The Story of the Stuff: Issues in Temporary Memorial Preservation

The Fate of the Stuff

Despite communications via CNN, morning news programs, and an American Red Cross press release, Newtown was unsuccessful at stopping the tide of materials. Before things slowed down by late spring 2013, Newtown received some 65,000 teddy bears along with tens of thousands of other donations of toys and school supplies. To reduce the growing accumulation, the town hosted several toy giveaways in anticipation of the holidays. Following that, ACS coordinated the re-gifting of material to causes around the country and the globe. Donations were re-gifted to places as far away as Haiti, Kenya, and India.

Among the store-bought cards and donation pledges were also countless handmade expressions. From children’s artwork to decoupage to paper cutouts, the variety and beauty of this correspondence spoke to residents. Overwhelmed and exhausted from managing these materials along with the donations warehouse and temporary memorial, discussion among town officials considered the eventual fate of these bulky letters. Rumors spread that they would be incinerated, along with the unsalvageable materials from the outdoor shrines, into a “sacred soil”—an ash to be incorporated into a permanent memorial at a later date. 

From the donations, the local library selected a few hundred cubic feet of materials for inclusion in a permanent, off-site archive. Many of the items were photographed ahead of time and are now available in digital collection on the state's website. The majority of letters sent to Newtown were sorted and put in archival boxes for storage at the Connecticut State archives, though some letters, especially those that were distasteful, were willfully discarded by volunteers early on in the process. 

Moreno made best efforts to photograph the bulk of the artwork and mail that came into town and made her pictures available on a website beginning on the first anniversary of the shooting. She selected some items to be kept for a future art installation, but many were sent to a warehouse for inclusion in sacred soil. 

From the various efforts around town, what could not be regifted or what was not selected by the families, library, or town, was transported in late 2013 to an incineration facility, where it was burned down to a 3 foot by 3 foot box of ash. This "sacred soil" ash will be used in a future memorial yet to be determined. 


Compare and contrast the resulting collections of two projects to document the condolences sent to Newtown:

Embracing Newtown  Condolence Archive Project of the C.H. Booth Library, Newtown

Some questions to consider: 
  • How do their aesthetic and design differ?
  • How are their contents organized?
  • Are these collections designed for the same or different audiences or users? How so?
  • Is one collection more valuable or useful than the other? Defend your argument.

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