of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building.s To many scholars, the sudden acceleration of the time
between an event and the finalization of memorial plans is troubling. Many of the world's
most important memorials took decades to conceive. Marita Sturken, of the University of
Southern California, responded to the rush to memorialize after September 11.
What, might we ask, is behind this rush to memorialize and to speak of
memorials? Could we imagine people talking of memorialization after the
destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, or the bombing of Hiroshima? Or, for that
matter, that the people of Rwanda talked of memorialization after the
massacres that killed hundreds of thousands there? Throughout history
collective and public memorialization has most commonly taken place with
the distance of time. After wars have been declared over, towns, cities, and
nations have built memorials to name the dead and those sacrificed.9
While many factors can influence the time taken to begin memorialization, the Oklahoma
SWyatt, Edward. "Many Voices, but little Dialogue on Memorial For Trade Center Site," New York
Times, (January 26, 2002). John C. Whitehead, the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation aligned himself with Mayor Bloomberg, suggesting that it is inevitable that the site will be
economically developed. While a design for the new structures has been selected, the area devoted to the
creation of a memorial will be decided at the close of the current memorial competition.
' Sturken, Marita. "Memorializing Absence," Understanding September 11, New York: The New Press,
2002: 375. Sturken cites the power that the families and survivors held in the process as the greatest factor
in speeding the memorial in Oklahoma into existence.
City case clearly demonstrates the influence of political power over the process timeline.
Only a few weeks after the bombing, rumors began to circulate indicating that influential
political figures in the city had already selected a memorial design. Families of victims,
survivors, and other concerned citizens quickly began a crusade to acquire control of the
An important issue was raised concerning the constituencies involved in memorial
design and implementation. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the Research Institute
at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, warned the committee overseeing the
creation of the Oklahoma City memorial that it was imperative that the memorial purpose
be clearly defined before anything else could begin (is the memorial meant to denote loss,
violence, the community coming together?)." He argued that it is only after such a
determination is made that decisions involving the space and design of the structure can be
made. A prime example of this need to determine the mission of a memorial early on is
evident in the work of Maya Lin, the Yale student who designed the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial. Her design utilized the names of those being remembered only after
establishing that the purpose of the memorial was commemoration as a means of
providing comfort to those who lost loved ones in Vietnam. The design and outcome of
the structure was possible only after such a determination of purpose had been made.
The second factor, space, has great power over the implementation of a memorial.
As memorials are notably visual in nature, the space the memorial occupies and creates
establishes the atmosphere of the memorial. For many memorials the space has been set
aside for public use, specifically for a memorial structure, as is the case with the Vietnam
'0 Linenthal, Edward. The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory, New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001: 175.
" ibid., 186.
Veterans Memorial. Others are determined by the event itself. The acreage known as
Ground Zero, was, on the morning of September 11, 2001, primarily a workplace for
thousands of people. In an instant the nature of the space changed, controlled only by
those who perpetrated the act.
There are instances where space is not of issue. For example, many of the
Holocaust museums and memorials around the world are not located on soil that has
historical significance. In such cases the redefinition of space for the purpose of the
memorial is of no consequence as all of the artifacts, personal stories, and other
exhibitions are far removed from their original context, treated instead as objects in a
museum setting. Memorial sites that come to be designated as such as a result of having
been the historical stage on which particular events took place face a greater scrutiny.
Most often the word that surfaces is "sacred." The labeling of a specific space as "sacred
ground" has been problematic in the past, especially in the designation of the space at the
site of the collapsed Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
At the beginning of the memorial building process in Oklahoma City, the task
force that was later transformed into an official design and implementation committee was
faced with the task of defining the area that would be utilized. The location most argued
over at this stage was the area of Fifth Street in front of the Murrah Building, and the site
of the initial explosion. Fifth Street was originally, until April 19, 1995, an important
connection road, providing passage between several major roads and expressways in the
city. The task force was faced with pressures from some to reopen the street to traffic.
Others were insistent that, since many had died on that street, it was a sacred place and
should not, under any circumstances, be permitted to return to its original function. While
many citizens were angry that the road could be closed forever, Oklahoma Governor
Frank Keating remarked that he was not aware of other similar situations in which roads
were given priority.12
The constituencies involved are also of great importance to the process. In the
twentieth century, the impact of an event on the lives of individuals and on communities
has been greatly influenced by advances in communications. Technological apparatuses
such as radio, television, and other mass media, instantly communicate catastrophic
events to a huge population. Had 100 million people watched a live video feed of the
attack on Hiroshima from the view of a bystander on the ground, there is little doubt that
the bombing would have more profoundly traumatized more people. Instead, the world
read headlines and heard radio reports of the news, descriptions in the same voice, same
typeface, that had reported the day's news the night before.
Communication technology has made it easier for large numbers of people to
witness events, and as a result technology has had a great role in modem memorials. It is
by our own invention that we can experience a wider variety of events, often as they
occur. The attack on the World Trade Center was an extreme example of what can be
witnessed instantly via technology. The events of September 11, 2001, have had, as a
result of the large number of accompanying visualizations, a greater impact on more
people than ever before. Time, space, and constituencies have been greatly exaggerated by
both the unimaginable and the unanticipated."
Recent events in the United States (both the 1995 bombing of the federal building
in Oklahoma City and the attack on the World Trade Center) have emphasized these
factors, and while the situation in New York continues, the recently completed National
Memorial in Oklahoma City provides the opportunity to assess the elements of memorial
12 ibid., 13.
" Sturken, 374. Sturken cited the "before/after" of the event as being unfathomed that one moment we
see the towers standing as we are accustomed to, we witness the plane impact, and experience the absence
of the towers after they have fallen, all within a short period of time.
conception and creation that drive contemporary memorials. While the purpose of this
study is not to discuss the Oklahoma City memorial in depth, the specifics surrounding
the planning committee's struggles to create the memorial are helpful in discussing how
time, space, and constituencies influence the final outcome of such a project.
In the case of the Oklahoma City memorial the definition of the constituencies
involved in the process proved to be extremely problematic. Of all the groups
represented, the largest, and least understood, was undoubtedly those who witnessed the
event. The opening lines of the mission statement of the Oklahoma City Memorial are
very inclusive, stating:
We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived, and
those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.14
Reference to those "changed forever" undoubtedly can be applied to thousands of people,
if not more. Though there were not nearly as many witnesses to the bombing of the
Murrah Federal Building as to the World Trade Center, and despite the fact that the actual
act itself was not captured on tape, the immediate coverage by the media thrust many
Americans into the story only moments after the bombing had occurred. Viewers became
instant witnesses to the unexpected, just as generations before had experienced the
explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 (which was broadcast live) and the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 (captured on tape and broadcast after
the event itself). However, with technological advances, even since the mid-1990s,
millions of people were able to witness the World Trade Center destruction and the
murder of thousands. A mission statement, such as that of the task force in Oklahoma,
would be very difficult to implement as the creation of a memorial moves forward. While
" Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation. "Oklahoma City Memorial: An International Design
Competition," Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, 1996: 5.
the Oklahoma City National Memorial process was facilitated by a task force and mission
statement, a September 11 memorial project will not come together as quickly. This
results from the complexity of constituencies the numerous witnesses and thousands
of survivors and victims representative of nearly every part of society.
An organized central committee, a consensus on the definition of space, and a
specific purpose are months, if not years, away in the memorializing of the attacks at the
World Trade Center. As the time, space, and the constituencies are once again assessed
and the methodology recreated to fit the specifics of the case, a new memorial will take
form based on the views of the participants in the process.
The debates and developments that led to the recently opened Oklahoma City
National Memorial precede those that will culminate in the World Trade Center memorial,
and as such there is no better case study. This paper will explore the constituencies and
theories that drove the need to memorialize the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building,
taking into consideration how the process was affected by time and space, and how the
present day memorial came into being. There have been many predecessors to the
memorial process in Oklahoma and it is important to note the contributions that past
memorials have made to the current discourse. Through an understanding of the function
of memorial building, the roles of the constituencies, and these past memorial projects, the
process through which the memorial in Oklahoma City was created can be better
understood as a progression in the tradition of memorial building.
In the past, historic events have most often been marked by monuments.
Throughout the twentieth century events have been increasingly remembered through
memorials. The difference between a memorial and monument is an important distinction
to make in the examination of recent memorial projects, for it is this difference that has
made memorials more desirable in publicly remembering events in the past century.'
Monuments are typically singular in view and are generally simple structures with little
or no context. On the other hand, a memorial is open to interpretation. Through a
memorial structure, or institution, a multiplicity of viewpoints can be presented, allowing
for a greater understanding of the event. Both a monument and memorial can contribute
to the public myth of an event the general consensus, whether completely accurate or
not, through which an event becomes known years later. In this discussion of the
differences of memorials and monuments, the most important aspects of twentieth
century memorials that will be introduced are personal trauma, personal narrative, and the
creation of myth.
Museums and memory are very closely related. Museums function on the
assumption that certain objects, spaces, and histories must be stored in the collective
memory of society. In most museum settings the objects and limited information
presented are the only direct links to memory that the visitor receives. Any further
1 For the purposes of this thesis monuments are discussed as structures constructed to express a single view,
such as victory in war. Memorials are structures, or complexes, constructed to reference many views, and
can be interpreted by individuals differently as a result ofindivdual past experience.
connection to the past, personal or shared, relies solely on the mind of the visitor.
Memory presented in a museum, no matter how detailed the presentation or context, is at
best a perfect replica of reality. The museum environment can never become what it
represents, and thus every object, every history presented, is a simulacra of reality. Jean
Baudrillard's argument that it no longer suffices to simply imitate or reproduce reality
holds true, perhaps more now than when his landmark Simulations was published twenty
years ago. Instead society strives to simulate reality completely, to create an alternate
version of what is real.2 Memorials are not constructed to recreate the event for which
they are constructed, however through symbolism it is possible for designers to create a
new reality to take the place of the former. Baudrillard's discussions of simulated sites -
Disneyland, the Enchanted Village, Marine World, and other spaces surrounding Los
Angeles are not unlike the symbolic memorials today that strive to recreate what has
been lost. This is evident in the structure of the Oklahoma City National Memorial -
rows of chairs to represent each individual, organized in rows within the footprint of the
building and the street recreated as a reflecting pool. Baudrillard argues that such
simulated sites are created to both simulate a reality and to call attention to the fact that
the simulation is the new reality.3 This is often the case with memorial structures. Site
specific memorials stand as tributes to the past, but also as the new occupants of the
A memorial, or a museum dedicated to one specific collection of memories, in
time becomes a complete simulacrum of the memorial subject the memorial becomes
the memory, rather than the original subject. This occurs as a result of the more recent
desire to create memorial sites that are open to interpretation, and the infusion of the
memories of individuals, rather than a single fabricated view that is rigid and tends not to
2 Baudrillard, Jean. "The Precession of Simulacra," Art & Text, 11 (September 1983): 3.
3 ibid., 12.
conform easily to individual experiences and ideas. A museum to memory is unique in
that it is the only venue in which memory of an event is the sole purpose. Creating a
vehicle through which memory can be preserved is therefore the goal, rather than the
fostering of political debate. Political debate surrounding the creation of the exhibition
eventually dismantled the Smithsonian's The Crossroads: The End of World War II, The
Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War in its original format However, if the
exhibition had been utilized as a method of fostering discussion in the museum and
involving visitors, on various views of a single event, the exhibition itself would have
simply existed to facilitate discussion on the subject. Instead, the fuselage of the aircraft
sat, uninterpreted, only as a monument to the event. The various participants involved in
modem events are crucial to the twentieth century model of a memorial, encouraging
interpretation on a personal level, not simply debate that pits one vantage point against
another. Such debate can only result in the adoption of a narrow view of history and the
discarding of all other vantage points.
The concept of memory is both general and abstract. One remembers objects and
events for various reasons. Memories spring from everything that encompasses the world
around us. Some memories are very personal while others are shared by other
individuals, both related and unrelated to one's own experience or memory. Recent
memorials incorporate a flexibility as to allow the infusion of individual experiences as
well as for changes over time.
Memorial function can be systematic, especially since the ultimate goals of the
twentieth century memorial are to remember and to heal. Thus the creation of a memorial
has become mathematical. Despite the fact that there are no absolutes in human behavior,
various elements affect one another, resulting in an outcome that is equal to the perceived
need. The elements of this are: space, time, and constituencies.
As a means of demonstration, the formula is applied to what will be here referred
to as Site A. Site A, once a high profile structure, is now simply a void in the city or
town in which it once stood. Many people living in the community were killed, injured,
or witnessed the event that destroyed the structure that occupied Site A. The void is not
only structural and emotional, but financial as well. Many people lost their employment
and the local economy suffers as financial institutions located inside and around the
structure fell prey to the destruction as well. The combination of those involved
(survivors, rescuers, families of the victims, witnesses and others) and the drastic
redefinition of Site A (the space) defines the historic impact of the event.
The overall impact of the event is continuously effected by the factor of time.
Time influences the memories of those who were involved in the event. As time passes
traumatic, emotional, and physical wounds heal, making it more difficult for individuals
to accurately recall specific details. Therefore, the void, as created by time's effect on the
constituencies involved, is greatest immediately following the event that destroyed Site
A. Time itself is the most integral part of the equation as it is endlessly transforming
memory. For a resulting memorial to be "timeless" to remain meaningful in the future
- it cannot not present a recreated moment in time, but must have the ability to conform
to the current climate, to remain effective even as perceptions change.4 The function of a
memorial is to appease the void metaphorically and physically or, in this perfect
scenario, to fill the void. Thus the interaction of time, space, and constituencies
demonstrates the role a memorial must play to become a component of the event itself,
not simply as a souvenir of trying times, but as an historical counterbalance. This is
evident in the numerous letters and unsolicited proposals received by the Oklahoma City
Memorial Foundation in the duration following the bombing. The proposals and letters
* Young, James. The Texture ofMemory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning, New Haven. Yale University
Press, 1993: 48.
are all similar in that each expressed a desire to appease the changes brought about by the
bombing and submitted designs that would in some way fill the the individual's sense of
the void left following the event.
In beginning to carefully explore the role of the memorial, it is important to take
into account the previously discussed differences between a memorial and a monument.
While the roles of each are changing, there are fundamental differences. A monument,
by definition, could never be successful in filling the void. James Young, of the
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observed that it is the very nature of a monument
to be "singular in memory," to present a single view point, most likely that of a political
group or state that only seeks to retain or gain control over what is remembered by the
general populace.5 Consequently, monuments are often sites of controversy, and those
who do not feel a connection to the narrow view assigned to a monument are denied a
personal connection. Unlike a memorial that is open to visitor interpretation, a
monument provides nothing to interpret. In such cases the void as perceived by an
individual the emotional, traumatic, physical change resulting from an individual's
own experience is not filled, perhaps it is even increased by the complete exclusion of
multiple points of view.
Accordingly, memorials structures that act as a vehicle for discussion,
understanding and learning have become a very effective way to recognize the past,
identifying that events are surrounded by numerous constituencies. Young has indicated
that a memorial is in fact still a monument, only with the illusion of diversity. He argues
that often times memorials claim to be open to interpretation, but fail to offer content to
back up this claim. To a certain extent this is absolutely true. Some memorials have the
appearance of a state or politically mandated monument. For example, the Vietnam
5 Young, James. Memory and Monument: After 9/11, Distinguished Faculty Lecture, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, Mullins Center, October 10, 2002.
Veteran's Memorial has all of the outward qualities of a monument a simple design,
lists of dates and names yet designer/architect Maya Lin did not create the structure to
make a single statement concerning the war. Rather she purposefully sought to create a
memorial space that solicits the individual memories of visitors, the most prominent
method was through the arrangement of names. The memorial's effectiveness in doing so
is evident in the incredible amount of items left behind at individual names on the wall.
Perhaps, then, it is in the definition of the space that makes a memorial open-
ended and accepting of personal experiences and views. A state-sponsored monument, as
Young recognizes, has in the past been indicative of most state programs, the basic goal
being to create an edifice that brings about consensus, that creates one national identity
and thus makes the nation stronger, one in purpose.' Mount Rushmore is an example of
this type of structure. Rushmore's statement is simply that those whose faces are on view
are the great leaders of our nation. There is no interpretation of events, policies, or
decisions that made these presidents important enough to create such a monument, only
the statement that they were our nation's greatest leaders. In the past this has been a
traditional method of marking events. Monuments to wars, leaders, major societal events
depict the victories, not the defeats and weaknesses of society and have been constructed
During the 20th Century, however, especially in the United States, the inclusion
of multiple view points has become increasingly popular, and thus it has become more
likely that a memorial will involve more constituencies than ever before. Young has
stated that "this relatively newfound sense of public ownership of national memory, that
6 Hawkins, Peter S. "Naming Names: The Art of Memory and the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt," Thinking
About Exhibitions, New York: Routledge, 2000: 134. The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial is further discussed
in Chapter Four of this paper.
7 Young, James. Memory and Monument: After 9/11, Distinguished Faculty Lecture, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, Mullins Center, October 10, 2002.
this memory may actually be ours somehow and not on vicarious loan to us for the sake
of common identity, has been embraced by a new generation of memorial-makers who
also harbor a deep distrust for traditionally static forms of the monument, which in their
eyes have been wholly discredited by their consort with the last century's most
egregiously dictatorial regimes."8 As a result the only way to adequately fill the
metaphorical and literal voids yielded by an event is to address the entirety of the event,
and not to reduce its gravity to single, simple viewpoint in an attempt to create a
consensus. This can only be achieved through a memorial.
Jochen Gerz and Ester Shalev-Gerz's Monument Against Fascism, described by
its makers as a "counter-monument," was a comment on the narrow views presented by
monuments. The Gertz's structure was actually a memorial disguised as a monument. In
appearance the structure was indicative of Fascism and had the qualities of a state-
directed monument in that it is plain in appearance and offers no explanation of itself
aside from its title. It was presented to counter the singularity of a monument, a statement
against the tendentious anatomy and policies of Fascist states. The public was offered the
opportunity to inscribe their own thoughts onto the monument In regular intervals, over a
period of years, the structure was lowered into the ground, allowing individuals to attach
meaning to literally every inch of the monument. Young noted that the structure also
addressed the issue of time, as it gradually disappeared into the earth. Beginning in
October of 1986, the rigid rectangular metal tower built in Herburg, Germany, began its
descent.9 Thus the fascist monument metamorphosed into a memorial of the struggles
that the community once faced under a Fascist regime. Not only did the Monument
Against Fascism change with time, but the structure also reflected the collective
memories of all of those who chose to scratch their comments onto the surface. Through
9 Young, The Texture of Memory, 31.
the structure, which eventually vanished by September 1991, the Gerzes demonstrated
the transformation of memory as time passes. The structure, as it descended over of
period of five years, gradually became a memory itself and a simulacrum of the event it
was created to memorialize.'0
In examination of the effects of traumatic events on individuals and communities
the need for memorials, rather than monuments, is evident. In the past century memorials
have been very specific in their aim to offer a vehicle for healing rather than simply to
provide a visual connection to the past. As the number of points of view involved in the
memorial process have steadily grown, so has the desire to effectively deal with issues of
personal and collective trauma. Traumatic experiences are realized differently by each
individual, and events that effect massive numbers of people complicate the method in
which communities cope together. The twentieth century, along with its many advances,
also introduced the ability to inflict mass-casualties in short periods of time. While the
devastation of war has long been present on the battlefield, mass-destruction on the
civilian level is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. In the past,
Americans have dealt with public traumas differently than in recent years. American wars
have been either fought overseas, or have been extremely divisive. As a result, public
memory does not always rise quickly to the forefront of national consciousness. Thus a
gap is often created, leaving those traumatized by an event with little public sympathy. A
large number of Vietnam Veterans experienced this upon returning to the United States
after the war. The public, having not experienced directly what had taken place on the
other side of the globe did not have an adequate understanding of the personal traumas of
returning soldiers. A number of years passed before a public response was formed and
those deeply affected by their experiences in Vietnam were left to handle with their
" ibid., 32-33.
experiences on their own. Veterans of previous foreign wars fought in the twentieth
century came home to great fanfare parades, presidential honors and were
celebrated by the public and media. This was not the case with the soldiers of Vietnam.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as a public response to the war and those who died or
were missing, only came about after a veteran of the war, Jan Scruggs, led an effort to
create a formal recognition of those who never returned to American soil after the close
of the war."
This has not been the case in the last decade. While there have been occurrences
of violence against Americans outside of the national boundaries, the most consequential
occurrences involving American civilians have taken place within our own sphere.
During the most violent and deadly battles of the Vietnam War, the average American
citizen continued to pursue his or her daily schedule, unchanged by the events occurring a
half-world away. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City
and the bombing (1993) and eventual destruction (2001) of the World Trade Center thrust
the average American into warlike situations. Traumas created by such events lead to the
need to memorialize and to include personal memory as a vehicle through which the past
may be preserved. A vehicle through which memory can be presented in a memorial or
museum setting is through narrative. Narrative is thus a very important attribute of a
Personal narratives of grief are common in memorial institutions and many
museums collect stories as well as artifacts. The telling of stories by individuals involved
in traumatic events has been an important part of the discourse of recent memorial
institutions. In early 2002, the Florida Holocaust Museum, located in St. Petersburg,
exhibited a collection of photographs of Holocaust survivors, many of them local
" Hawkins, 134.
residents, accompanied by descriptions of their individual experiences sixty years
earlier." This attention to the individual traumas of such events is apparent in more
recent memorial institutions. The initial discourse of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal
Building Task Force revolved around the involvement of individuals in the memorial
process and their emotional well-being as well as in the procuring of their personal stories
for use in the institution.
Traumatic experiences affect individuals in multiple ways. One common thread,
however, is in the desire, even the need, that most survivors of traumatic events
demonstrate to tell their stories as a method of counteracting trauma. Dori Laub, in Truth
and Testimony: The Process and the Struggle, determines that survivors witness events in
three levels.3 Not only do survivors witness traumatic events around them, but witness
their own firsthand knowledge, their own memories that are unaffected by the realities
within others. Secondly, the survivor takes on the role of storyteller in the retelling of
personal experience. Third, she writes that the survivor suddenly experiences the role of
forever being a witness. History is born through the testimonies of those who lived it.
Experiences as consequential as the Holocaust continue to resonate within individuals
who were there, and as a result continue to provide firsthand information for decades.
Laub writes that survivors do not simply live through great adversity to tell their stories,
but tell their stories to survive.
There is, in each survivor, an imperative need to tell and thus to
come to know one's story, unimpeded by ghosts from the past
12 The Florida Holocaust Museum's exhibitions deal with reactions to the Holocaust on numerous levels.
The museum provides an extensive collection of artifacts, original drawings and photographs, and historical
background as well as local reactions and histories from those who were there and those who have been
1 Laub, Dori. "Truth and Testimony," Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1995: 61-63.
against which one has to protect oneself. One has to know one's
buried truth in order to be able to live one's life.'4
In recent years, memorial institutions have presented survivors with a greater opportunity
to do just this. In Oklahoma City, the creation of a committee overseeing the design and
implementation of a memorial on site of the Murrah Federal Building catered to this aim.
After a brief flirtation with professionalizing the process, hiring "outsiders" to make up
the oversight committee, it was determined by the interim leadership that the local
community, families of victims, and survivors had to have a degree of control over the
process." Lack of input from the families, survivors, rescue workers and others with
personal stake in the creation of the memorial was determined to be detrimental to their
well-being, and thus detrimental to the creation of a memorial that was an accurate
history of those involved and their part in the events of April 19, 1995.
What results from the work that goes into the creation of a memorial is the
mythology that follows. While the word myth can be easily misinterpreted as a falsehood,
this is not the case. A myth is the common perception of the history of an event long after
it has occurred. Myth is a common aftereffect of historical events and relates directly to
the creation of a memorial. Once a memorial institution is established, it becomes a part
of the history of the event itself. A memorial presents a direction for the discourse to
follow, and thus manipulates the direction of history. All aspects of life contain myth, but
none more prominent than those effecting the general population and more recently,
those that are broadcast via technology around the world. Roland Barthes' myth theories
are telling in how memorials attempt to counteract the effects of various events. Barthes
explains that the myth is a time-tested representation of an event and takes form as time
passes. Myth is created over the passage of time, as initial reactions and personal
4 ibid., 63.
15 Linenthal, 187.
narratives are no longer fresh it is the result of the loss of all that goes into the making
of a memorial. Events that can no longer be described by firsthand participants can only
be explained through myth, the common perception of events without the advantage of
personal experience. Therefore myth is not created by committees and influential
constituencies, but is driven by their decisions.16 While memorial content will have
influence on the eventual myth of a past event, there is no way to actually create what
will become lasting history.
The most immediate examples of the of myth exist in spontaneous memorials that
spring up long before committees meet and rules and regulations regarding permanent
memorials are formed. These small tributes contribute to the direction of historical
remembrance. Catastrophic events in the United States are increasingly met with
immediate remembrances ceremonies, observances, and temporary, spontaneous
The Murrah Federal Building site is again a prime example of population driven
memorialization and what has become part of the enduring myth of the site. By the
evening of April 19, 1995, several spontaneous memorials had already appeared around
the Murrah Federal Building site as well as outside the nearby YMCA building.17
Following the implosion of the building on May 23, 1995, an ordinary chain-linked fence
was erected. Much like the tradition of leaving objects at the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, this fence, without discussion, become a mecca to those with the desire to
leave something behind at the site (see figure 1). The fence acted as the nation's
Oklahoma City bombing memorial in the interim, while a more permanent memorial was
16 Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Ann Lavers, transl., New York: Hill and Wang, 1972: 109-110.
7 Linenthal, 119. Linenthal discusses the various offerings left at the site as well as the lengths gone to by
many, including the National Guard, to safeguard the spontaneous memorial.
under discussion. A section of the fence remains in place and continues to collect the
personal memories of those who visit the site.'
A symbol associated with the bombing in Oklahoma City is that of the Survivor
Tree (see figure 2). The emerging myth of the events of Oklahoma City is the survival of
the community, and is symbolized by the tree. An American Elm, the tree is estimated to
be roughly 80-100 years old and once simply provided shade in the parking lot directly
across Fifth Street from the Murrah Federal Building. Not long after enduring the blast -
a barrage of automobile shrapnel, pieces of the surrounding buildings, and fire the elm
sprouted new leaves and the community took notice. The tree became an instant symbol
of the vitality of the city, and the nation. As with the fence, the tree was adorned with
personal items and messages of hope and renewal. By the time the National Memorial
opened to the public in 2001 the tree had become an unplanned focus of the site, and now
serves as the institution's official symbol and logo. The tree has been adopted by both the
community and by the Forestry Services Division of the Oklahoma State Forestry
Service.'1 The National Memorial has gone to great lengths to ensure that the tree
continues to survive and offer a symbol of strength to the community, including raising
seedlings, ready to take the place of the original elm when the tree eventually expires.2"
The Survivor Tree, upon careful examination, is not merely a symbol of renewal, but a
'8 The fence itself has its own collections policy. The fence is routinely photographed and the items on the
fence remain in place for a period of thirty days, after which they are removed and catalogued in the
archives. The archives are held in the Journal Records Building, a structure that suffered damage in the
blast. This information, as well as notes that follow, discussing information gathered in the archives at the
Oklahoma City National Memorial, result from a number of site visits conducted in February 2003 and are
made possible by Jane Thomas, the Collections Manager. Ms Thomas was kind enough to invite me to
work in the archives and tap her extensive knowledge of the site and the events on and following April 15,
1995. I am indebted to her for much of the information in this paper discussing memorial policies, survivor
definition, and the symbolic memorial design competition.
9 King, Shannon. "Survivor Tree Gets a Little TLC," The Oklahoman (February 25, 1998): D:28.
0 The archives houses a small number of the seeds for cataloguing purposes. The seedlings are produced by
the State Forest Service. Ken Bays, of the Forest Service has also provided a number of the seedlings to the
families of victims during various ceremonies at the site.
myth of renewal. The myth of the tree is that all of those involved in the bombing have
healed from the event.
Myth is not quick to emerge. American memorialization is replete with examples
of places of remembrance driven by the judgments of history. How history will present
the events of April 19, 1995, and those of September 11, 2001, is yet unknown, but many
American sites of memory are prime examples of the creation of myth. The Boston
Massacre, the first violence occurring between the English and the American Colonists,
took place at the Boston Custom House on March 5, 1770. The event has gone through
historical redefinition numerous times before settling on the national myth that we as
Americans recognize today. Despite the initial uproar over the slaughter of five colonists,
for over a century the date was marked negatively,2 as a day when, after inciting the
violence themselves, the colonists involved were gunned down by the British troops
guarding the Custom House. It was not until 1886 that a symbolic memorial to the event
and those who died was proposed by the Boston Historical Society, after "the [American]
centennial helped to convince Americans that their experiment with democracy had
succeeded ... Americans began to mark the sites of events judged to be important to this
record of success."2 Until that point, the current, unadulterated perspective that the
Boston Massacre marks the beginning of the Revolutionary War was not widely held, as
"many were displeased to trace the birth of their nation to a riot in which a black man -
Crispus Attucks was the first casualty."2 The creation of a memorial to those who
died, as well as a symbolic marker that claims to indicate the very spot where American
blood was first shed, was a vehicle in creating the myth of the nature of the event, that it
is a mark in the success of democracy. The memorial is now a part of the National Park
" Foote, Kenneth. Shadowed Ground, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997:271.
Service's Boston Freedom Trail, a heavily visited walk through Boston's revolutionary
A prime example of how myth can create an environment receptive to
memorialization is in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
(Mormons), a religious group founded in New York in 1830 and systematically driven
from state to state until they were no longer within the borders of the United States.4
Along the journey that eventually led the group to what is now Salt Lake City, Utah,
events surrounding the church's beginnings and the assassination of its leaders were left
unmarked for years. In many cases, the Mormons feared the desecration of the sites were
they to be identified, notably, the burial sites of their first President, Joseph Smith, and
his brother, Hyrum Smith. The current, more favorable climate has allowed the Mormons
to create memorials to the group's struggles throughout the nineteenth century, including
the inclusion of the Pioneer Trail in the National Park Service.25 Places where members of
the church were brutalized are now home to memorials and markers to the history of the
people who had suffered there at the hands of others, and demonstrate the great changes
that can occur in how historical events are viewed by later generations.26
Myth that surrounds events such as these is always fluctuating. However, there is
a distinct difference in how we, as the current generation of memorial creators, view
myth. In the past, Americans have been reluctant to memorialize soon after an event
occurred. Thus many locations were temporarily disregarded after initial concern
regarding the event has passed. In recent times, especially in Oklahoma City and New
York, the immediate commencement of the memorial process has been important in order
24 ibid., 256. The Mormons began in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, and many of the sites of the church's
beginnings were abandoned as the group fled west. These sites have been purchased by the church and
restored during the twentieth century.
" ibid., 261.
to allow recent memory to be stored within the memorial. Accordingly, the site is not
allowed to fall victim to waning interest. By speeding up the process, the eventual myth
is influenced through the redefinition of the space as a memorial site. History will
thereafter recognize the importance placed on the memory of such an event.
There are many constituencies involved in the memorial process. By defining their
roles and the differences between these various groups the process through which
memorials are created can be better understood. For the purposes of this discussion the
constituencies will be organized into two groups: the audience and the general public. The
first group addressed will be those who witness events. This constituency must be
addressed separately as witnesses and often overlap the two categories of audience and
public. Second, the audience group will be examined, and is shown to consist of victims,
families of victims, survivors, and rescuers. Third, the general public will consist of
community members and outsiders.
The acceleration of the memorial process in recent times can be attributed to the
changing definition of the constituencies involved. The group that has undergone the most
change is undoubtedly the witness, an individual that experiences an event from a distance.
One who views any occurrence in society, whether it be a mugging on the street or the
bombing of a building, has immediate value in the retelling of the event. Our courts make
major decisions based on the testimonies of witnesses, sporting events and contests are
judged by those who carefully observe, and the news media gathers information at an
astonishing speed through the testimonies of others.
The witness's role is simply to provide a firsthand account of an occurrence.
Through the stories of witnesses, information becomes available to those who have no
connection to an event. It is through the witness that an event becomes real to those who
are not involved. As technology has created a greater ability to experience much of the
world as events occur, levels of witnessing have emerged. These levels can be defined as
eyewitnesses and indirect witnesses. Eyewitnesses are those who experience an event in
the same time and space as the event occurs. Indirect witnesses may experience an event
in actual time, through video or radio, but are removed from the site. Though previously
experienced on smaller scale events, the concept of indirectly witnessing an event became
well known after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Thousands of New Yorkers
experienced the destruction of the World Trade Center at street level, however, millions
more witnessed the very same event, indirectly, via the television, radio, and the internet.
The September 11th attacks are thus far the most widely witnessed events in human
history. As the events played out on live television the concept of witnessing began to
In reference to an individual's historical experience, Susan Crane asks "How does
history become 'personal' only when it is survived, or only when private lives become
public knowledge?"' The World Trade Center attacks give validity to the latter, though in
most estimations it would seem that history is personal through a combination of the
two. September 11th was unique in that there was little distinction between the personal
and the public. The destruction of an iconic building, a place symbolic of global commerce
and America's place in the world market, was instantly personal to most Americans. The
prominence of the two towers had drawn millions of visitors since their construction in
the early 1970s, and thus many people around the world recounted their own experiences
as the buildings fell. Just as objects in a museum can trigger associations with places,
people, and societies, live images of the collapse of the World Trade Center became
'Crane, Susan. (Not) Writing History: Rethinking the Intersections of Personal History and Collective
Memory with Hans von Aufsess," History and Memory 8 (Spring Summer 1996): 5.
personal to millions of people who made associations with their own experiences in New
York City or at the buildings themselves.
A connection with the site is a unique affiliation when defining constituencies, and
is what separates the "audience" from the "general public." James Young makes reference
to both Saul Friedlander2 and Art Spiegelman3 in making this distinction in relation to the
Holocaust. Saul Friedlander's terms "common memory" and "deep memory" are
respected in the discourse of memory in Holocaust studies, and aid in explaining the
differences between an event's audience and public. In Friedlander's examination of
Holocaust memory he describes "common memory" as memory that can diminish to the
point of allowing for closure, while "deep memory" "continues to exist as unresolved
trauma."4 While the public is decidedly aware of their surroundings, and might even be
affected by events that transpire close to home, they are generally able to recover quickly
from the impact. The audience, however, is more involved in the event itself-- usually an
eyewitness or an individual with personal stake in the space or an acquaintance directly
involved in the event. Both the audience and the public groups contain witnesses,
however they are separated by the degree of relationship to the space i.e. eyewitnesses
and indirect witnesses. Simplified, personal experience and public experience decide what
kind of witness an individual is.
Defining the constituencies of a traumatic, destructive event is problematic.
Creating specific groups with definitive qualities promotes division before the memorial
process can even begin. This delays the process and, as time passes, memories are no
longer fresh and can make it difficult to design a place that captures the many stories that
2 Young, At Memory's Edge, 12-15. Young discusses the significance of Friedlander's Nazi Germany and
the Jews, in memory discourse.
Sibid., 15-41. Spiegelman's Maus is interpreted by Young as a story of recovery, not necessarily of
4 ibid., 14.
inevitably arise. In January of 2002, while the September 11th attacks were fresh in the
minds of New Yorkers, Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times published an article
in which he suggested that the modern drive to create a coming together in society as a
"communal or national bereavement, which [a] memorial embodies" is superficial that
there cannot be both fresh memory and consensus.5 To an extent this is true. As in the
Oklahoma City memorial, the creation of a single memorial to fit an entire community and
developing an environment in which many different groups can productively interact is a
difficult task. Many of the constituencies in Oklahoma had to first learn to interact with
one another before tackling the task of building a memorial. However, through the
expression of these emotions memories that remain fresh through discussion and
debate compromise and consensus emerges.
Kimmelman's comments, however, are not off mark. Timing proved to be crucial
in many aspects in the planning and implementation of the Oklahoma memorial.
However, many constituencies brought together by the diverse, democratic fashion
through which the various committees overseeing the process were created. The groups of
audience and public play an important part in this interaction. Applying Friedlander's
"common memory" and "deep memory" a survivor and the family member of a victim are
grouped together as members of the audience ("deep memory"), and rather than fitting
into a divisive hierarchy they are both considered immediate participants, without losing
the identity of their individual experiences. Defining and understanding the individual
constituencies involved is important step in beginning the memorial process, however, not
all participants fit into Friedlander's two categories.
The victims, though undoubtedly the most dramatically affected individuals
involved in an event, is not a participant in the memorial process. Victims are those who
died as a result of the event itself and are included as a part of the audience. Families of
victims stand in as their advocates in the memorial process. For the most part, the
memorial process is centered around victims. There are two primary reasons for this.
First, a victim's personal story cannot be told. Those who perish in a war, in a terrorist
act, or even by disease no longer have a voice. The memorial, in a sense, becomes a last
statement for those who died a public epitaph. Secondly, memorials to events such as
the bombing of the Murrah Building, or the World Trade Center attacks, occur very
quickly. A memorial inevitably marks the instant of the event, and thus, the instant of
many deaths. Through site specific memorials, the memorial serves those who perished
much in the same way as a grave marker does at a traditional cemetery, by marking a
space of significance in the death of an individual.
Survivors, as those conducting initial meetings regarding the beginning stages of the
Oklahoma City National Memorial discovered, are very difficult to define. There are
many factors that play into the definition of a survivor, and these components vary in
each event. In their work, the Survivor Definition Committee in Oklahoma asked, "Why
draw the line at all? Is it really necessary to say one person is a survivor and one is not?'"
They quickly came to the following conclusion:
Members of the subcommittee were very concerned that excluding
certain individuals from the ranks of survivors could result in
discounting the experiences of countless people touched by the
bombing. So cautious, in fact, were the members, that early on they
found themselves asking, "Do we really need to narrow the
definition, or can anyone who lived through the bombing be called a
survivor?" Much discussion revealed that to call all individuals
"survivors" ultimately made the term virtually meaningless and, as
a result, was disrespectful to those who directly experienced this
' Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, "Survivor Definition for the Purposes of Fulfilling the Memorial
Mission Statement Only," 1. This document is an internal document of the Memorial Foundation and is
quoted with the permission of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
7 ibid., 1.
By creating a survivor definition that fits a "survivor" into the Friedlander model of
"Deep Memory," or as a member of the audience, rather than the general public, survivors
for the purpose of the Oklahoma City National Memorial were those who were within a
specific danger zone. The danger zone included areas badly damaged by the explosion in
which individuals were injured, or fatalities occurred (see figure 3, in which building A
represents the Murrah Federal Building). Those outside of this area, who may have heard
or seen the effects of the event, are therefore grouped with the general public, those with a
"Common Memory" of the event, but without specific traumas that are characteristic of
The immediate family members of victims also reside in this category. In
Oklahoma, as in most instances resulting in a high number of fatalities, there was much
fighting within the these groups early on a hierarchy of victims formed, making it
difficult to derive consensus among those with the most in common. For example, to
some the death of a child was viewed as a greater loss than to someone older.8 However,
consensus in a memorial does not necessarily indicate that participants in an event have
compromised their personal truths, their own stories, for the sake of creating a site
acceptable to all. Accuracy is the most important aspect of the coming together of the
constituencies. Linenthal captures this sentiment in stating that the "shared grief of
Holocaust survivors or family members and survivors in Oklahoma City does not
obliterate hierarchies. In fact, the deeply felt need to get the story of what happened to
whom, and who was affected in what ways, to get it all 'just right,' makes hierarchies
even more important."9 Hierarchy within the "families" group is complex. There are
families who lost multiple members, children, or indirect relations cousins, aunts and
9 ibid., 197.
uncles. While families and survivors share the deepest of traumatic memories in such
cases, it is often difficult for each of these two groups to accept the other as having an
understanding of the others' experiences.
There is one other constituency as deeply affected by and later involved in the
memorialization of a traumatic event. This is the group of rescuers, a part of the audience
label. No constituency has a role that varies more from one incident to the next. The
rescuers, or "volunteers," are the only group to witness the danger before making a
decision to become a direct participant. While only one "initial responder" life was lost in
the rescue effort at the Murrah Building, hundreds were killed in the World Trade Center,
putting a greater focus on the role of the rescue worker in such events. In acts of
terrorism, emergency response professionals are much like the military servicemen who
take part in organized conflicts. They represent the volunteer aspect of the event.
However, those in this role are often in the shadows. Police and firefighters are routinely
in the path of danger and it is easy for the public to visualize their duties, while it is more
difficult more shocking to visualize an office worker or a child in day-care in a
similar situation. Those who also fit in the volunteer category include ministers, mental
health workers, and others who are immediately available to the survivors and families.
These individuals are unique in that they bridge the "public" and "audience"
categories. Those who rushed into the World Trade Center and into the Murrah Building
were witnesses first, but as a result of their actions became survivors, even victims.
Simply by carrying out their positions in society, as police officer or firefighter, many
were thrust from public to participant in a matter of minutes. Volunteers in moments of
extreme danger have been memorialized in the United States for centuries. Americans have
a long history of paying tribute to fallen soldiers, activists, and public servants, including
numerous presidents. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Memorial and the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, America has long been
driven to recognize the sacrifices of its citizens.
The rescue effort at the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing exposed those
working at the site to the horrific details of the scene on a day-to-day basis. At the end of
1997, a mere year and a half after the bombing, more than thirty firefighters and members
of their families had attempted to take their own lives, and six had committed suicide.
Divorce rates, alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence swelled among those
employed with the Police Department, Fire Department, and Federal Bureau of
Investigation in Oklahoma City.' The rescue and recovery effort lasted for weeks (for
months at the site of the World Trade Center) and one by one those working at the site
carried out the victims. Even still, the Memorial Foundation's Family and Survivors
Committee did not invite rescuers to join their group until 1999, four years after the
bombing." The structure of participants the constituencies' own tendencies to remain
with their own group and not desire to work together with others who experienced the
bombing in different ways was difficult to break. However, the organizers of the
memorial process worked diligently to overcome the structure and promote a feeling of
togetherness among those so closely related to the memorial's subject. The Oklahoma
City Memorial Foundation created a mission statement that sought to recognize their
efforts early on in the process, a portion of which states:
The Memorial Complex should include a tribute to those who
helped. It should honor professionals who worked to rescue and
treat survivors and to recover victims of the blast. Such recognition
also should extend to the many volunteers who supported rescue,
recovery and medical personnel by providing supplies, food and
shelter, as well as emotional and spiritual support. Also, the tribute
should honor the spirit of unity that characterized the response of
the community and the nation following the attack, and it should
0 ibid., 76-7.
" ibid., 77.
reflect the sense of pride such responses created. It is important
that such a tribute in no way diminish the tragedy, but rather, that
it offer an inspiring contrast between the brutality of the evil and
the tenderness of the response.12
This struggle goes on today as the memorialization process moves forward in New York,
where there has been debate regarding the inclusion of a statue to memorialize members of
the Fire Department of New York who lost their lives in the Twin Towers."
The "public" role in major historical events has changed tremendously in the past
decades as technology has provided numerous ways to experience history. This has
culminated in the live coverage of the September 11th attacks. No other event has been
witnessed by so many, in real-time, from beginning to end. The high profile of the site,
coupled with the accessibility of the coverage led to a majority of the population
becoming eyewitnesses. In the "public" category there are three groups that play an
important part in the memorialization process the organizers, the media, and the
general public. To adequately discuss the contributions of those not directly involved in
the subject for which the memorial will be constructed, it is important to examine each
individually, as their goals are not always the same.
The committee of organizers of the memorial process are undoubtedly most
influential in planning and implementing all aspects of the operation. The make-up of this
organizing committee is the first statement regarding the direction the memorial itself will
take. The organizers are a new group formed from individuals selected from the
constituencies, with the task of creating a memorial that is representative of the desires
and needs of all. Thus the memorial process becomes an exercise in democracy. For
example, a committee with a membership that is diverse, representing many different
constituencies from the public and audience groups- is more likely to yield an end
' Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, "Memorial Mission Statement," 2.
3 Noonan, "September 11 Today," The Wall Street Journal, (June 11, 2003).
product that many can relate to on a personal level. A committee run entirely by the
general public is sure to miss many of the aspects that affected those directly involved in
the subject itself. A project run by a handful of individuals, representing their own desires
and impressions, produces similar results. A lack of diverse views and experiences could
have drastically changed the memorial that now stands in Oklahoma this nearly was
the case. An early leader in the process desired a panel of professional judges to decide
the outcome of the international design competition, with input from various other
sources, but with no assurance that the advice would be considered in the panel's
selections.14 As this idea was a great affront to the ranks of those with vested interest in
the outcome of the memorial project, leadership changes took place and those overseeing
the creation of the design committee, newly aware of the need for a democratic and
diverse panel, began again. While a memorial committee, such as the committee in
Oklahoma, tends to be more representative of the public outside professionals must
have a hand in such a venture to keep the project afloat financially and organizationally -
ideally those close to the subject of the memorial should be included in the process
whenever it is realistically possible.
Therefore, the organizers the panels and committees that oversee each aspect
of the creation of a memorial teeter between "public" and "audience." Though the
detail and accuracy of those who directly witness events is integral, so is public
perception. Indirect witnesses, those who experience the memorial subject in a secondary
way members of the "public" group represent the visitors of the future. A visitor, a
member of the general public, must be able to derive information from the site easily.
Therefore engaging the public is in essence a test of the longevity of the memorial.
The media has an ever increasing role in the process as well. The public receives
Goldberger, Paul. "Requiem: Memorializing Terrism's Victims in Oklahoma," The New Yorker (January
14, 2002): 91. Paul Spreiregen was hired to create the memorial committee and the international design
competition. His hiring and departure are further discussed in chapter four of this paper.
most, if not all, information regarding current events through the news media including
print, television, radio, and, most recently, the internet. Media access has changed the
way the world witnesses history. In dissecting the constituencies involved through the
defining of the two groups of audience and public, it is important to understand that the
witness overlaps both groups. Whether an individual experiences history through the
media or direct contact, a witness is created. The recent innovations in
telecommunications technology have devised the ability to easily witness history in real-
time via television, computer, even through an array of wireless hand-held devices.
The reality conveyed through the media is accentuated in times of crisis, the
ultimate example of which is the morning of September 11. Baudrillard explains that
television is no longer a simulation of reality, rather it has become a method through
which we experience reality. "We are witnessing the end of perspective and panoptic
space," he writes, "... and hence the very abolition of the spectacular. Television ... is no
longer a spectacular medium."'5 Television and internet media has created an alternate way
to experience filtered versions of realities, and create an opportunity for millions of
individuals to experience and witness events of historical significance as they occur.
This new reality creates a problem that is still very difficult to comprehend -
where does the general public fit in? First it is important not to downplay the significance
of experiencing a traumatic event through a secondary source. The perceptions of the
public are valuable as the memorial will reflect not only the stories and perceptions of
those directly involved, but of all who witnessed the event as it occurred. The winning
entry in the design competition for the Oklahoma City National Memorial was created by
designers and architects who had never viewed the site of the Murrah Building in person,
only experiencing the event via the television and reproduced materials. Yet, through a
' Baudrillard, 24.
selection committee, it was chosen by many of those who were there when the blast
occurred, and now stands at the site. Despite the difference between experiencing an event
directly and indirectly, the inclusion of indirect witnesses in the process is a validation of
the legitimacy of witnessing an event from a distance.
In recent years, witnesses within the general public have greatly outnumbered
those who are present when events of this nature take place. However, these individuals
are not to be discounted. Every participant in the creation of an institution dedicated to
memory has a specific background in regard to the event in question. Historically, many
memorials have been established well after the subject has faded into memory. As time
passes, and specifics pass as those who experienced them do, organizers have little choice
but to utilize individuals who have experience that is derived from secondary sources. The
resulting memorial, in such a case, is forced into existence by way of what information has
survived through years of indecision after myths have been created and many realities
have faded. In more recent cases, memorials have sprung up relatively quickly, while
memories are fresh and hundreds, if not thousands of individual memories and experiences
are available. From this vast library of memory an accurate and detailed representation or
retelling can be molded. It is only through the involvement of all of the constituencies that
memory can be accurately captured within the creation of a memorial.
Memorials have been a part of societies throughout the world for millennia, but
have changed, becoming remarkably complex in the last century. Rather than serving
merely as markers, historical placeholders, memorials have metamorphasized into
symbolic museums to memory. As more individuals have become involved, memorials
have taken on greater challenges and have become multifaceted, reflecting the great interest
of society in the act of recalling and preserving history.
It is rare that historical events progress in a neat, orderly line of development, and
this holds true in the historical progression of memorialization. The greatest example of
this is the absence of a national memorial to the veterans and victims of the Second World
War. While there are many memorials that relate to the war i.e. Holocaust memorials,
the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and various battlefield memorials in Europe that have been
largely forgotten by Americans over the past sixty years the push for a memorial in
the United States is relatively recent. This new interest in creating a memorial to the
veterans of World War II was spurred on by the dramatic Hollywood interpretation of
the events ofD-Day, Saving Private Ryan. Ironically, the film was directed by Steven
Spielberg, the creator Schindler's List, another highly acclaimed film centered on the
events of the Second World War, and a movie that has drawn attention in regard to
In the summer of 1996, Shimon Attie installed his project The Walk ofFame in
The writing of Stephen Ambrose has also had this effect the popularization of historical events much
in the way films have led to increased interest in history.
Krak6w, as a parody of the well-known Hollywood homage to film and television stars of
the same title.2 While his intent was not to discredit Spielberg's film, he sought to bring
the differences of film and reality to light in an area of Krak6w where a film-based tour
had been organized. Attie's installation consisted of twenty-five five pointed stars, placed
throughout the area in which Spielberg set had been constructed. Imbedded in each star
was a small silhouette of a movie camera and the name of a survivor off of Schindler's
list. "It is one thing to add the history of the film with the history of events, another to
displace the history of events with the history of the film," James Young writes. "Attie
worries that 'as actual history becomes conflated with cinematic fiction, it becomes more
and more difficult to distinguish between the two."'3
While there are many memorials centered on the events of the Holocaust, the
absence of a national memorial dedicated to those who fought for the United States in
World War II was accentuated by Saving Private Ryan, and since then a push for a
national memorial has led to the construction of a new national memorial, but in a fashion
unlike other recent memorial drives this bid is sponsored by Wal-Mart, with actor
Tom Hanks as spokesperson. One of the differences is in the time factor. Nearly sixty
years after the end of the war, emotions and memories are not fresh in the minds of those
who were there. Thus the drive to memorialize has diminished over time. Therefore, as
the traumas experienced by those who fled the burning towers of the World Trade Center
in 2001 are fresh, though always diminishing, the memorial process is more personal to
those driving to create a memorial and therefore it is less likely to become commercially
2Young, James E. At Memory's Edge, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000: 85-89.
4 National World War II Memorial, "President Signs Legislation to Expedite Construction of the WWII
Memorial." This and other press releases concerning the memorial are found on the National WWII
Memorial website, http://www.wwiimemorial.com.
In understanding the changes that the modern American memorial process has
undergone in the last century, culminating in the current competition for the design of a
World Trade Center memorial, it is important to discuss the various projects that have
influenced more recent projects. As the World Trade Center process is not yet realized,
the best example of a present-day, completed memorial space in the United States is the
Oklahoma City National Memorial. Thus, the historical influences discussed here will
relate to the finished product in Oklahoma, broken into three categories Holocaust
memorials, delayed memorials, and the representation of individuality in memorials.
Memorials to the Holocaust are plentiful in the United States and around the
world. This is not surprising as it stands as the event that claimed more victims than any
other in modern history approximately six to seven million Jews and an estimated
three to four million others (Gipsies, Communists, and Soviet and Polish soldiers) in
camps across eastern Europe.5 Holocaust memorials, as a rule, generally refer only to the
victims of the Nazi crusade to rid Europe of the Jews. The best known memorials are
those that are site-specific. Many of the concentration and work camps created by the
Nazis have been preserved as memorials to those who were victimized and as they exist
at the locations themselves, they prove to be the most powerful realizations of Holocaust
memory. Other important war sites many structures and locations utilized by the
Nazis during the war sit as though the war had ended recently, abandoned, and as
Foote describes, "scarred permanently by shame."6
In the years since the war's end and the relocation of many Holocaust survivors
and their families, museums and memorials have been constructed around the world, with
varying concepts. Most notable are the German Countermonuments structures that
test the monument tradition minimalist monuments that draw attention to themselves,
s Grynberg, Henryk. "Appropriating the Holocaust," Commentary (November 1982): 5.
6 Foote, 3-4.
that are "brazen and self-conscious" and thus call into question the narrow views
monuments have exhibited over the centuries.7 Jochen Gerz's first countermemorial,
EXIT/Materialien zum Dachau Projekt, a 1972 installation in Bochum, Germany, sought
to bridge memory of the past with the experience of the present day. Gerz's work
consisted of two rows of tables, each with a chair, twenty sets in all. Located on each
table was an album, filled with photographs of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Each
album, beginning with a photograph of an exit sign and a sign displaying the "memorial
site regulations," was filled with recent tourist photographs that relayed the site as a
memorial, not as a historical landmark.8 Through the photographs taken by Gerz while at
the site, he relayed an experience of memory memory of his personal experience of the
site as a memorial, not memory of past events. This installation, as with many of his
works that would follow (including collaborations with his wife, Esther Shalev-Gerz)
tested the definition of memory, forcing visitors to memorials to consider their own
experiences as consequential. This was accomplished by only showing photographs of
the aspects of the site unique to the memorial, not to the past being preserved -
photographs of exit signs, restrooms, and other non-historic aspects of the memorial.
While the Gerzes desired to draw attention to the factor of time in their 1986
Monument Against Fascism, they also sought to place the weight of memory on the
visitor, rather than on a eternal memorial, an object or site designed specifically as a
receptacle for memory. Without the visitor, the object would have remained blank.
Through the visitors' willingness to add their comments to the structure, and do so in the
time allotted, the memorial was complete. The minimalist obelisk, lowered permanently
into the ground on November 10, 1993, was no longer available, and thus all experiences
7 Young, The Texture of Memory, 27.
8 Young, At Memory's Edge, 122-3.
provoked by the site could no longer be resurrected through another visit, but only
through the personal memories of those who had already been.9
The newly completed Jewish Museum Extension to the Berlin Museum is another
recent memorial that evokes architectural planning as an extension of memory. Like Gerz,
Daniel Libeskind based the plan of his structure in this case an extension to an already
existing museum on symbolic attributes of the subject of the memorial. This addition
to the Berlin Museum embodies the minimalist and symbolic attributes of so many
memorial structures of late. As with the chairs in Oklahoma and the black granite wall of
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the minimalism of the Jewish Museum is unique and
simplistically symbolic.'0 The building itself is jagged, cut-through, and chaotic. Young
writes, "In its series of complex trajectories, irregular linear structures, fragments, and
displacements, this building is also on the verge of unbecoming a breaking down of
architectural assumptions, conventions, and expectations."" The building's structure is
unconventional as it includes numerous walls ending and beginning in unexpected places
and large gashes of wall removed from the side of the structure, creating the only
connection between the interior and exterior of the building. The museum's architecture is,
according to Libeskind, symbolic of the reshaping of the Jewish people following the "jolt
of genocide,"' and that architecture need not only be representative of a single meaning,
but can be the opposite representative of the quest to establish meaning.
The structure as a memorial to the Berlin Jews of the Second World War is very
9 ibid., 130-2.
'0 ibid., 207-216. Another interesting design that embodies these attributes is the proposed Berlin
Holocaust Memorial by Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra. The design consisted of thousands of concrete
pillars set across a field.
ibid., 163. There were 165 designs submitted during the design competition for the Jewish Museum
Extension and despite the jury's opinion that it was complex and possibly not able to be built, it was
accepted as the winning entry.
telling when contemplating the concept of the "void," as discussed in the first chapter.
The void for which the memorial stands is the absence of the Jewish people immediately
following the Holocaust. Libeskind, fifty years after the close of the war, sought to fill the
void by exposing the void itself. Many sections of the building are highlighted by slices of
missing wall and the interior space created by the walls call attention to large empty areas.
It has also been suggested that the jagged line of the building is representative of the
broken backbone of Berlin."
Often in history, there has been a reluctance on the behalf of the public or select
constituencies to memorialize certain events, usually as an event itself is not viewed
favorably in the eyes of present-day society. This is apparent is memorial subjects
discussed earlier the Boston Massacre, and the early history of the Mormons.
However, one recent such memorial quandary has had influence on the way Americans
have memorialized in the last quarter-century. For years the attack on Pearl Harbor on
December 7, 1941 was viewed an embarrassing defeat for an American nation that was
supposed to harbor great military strength and overwhelming superiority.14 The site was
not marked in any fashion for nine years following the attack. Many of the vessels were
repaired and sent back to sea and the the idea of a public memorial delayed by the United
States Navy, to which the land belonged. While there were several early attempts at
memorializing those who perished in the attack that drew America into World War II,
they were created for those in the Navy, and not accessible to the public who could not
gain access to the site still under military control. Beginning in 1951 a flag flew daily, over
the resting place of the USS Arizona. This was the first sign of a memorial at the site.
Eleven years later, in 1962, under the direction of the National Park Service, a memorial
3 ibid., 165.
4 Foote, 279.
was dedicated, created in remembrance of the victims, and not of the attack." As time
passed, and the condition of the sunken ship began to deteriorate, the Navy began to seek
a memorial solution, stressing that those who died needed a more fitting memorial than the
ship in which many were still entombed.6
The process of memorializing the events and the victims of December 7, 1941 did
not take as long to memorialize as the previously mentioned historical events, but has
certainly served as a reminder to modem-day memorial committees that the process can
drag on if not approach carefully. As Foote states, "experience made it easier for
Americans to decide which events fit their myth of origins and how best to mark them.
More than the other sites do, however, Pearl Harbor shows how the meaning of
America's civil shrines has to be modified to meet the demands of varying
constituencies."" While the initial notion that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a defeat did
not support the American ideal of preparedness and strength, the most influential
constituency in this case the military was able to redefine the story of Pearl Harbor
to fit the national myth of the creation of the nation. By assigning the memorial process
the purpose of remembering the great sacrifice those who died in the attack had made in
protecting the freedom of the United States, the focus was taken off of the defeat, a very
un-American ideal, and onto sacrifice for freedom, a core American belief.
Therefore, the high volume of discussion that has revolved around the planning of
the September 11 memorials and the Oklahoma project has aided in speeding the process
along keeping those closely affected by the event informed and involved and allowing
for a multiplicity of views to aid in the direction of the memorial purpose. Thus the
ibid., 278-283. The current memorial was dedicated in 1962, the visitor's center was not complete until
16 ibid., 280.
17 ibid., 283.
memorial mission is created quickly and within the national or cultural myths that give
support to the creation of memorials in the United States. Constant communication
allows the many constituencies involved in such events to have the opportunity, through
open dialogue, to learn of the experiences of one another, through which each group or
individual's memorial motives are understood.
The third historical subject through which modern memorials are profoundly
influenced is in the representation of individuality in memorials the growing tradition
of names and numbers. Increasingly, memorials, monuments, historical markers, and
museums attempt to portray the enormity of an event through the use of individual
names or the symbolic interpretation of the numbers of individuals involved. Several
letters written to the Frank Keating, Oklahoma Governor, directly following the bombing
of the Murrah Building, expressed the need for a memorial to adequately express how
many 168 people are."1 The use of many names in memorial situations came to be popular
after the close of the First World War. The Allies determined that each soldier killed in the
war should be remembered as an individual, not as a nameless victim in a war with an
extremely high number of victims. The result is a number of memorials created throughout
the battlefields of Europe. One such memorial is located in Theipval, in France. The
memorial at Theipval was created by Sir Edwin Lutyen in 1924 and memorializes those
British Soldiers who perished there at the Battle of Sommes in 1916." The graves of 600
British and French soldiers, also located at the site, sit before an enormous arch on which
the 73, 367 names of the British soldiers killed in battle are inscribed.20 A similar site -
Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 1003/box4 (Texas-Wyoming).
" Hawkins, 134.
20 Theipval Visitor Centre d'Acceuil Somme, "At Last a Visitor Centre at Theipval,"
http://www.Theipvalorg.uk/. After nearly eighty years, the French and British governments have decided
to add context to the site through a visitor's center.
another World War I memorial is located at the Mene gate at Ypres, where 54,896
names are inscribed.
This tradition has carried on and is exemplified in two more recent historical
predecessors to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the World Trade Center
Memorial. The first is in Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, where 57,939 names
presented on a v-shaped wall of black granite. Lin attributes her design to "her meditation
on the particular eloquence of the World War I cemeteries,"'2 but can also be attributed to
the work of Claes Olenburg, whose proposed Colossal Monument of Concrete Inscribed
with Names of Warheroes, In the Intersection of Canal Street and Broadway also sought
to display the names of those involved in the conflict, only on a much larger scale.22 The
quest to memorialize the Vietnam War, highly controversial as a conflict and equally as
charged as a memorial project, was headed by Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran who eagerly
put together a group to lobby Congress, intent on raising the funds necessary to begin a
memorial competition. More than 275,000 donations were collected and some 1,400
entries reviewed before Lin's minimalist design was selected." While the number of
entries to the contest in Oklahoma numbered 624,24 an estimated 1,400 unsolicited entries
had been received earlier." All five of the finalists in Oklahoma offered designs that
embodied minimalist attributes.
An often overlooked and remarkable aspect of Lin's design is in the arrangement
of the names. Her memorial is minimalist lacking detail that directs the visitor's
21 Hawkins, 134.
22 Modema Museet. Claes Olenburg: Skulpturer och Teckningar, Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1966: 17.
Olenburg's 1965 proposal included the names of those involved in the war from all nations, not only the
23 Howe, Robert F. "Monumental Achievement." Smithsonian (November 2002): 94.
24 Linenthal, 206.
25 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, letters. An early fundraising letter indicates that these
entries were sent in from 50 states and 22 countries.
thinking, instead allowing the visitor to project his or her feelings regarding the subject
onto the memorial" and names are her only details. Initially she needed to fight the
design committee to retain her design's arrangement of the names, but it has proved
worthwhile, as the concept behind her ordering of the names has inspired symbolic use of
individual representations elsewhere. This influence is evident in the order of the chairs at
the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Lin argued that to list the dead and missing in
alphabetical order would be to detract from the memorial experience. The names were
envisioned by Lin as they are today listed in chronological order, beginning at the
center of the wall with the first American fatality in 1959, working eastward to the end of
the wall, resuming at the far west end, and closing again at the center with the last
casualty in 1975. Symbolically, the names begin and end together, representing closure,
but at the same time presenting the war as it happened in chronological order -
without disrupting the design aspect by creating an alphabetical monotony.27
This concept of ordering is resurrected in the plan of the chairs at the Oklahoma
City National Memorial. The chairs are arranged to reflect the location of each victim at
the time of the explosion, placed in nine rows to mirror the height of the building. Several
chairs are gathered away from the others, on a small hill, demonstrating their proximity to
the structure, as the these victims were not within the building, but on the outside.
Maya Lin's memorial also demonstrates the trouble with choosing a jury, or
committee, to oversee the planning and selection phase that is not representative of the
many constituencies involved. As a result, Lin's minimalist memorial was viewed by the
general public, including many veterans, as elitist." Paul Spreiregen, who would later be
26 Again, see Gerz's countermonuments as an example of the concept of projecting one's own memory onto
27 Howe, 95.
28 Hawkins, 135.
fired from the Oklahoma City project as a result of his unwillingness to involve the
community, selected the professional jury." This move resulted in the committee's
inability to reflect the views of any other constituency the "audience" as discussed
earlier had no voice in the selection process. Public outcry surrounding Lin's memorial
was so unrelenting that in 1982 a popular and traditional statute, representing three
soldiers, was erected. However, the sculpture, by artist Frederick Hart, though receiving
many visitors each year, does not measure up to the steady streams of visitors who pass
along the wall.30 Though public opinion has changed, and the memorial is quite popular at
this time, the public outcry created by the process of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
served as a warning to those working on the early plans for the Oklahoma City Memorial,
resulting in the selection of committees based on a democratic system.
One reality that Lin did not anticipate when her design was selected was the
incredible number of objects that would be left behind at the memorial. Peter Hawkins
writes, "Lin believed that the names themselves would be the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, requiring no embellishment. What she did not take into account was that
mourners would try to give those names the keepsakes of identity,as if to restore to the
dead the intimate worlds they had lost."3' The public that had rebelled against the
minimalist memorial in the beginning had discovered a way to make the site more
personal. The infusion of personal memoryinto a structure has made Lin's successors
successful in their minimalist approaches to memorialization. The tradition of names
spawned a new tradition, in leaving behind personal artifacts and sentiments a tradition
that has an important role in recent memorials, both complete and in progress.
Another important example in the evolution of the representation of individuality
0 Hawkins, 135.
1 ibid., 135.
in memorials is the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The project began in 1985
when Cleve Jones, founder of NAMES, thought that perhaps if people could better
understand the concept of "one thousand deaths," if they could see one thousand
visually. Initially, Jones simply asked participants in a San Francisco march to write on a
card the name of a person they knew, who had died of AIDS. "These were then hung on
the facade of the federal building. The effect was stunning: a wall of memory that, simply
by naming names, exposed both private loss and public indifference."32 The AIDS Quilt,
an offshoot of the original cards, has grown into a mobile memorial that consists of
thousands of names. In 1992 there were enough quilt squares (each created for one
person), to fill the Washington Mall.33
Jones is in a unique situation in the tradition of memorialization in that he has
very little precedent in the memorialization of disease. While war and disaster memorials
are heavy with tradition, Jones was able to grasp what concepts fit the AIDS Epidemic
- the expression of numbers and individuality and leave others aside. Making
reference to Lin, in his use of names to express numbers and individuality, Jones steps
away from the few existing memorials to disease epidemics. Martyr's Park, in Memphis
Tennessee, memorializes those lost to Yellow Fever in the 1870s, but makes no attempt
to name individuals, grouping all of the victims together. The memorial itself-- a
concrete, doorway-like structure was not erected until 1971, one hundred years after
the subject, as an example of a time when the community had come together to defeat an
overwhelming problem. The structure offers very little in the way of historical detail and
does not include any indication of individuality." The NAMES Memorial is always in
32 ibid., 136.
" ibid., 138.
34 Foote, 104-5.
process, capturing the opinions of the public as the event continues to take place as
AIDS continues to claim lives and as squares are added to the quilt.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation's mission statement visualizes an area
that recalls the NAMES Project, as it calls for a specific biographical recollection of
individuals killed in the bombing.
Now, therefore, it is resolved that the Memorial Mission
Statement will include a requirement that one of the components of
the Memorial must be an information center, which, in part, would
include a segment consisting of: (a) biographies of the victims
written by the families of the victims and photographic
representations of the victims, and (b) stories of the survivors
written by the survivors and photographic representations of the
This was realized within the Memorial Center that now occupies the Journal Record
Building. An area is reserved for square shelves on which there rests a photograph, short
biography, and personal artifacts that create an understanding of the individuality of the
victims of the bombing.
The concept of using names to create a better understanding of the personal nature
of an event, as well as the numbers involved, has evolved over the last quarter-century.
Memorials proposed, designed, and implemented in the 1980s and 1990s have infused the
use of names into the memorial tradition, and thus, have made memorials that fail to point
out the individuals involved seem sterile, and unknowing of the realities of their own
subject. Monuments that simply point out a site and date, standing as bookmarks in the
physical landscape and in the figurative landscape of time, no longer satisfy the public
need to become close to a memorial subject. The combination of names, of exact numbers
and individuals, coupled with the interpretive openness of minimalist architecture and
design, allow visitors to easily derive personal experiences from today's memorials.
3 Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, "Memorial Mission Statement," November 14, 1995.
Without the tradition of names, as well as the notion that memorials should be conceived
while memories remain fresh, today's memorials would stand as immovable in
interpretation as the obelisks and markers of centuries ago.
Recent American memorials have taken into account numerous constituencies, the
significance of site and its redefinition, and the effects of time on the memorial process.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and the process through which it was created has
set a trend for current projects. This results from its historical predecessors as previously
discussed, as well as the nature of the event itself.
The bombing occurred at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995. As those who worked in
the Murrah Building were arriving at work, as the children of many employed there were
beginning their day at a day-care center located on the second floor, a Ryder truck
carrying a 4,800 pound ammonium nitrate fuel oil bomb was detonated at the north
entrance of the building. The blast radiated outward, destroying two-thirds of the
building, the parking lot across Fifth Street, and damaging several buildings in the
surrounding area. The truck itself was demolished and an eight-foot deep and thirty-foot
wide crater created at the time of the explosion.' In the explosion 168 people were killed,
nineteen of whom were children. An additional 398 people injured, and given medical
The blast was felt as far away as Norman, Oklahoma, a small city approximately
25 miles away. The entirety of Oklahoma City was shaken, the blocks immediately
' Oklahoma City, The City of. Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Bombing, April 19, 1995 Final Report,
Oklahoma City: Fire Protection Publications, Oklahoma State University, 1996: 10-12.
2 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 168/box2, Notes & statistics for the purpose of an
international design competition. 82 of those treated for injuries had severe enough injuries to warrant
hospitalization. Millions witnessed, via television coverage, the injured survivors emerging from the ruins
of the building.
surrounding the blast site in disarray. Glass, dust, and various pieces of cars and the
building's contents littered the area. The center facade of the building, closest to the
location of the truck, had been reduced to a pile of rubble, spilling out into the street. The
scene was, as Edward Linenthal who has written extensively on the bombing -
described, reminiscent of "images of Beirut of other cities laid waste by terrorist acts."3
In the hours following the explosion, the nation was overrun by images of the destruction
and of the survivors emerging from the ruins.
In the days that followed, the space formerly occupied by the Murrah building
was in the process of becoming a memorial. The site represented one of America's
greatest outpourings of support to a community in crisis. Spontaneous memorials -
collections of objects, pictures, cards and personal items began to spring up around the
site and at various locations touched by the event, created from objects and messages
from around the world, as well as those from the immediate area. The most visited of
these was located at the edge of the "safety perimeter." National Guardsmen constructed
a makeshift shelter for the items left by hundreds of visitors to the site. Another such
memorial took shape at the YMCA Building, and still others in close proximity to
locations affected by the blast.4
Another sign of spontaneity appeared in graffiti in several places around the site.
In one such instance the words "Bless the children and the innocent" were scrawled along
a wall of the ruins of the Murrah building.5 As this message was destroyed when the
remains of the building was imploded, it today exists only in photographs, well
documented in the museum today housed in the Journal Records Building. A second such
message was spray-painted on the side of the Journal Records Building itself. Dated
3 Linenthal, 8.
4 ibid., 119.
5 ibid., 120.
"4/19/95" and signed "Team 5," a rescue team at the site, it reads:
We search for the truth.
We seek Justice.
The courts require it.
The victims cry for it.
And GOD demands it!
This statement remains intact, marked by a small plaque, preserving one of the initial
reactions to those working to rescue those still trapped inside the building and to recover
those who were lost.
Another type of spontaneous memorial arose through the efforts of the rescuers as
they worked their way through the building in the rescue and later recovery efforts. While
the memorial is well known as the result of unwavering dedication on the part of those
involved in its conception, realization, and implementation, there is another theme that
carried throughout the site's transformation that is of equal importance. Through the days
of rescue, recovery, cleanup and demolition, construction and renewal, all of the parties
involved found a way to work with one another and demonstrate concern for each point
of view involved. With in hours of the destruction, what emerged from the warlike
environment was not a confused, unorganized, and dangerous scene, but a rescue and
recovery that played out as though scripted.
In visiting the memorial fence in 2003 one does not only find the teddy bears and
photos that have become commonplace at such "leave-behind memorial" sites, but an
inordinate number of law enforcement badges, patches, and hats. This is the result of
what has become one of the enduring legends of the bombing itself-- that, despite one
life lost in the minutes immediately following the bombing, the rescue and recovery
played out exactly as emergency "first-responders" trained for such a situation. No other
lives were lost. Various emergency agencies, volunteers, and national guardsmen worked
together to complete their task quickly and with a degree of success that was unlikely in
such an unstable structure. It has become the model emergency disaster response.6
This great coordination of efforts was made visible early on. From the skeleton of
the Murrah Building flags began to emerge, representing the agencies and branches of the
armed forces that had once occupied the building. Intermingled with these appeared the
state flags of those who had volunteered from around the nation. While these flags
created a statement of unity, they also actualized an early memorial to both those who
died and those who rushed to the assistance of those who survived. This would later
become a theme of the museum and the memorial constructed on the same site. The flags
are preserved within the museum, presented alongside photographs of their original
locations on the Murrah Building.
The fence continues to be the most popular of the spontaneous memorials at the
site. While the fence is similar to other memorials, in that sites such as the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. draw such gifts and "leave-behinds," it has a
history as a part of the initial reaction to the bombing and not simply as the end result of a
quest for a memorial at the site. Linenthal writes,
The fence in Oklahoma City was initially constructed to do what
fences do restrict access first to a crime scene, then to a
hazardous site, and then to a space that became, for some, "sacred
ground. One family member said, "The fence was a perimeter of a site
too horrible to get close to. It protected us from further physical harm
and even symbolic hard in that it held us back from getting nearer to
After the memorial had been constructed, a portion of the fence was placed at the west
end of the site as a permanent "leave-behind" memorial, intermingling the planned
6 Jane Thomas spoke of the high number of objects placed on the fence by first responders and of several
discussions that she and other staff members have had with emergency workers visiting the memorial from
across the nation.
7 Linenthal, 165-166.
memorial the end result of the process with the beginning, the fence memorial. The
fence has become such an important part of the memorial that it has a separate collection
policy from the memorial museum. Every object placed on the fence is photographed and
accessioned into the permanent collection of the museum. The objects remain on the
fence for thirty days, after which they are removed, catalogued and placed in the
An incredible volume of mail was received in the days, weeks and months
following the bombing, suggesting how, when, and even if the event should be
memorialized. Letters, design plans, drawings, and artwork poured into the Mayor's
office, the Governor's office, the White House, as well as into the hands of various other
representatives. The problem addressed by every one of these letters, though each unique
in design or suggestion, was the redefinition of the space that was once occupied by the
Murrah Federal Building.9 The suggestions broke down into several categories, the most
important of which are: Parks or public spaces, children's memorials, symbolic
memorials, rebuilding, and inaction. While these ideas were not official submissions to
what would soon after become the official competition, the Oklahoma City Memorial
Foundation took the pulse of the public through these letters and ideas as well as many
other organized meetings and surveys.
Parks and public spaces proved to be the most popular memorial idea early on.
Many suggestions seemed intent on the concept of creating something peaceful from an
event so chaotic and violent. The use of actual pieces of rubble from the Murrah Building
8 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, Memorial Fence Collection Policy. The collection policy is
an internal document used by the staff to determine when to remove items from the fence. Items that
reference an individual victim can remain for a greater length of time. Other items have become permanent
fixtures, such as a plaque remembering the victims of the victims of the events of September 11,2001.
9 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 1003/boxl-1003/box4, Unsolicited Memorial Ideas. The
statistics and general comments regarding the unsolicited memorial ideas in this paper are derived from this
location in the archives. Any opinions, quotes, or facts derived from other sources are noted as such.
came up frequently, one letter suggesting that slabs of the building itself be used in the
creation of a pathway. Overwhelmingly, those in favor of creating a park had an interest
in the memorial being inclusive and not limited to representing a narrow viewpoint, an
idea that was shared by the memorial task force early on." It was this spirit of inclusion
that led the memorial to offer both a museum and a symbolic memorial. The museum
adequately presents the details surrounding the event, and the symbolic memorial stands
as a place for all to visit regardless of personal associations. Ultimately, the memorial
would become just this, a site that symbolized personal, community, and national loss. It
is this that keeps people visiting in high numbers, even after eight years have passed.
Early submissions also focused on the number of children killed in the building.
Nineteen children lost their lives on the second level, in a day-care center, and many
letters focused on how a memorial would give comfort to the families of children lost as
well as to other kids who did not yet understand the intricacies of the event. The idea of
creating images to comfort for those visiting the site stretched beyond memorialization
for children. The building of a symbolic memorial also proved popular early on. One
letter from a citizen of Missouri stated that the memorial needed to demonstrate to the
world "how many 168 is.""
Two minority opinions were expressed through letters and early unsolicited
memorial submissions as well. The first, the idea of rebuilding, is a less shocking idea in
today's world than it was following the Murrah Building bombing. This is a result of the
definition of the space previous to the bombing. It was very easy for Oklahoma City to
relocate nine floors of federal offices, but it has been very difficult for New York to find
Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation. "Oklahoma City Memorial: An International Design
Competition," Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, 1996: 9. The Task Force had 350
volunteer members, appointed by Mayor Ronald I. Norick. The purpose of the Task Force was to determine
the most appropriate route in creating a memorial at the site.
Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 1003/box4 (Texas-Wyoming).
a way to recreate 200 floors of office and retail space in a city with little space to offer.
As New York approves plans to raise new structures on the site of the World Trade
Center, the same arguments are being raised, but by a greater number. There were several
letters focusing on rebuilding the Murrah Building as it once stood. One such letter
plainly states the author's opinion, dated May 30, 1995, a little over a month after the
bombing. He writes:
Dear Sirs, Give the world an idea of how we stand up for our rights.
Putting a memorial in place of that building gives grievers hope? Show
that you will never tolerate terrorism in our country. Rebuild to the last
nail the exact building that was destroyed. In stead of wallowing [in] grief,
rebuild the building.12
Other letters with similar sentiments exist, calling for the rebuilding of the exact
structure, or something bigger, to demonstrate the vitality of the nation and the
community of Oklahoma City."
There also were a small faction of those who felt that nothing should happen at
the site, that the building should be removed and the plot reused. In the words of one,
"[there is] no need for a memorial. This incident should be forgotten." While there are
many militias and like-organizations sympathetic to the cause of those who perpetrated
the bombing,4 the suggestions of those in favor of not responding did not claim to favor
the bombing itself. Rather, the letters relayed the opinion that the public did not need a
memorial. The families, as one submission suggested, were free to memorialize their
loved ones at a grave site, but not on public land.
The second minority opinion that was present in early memorial submissions was
a tendency toward inaction. There were several people who wrote in requesting that the
12 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 1003/boxl (Alaska Louisiana).
Linenthal writes on this subject as well, citing many letters in the archives that associate personal
experiences, such as the loss of a house in a fire, with their opinion that the building should be rebuilt.
Pages 135-140 in his book discuss these views.
ruins of the building not be touched, that the image of the travesty committed against
America should be left silent and undisturbed. This opinion represented a small a
minority. A worker who had labored in shoring up the building during the rescue and
recovery phases following the explosion commented, "I was flabbergasted. The idea that
this terminally damaged building could be left up was ridiculous.""5 While preservation of
destruction is not a new idea we have such a memorial at Pearl Harbor in the ruins of
Naval vessels, viewable from above the image of the building, it's location, and the
structural uncertainty would not permit such action. It was an idea supported by many,
citing that it was not only an event of violence, but one that resulted in the coming
together of a community. The families, survivors, and the rescue workers who risked
their lives within the wounded structure did not agree with the minority opinion of those
sympathizing with the perpetrators, and thus there was little argument when the building
was imploded at 7:01 A.M., on May 23, 1995.
The memorial at the site of the bombing in Oklahoma City is the end result of a
tireless effort to rein in the many constituencies attempting to have a hand in the creation
of what would not only replace the Murrah building, but what would represent the event
itself. As this representation would need to fit the memories of so many, it needed to
make sense to all of the groups closely involved in the tragedy. Early on, there was much
disagreement within the groups represented the families of victims, the survivors, the
community, those who witnessed the event, and even those who sympathized with the
perpetrators of the bombing. Ultimately, the complexities among these groups, as well as
within them, were overcome through a careful study of the constituencies themselves by
the memorial foundation.
" Linenthal, 140. Jerry Ennis, quoted by Linenthal, worked with Boldt Construction as they made the
building safer for those working inside.
As not much time had passed since the bombing, the beginning of the memorial
process did not run smoothly emotional meetings were unproductive and left many
frustrated.6 An early step toward the creation of a memorial at the site outraged the
majority of the constituencies involved. This occurred when Paul Spreiregen, a
Washington D.C. architect, was hired by the design committee to oversee the memorial
process. His work on several other projects, most notably the Maryland Vietnam
Veterans Memorial and the Boston Government Center, made Spreiregen a desirable
candidate. He accepted the offer and created a document, entitled "The Operation Plan
for a National, Open, Design Competition." The forty-four page manuscript was
delivered to the committee on January 10, 1996, and a mere eight days later the
committee's response came back in the form of a letter. "After considerable thought," the
letter advised, "and painful deliberations, we have concluded that while you have an
admirable reputation as a design competition advisor, we do not universally share the
same philosophical approach to the design selection process as it relates to community
The community had been upset by Spreiregen's hiring because his plan had
suggested that all of those serving as jurors on the design selection panel would be of
professional design background, and would only meet with survivors and families as a
means of adequately representing them on the committee. Dubbed "a moment of truth,"
the committee quickly gained the trust of the constituencies involved through their
disposal of Spreiregen's plan. While the problems that lay ahead for the committee would
be trying, the fact that the families, survivors, and others involved in the bombing had a
voice in the process in the form of public meetings, representatives on the design
committee, and regular updates on all progress made in the quest for a memorial made
16 ibid., 178.
17 ibid., 186-187.
for a smooth transition as the memorialization project moved from the initial setup phase
to a time full of difficult decisions regarding who and what was to be memorialized, and
what methods would be acceptable to all.
The biggest obstacle faced by the Murrah Federal Building Memorial Task Force
(later the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation) came with the need to devise a system
through which a "survivor" of the bombing would be defined for the purposes of creating
a memorial at the site. As the idea of setting boundaries to survivorship was, as would be
expected, a sensitive subject, the task was approached with care. Plans solidified to create
a document titled Survivor Definition for Purposes of Fulfilling the Memorial Mission
Statement, to find a definitive answer to questions referring to those who had lived
through the bombing on various levels.
The Survivor Definition Subcommittee expressed concern regarding the
individual experiences through which one would define his or her own role in the events
of April 15. The consensus was that many would be alienated by the exclusion of many
of those who considered themselves among the survivors, or by the inclusion of so many
that the term would render the idea of survivorship meaningless. The subcommittee
tiptoed, respectfully, between the two extremes, and was successful in that the
committee's collective eye was focused on the memorial mission statement and the
perception that survivors provide a link to the event itself that is unparalleled.
Survivorship was approached in levels. Early on, the committee understood the
complexities of involvement in the bombing, and defined survivors in several categories.
The categorization of those who lived through the blast created a hierarchy, or level of
prestige among the survivors themselves. Each level or category was to be presented in
the memorial in a distinct way. The first level, the highest level of survivorship would
eventually attain placement within the symbolic memorial itself. A wall of names (see
Figure 4), attached to the foundation of the Murrah Building, today presents those who
were physically adjacent to the site at the moment of the explosion or were physically
injured, regardless of proximity.8 Each ensuing level served to provide a place for those
who suffered in a lesser fashion, without simply excluding their struggles from the
memorial experience. A faceted definition created an atmosphere of inclusion within the
constituencies involved in the memorial process, rather than a divisive definition an
all-inclusive perimeter, or at the other end of the spectrum a narrow allowance.
As discussed earlier, the memorial process is driven by the factors of time, space,
and the constituencies involved. As a result of the massive amounts of media coverage,
the graphic pictures broadcast on television, and the large number of people in the area at
the time of the bombing, there were many effected in strictly a visual manner. This is
what made it so incredibly difficult to create perimeters of survivorship. The lines
between survivor and witness were blurred by the wide reach of the event. Media
coverage of the bombing created a larger constituency of witnesses than the nation had
Letters were received by the committee regarding closing Fifth Street, creating a
memorial for the nation, and relaying other ideas that demonstrated concern for the
community that had witnessed the event. Many wrote in expressing their thoughts on
what it means to be a survivor, expressing that witnessing an act of terror on television or
in person without being physically wounded did not necessarily discount one from
Several attempts were made, soon after the bombing, to bring together the
families of those who had perished in the blast with those who had managed to escape the
" By physically adjacent to the site, the committee referred to the immediate proximity of the following
structures: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building; Athenian Building; Center City Station Post Office
Building; First Methodist Church; Journal Record Building; Oklahoma Water Resources Building; St.
Joseph's Catholic Church and Rectory; YMCA Building; and other locations within the immediate area.
These Buildings all suffered damage in the explosion.
building. A series of "Family/Survivor Liaison Meetings" were organized, taking place in
1995 and 1996.9 Following these initial meetings, the group began to hold various social
outings and took part in ceremonies and events on the site of the memorial.
The only group that is far removed from the other constituencies is the faction
representing the perpetrators or sympathizers with those who planned and implemented
the bombing of the Murrah Building. Though this group was not directly represented at
public forums and on committees, those who sympathized with those who bombed the
Murrah Building voiced their views on television and through letters to public officials.
Interviewing and discovering the "militia culture" in the United States had become a hot
topic after the bombing and brought the extreme views of the perpetrators into the open.20
To both identify and then ostracize the culprit of the Oklahoma City event was much
easier than other past events. The perpetrators, through their own words and actions, as
well as their portrayal in the media as "right-wing extremists," separated them from all
This constituency the perpetrator with claims of patriotism is not new.
Defining the constituencies, and creating a memorial early, aid in the definition of the
role of the perpetrator as well. Kenneth Foote, author of Shadowed Ground: America's
Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, discusses other cases in which armed conflict with
the government has been glorified to avoid disturbing events that have found generally
positive place in American history. He cites events such as the Boston Massacre and the
uprising at Harper's Ferry as events in which the perpetrators can also be described as
victims. Foote writes that "if read too closely they seemed to support a citizen's right to
9 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, 168/box2, Oklahoma City Murrah Building Survivors
Association notes. Five Family/Survivor meetings took place in 1995, the first only weeks after the
bombing. The last two were held in early 1996.
20 Linenthal, 24.
lead armed insurrections against the government."2 Indeed gathering support for a
memorial that has such complicated constituencies is a difficult endeavor. The end results
of such events typically justify the means (John Brown, leader of the Harper's Ferry
uprising, was pardoned by President Rutherford B. Hayes on January 13, 1880)22.
However, memorializing an event provokes inquiry into subjects that may need to remain
historically skin deep if only to remain positive in the eyes of the majority. In such cases,
investigation of the event as well as thoughtful, provoking presentations of history are
difficult to find.
The perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing were instantly demonized, well
before the public knew the now familiar faces of those convicted. By dehumanizing those
who carried out the bombing, the other constituencies were brought closer together, as
they perceived themselves as one-in-purpose. This does not mean that the perpetrators
had no sympathizers. As a nation born out of rebellion, there have always been those who
justify violence as a means of providing freedom for themselves and those with whom
they associate. It is in the reaction of the nation that determines how history will judge
those who carry out such acts of rebellion. America came together as a nation in support
of those injured and killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and thus the perpetrators
found little support for their actions.
It was necessary to allow voices from all of the constituencies involved have a
hand in the steps related to the creation of rules, committees, and other governing bodies.
This was important as the memorial could only accurately portray their stories with
unadulterated access to the constituencies themselves. The process was meant to be
reflective of a democratic society, and this aim was accomplished through various means.
' This information is contained in John Brown's Presidential Pardon, January 13, 1880, in the collection of
the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, Santa Barbara, CA.
The criteria for the competition to build the symbolic memorial on the site was
spelled out clearly in Oklahoma City Memorial: An International Design Competition, a
publication of the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation offered to those interested in
participating in the creation of the memorial in 1996. The booklet not only briefed the
public on what had already been debated by various committees concerning how a
memorial would take shape in the city, but also provided the regulations and timeline for
doing so.2 All who had an interest in the process were involved in the creation of the
memorial contest criteria early on. Any individual interested in being a part of the process
was invited to participate through a series of innovative mail-in meetings or
question/answer periods. Each participant then mailed his or her questions regarding the
memorial contest to the Memorial Foundation by a given deadline. The questions were all
addressed and answers were then sent to everyone who expressed an interest. After
several sessions, both the public and the foundation had a firm understanding of what
would be expected in a public memorial built on the site. On January 6, 1997, the public
was briefed for the first time concerning what lay ahead for the site. Previous to the
briefing, the public had only been notified that there would be a question/answer period
deadline of January 6, 1997. All questions offered had to be received by that date. Every
question submitted was answered on paper, reproduced in bulk, and mailed to all who
had submitted questions or interest in taking part in the memorial process. There were
three question/answer periods to follow over a five month period.
The submissions themselves were viewed andjudged in two stages, allowing the
question/answer periods to be available to those who had passed the first stage, but were
eager to improve some aspects of their design. Stage One finalist submissions were due
in March of 1997, and were viewed by the families and survivors first, followed by a
" The information regarding the timeline of events are all covered in the Oklahoma City Memorial
Foundation's Oklahoma City Memorial: An International Design Competition. It is available to the public
as a document preserved in the archives of the memorial's museum.
five-day public viewing and the final viewing and deliberations by the Evaluation Panel.
In a matter of weeks the finalists (also referred to as the Stage Two participants) were
announced on April 19, 1997. Five final designs were chosen to submit more detailed
plans. The final five submissions all evoked a feeling oftimelessness, a characteristic that
was often discussed by the nine member evaluation panel. In their report regarding the
final five designs it was stated that the "common thread throughout is that each of the
selected entries creates a 'place' of remembrance that is timeless, not just an icon whose
meaning and importance diminishes as memories fade."24 As the panel began
deliberating to choose the winning entry, the issue that surfaced most often dealt with
how appropriate the design would be at the site discussions included weather
variables, the depth of knowledge necessary to understand artistic symbolism, and even
the idea that it might not be fitting for a complex memorial to reside in a small city such
Ultimately, these questions led the panel to decide in favor of a design submitted
by Hans and Torrey Butzer, with the aid of a German associate, Sven Berg. Their design
(see figure 5), despite their late decision to submit an idea (they spent only six weeks on
their submission), presents a feeling of timelessness and captures the moment of the
bombing in a symbolic way. The memorial revolves around individuals as well as the
feeling of community that sprung from the events of April 19, 1995. The Butzers were
living in Germany at the time of the bombing as well as through the duration of the
project, never seeing the site and never experiencing the onslaught of media images to
which those in the United States were subjected. Torrey Butzer explained that their
inability to travel to the site was helpful in their design process. Indicating that they were
24 Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives, Selection Committee Report, March 1997.
- Linenthal, 210-216. Linenthal provides an excellent break down the the five entries as well as the
thoughts of the panel in regard to their final decision.
far removed from the event itself and from the iconic images of the day (the survivor tree,
the baby and fireman), the Butzers were able to "isolate the meaning of the event" and
create a space that is isolated from its surroundings.26
The memorial today evokes this approach. The grounds are split into areas
devoted to different aspects of the site. The survivor tree, while part of the symbolic
memorial, is not a part of the interior "room." This room is created by two walls, one at
each end of the section of Fifth Street that once stretched out in front of the Murrah
Building. The walls bear the inscription of the minute before the bombing, and the minute
after. Thus the moment of the event is defined by space, and represented by both the
outline of Fifth Street, as a reflecting pool, and the footprint of the building (see Figure
6). The footprint is a grassy area, enclosed by the reflecting pool, the two walls, and the
foundation wall of the building. Across the grass, in nine rows (representing the nine
floors on which people perished), 168 individual chairs sit empty, facing Fifth Street, the
source of the disaster. 19 chairs are noticeably smaller, as each represents a child lost in
the explosion (see figure 7). In an area known as "the chapel," a niche beside one of the
walls, the names of the survivors, as defined by the Survivor Definition Committee, are
engraved in stone and placed on the foundation wall. While each chair represents a
specific individual (their names, visible at night, are engraved in each glass base), the
field of chairs is also representative of the number of fatalities. Thus the memorial is
more than a marker for the families of the victims, it is a timeless reminder of the large
number of citizens of the city who lost their lives in a single moment on a specific day.
The memorial today is a frequently visited landmark in Oklahoma. In addition to
the symbolic memorial, a memorial museum opened in 2001, providing a timeline of
events as well as explanation of the outdoor memorial design and the significance of its
- ibid., 216-7.
many aspects. One innovative theme that runs throughout the museum and the memorial
is the importance of visitor interaction with the site itself. While memorials such as the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial have always attracted gifts and "leave-behinds," the
Oklahoma City National Memorial encourages more. The memorial fence does echo
many of the individual acts of remembrance present at other memorial sites, but two
specific locations request messages from the visitors to the site. On the memorial
grounds, there are large blackboards integrated into a path in an area dedicated to
children. Buckets of chalk sit against a tiled wall, available for writing or drawing
thoughts and messages along the path. A similar concept is present inside the museum.
Visitors are encouraged to sign a guest book and to decorate or inscribe a magnetic tile.
The tiles are placed on a wall until space dictates that they are removed and archived in
the museum. Visitors leave with the sense that they have contributed to the space, and
that the site is a place of continuous growth and change. As a nation of witnesses, all are
meant to feel welcome to the continuing memorial process in Oklahoma City.
The contest itself was a turning point in the creation of national memorials as it
represented the first instance of such a widespread effort. In recent years, the Lower
Manhattan Development Corporation has not only heavily utilized the resources available
at the Oklahoma City National Memorial visiting the site and meeting with memorial
staff regarding their experiences in the process but they have also emulated the
competition which was announced in early 2003. This is most evident in New York's
implementation of an international competition and inclusion of representatives of many
constituencies in the process. The most remarkable aspect of the Oklahoma City contest
exists in the foundation's early decision to be inclusive in the overseeing of the entire
process and in turn this has become a model for current memorial projects.
In examining the methods through which memorials have been created in the last
century, we can better understand current projects and the memorials of our future.
Memorials are more often constructed today, rather than the monuments of old stark,
narrow in view and offer a method through which memory can be preserved and
interpreted through individual experience. The redefinition of the space on which
memorials are constructed results from the actions of constituencies from whom
memorials receive an enormous amount of information. These constituencies have been
greatly involved in recent memorial projects and are responsible for the memorials that we
have today memorials that are open to interpretation and replete with information and
personal narratives. Without the lessons of past memorials, and the knowledge of the
inner-workings of recent projects such as the Oklahoma City National Memorial, future
individuals would not be able to learn from the wealth of information and discourse that
remains a part of recent memorials.
The most notable aspect of the April 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, to many in
this nation, is that an American was responsible for that horrific day. It is difficult for
some to comprehend a warlike gesture coming from a fellow countryman,' especially a
man who seemed, in so many ways, an average American a decorated war veteran from
middle America. More recent events have created a face for terrorism that points the
finger away from ourselves, presenting a face behind such acts that allow Americans an
Linenthal,16-40. Chapter 1: Falling into History, discusses the disbelief that the perpetrators were
Americans. Most initial reactions by the press and analysts on television news programs claimed that the
act itself was most assuredly Middle-Eastern in nature.
outlet (of war, retaliation, defensive action). This outlet did not exist in Oklahoma City -
there was no war to be fought, only the same criminal courts that remove ordinary
criminals from society. Many see conviction and execution as a small price for the
With so much energy to dispel a tremendous void to fill there springs the
most notable, thoughtful, and democratically created memorial in the nation. It is a
testament to the loss and the resolve of the Oklahoma City Community. Their struggle to
create an effective memorial space has proved an example to those currently grappling
with similar issues, though on a larger scale. The memorial that results from the efforts of
those in New York will need to take into account the lessons learned in Oklahoma. As the
process is in its beginning stages, similar committees and organizations are conducting the
business of bringing together the community and searching for commonality in the desires
of each group represented the families, survivors, rescue workers, and the local
An undeniable aspect of recent memorials is that they are tools for teaching future
generations. Through many memorials the struggles of a generation can be made concrete
and provide firsthand knowledge of events that will be viewed through the lens of history.
This eventuality is a known consequence of the memorial process. This is as evident in
the disagreements among those involved in the current push to memorialize the events of
September 11,2001, as in Oklahoma City a short time ago. While Oklahomans
eventually embraced a process that sought to included a variety of individuals, this was
not the initial direction of the process, and New Yorkers are demonstrating the same
misgivings. Peggy Noonan recently asserted, in the Wall Street Journal, that "they [the
World Trade Center Families-of-Victims organization] want it clear that no one was better
than anyone else, that all alike were helpless, victims."2 The decision that so many are
arguing over involves the erection of a statue to honor those who lost their lives while
saving others. This debate stands as an example of the power of time and participants in
the memorial equation. Over time the views of participants change. Much is gained from a
a memorial that is created quickly. Individual memory is easier to recall if recounted
before much time has passed. The memorial can become more about making politically
pressured decisions than accurately portraying the personal narrative and experience.
Noonan's opinion is clear, and tends to reflect the decisions of those who directed the
memorial in Oklahoma. "To leave a heroic statue of the firemen out of a WTC memorial
would be as dishonest as it would be ungenerous, and would yield a memorial that is
primarily about victimization. Which is not what that day was all about, as so much
history attests." Just as Oklahomans struggled to define who a survivor was in the eyes
of history, New Yorkers are struggling with how to adequately differentiate between
those who ran down the stairs of the World Trade Center and those who willingly went
The factor of time has been tested at both extremes in a variety of memorial
situations. While outcomes vary noticeably, we see in many twentieth century memorials
that over time, an event without a stable memorial has little chance of retaining the details
and personal aspects of its history. This is evident in earlier American historical events
such as the Boston Massacre and the history of the Mormons. Once memorialized,
details concerning the importance of such events have become a part of our history,
accepted as historical fact. Promptly developed memorials, such as those regarding the
Vietnam War and the Oklahoma City Bombing, have solidified early views, initial
reactions, and firsthand accounts, enabling the events themselves to be experienced as
2 Noonan, Peggy, "September 11 Today: Looking Back, and Around, 21 Months After the Day That
Changed (nearly) Everything," Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2003.
history. Time is an important aspect in the memorial process, but a delicate one in that it
is not easily controlled. As time passes, years of working closely with other
constituencies on memorial projects may create an atmosphere of unity, however, the
fresh experiences of those who were directly involved in the event are hardened by the
experience of returning to the routines of ordinary life. Thus a memorial created long after
an event will not be created around fresh memories memory that has not changed after
years of returning to the day-to-day routine.
The constituencies involved in memorial building drive the process through their
participation. How the creators are organized greatly influences the outcome. Processes
that involve many individuals from various backgrounds are more likely to produce a
memorial that reflects a multiplicity of viewpoints. The organization of those charged
with the creation of a memorial has a great deal of influence over the redefinition of space.
The space, the visible representation of tragedy, is the most apparent indication of
the void left to be filled by a memorial. The memorial design competition at the World
Trade Center site will offer Americans the most difficult memorial decision in the nation's
history. The destruction of the country's most conspicuous and symbolic structures
creates high expectations about what will occupy the same space. While the successor to
the buildings themselves has been decided, the memorial spaces, the footprints of the
Twin Towers, remain available to the winning entry of the memorial competition. Just as
in Oklahoma City, those affected by the events of September 11 desire this space to be a
place to remember and a place that stands permanently as a teaching tool for future
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._ "(Not) Writing History: Rethinking the Intersections of Personal History
and Collective Memory with Hans von Aufsess," History and Memory 8 (Spring -
Summer 1996): 5-29.
Foote, Kenneth. Shadowed Ground, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.
Gieryn, Thomas F. "Balancing Acts: Science, Enola Gay, and History Wars at the
Smithsonian," The Politics ofDisplay: Museums, Science, and Culture, New York:
Routledge, 1998: 197-228.
Goldberger, Paul. "Requiem: Memorializing Terrism's Victims in Oklahoma," The
New Yorker (January 14,2002): 90-91.
Grynberg, Henryk. "Appropriating the Holocaust," Commentary (November 1982):
Hawkins, Peter S. "Naming Names: The Art of Memory and the NAMES Project
AIDS Quilt," Thinking About Exhibitions, New York: Routledge, 2000: 133-156.
Howe, Robert F. "Monumental Achievement" Smithsonian (November 2002): 91-
Kimmelman, MichaeL "Out of Minimalism, Monuments to Memory," New York
Times (January 13, 2002): 2:1.
King, Shannon. "Survivor Tree Gets a Little TLC," The Oklahoman (February 25,
Laub, Dori. "Truth and Testimony," Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995: 61-65.
~ -: -.
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Figure 1. Oklahoma City National Memorial Fence
Photograph by A.J. Belmont
Figure 2. Survivor Tree
Photograph by A.J. Belmont
"' "=="-" ,
L __I 1.1"
Figure 3. Survivor Definition Perimeter
Oklahoma City National Memorial Archives
Figure 4. Survivor Wall, Oklahoma City National Memorial
Photograph by A.J. Belmont
Figure 5. Memorial Model
Oklahoma City National Memorial
Figure 6. Oklahoma City National Memorial
Photograph by A.J. Belmont
Figure 7. Oklahoma City National Memorial
Photograph by A.J. Belmont
Albert J. Belmont was born in Greenwich, Connecticut. He received his bachelor's
degree in 1999 from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley College in illustration. His
professional experience includes positions at the Samuel P. Ham Museum of Art at the
University of Florida and at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Jacksonville,
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts.
Associate Professor of Art and Art History
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts.
Assistant Professor of Art and Art History
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts.
Ko ry iver-Smih5r
Curator of Contemporary Art
Samuel P. Ham Museum of Art
This thesis was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the College of Fine Arts and
to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of Master of Arts.
August 2003 aL& ju'K-'
Dean, College of Fine Arts
Dean, Graduate School
074 FB 202
10/27/03 3476t .