Planting Hope: How Students Across Oklahoma Planted Trees in Honor of Bombing Victims

Authored by Carly Ford

This photo was taken in 1995 by Steven Sisney for the Daily Oklahoman. Morgan Taylor Merrell, aged two, shovels dirt on a dogwood tree planted at Mayfield Middle School in memory of those who died in the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. Morgan’s mother, Frankie, was killed that day.

Trees became a symbol of hope for Oklahomans after the April 19, 1995 federal building bombing. An American Elm tree that grew in the parking lot of the Murrah building somehow survived the blast and then was nearly chopped down as investigators recovered evidence that had gotten caught in its branches (Linenthal, n.d.). This tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” because many Oklahomans saw it as a representation of the people’s ability to persist even in the face of such an atrocity. The survivor tree is memorialized at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial in recognition of the survivors of the blast. It is part of the logo for the memorial marathon that takes place every year (Fredrickson 2015) and its seeds are collected and distributed to communities throughout the United States so that the tree’s longevity is continued through its offspring (Slipke 2017).

In 1995, children across the state learned that dogwood trees symbolized rebirth and hope. They planted them at school during ceremonies held in honor of the bombing victims and watched the trees grow and bloom each spring. President Clinton planted a tree at the White House (Diamond 1995) and the very same shovel he used was used by Morgan Taylor Merrrell seven days later as she shoveled dirt onto her mother’s memorial dogwood tree (Stutter 1995). Mayfield Middle School was not the only school to honor victims by planting trees. The students at Chisolm Elementary in Edmond, Oklahoma raised money to plant a redbud tree, Oklahoma’s native tree, and a Shumard oak tree next to a marble slab from the Murrah building inscribed with an epigraph written by the students (Aspy 1996). On the other side of the state in Tecumseh, students at the middle school planted 160 dogwood trees, but only seven trees survived. Sadly, because the trees did not have a marker they were cut down in 2014, but when students at middle school found out the significance of the trees they made a plan to replace the trees with two saplings from the survivor tree and a small memorial designed by the architects that designed the Oklahoma City Memorial (Palmer 2014).

The tree planted in front of Mayfield Middle School is still standing and blooms every spring. Many of the trees planted are still surviving, just like the spirit of Oklahoma. The state has seen a lot of tragedy, but continues to grow, build, rebuild, and persist.

References

Aspy, David N., and Cheryl B. Aspy. 1996. “How a School Coped with the Oklahoma City Bombing,” Educational Leadership 54 (2): 82 https://search-ebscohost-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9703192684&site=ehost-live.

Diamond, John. 1995. “Clintons Plant Tree for Bombing Victims, Head to Oklahoma City.” AP News, April 23, 1995. https://apnews.com/article/55e275ef548ed850bd680a0e932e68ff

Fredrickson, Kyle. 2015 “A Look Back at April 29, 2001: The First Running of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.” The Oklahoman, April 25, 2015. https://oklahoman.com/article/5413813/a-look-back-at-april-29-2001-the-first-running-of-the-oklahoma-city-memorial-

Linenthal, Edward Tabor. n.d. “Oklahoma City Bombing.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed September 25, 2020. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=OK026.

Palmer, Jennifer. 2014. “Tecumseh Middle School Students Think Big to Replace Trees Planted After 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.” The Daily Oklahoman, The (OK), December 23. https://search-ebscohost-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=2W61568795970&site=ehost-live.

Palmer, Jennifer. 2014. “Tecumseh Middle School Students Think Big to Replace Trees Planted After 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.” The Daily Oklahoman, The (OK), December 23. https://search-ebscohost-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=2W61568795970&site=ehost-live.

Slipke, Darla. 2017. “Oklahoma City’s Survivor Tree Seedlings Have Spread Across the Nation.” The Oklahoman. April 19, 2017. https://oklahoman.com/article/5546017/oklahoma-citys-survivor-tree-seedlings-have-spread-across-the-nation.

St. John’s University. 2020. “Our Mission.” https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

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