Sunday, April 30, 2017

49 crosses.

After the horrific massacre at Pulse Nightclub, 49 crosses were placed at Lake Beauty of the Orlando Regional Medical Center where victims were taken in the moments after the shooting. The medical center is just a few blocks north of Pulse on Orange Avenue. Never has an emergency room been so close to the scene of a mass murder. Despite the best efforts of the ER doctors working under triage conditions, 49 lives were lost. The rifle used had only one purpose which is to take human life with brutal force. These 49 crosses became a place of pilgrimage for a community trying to find reason behind an insane and pointless act of hate and violence. Other countries look at America's love affair with gun violence with shock and amazement.

An Illinois man,  Greg Zanis, 65, traveled more than 1,000 miles from his home in Illinois to Orlando, Florida, in the wake of the massacre.  His pickup drove to Orlando with the 49 handmade crosses, one for each of the victims that died. Zanis also brought markers so that people could write messages on the crosses. Every surface is covered in writing.

The crosses are now stored at the Orlando Regional History Center off site facility. The warehouse is home to the museum's vast historical collection which are not currently on exhibit in the downtown museum. I was sworn to secrecy about the off site location and the route was purposefully convoluted with a myriad of pretzel turns and back road circles.  Upon entering the facility, Frank Weber, the County Photographer, shouted out, "No food or drink!" as he pointed to a sign with the same message. Museum staff gathered in the break room to finish their Starbucks coffees. My coffee had a taste of caramel. I'm beginning to understand the allure of living off of coffee alone. Frank had an admirably inappropriate sense of humor that helped lighten the atmosphere. To enter the warehouse we had to walk across a sticky mat which removed any dirt or insect eggs from the soles of our feet.

The conserved crosses were each stored in grey archival boxes, specially made for them with clear fronts so the crosses can be seen. The memorial items left at each cross are stored in separate boxes right above the corresponding crosses, which were stacked several shelves high. Colorful items collected from memorials and vigils were stacked everywhere. Over five thousand items are still being preserved, and catalogued. It is a Herculean and thankless task being executed with love by the History Center staff.  The crosses will be on display in June as part of the one year vigil to honor victims, their families, survivors, and first responders. It seems like only yesterday when this horrific event shocked and saddened Orlando. The wounds are still very visible if you look.

Staff removed crosses from their boxes and stood them clustered near Frank, who shot a three quarter view of each cross, front and back. Large industrial flashes created clean shots which will be used for an online database of the collection. After each cross was photographed, it was moved near the loading dock, so they will be ready to go on public display in June. These wooden crosses are heavy and lifting 49 of them tests muscles. I found it odd that a historic rifle storage cabinet was right beside Frank as he shot the photos. Staff and Frank wore blue conservator's gloves to be sure not to get body oils onto the painted surfaces of the crosses. These gloves ripped at times and had to be replaced. The warehouse was reminiscent of the final scene in Indiana Jones when the arc of the covenant was stored away. However, in Orlando the memories of those lost to senseless violence is being kept alive. The hope is that we as a community can grow stronger.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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