Sacred Spaces – Part 1

Sacred: highly valued and important; deserving great respect

What makes a place sacred?

 Loss of life?

I live near the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War that took place July 1-3, 1863 in Gettysburg. In one single day, 57,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured.

http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

Brady photo

I always have trepidation when visiting memorial sites…frequently I find them too big or too controlled or too orchestrated or too pedantic and the emotions too difficult to access. I want to honor those who died and somehow connect to the feelings of those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children who suffered their loss.

From our double-decker bus, we look across fields where 8000 soldiers were buried; 3000 horse carcasses burned; where the smell of blood and death and smoke permeated the land for weeks. We drive by the monuments erected to commemorate each regiment or battalion. (The difference escapes me. At this moment in time it hardly matters.)

There are 1,300 granite, marble and bronze monuments and markers throughout the 6,000 acres. The survivors erected many of the monuments. http://celebrategettysburg.com/civil-war-journal-18.html

imagesLincoln wrote in his Gettysburg address:

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The battlefields envelop the town of Gettsyburg with its souvenir shops, fast food places, and points of interest – like the home of Jennie Wade wedged between a Holiday Inn and a gift shop. http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/mcclellan-house-jennie-wade-house-battle-damage/

 Jennie Wade – 20 year of age – was hit by a stray bullet that passed through her kitchen door as she was making bread. She had been baking for the hungry soldiers who appeared at her door daily.

McClellanHouse01210901_s

It is said that her mother baked 15 more loaves after seeing her daughter die.

It is said Jennie was the only civilian casualty of that battle.

Is that place where she fell, sacred?

What makes a space sacred?

Acts of social change?

Heifer International Headquarters are located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Rock is experiencing a downtown renewal and a focus on sustainability – and the future.

imagesHeifer headquarters received a platinum LEEDS rating – fully sustainable. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. http://www.usgbc.org/

A year ago, I was invited to exhibit my work: Heifer Relief: Compass, Ark, Berth as part of the 70th anniversary commemorating the Seagoing Cowboys.

http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/blog/2014/March/honoring-heifers-history.html

Little Rock is also home to the Clinton Library. The structure cantilevers over the Arkansas River echoing Clinton’s campaign promise of “building a bridge to the 21st century.”

clintonlib1Little Rock is also connected to the past. From the Clinton library, it is about a 30-minute walk to Daisy Bates Drive through long established neighborhoods filled with Colonial revival, craftsman bungalows, four square homes – reflecting a diversity of design that at one time reflected the diversity of the population in the early years of the city

2120 Daisy Bates Drive is the location of Central High School – a National Historic Site.

litlrck1

Daisy Bates published the Arkansas State Press – an African American advocacy publication – highlighting among other issues – violations of the Brown V Board desegregation ruling.

Bates was the adviser to 9 students, known as the Little Rock Nine, as they attempted to enroll in the all-white Central High School.litlrck2

Inside the Visitor Center the displays tell the story of the civil rights movement leading up to the events in Little Rock. There are oral histories, video, photos, timelines.

http://www.nps.gov/chsc/index.htm

Outside the Visitor Center you step back in time. The houses that existed in 1957 still stand. The trees are taller. A restored Mobil gas station anchors the corner and Central High School occupies an entire block.

Today, 2419 students attend CHS. And in the late afternoon sun on a sultry afternoon, a diverse body of students – white, Asian, African American – stream out of the building at the end of the school day.

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of violence?

In 2001, I visited the site of the Oklahoma City bombing while conducting interviews related to the WW2 McGinty – the ship on which my dad had served in WW2. I wanted to know if the ship and crew had been stationed at Nagasaki after the bomb. If so, it may have contributed to the rare cancer he had. He could have been classified as an atomic veteran and possibly qualified for benefits.02McGinty

After months of research in the National Archives, I found the name of the ship’s doctor that served with my dad. He was living in Oklahoma and invited me to visit and interview him. I learned more about his life on the McGinty and life on a destroyer escort but not the answer to my question.

It was several years after the Oklahoma City Bombings when I entered the museum doors. I had to leave midway as the displays were too graphic, too violent, too raw.

In the field next to the reflecting pool stand 168 chairs – in nine rows to represent each floor of the building. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children.

Chairs

This year, some of those pre-schoolers would be graduating from college.

http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/secondary.php?section=2&catid=30

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of heroism?

The site of the crash of Flite 93 is spare and somber. Unlike the Oklahoma City Memorial site located within a city with its buildings, gardens, museum, Flite 93 Memorial is located off of Highway 30/Lincoln near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm

The approach to the site and visitor center is along a winding road through wildflower fields and wetlands. At the time of the crash, the site was being restored as a wetlands park in a former coal mine.

As you crest the hill to the parking lot, nothing resembling a traditional memorial is visible—no large visitor center blocking the view; no museum buildings. (The Visitor Center Complex is under construction and scheduled for dedication, 2015)

There are several small kiosks with photos of the 40 passengers and crew who died. There is a walkway – a black walkway – lined with stone barriers into which small niches are carved to provide places for notes, mementos.

Flite 93-1

There is this ever-present insistent wind that accompanies you along the path. There are ‘listening posts’ where you hear architects explain their design.

As you stop at each numbered post, it is easy to separate yourself from the reality – the memory of the event – the sacredness of the place.

Suddenly, you realize you are following the flite path taken by the plane as it was directed by the passengers…to crash.

Midway along the path, you notice a large boulder and a grove of trees – some old, some tall—swaying in the wind. They seem to be protecting a small group of newer saplings. In 10 years time, they have grown enough to begin to eradicate the black hole punched into the grove of trees by the crashing plane. http://www.nps.gov/flni/planyourvisit/planttreesflni.htm

Hemlock grove

It has been more than 150 years since the battle of Gettysburg

It has been 57 years since the Little Rock 9 entered Central High School.

It has been 19 years since the Oklahoma bombing.

It has been 13 years since 9/11.

In 13 years, a grove of trees fills an empty landscape.

In 19 years, an entire generation of preschoolers has graduated from high school.

In 57 years, there is an African American President.

In 150 years, battles are re-enacted without shedding blood.

George Santayana:

We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.

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One comment on “Sacred Spaces – Part 1

  1. Margaret says:

    You ask such poignant questions – I love the way you weave things together! Wonderful, thought provoking writing at its best! Thanks for sending!

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