Bombing memorial museum to open Monday


Friday, February 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The voices on the audiotape are talking about an application for a ground water permit. Then it happens.

Visitors to the new museum at the Oklahoma City National Memorial will know what's coming.

But they will have a hard time stopping themselves from flinching when they hear the sounds of the explosion from the truck bomb that ripped apart the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

Panicked screams and scuffling crackle through the speakers at the museum, which will be dedicated Monday by President George W.

Bush.

The museum makes good use of the only audio recording of the worst terrorist act in U.S. history. The recording came from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, which was meeting in a building across from the federal building when the explosion went off.

As museum visitors hear the blast, photos of each of the 168 victims illuminate on a wall. Then they slowly fade into darkness and the doors of the small room open to the rest of the museum, called the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center.

"The next chapter is chaos," says center chairman Bob Johnson, stepping into a room filled with mangled office supplies, piles of car keys and watches and mounds of concrete rubble.

A tiny white and pink sneaker -- the one 4-year-old Ashley Eckles wore that spring morning -- is enclosed in a glass box with other victims' shoes. Susan Ferrell's brown leather briefcase is there, tattered and scratched.

Marshall Getty, who was working in the neighboring Journal Record Building when the bomb went off, donated his torn wool sports coat. The coat was hanging on the back of his chair during the explosion. He survived, maybe because he wasn't sitting at his desk.

A pair of mini blinds from the old Journal Record Building, the building that now houses the museum, are twisted and covered in soot. Workers recovered a mangled metal file cabinet, flattened by the weight of the Murrah building ceiling that caved in on it.

The museum is on the Oklahoma City National Memorial grounds, where 168 empty chairs sit along the side of a long, slender reflective pool. Bronze gates labeled with "9:01" and "9:03"

stand at the ends of the pool, symbolically encircling the moment of the explosion.

The museum includes some 500 photographs, two hours of video, hundreds of artifacts and 12 interactive computer stations with information on terrorist groups, the investigation and the victims.

"A person could spend all day," said Johnson, who expects the tour will be highly emotional for many visitors.

"We've tried very hard to tell the story powerfully enough that people don't forget what happened. And we've tried hard not to sensationalize it or make it offensive."

The part of the museum focusing on Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols is small and devoid of large pictures or detail. It's called the "wall of justice" and Johnson says organizers didn't want to "glamorize the perpetrators."

Toward the end of the museum, visitors can sit on a bench made from Murrah building granite surrounded by the photos of the 149 adults and 19 children killed. Each photograph sits inside a glass case. Many cases also contain mementos -- such as Bibles, figurines and dress-up shoes -- donated by the relatives of the victims.

The last exhibit is about hope.

Water flows down a wall and a television plays a recording of the Nichols Hills Elementary Varsity Choir's performance at the opening of the memorial last year. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me," they sing.

"We wanted to leave people with the feeling that there is hope to come out of this," Johnson said. "There's an element of serenity with the moving water."

A section of the museum is especially for children, featuring television monitors with people explaining the bombing in simple, non scary terms.

"We hope that there will be yellow school buses lined up outside this museum every day," Johnson said. "We want to help parents instill in their children a mindset that will prevent another Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols."

Congress approved $5 million for the creation of the museum.

Endowments, membership dues and admission fees -- $7 for adults, $6 for senior citizens and $5 for students -- will fund the daily operations.

A gift shop sells books written about the tragedy, photographs of the American Elm dubbed the "survivor tree" and clothing.

Johnson admits it was a difficult to decide whether to sell T-shirts and sweat shirts at the center. But, he said, organizers thought it was appropriate.

"All of this is intended to make sure visitors never forget what happened here," he said.