The Victims of Violence Children’s Memorial Garden

Riiiiiiiiiiiippp. The sudden violence of the sound startled me and I froze in place, one leg braced against the brown earth and the other raised at an unbearably high angle such that my foot was scrambling on top of the lowest branch of the tree I was about to climb. My left hand leapt to the back of my pants to assess the damage as my eyes darted all around, looking around for witnesses without me having to tell them to. My hand found the hole without any trouble, and I was horrified to find there was actually a good-sized hole in the seat. In the middle of Centennial Park, with no way of covering it up, and a fifteen-minute walk ahead of me back to my dorm. This was public humiliation at its cruelest.

The front left tree in this Magnolia grove is the tree where I ripped my pants.

The embarrassment I felt at having to walk through the crowded park was absolutely nothing compared to what other people have undergone in public, though. When Elbert Bryant Perkins was murdered in the middle of the street on January 12, 1995, it was witnessed by two adults and two fourteen year-old kids (Tennessee). The murder was a terrible and violent event that the witnesses are unlikely to ever forget. Elbert Bryant Perkins is one of the names engraved in the paving stones of the Victims of Violence Children’s Memorial Garden.

I found the garden when I decided to explore a part of Centennial I had never explored before: the area around the playground. A local elementary school had bussed in a bunch of kids who were now playing a very intense relay game close by the playground, and the playground was swarming with small children and their mothers. The screams of delight, the chanting of the relay teams, and the laughter all seemed in stark contrast to the quiet garden I found nearby with the stone (somewhat reminiscent of a tombstone) proclaiming that this garden was in memory of children who have been victims of violence.

It is hard to tell from this picture, but the playground is right behind the white structure, within viewing distance of the Children’s Memorial Garden.

I walked around the peaceful garden and was struck by the solemn yet calm air within the memorial. The many names on the walkway and the small statue in the middle of the garden made it so I could not forget what the garden was there for, but the beauty of the flowers and trees left me with a feeling of tranquility. The sounds of laughter that had seemed so jarring to me a moment before seemed to fit now in this place of memory.

I have no idea who any of the children on the walkway were, and I found it difficult finding information on most of them. But in this garden, they are remembered in a way that is somehow both personal and impersonal. It is impersonal because the average visitor to Centennial Park doesn’t know anything about the individual names. The garden is simply a tribute to the souls of all children who have died because of violence. But the proximity of the playground makes the whole experience personal and real: all of the living, breathing children enjoying the beautiful day just a few yards away give voice to the children whose names fill the stones of the garden, and allow me to remember the children they once were. Knowing the names of the children in the memorial without knowing what they looked like, and not knowing the names of the joyously alive children on the playground but able to see them playing in all of their wonder, makes me equate the two in my head. The memory of each of the children memorialized in this garden lives on in the luckier children who come to play at Centennial Park.

As I left the garden, I looked at the vines creeping on the entry archway. The vines were twisting together, as if in prayer, or as if in an embrace. This garden can’t alleviate the terrible personal pain that the families of these young victims have gone through, but as a public memorial to the children it is very effective.

Works Cited

Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville. November 1998 Session. Ed. Cecil W. Crowson. N.p.: n.p., n.d. TNcourts.gov. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OPINIONS/tcca/PDF/991/jacksone.pdf&gt;.

The text on the stone reads: “Warm summer sun shine kindly here / Warm southern wind blow softly here / Green sod above lie light lie light / Good night dear heart, good night, good night”

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6 thoughts on “The Victims of Violence Children’s Memorial Garden

  1. I like how you mirror the symbolism of the garden with physical representations -objects, plants, people- in and around the garden. You also contrast the scene of the happy, playing children with the solemn memories of the memorial garden. The attention-calling to both the mirroring and contrasts creates a nice balance.

  2. I know whenever I’ve been to a war memorial, the peace of the setting always makes the memory of violence (even violence that I have never personally experienced), seem more poignant.

    There’s a memorial garden in my home town, but it doesn’t have the more impersonal nature of this one. The garden is dedicated to one murdered woman, Jill Dando and the garden is named after her. I was fairly young when she was murdered so it didn’t have much impact on me and the fact that the man who was convicted of her murderer was eventually cleared, leaving the real culprit still a mystery, means the lack of justice is the thing most people associate with her. I think the garden helps counter that, because it is a peaceful place that preserves her memory in a beautiful way.

  3. This is a really intriguing place to highlight. The fact that the memorial is so close to a place where children play creates a strange contrast. The idea that the identity of most of these children has now been lost in time makes me wonder about the importance / the significance of memorials. What purpose do they serve? Do they serve to remind us of sadness? Or to honor life?

  4. Your post does a great job of drawing in the reader with a engaging and personal beginning that relates to the park in a very subtle manner. I found myself wanting to know more about the history of this mysterious area of the park and was surprised to learn that the memorial garden was meant to commemorate children, and not adults. After reading the entire post, I had one main question in mind. Since you had experienced your own version of trauma when you came across this garden, which history (the garden’s or your own) will come to mind first when you think about this garden in the future? If it is your own history, do you think this takes away from the garden’s purpose to commemorate the children, or do you feel that it helps you connect on a more personal level?

  5. Your post, along with your photos, is extremely powerful. I like how you create contrasts between your dilemma and the playing children with the memorial. Your discussion of the proximity of the playground to the memorial and how it brings lifef to the dead is captivating. I think that this idea could have made up a paper all in itself, and I wonder if this design of the park was intentional? Just as we question the innocence and coincidence of meaningful photographs, I wonder if the design of the memorial can be thought of in the same way? I also think your photgraphs highlight this. A lot of them had subtle details, like the third to last photo that has the flower petals strewn in the dirt and surrounded by overgrowth, that hint at the violated innocence of these children.

  6. While this post tries to draw a connection between the author and the memorial, it seems to be very stretched. It feels as though the connection was so forced that it looses its significance. Some of the descriptions are good, but overall the piece feels strained by the lack of real connection between the author and the memory of the children commemorated by the memorial. However, the contrast between the happy children at the playground, and the stark reminder of the violence against children at the memorial only a few feet away is well done.

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