Image by Walter Bibikow / Getty RF
The story of the worst incident of domestic terrorism in the US is told at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, which avoids becoming mawkish and lets the horrible events of April 19, 1995, speak for themselves.
There are two facets to the poignant memorial - the outdoor memorial and indoor museum. Visitors to the museum can take a self-guided tour through the stories of those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever by the incident. It also traces the world’s response in the aftermath of the atrocity.
The moving outdoor Symbolic Memorial has 168 empty chair sculptures for each of the people killed in the attack, with the 19 small ones representing the children who perished in the day-care center. The museum and memorial are must-sees for those visiting the city of Oklahoma.
History of the memorial and museum
Perpetrated by anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killed 168 people, injured more than 680 others and destroyed more than one-third of the building, which had to be demolished. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius, shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings and destroyed or damaged 86 cars.
In 1995, Oklahoma city mayor, Ron Norick, appointed a 350-member task force to explore ways to remember the tragic event and honor the victims. It issued its report, the Memorial Mission Statement, in 1999. This called for the creation of a permanent memorial to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever by the bombing.
In September 1996, the task force became the Oklahoma City National Memorial, dedicated to fulfilling that mission. Committees were drawn from the families of those who were killed in the bombing, survivors, first responders and volunteers who participated in the rescue and recovery efforts, as well as community volunteers.
The outdoor Symbolic Memorial was dedicated on April 19, 2000, by President Bill Clinton, and the Memorial Museum was dedicated on February 19, 2001, by President George Bush.
What to do at the memorial and museum
Visitors to the outdoor Symbolic Memorial find a moving place for quiet reflection. It encompasses the now-sacred soil where the Murrah building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated by the attack. Each chair in the Field of Empty Chairs represents and memorializes a person killed in the bombing.
Check out The Survivor Tree, an American elm that bore witness to the violence and withstood the full force of the attack. It continues to stand as a living symbol of resilience, and the circular promontory surrounding the tree offers a place for gathering and viewing the memorial.
The Memorial Museum is an interactive learning experience that occupies the west end of the former Journal Record Building, which withstood the bombing. Take a self-guided tour through the story of the atrocity, the trial of the perpetrators and the world’s response to the incident. The museum uses 35 interactives as well as hundreds of hours of video and artifacts to show visitors the personal and poignant details of the devastating attack .
Tickets and other practicalities
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is located at 620 N. Harvey Avenue. The Symbolic Memorial is free to visit and open to all 24 hours per day all year-round, while the museum is closed on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. There is free parking with admission at Memorial Garage, located at 231 NW 6th Street.
Museum tickets for adults cost $15, seniors and military pay $13, school and college students pay $12 and children aged 5 and under go free. Tickets can be booked online here.
Accessibility at the memorial and museum
Designated accessible parking spaces are available on 6th Street between Harvey Avenue and Robinson Avenue on the north side of the museum. Designated wheelchair-accessible entrances are in place at the memorial.
The entrance to the museum is wheelchair accessible, along with each floor of the museum and all restrooms. Elevators are located on each level. Manual wheelchairs can be obtained free of charge from the admissions desk.
Each video within the museum is open captioned and the app provides a tour for visitors with sight disabilities.