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Explore Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

Updated on December 12, 2017
Urbane Chaos profile image

Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.

On April 19, 1995, at precisely 9:02 in the morning, one of the most tragic events in the history of the United States was unfolding.  Within 48 hours, one hundred and sixty-eight people would be dead, among them, nineteen innocent children.  Prior to the World Trade Center bombings, this was the worst terrorist attack to have occurred on U.S. soil.

Before the Attack: Events Leading up to the Oklahoma City Bombing

The attack was fueled by another tragedy that happened exactly two years earlier. On April 19, 1993, after a 50-day standoff with the FBI, seventy-six people were killed in a fire that destroyed a Cult Compound near Waco Texas. Followers in the Branch Davidian cult refused to negotiate with FBI agents, and David Koresh, the leader of the cult, was adamant that they stand their ground. His decision would prove to be his downfall. In all, seventy-five of his followers, including Koresh himself, died in the inferno.

People from across the United States watched the events unfold in horror. In the days and weeks that followed, resentment grew towards the U.S. government in the handling of the crisis. Many people began to blame the government for the tragedy, and one in particular decided to seek vengeance.

Timothy McVeigh, an army veteran, had become disillusioned with the country he fought to protect. He felt that those lost in the inferno deserved retribution and began to lay plans to enact his retaliation.

Timeline of the Oklahoma City Bombing
Timeline of the Oklahoma City Bombing

McVeigh carefully planned his revenge for the second anniversary of the Waco disaster.  He enlisted his friend Terry Nichols and several others to help him pull off his plan.  They purchased large amounts of fertilizer and stored it in a rented shed in Herington, Kansas.  The fertilizer held the main ingredient for the explosive.  They then stole other supplies needed for the bomb from a quarry in Marion, Kansas.

Two days before the Oklahoma City Bombing, McVeigh rented a Ryder truck and loaded it with approximately 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.  On that fateful morning of April 19th, he then drove the Ryder truck to the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.

Angered at the FBI and especially the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), McVeigh then lit the bombs fuse, parked the truck at the front entrance, calmly walked across the parking lot to an alley, and then started to run.

Destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
Destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

The Bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and the Aftershock

By the time that McVeigh had left, most of the employees of the Murrah Federal Building had already arrived and the daycare on the bottom level was already bustling with noisy children. They went about their tasks just as they had on any other day. Within moments, the lives of one hundred and sixty-eight people would end.

At exactly 9:02 a.m., a huge explosion tore through the building. Almost all of the north face of the nine-story building was instantly pulverized into rubble.

After weeks of sorting through the wreckage 168 people were found dead, including 19 children from the daycare.

It took only ninety minutes for the authorities to catch McVeigh. He was pulled over by a highway patrol officer for driving without a license plate, but the officer soon discovered that McVeigh had an unregistered gun. The officer immediately arrested him on a firearms charge.

It didn’t take long before authorities discovered his ties to the Oklahoma City Bombing. They were able to trace his purchases and rental agreements prior to the bombing and concluded that he was the one they were looking for.

A modern-day hero at the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing
A modern-day hero at the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing

McVeigh was convicted of murder and conspiracy and on August 15, 1997, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He was executed on June 11, 2001. Terry Nichols was brought in for questioning two days after the blast and was then arrested for his role in the bombing. On December 24, 1997, he was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. In 2004, he again went on trial for murder charges by the State of Oklahoma.

The burnt out shell of the Murrah Federal Building was demolished on May 23, 1995. In 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum was built on the location to remember the tragedy of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Panoramic View of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
Panoramic View of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

Oklahoma City National Memorial Gardens

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum pays tribute to those whose lives were shattered by the events of April 19, 1995. The memorial gardens now rest where the Murrah Federal Building once stood. Powerful imagery permeate the gardens, inspiring all who visit to reflect on both the past and the future.

Centered within the Oklahoma City National Memorial is a massive reflecting pool. This pool occupies what was once N.W. Fifth Street. The smooth waters sooth the soul as one reflects upon the tragedy that happened on this site.

The Gates of Time stand like lone sentinels at either end of the reflecting pool, marking the moment of destruction. These gates mark the formal entrances to the Memorial. The East Gate represents the innocence of the city before the attack, visibly marked at 9:01 a.m. The West gate represents the tragedy of a loss of innocence, visibly marked at 9:03 a.m.

Immediately west of the reflecting pool, the Field of Empty Chairs lie vacant, as if waiting for the lost to occupy them. The 168 chairs represent the lives lost, and stand in nine rows to represent each floor of the building. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Among the chairs, nineteen smaller chairs rest vacant. These small chairs represent the nineteen children that died in the attack.

The Survivor Wall located on the eastern end of the Oklahoma City National Memorial are the only remaining walls from the Murrah Building. Over six-hundred names are inscribed on the salvaged pieces of granite from the building. These walls were left in remembrance of those who survived the terrorist attack.

Perhaps the most striking image in the Oklahoma City National Memorial is the Survivor Tree. While much of the surrounding area was destroyed by the bombing, this American Elm withstood the full force of the attack. Though damaged, the Survivor Tree serves as a living symbol of hope and strength.

The Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
The Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
The Field of Empty Chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
The Field of Empty Chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
View of The Gates of Time and the Reflecting Pool at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
View of The Gates of Time and the Reflecting Pool at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum

The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum takes visitors on self-guided tour through the history of the Oklahoma City bombing.  This chronological tour develops the story from the first moments that employees enter the building, through the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, and finally through the reactions and investigations following the event.

The Memorial Museum offers a unique glimpse into the story of the bombing, separating each exhibit hall into chapters. 

Upon first entering the building, one is presented with an in-depth display on terrorism.  This background prepares the visitor for the stories to follow. 

Immediately following this display, a small area examines the history of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.  Graphics, detailed models, photos, and artwork left behind after the blast decorate the hall.  Each display gives the visitor a feeling that they have been inside the building.

The following chapters in the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum cover the blast itself.  An audio recording of the blast is played as one sits in a mock hearing room.  Photographs and videos enhance the feeling of confusion that those inside the building felt after the blast.  Finally, remnants of chaos fill the end of the hall.  These rooms are littered with damaged furnishings, pieces from the buildings, and personal items, while the sounds of police and emergency radios permeate the halls.

Chapters 4 through 6 show the reactions of the blast as special reports filter through the airwaves and family members wait in agony.  A special hall highlights survivor experiences through video and interactive computer stations.  The photos and videos of the rescue and recovery efforts are strikingly vivid.

Chapters 7 and 8 represent the healing process while paying tribute to those 168 who were killed during the bombing.  Photos and personal effects of each of the victims form a special memorial hall in Chapter 7. 

The next chapter details the Oklahoma bombing investigation.  Evidence found at the site is displayed as a sad reminder that tragedy can happen anywhere.  Notebooks and other documentation detail how the authorities tied McVeigh to the bombing.

The final chapter in the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum represents the hope that can arise from any tragedy.  This chapter documents how the community has rebuilt since On April 19, 1995, and includes individual stories of endurance.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a place not only to remember the past, but it is also a place to learn about our own humanity.  It is a place where our true human spirit flourishes, and it is a place that proves that there is always hope no matter what fate foretells.

Images of Hope and Remembrance from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
Images of Hope and Remembrance from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

© 2010 Eric Standridge


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      My mother and I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and I also wrote about it. Your hub is wonderful and I'll happily link it to mine. Useful and up!

    • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Standridge 

      10 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

      One, you're absolutely right about that. I was still a kid when it happened, so much of the impact of the event escaped me. I still never really understood until I visited the site, and it was then when things really hit home. Still, to me, it wasn't a place about loss, it was really a place about coming together. I only hope they can create something as powerful where the twin towers once stood.

    • onegoodwoman profile image


      10 years ago from A small southern town

      It IS sacred ground. I visited it with my 14 year old daughter........

      Years later, it remains, a focal point of our shared memories.


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