Thursday, August 14, 2014

My First American Tragedy

I was a freshman in college in Washington, DC on September 11, 2001. You could see the smoke from the Pentagon quite clearly from my dorm room window. As one of the few people from Southwestern PA on campus, everyone was freaked out because before the specific town of Shanksville was named, news reports kept mentioning Pittsburgh as another plane crash site. This was a time before everyone and the dog had a cell phone (smart phone wasn't in the lexicon yet!), so there was some concern on my part as to exactly how close all of this was going to directly affect me. It was the first major incident to occur in my adult life- but it was not the first American tragedy I could remember.

Dropping a lil' patriotism for ya...
Image from
The first major incident of American tragedy in my lifetime that I can actively remember was the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. I was in middle school, and it was my birthday. I'm the nerd that had a morning routine of watch the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric. The entire morning was coverage of the events that had happened the day before- pictures of the building nearly completely gone, people asking about where their lost loves ones could be, everyone asking how and why this event happened. (Note: it was the day after that I learned about it because I was already in school by the time the bombing occurred). As a kid, I knew that something bad had happened, and that the city looked a complete mess, but I couldn't fully grasp the magnitude of the events. My mom was glued to the TV- I watched and tried to understand, but the concepts of such devastation were a bit too much for me to comprehend. 

I mean...yikes!
Image from
Enter the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. When I knew I would be going to OKC, I told myself if NOTHING else, I wanted to go to this museum and learn about this event as an adult that can now fully appreciate what happened.

Walking into the Memorial
West Gate with the minute after the bombing marked.
The outdoor memorial was absolutely breathtaking. The first thing I thought about was the long stretch of memorials in DC. I later learned that the reflecting pool is the actual spot where the bombed Federal Building stood.The two large entryways represent the east and west ends of the building- one impressed with 9:01 the other with 9:03. These represent the minutes before and after the bombing that occurred at 9:02 am April 19, 1995. There are brass chairs to the side of the pool representing the 168 lives lost that day.

Art that was on display inside of the Murrah Building
Once you get inside the museum and get to the floor where your self led tour will start, you enter a room filled with art and everyday items that explain how ordinary that morning began. You learn about all the government agencies that had meetings and what the meetings were to discuss- all pretty mundane things. A guide is standing near a door with a timed entry. When you enter, you walk into a dimly lit room set up like a very boring office. I'll let you see what happens:

Let me first say I hope I'm not breaking any laws or major rules posting that- I thought it was very creative, moving, and special and really wanted to remember it always and share it with my readers.

From there another set of doors open and you enter a room with loud news reports declaring that the building has exploded, and above your head is an actual support beam from the former Federal Building. Display cases feature like items that were found in the aftermath- most of whose owners perished in the bombing. 

Simulated office with a clock that stopped at exactly 9:02am
Keys found after the bombing
The rest of the museum takes you through the initial shock- how loved ones and so many children were killed or injured. There are films, photos, clothing items- many smeared in dirt and tattered. It was all very emotional and powerful-- but most of all respectful. Even when they got to the areas that discussed how Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried this act out, the museum portrays just the facts and allows the visitor to develop and process their own emotions. Perhaps the most moving things I remember were seeing part of the actual vehicle used in the bombings, and then later a memorial room where all the victims were pictured with items their families selected to represent their loved ones. I thought it was a touching reminder that these were people that had personalities, quirks, and were still very much so missed by their families. 

License plate from the vehicle used to bomb the Murrah Building
At the end, they added some non-historical education with an exhibition dedicated to the science behind the crime scene investigation- I didn't spend too much time here as I needed to get moving to my next destination, but it seemed a lot more hands on and had more detailed information about the trial and convictions of the criminals who did this heinous act. 

Words cannot explain how moved I was by my experience here. This story, although I knew the bare bones details, seemed to truly grow and develop in front of me. I cried, felt a wide range of emotions, and actually felt a little pang of guilt that it took 19 years for me to truly "get" how serious this was. On top of that, the museum is BEAUTIFUL. I mean, the story is super well done, everything is clean and well maintained, the staff was friendly, and it was appropriately neutral. Yes, you are meant to feel emotions as you come through, but the museum doesn't tell you what those emotions should be, and I fully respect and appreciate that. 

American flags on display at the museum that survived the bombing

I encourage everyone to come and see this museum! 

(For the record, I do plan on going to see the 9/11 Museum in New York whenever I get there...but that's another day, another post!)

In the meantime, I still have a few Oklahoma posts to go, and as we know I'll be in a "new" state (Georgia!) for Labor Day weekend. Thank you so much for reading my blog, and as always I'll see you on the next adventure!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Beats N Burgers

So, the heart of the reason why I ended up in Oklahoma in the first place. If you remember last summer I went to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, states I was able to cover en route to the National Convention of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity and Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority. I am a Life Member of Tau Beta Sigma, having joined at THE Eta Delta Chapter while playing clarinet in the marching, pep, and concert bands of Howard University.
That's me and my friend/ soror all first met her on my Illinois entries
I won't make this a post about the great feats and accomplishments of my organization, but I will say that sorority membership has allowed me to travel to many states and cities over the years. This time, my musical family brought me to the state of Oklahoma- where our National Headquarters is located. We gathered to dedicate a memorial garden in honor of our recently deceased founder Wava Banes Turner Henry.

That's Wava!
So, enough mushy mushy. Back to the reason you come to my blog! Stillwater is a city about an hour away from Oklahoma City. It's the home of Oklahoma State University, and again, the National Headquarters for our two organizations. I'll be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of ritzy glitzy stuff to do there- in fact it appeared most of the city was simply the campus of OSU, which is also THE largest campus of any school I've ever seen. Outside of the actual dedication ceremonies, most of my time spent in Stillwater was spent socializing with friends and fraternal family.


One place I did get to visit though was a spot called Eskimo Joe's. It was STUPID packed, and obviously owned by a super proud Republican- the owners have signed PERSONALIZED letters from both President Bushes and their wives hung in the gift shop. The letters mentioned their famous cheese fries- something that everyone said we should try. However, we weren't actually that hungry so my sorority sister and I ate very light meals.

Eskimo Joe's

I ordered an Oklahoma traditional food- an onion burger- although it wasn't called that on the menu. Onion burgers started decades ago as a way for restaurant owners to stretch their beef longer. Once beef prices dropped, many just kept it up because the burgers just tasted great that way. 

My onion burger
EJ's wasn't a disappointment. The food was good, and once we were seated we were served promptly by a super friendly waitress. We even got cute souvenir cups with our drink orders. In fact, minus the stupid long wait (which is not their fault) I have no complaints. I DO, however, have an observation. The logo for Eskimo Joe's (as a black woman who is very aware of race issues in my country) sorta bothered me. I mean- it's an Inuit person with huge teeth and squinty eyes. Granted, I am apparently the only person who noticed this. I mean, it would be the equivalent of having a Native American mascot with cherry red skin or an African American mascot with big pink lips and a watermelon slice in their hand. But. They've been around for 20+ years, and seemingly haven't needed to address this. More power to them. I don't think they are intending the image to be harmful or know. Kinda noticeable.

Also ironic they chose a cold weather mascot in a city that was 105 degrees the entire
time I was there lol
Well readers, I still have quite a few entries for Oklahoma, and God-and-finances willing I will be in Atlanta, Georgia in a few weeks. You KNOW I've already got my touristy plans brewing. Until then, thank you all so much for reading along for my journey, and as always, I'll see you on the next adventure!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Proof Museums Can Be Fun- Even For The Reluctant!

My first day in OKC ended with a visit to the American Banjo Museum. Let me add that I was not alone. I was with a fraternity brother and sorority sister who were less than enthused about visiting this museum, but they were humoring me I suppose. We had coupons and a Groupon that made it even more affordable to visit and made it even more difficult to argue against visiting.

The escape from the oppressive 105 degree heat into the museum's generous air conditioning alone was reason enough to pay a few bucks to enter, but (as I, the museum lover, tend to do) really enjoyed my visit here. Amazingly, my friends did too- even if they weren't convinced it was really worth their time.

When you first walk into the museum, you are introduced to the history of the banjo via an 8 minute presentation. It starts with the above grandfather and child having a conversation about the boy learning how to play the banjo. (Interesting fact, they were fashioned after the Henry O. Tanner painting "The Banjo Lesson".) From there you listen about the African roots the physical instrument has, and then move forward through it's place in American culture from slavery to minstrel shows to jazz to bluegrass.

From there you enter into a large, L shaped gallery that has some pictures and neat posters and information posted about the development and advancements in banjo manufacturing and musical influence, but what will stand out most are the dozens and dozens of beautifully ornate banjos. Seriously. When I thought of banjos previously, I thought about hillbillies and instruments made out of scrap metal. These were NOT that. See for yourself:

From there you walk past biographies of some of the more famous banjo players, and then head upstairs to find even more banjos including a very rare 1929 Gibson bass banjo.

There was a very catchy song playing on the second floor (it was actually The Gang That Sang "Heart of My Heart"). It came out of an exhibit that looked like an old school pizza parlor that talked about the band/restaurant named "Your Father's Mustache". It was an interesting surprise, but hilarious thanks to this sign here:

C'mon. THAT is FUNNY! And clever!
At the end, as we prepared our journeys off to Stillwater and Langston, we talked with the lovely woman at the front desk, who invited us to try our hand at playing one of the hands-on banjos at the front. It was a lot of musical fun that I was glad to share with my friends (especially as I gave them a semi-lecture of "See! You thought I was crazy but we enjoyed ourselves!).

More Oklahoma blog entries to come over the coming days. In the meantime, feel free to look at the rest of my Facebook photos from Oklahoma and all the states I've visited for the blog thus far. You can also check out a video I shot of a video in the museum (please don't hate me oh copyright lords and ladies!) and a photo of me awkwardly holding a banjo while my friend takes my picture.

Thank you so much for reading my blog, and as always, see you on the next adventure!