Names on a Memorial: Into the Earth (Memorials Discovered by the Strategic Information Arrangement Class)
Today is Memorial Day. On Friday the American military announced its 1000th death in Afghanistan. Yesterday, British Petroleum announced that it failed in its fourth attempt to stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
We study name arrangement on memorials during the final week of my online Strategic Information Arrangement class at Simmons College. That week includes an optional forum question asking class members to describe a memorial neartheir home.
Jared Stern, a Brandeis University pre-school librarian who also works at the Boston Public Library, told us about the New England Holocaust Memorial by Stanley Saitowitz, with Polish extermination camps represented by six columns extending six feet into the earth and 54 feet into the sky. Smoke rises from “smoldering coals” toward the columns’ glass panels filled with 6,000,000 numbers evoking the tattoos of Holocaust prisoners.
Some panels have quotations instead of numbers. Jared included one in his remarks: “At first the bodies were burned, they were buried. In January 1944, we were forced to dig up the bodies so they could be burned. When the last mass grave was opened, I recognized my whole family, my mother and sisters and their kids. They were all in there. (Motke Zaidt, a Holocaust survivor who was deported from Lithuania and forced to work the death detail in Chelmno.)”
Beth Toren, Web Services Librarian at West Virginia University Libraries discussed two types of memorials for the mine disasters in her state. An April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners. The community responded by building spontaneous memorials such as one with pieces of coal painted white with the names of those who died written in black. It sits on lace on the ground with a cross.
The Sago Mine exploded on January 2, 2006, killing twelve miners; one survived. This has a formal memorial in Phillippi, although it is not complete. The photo in this post shows Ross Straight’s flat 4’ x 6’ sculpture, with figures arranged as the bodies were found when rescuers finally reached them.
Beth spoke with the project’s organizer who said the memorial is intended to honor all who died in the mines, but they will only list the names of the twelve who died at Sago. According to Beth’s paraphrase, “they would never be able to fit all the miners’ names that died in coalmine accidents just in that county on a memorial.” Today, as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, we also remember eleven energy workers who died last month when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded.
Vermont’s Sharon North Welcome Center on I-89 demonstrates green design with sustainable energy and water facilities. That’s where Edee Edwards, taxonomy manager at a bio-pharmaceutical services company, found Vermont Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This first state-sanctioned Vietnam memorial was dedicated two weeks prior to DC’s memorial. It includes both the names of those who died and of every Vermonter who served.
The memorial also has separate installations for those who died in Iraq and in Afghanistan. These include not just names, but photos and remarks about their lives. Since 1983, an all night vigil has been held every Memorial Day. Edee said that even though she does not feel connected with the war in Vietnam, “this project ended up not just making me think, but making me feel.”
In the 90’s, the Sharon rest stop almost closed, but Vermont’s Vietnam vets lobbied to keep it open. Ten years ago, the state selected it to be renovated as a green showcase, designed by Timothy D. Smith. Using ground source heat pumps, the center keeps warm in the cold Vermont winter and cool in the summer, not by extraction, but by sending reclaimed water into 24 wells to return with the earth’s own heat. Take a look at the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Instead of stealing her blood, we should let the earth nurture us with geothermal energy.
Photo Credit: West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin’s Photo Gallery. Album: Sago Mine Memorial Unveiling, May 21, 2009.