Monday, January 28, 2008

the persistence of memory

I was going to type about the latest in my marriage, but a friend e-mailed some interesting stuff today and we got into a whole little research project.

Imagine there's a giant snowstorm that hits Washington, DC, dumping almost 30 inches on the city over 3 days. It's heavy, wet snow, and shuts down almost everything. But, being snowbound for days can be a drag, so a few hundred people make their way to a giant movie theater to take in the latest. Midway through, around 9pm, the weight of all that snow collapses the entire roof of the theater, trapping people in the debris. A congressman dies - as do 97 other people, with over 130 injured, some very seriously.

How big a story would that be? What type of memorial would be erected to commemorate this horrible disaster?

Today is the 86th anniversary of the Great Knickerbocker snowstorm of 1922, so named because that collapse happened at Crandall's Knickerbocker Theater.

My friend lives in DC and is a major weather geek. I am a person who is interested in stories and kinda interested in weather, so he sent me the link to a blog posting about it.

And then because we were both working on fairly tedious things, we started using wikipedia and google and found all sorts of interesting things, though really not much at all.

There appears to be no memorial. None. 98 people dead, and no memorial at all. Currently there's a bank on the site, which is located in a bar area of DC. Here's the Wikipedia story. The collapse happened in 1922, and by 1923, a new theater was built in the shell of the Knickerbocker.

I just can't get over it - 98 people died. Here's a link to some local press coverage from the time. Vivid, dramatic stuff. 86 years ago - there might still be survivors alive, or rescuers, or children who watched and helped. And yet there's very little about this story on the web.

The Titanic sank in 1912, with over 1500 lives lost. Think of the movies, the memories, the news stories of the last known survivor from the titanic dying. Is it the scale that makes that tragedy still real, while 98 people isn't large enough?

Or did we grieve differently then? Move on, pack up our grief, construct a new theater in the shell of the old. Did family members of those who lost their lives come to the opening of the new theater? Or did they refuse to ever step foot inside the new place? Where's the plaque commemorating lives lost and forever altered?

86 years from now, what will be on the site of the World Trade Center? Will people still leave flowers in the tunnel where Princess Diana died? What will exist on the campus of Virginia Tech, or in Oklahoma City? When do you stop remembering a tragedy, and "normal life" takes over?


charmedgirl said...

everyone involved will never, ever forget- intellectually, emotionally, physically. everyone else will remember some aspect when asked, but will not continue to live it until the day they every other tragic thing, i guess. i've overheard people say of 9/11 tattoos, "[he's] probably sorry for getting that." umm, probably not.

my husband was at 9/11 (nypd). he almost died there. our baby died almost the same date 6 years later (9/11 on her cremation certificate). there will never be another year when that week will be "normal life". EVER.

Tash said...

Wow, I had no idea, thanks for the great post! I'm not sure, but perhaps because it was "act of god" (not "newfangled electricity causes tragic fire" or "child laborers die in locked factory") it made less press? Seems like no one remembers the Tsunami of a few winters back and the lives lost there were overwhelming.

niobe said...

I was going to say exactly what Tash said about the tsunami. It's hard to understand why some losses catch our imagination, while others are simply forgotten.