POINT OF INTEREST - OKLAHOMA CITY NATIONAL MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
April 19, 1995, was a dark and tragic day in Oklahoma and American history. On that day, two domestic terrorists motivated by anti-government sentiments prepared and detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The explosion killed at least 168 people, including children in the site’s daycare center. Nearly 700 others were injured, and the building sustained so much damage that it later had to be demolished. Close to 600 other buildings in the vicinity took damage ranging from destruction to shattered glass. In addition to the human casualties, the blast resulted in approximately $652 million in damage. To this day, the Oklahoma City bombing remains the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history. More information can be found here.
Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum consecrate the site and commemorate the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all others affected by the bombing. Authorized in 1997 by President Bill Clinton, the memorial was dedicated in 2000 on the fifth anniversary of the attack, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well. The museum opened to the public on February 19, 2021. The Oklahoma City National Memorial Trust operates the memorial, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation administers the museum.
Among the site features are the Reflecting Pool, the Survivors’ Wall and Tree, and the Rescuers’ Orchard. The pool is a thin layer of water flowing over black granite at the site of what used to be Fifth Street. On the north and east sides of the original building, portions of the walls remained, and the names of hundreds of survivors are etched there today. A large elm tree on the site received serious damage but survived, and people have planted thousands of trees from its seeds all over the U.S. The Rescuers’ Orchard is a grove of trees around the Survivor Tree and represents the rescuers who came to the aid of the survivors. Additional information.
Perhaps the best-known and most moving feature, though, is the Field of Empty Chairs. 168 chairs created from bronze, glass, and stone sit empty in 9 rows that represent the 9 floors of the destroyed building. Each chair honors one of the fallen and his or her name engraved into it; the 19 smaller chairs present symbolize the children who perished in the attack. Three unborn children died that day as well, and their names are etched along with those of their mothers.
At the museum, a Gallery of Honor memorializes all those who lost their lives in the bombing. At the site, archives document the site history, records from the professional response to the attack, the impacts of the attack locally and nationally, and details of the investigation and trials that ensued. Museum parking is free with paid admission, and tickets are available for purchase online.
The memorial itself is free for anyone to visit. It is open 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. On every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, National Park Service rangers are present to answer questions.