One hundred sixty eight empty chairs sit in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.
A little more than a three-hour drive from campus stands a memorial to the second deadliest terrorist attack ever on American soil.
On the morning of April 19, 1995, scores of people lost their lives in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. One life for every chair.
Pushed from the American consciousness after 9/11, the tragedy that unfolded in Oklahoma doesn’t weigh on the minds of most Americans everyday.
I came across the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum on a whim. Not ready to call it a night after Saturday’s football game in Norman, Okla., some friends and I decided to make the short drive north to check out what Oklahoma’s capital city had to offer.
Only after someone mentioned we should visit the memorial did I even recall the events that transpired there more than 13 years ago. After driving about 20 minutes north of Norman, we reached our destination.
Parking the car in a post office parking lot just a little after midnight, we crossed the street to a chain link fence holding keepsakes and paper tributes to the dead. Situated just outside the interior of the memorial, this section of fence was installed to protect the blast site right after the bombing.
Sun-bleached letters of condolence are barely readable after hanging there since 1995.
A picture of two teenage girls sits atop a photo of two toddlers. Now, presumably in high school, they were barely old enough to talk on the day their mom never came home from work.
Moving into the memorial site, the eyes are drawn to the Gates of Time.
These large black granite structures mark two very different moments in the city’s history.
Facing the highway in the distance, the first gate reads 9:01 in an illuminated white font, a time that represents the city’s innocence.
The second gate reads 9:03 and represents a city forever changed by a bomb contained within a yellow Ryder truck.
The time of the blast, 9:02 a.m., does not appear anywhere in glowing white text. The impact of this minute lies in between the two gates.
There, the empty chairs sit where the Murrah building once stood. Each of them bears the name of someone killed in the blast. Dotting the grass are 19 chairs smaller than the others, representing the 19 children who died.
None of us said a word as we gazed at the chairs. The city around us was engulfed in a silence in which a deaf man could hear a pin drop. I couldn’t imagine a better atmosphere.
A 180-degree turn from the chairs leads toward the Survivor Tree, an American elm that was directly in the face of the blast that suffered almost no damage. Today, it stands as tall and strong as it ever has in its 80-plus years.
Just beyond the tree is the Journal Record building, the former home of Oklahoma City’s business and legal newspaper. The side facing the Murrah Building has been left exactly as it was after the bombing.
Windows were blown out and large chunks of brick are missing. Miraculously, no one in the Journal Record building was killed.
On the right side of the scarred wall, a message was written in seven rows with black spray paint by a rescue worker:
We Search For the truth.
We seek Justice.
The Courts Require it.
The Victims Cry for it.
And GOD Demands it!”
With that, we walked by the museum, which closed much earlier in the day, and headed back to the car.
As I looked behind me, I saw these words illuminated on one of the Gates of Time: “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.”
A mere three hours away from campus is the site of a forgotten tragedy in American history.
A visit will change your life, and 168 souls will be glad to see you still remember.
David Hall is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Kingwood.