I’m jumping around the timeline now. I was in Oklahoma last week. The day I arrived, within about an hour, Oklahoma experienced a tornado. But a couple days later, all was sunny. I saw the Memorial to the victims of the Murrah Federal Building bomb attack on both the rainy day and the sunny day. On the sunny day, I was looking north.
Visiting the memorial museum was, of course, intense. It explores the bombing and its aftermath in very specific, detailed ways, using every medium available. It is the ultimate “found art” museum, and since all the found objects were thrown off by this horrific attack, they connect you directly to the lives of the victims — and their murderers.
I saw a datebook, all scuffed and crumpled, open to April 1995. The owner of the book died. For some reason I found it quite moving that he had put a yellow sticker on April 15 to mark the full moon — the last one he was alive to see. I saw the famous axle from Timothy McVeigh’s rented truck, the one bearing the VIN number that helped the FBI finger him. I heard a recording of a water board meeting in a nearby office, which picked up the sound of the loud explosion. I saw shreds of clothing, shoes, watches, jewelry recovered from the blast, often damaged, and now on display.
These little items are the only way to understand what happened.
This museum has hundreds of such items, plus photos, TV clips, and lots of text explaining the various things that happened. The writing is clear and restrained, and never indulges in the bathos of political posturing. The only place you see that kind of thing is on the contemporaneous video clips — mostly from Bill and Hillary Clinton, whose “feel your pain” exercises apparently worked for them back then, but seem like self-parody from this distance.
When the bombing happened in 1995, my son was 4. I still remember his little toys from back then. We got a lot of Disney stuff, some of it from McDonalds, promoting movies like Winnie-the-Pooh and The Lion King. The last room of the exhibit is for photos of those who were killed, each one inside a clear plastic box with a little ledge for personal items family members might have wanted to include. Many of the kids from the day-care center who died had Disney toys just like my son’s in their boxes. Seeing those things was a blow to the gut. Thinking, my boy’s almost 18 now, ready to graduate from high school, thank God, something those Oklahoma children never got to experience. The whole world was made up of these toys. That’s what they knew.