Oklahoma City National Memorial is a Fine Memorial, But It's Not a National Park

There are 168 memorial chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, one for each of the 168 people who died in the April 19, 1995, terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Though a fine memorial, this site is not a national park. Photo by
Darwinek via Wikipedia.

Oklahoma City National Memorial is not a national park. One might therefore reasonably ask why the National Park Service advertises this site through its master website as though it were part of the National Park System.

The principal access portal for online information about the national parks is nps.gov. This URL is unquestionably one of the most important tools the Park Service provides to the public, and the prime reason is its wonderful search features.

Once a person has reached nps.gov, he/she can identify national parks in several ways. One way is to locate parks by geographic area. The NPS conveniently provides a map for that purpose (just click on the state or territory you are interested in) as well as a standard scroll down box (scroll to the state or territory you want). A search done this way will identify every national park in a particular state or territory.

Another option available at nps.gov is the Advanced “Find a Park” Search Tool. (That option is listed near the top of the page right under “Find a Park by State.”) Once you get into the advanced search section you can find a park by name, location, activity (hiking, boating, etc.), or topic (mountains, Civil War, etc.). In other words, you can refine your search.

If you already know the name of the national park and just want to go to that park’s homepage, you can use the View all Parks A-Z website. Although primarily suited to alphabetical searches, which are very fast and efficient, this site also allows you to search for parks by geographic area or zip code.

Can a person – say, a vacationer, journalist, or student doing a book report -- reasonably assume that the facilities and sites he/she is directed to via these search portals are actually national parks? Of course they can make that assumption. In fact, it is the sensible thing to do.

How sad, then, that you cannot trust the National Park Service’s main search tools to do what they purport to do. To understand these search tools and use them with confidence, you have to have special knowledge the public does not possess. You have to be “in the know.”

Take for example, Oklahoma City National Memorial. This fine facility, which commemorates the April 19, 1995, terror bombing that killed 168 people, is labeled a national park in the search tools. It is identified as such regardless of whether you search by geographic location or by name. In fact, search for it any way you like, and you will be led to believe that is a national park.

But it’s not a national park.

So, how does the National Park Service let you know that you’ve been directed to a national park that is not a national park? The Oklahoma City National Memorial website has a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section with fifty-five (55) asked-and-answered questions. (If this FAQs hasn’t set a world record for number of asked-and-answered questions, it’s got to be close.) OK, so start at the top of the list and start scrolling down. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Bingo! There it is, number 52 on the list, and this is how it reads:

52. Is this a Federal or State designated park?

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is an affiliated site of the National Park System, and is privately owned and administered by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. The National Park Service provides the interpretive services on the OUTDOOR SYMBOLIC MEMORIAL through a cooperative agreement with the Foundation.

Translation: This is not a national park.

It is used to be, though. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was established by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Act, which was signed into law on October 9, 1997, by President Bill Clinton. At this point, the site was a national park.

However, on January 23, 2004, President George W. Bush signed legislation that transferred the Memorial to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, the NGO that originally raised the money and built the Memorial and Museum. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Park Service continues to provide to the affiliated unit the same level of interpretive services it always has for the part of the facility consisting of the 3.3-acre Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, whose Gates of Time symbolically frame the moment of destruction (9:02 a.m.).

A cynic might ask whether the agreement also included a provision that the National Park Service must continue to advertise the site as though it were still a national park.

Comments

I agree that the OCNM is not a national park, however, because it is a very importnant piece of American History, that is a popular place of interest, and this may be one of the reason's that it is listed on the NPS's website (besides the reason(s) given in the article). Unless one has visited the site in person they will not fully understand the impact OCNM has on every person who visits (I know, I was one who did). There are plenty of Memorials across the nation that are not parks, but I assume that they are probably also listed somewhere on the NPS site and have the same FAQs indicating that they're not an actual park, but an affiliate, and therefor listed with NPS as park like.
Example: Cemeteries are not Parks, but goto nationalparkstraveler.com and search for "Arlington National Cemetery" and you can find ANC listed on "nps.gov" because it is a park (http://www.nps.gov/archive/arho/tour/parkinfo.html ) "Park Information"
"Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial is part of the National Park System and is a unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a 7600-acre national park area protecting the landscape, native habitat and cultural history of the Potomac River shoreline. " (Last Updated: 20 October 2006, 7:40 AM by Keith Drews).
Notice right in the opening page quote that it reads "part of the NPS" I believe the reason ANC is listed as a park is because of every man and woman that served this country to defend our rights for the "pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness" w/o the guarantees of absolutely receiving them.
As Janiskee points out it is all about the "know" of what you are looking for and how much research you are willing to put forth in the truth of your information and passing there onto.

This is a case where I feel I am too close to make an objective call on this topic.

I remember clearly that day when the Murrah Building was blown up, taking all those lives, including the kids in the day care center. I remember it so clearly because I have friends in the greater OKC area and instantly feared for their lives (they actually didn't work anywhere near the place).

I wonder if this incident has happened too recently for the NPS to make the call whether or not to mark the site. In the aftermath of any tragedy, you want to memorialize the incident. But, years later, one has to ask if the incident in question was historically significant. Did the OKC bombing result in a fundamental shift in America?

I look at the Port Chicago site in California, part of the NPS. It marks the explosion of weapons transports in WWII that killed hundreds of men ... mostly African-Americans who were working the docks without any safety equipment or rudimentary training. That was an event that led to further tragedy (court-martials of African-Americans who refused to go back to work under such conditions) and eventual changes in military safety rules and racial discrimination. That was an event that led to direct change in the country.

So, the question is: did the OKC bombing cause a sea change in American life? Frankly, I can't see that it has, other than in the lives of those directly affected. It was just an isolated incident by a couple of nut jobs. The country went on the way it always did -- until 9/11, that is.

==================================================

My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Interesting points, Bob, Anonymous & Paul "Barky" Dionne:

Of course, we have memorials that ARE units of the National Park System (the Lincoln Memorial & the Roger Williams National Memorial, for example, of many) and others that are not.

Many "Affiliated Areas" -- units that are not part of the National Park System but were designated by Congress and do have a built-in relationship with the NPS -- are included in the NPS website, and look a lot like parks in that site. In several cases Affialiated Areas are as significant as National Parks but are not owned or administered by the NPS, so the congressional protection strategy was to make them Affiliated. The Touro Synagogue National Historic Site -- an Affiliated Area-- is, for example, is an extremely important piece of colonial architecture and also has a nationally significant history, but it continues to be an active synagogue and generally the policy is active churches cannot be administered by the US government. The NPS tried to put together a policy statement on Affiliated areas, but it was a pretty silly and contradictory document.

Oklahoma City National Memorial has very troubling issues all its own.

First, though, Paul "Barky" Dionne, I would argue that the Oklahoma City experience DID have an impact on the nation. I wouldn't try to compare it to the Port Chicago, of course.

Prior to OK City bombing, there was building in America a vigilante-type rhetoric and hostility to government. The press was full of government agents being shot at, lots of talk about the legitimacy of the "posse comitatus" movement, talk about government agent's in Black Helicopters and on and on. In Oklahoma City, there was an enormous sense of common ground, and recognition that the many federal workers killed in the building were good community members and what each of them did as individuals and as government workers was important. That spirit in Oklahoma City went Nationwide as people everywhere responded in their hearts to what had happened. When it became known that the killers were anti-government fanatics, that only reinforced the feeling. There was a real lessening of hostile comments by right wing congressmen and women, as they realized that kind of talk no longer would play in Peoria, or any where else. Yes, we still have Limbaugh and some outrageous stuff on the web, but for the most part the American People got a wake up call on who the real enemy is.

ON THE OTHER HAND, how the park was set up and how it was managed out of its NPS status, THAT is something else. This is the text book case in how not to do, and what happens if you do.

For the congressional designation of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, there was no normal "special resource study" prepared in advance by the NPS to guide the development of the project or the legislation. An SRS managed by a good team of planners has the opportunity to develop close connections over time with the stakeholders, which leads to the development of the right sort of legislation for a site. Especially in the case of a partnership site, like a heritage area, the most successful sites are the ones where the NPS and the site partners develop a strong relationship long before the bill passes congress.

But Senator Nichols (R-OK) approached this differently. He is the father of both the park designation, and de-designation. Senator Nichols was never known as a friend to the National Park Service. (Perhaps this reputation is unfair, and I hope Friends of Nichols at this site will get a whole lot of comments demonstrating Senator Nichols as a secret admirer of parks and preservation.) When he ran the finance committee he kept a very tight lid on overall NPS spending, or any preservation spending for that matter. But he had the power to ram an extremely unorthodox bill through Congress to do something he normally did not like to do -- spend money on national parks -- to authorize the creation of the park and spending park money on its development. No prior relationship had been developed with the stakeholders, national or local, and NPS staff.

Immediately the local stakeholders objected to federal hiring rules and federal contract rules. The first park superintendent was highly regarded in the NPS both for holding up the standards of the NPS, while also for advocating for the needs of the local stakeholders. But he was soon gone. Then Mary Bomar, the current Director of the NPS, was named superintendent, her first superintendency. Senator Nichols conveyed to us in Washington that he was highly impressed by Superintendent Bomar. Soon after, a new deal was arranged cutting out the park status and a great deal of the NPS authority over who the money was spent. Rather than this being a disaster in the career of a brand new and sparcely experienced superintendent, Mary Bomar was instead promoted Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park, one of the real jewels among the historic parks of the nation. The Philadelphia newspapers suggested that the previous superintendent was being pushed out for not being supportive of "park partners." When Mary Bomar arrived in Philadelphia, her Press Release said she had great success working with partners. This is a new meaning of 'success.' There is lots of evidence that the interpretive story in Oklahoma City was very tighly controlled by the local stakeholders, and little sign that anyone asserted the normal expectation that the National Park Service must make sure that the whole story is told.

It is hard to imagine more inappropriate behaviour than Senator Nichols first ramming through a new national park without a study as required by law, and without developing any relationship between NPS and the stakeholders, never clearly preparing the stakeholders for what a federal designation would mean, and then after the bulk of the money flowed in, working out a way to strip away the federal accountability and designation for the site, but then still continuing to create a pipeline of money to the future. The NPS people working there do not have any authority over the management, but are there to lend the international identity and repution of the National Park Ranger to the site, while depriving the NPS of any authority that usually goes along with the NPS credibility. All the effort conducted in good faith by the first park superintendent to try to implement Nichol's law was completely undermined and cast aside. This is certainly a new definition of "park partnership." Lucky for Mary Bomar that she did not have to stay and work with what had been so quickly created, or broken down depending on your point of view.

Senator Nichols then went public after September 11, 2001 opposing the federal appropriation for rebuilding New York City in the wake of the attacks there. It is interesting though, in the same way he could not keep Hilary Clinton and George Bush from getting the money for New York, Nichols could not be stopped in the way he went for the park in a lawless way and the money for Oklahoma, and then pulled the rug out.

Meaning no measure of disrespect either to the thousands of victims past and those to become so in the future, but does this set a precedent for the NPS to be given the go-ahead to commence "advertising" this and other soon-to-be memorials to the victims of domestic and international terrorism, particular to incidents that occur within our boundries? This harkens back to a previous discussion about what qualifies as "worthy" of NPS considerations to be in the all-inclusive club.


Lone Hiker is making an important point.

Since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has capture the imagination of so many Americans, there is becoming an immediate 'default drive' to construct a memorial as 'closure' to every tragic drama of death and loss. Not very long after 911 in New York a plane crashed having nothing to do with a world-historical issue. It was a horror of course for the families, and great and real empathy swept the city, so soon after 911. From the perspective of history, it was another tragic plane crash. But it became politically essential and inevitable that the City design and install a memorial, because now it seems a memorial is the only response people can think of to sudden and dramatic tragedy.

This is not the same as a memorial commemorating a critical piece of American history or to commemorate the life of a historically significant person. Such as the Lincoln Memorial, or the Arch in St. Louis to commemorate western expansion.

Lone Hiker clearly has no intention of disrespect toward the dead. I don't, either, but I am concerned that even discussing the possibility that a federal memorial is not always appropriate will no doubt arouse opprobrium from some. Part of the problem here is you can't even openly discuss whether such an event is nationally significant during the living memory of the event.

But to me some of the memorials that immediately follow mass death feel more like large graveyard monuments, of particular significance to the family and friends of those who were lost.

From a national perspective, how can this be the way to determine what is nationally significant about a site? What if the event that seizes the public's sympathy or fear is one of a kind, with no particular long term significance. What if it is one of a series of far worse struggles with terrorism?

What would London be today if, at the site of every night of bombing by the Germans the British established a memorial? Over 50,000 people died in London during the blitz, over a period of time. Should the site of every tragedy be frozen for all time?