On December 21, 1988 the New York City-bound aircraft exploded over the town of Lockerbie Scotland, the result of a terrorist attack. The disaster claimed the lives of all 259 passengers on board and 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. Among the aircraft victims were 35 Syracuse University students, returning home after spending their fall semester at Syracuse’s London and Florence programs.
Through archival materials donated by families of victims, friends, advocates, and affected communities, the exhibit, We Remember Them: The Legacy of Pan Am Flight 103, is intended to document not only the terrorist act itself, but the lives of those lost and the ways in which they are remembered.
The exhibit is curated by Pan Am 103 Archivist and Assistant University Archivist Vanessa St.Oegger-Menn G’14, a graduate of the Library and Information Science program at the School of Information Studies (iSchool).
St.Oegger-Menn has served as the Pan Am 103 Archivist for four years. In addition to her archival responsibilities, she is also one of the advisors for the Remembrance Scholars and the Lockerbie Scholars. Remembrance Scholars are 35 senior students studying at Syracuse, and Lockerbie Scholars are two students from Lockerbie, Scotland who study at Syracuse for one year. St.Oegger-Menn helps to shepherd the Remembrance Scholars through planning Remembrance Week, which occurs each fall at Syracuse.
As she began her work curating the exhibit, St.Oegger-Menn realized that it should have a broad reach. “I wanted to have all of their faces somewhere – as many of the victims as we had photographs for,” she said. “It’s important to personalize this event, to show the victims.”
“There are so many layers to this tragedy, and so much that happened,” St.Oegger-Menn explained. “I don’t feel that you can focus on one thing without it being at the expense of other things, so I wanted to cover as much of it as possible. That’s where the idea came of doing something to remember them as a group.”
Along the sixth floor hallway of Bird Library, a long display case stretches between two classrooms. Inside of the case, carefully arranged, are small, square photographs, one for nearly each of the 270 victims.
“I wanted this to go beyond Syracuse University,” St.Oegger-Menn said. “Our collecting scope when we first started in 1990 was isolated to just Syracuse and the students who lost their lives. But in 2006 it became clear that we had developed strong relationships with non-Syracuse families, so we opened our collection scope to everyone. I feel like it’s important to recognize all of them.”
St.Oegger-Menn grew up on the West Coast, and was just a child when the tragedy occurred. It wasn’t until her graduate studies at the iSchool that she began to learn of the history of Pan Am 103.
“As I was learning the history and getting to know the archives, I found that my job was incredibly personal,” St.Oegger-Menn reflected. “Getting to know the family members and the victims, reading the journals the students kept while studying abroad, I felt a real responsibility in learning and telling their stories, and in making sure that the University doesn’t forget.”
“Many times when collections are donated to an archives it is because someone has passed away, and that process can be a very emotional one,” she continued. “Many archives are, in a sense, grief-based archives, but something like Pan Am 103 is much more so. I form much stronger connections with the donors and the families than some other archivists do."
St.Oegger-Menn credits current University Archivist Meg Mason, and former University Archivist Edward Galvin as mentors, both in how she approaches the exhibit curation, and in how she learned to interact with Pan Am 103 families and collection donors.
Materials on view in the exhibit that St.Oegger-Menn has curated will include:
- photographs and original documents from the joint US/UK investigative team and the criminal case of two Libyan nationals at Kamp van Zeist, Netherlands;
- victims’ personal items returned from the crash site;
- legislation, correspondence, newsletters, memorabilia, and photographs depicting the role of the victims’ families and allies in working towards justice and improved aviation security;
- clippings, publications, and other materials portraying the experiences and responses of both the Lockerbie, Scotland and Syracuse University communities;
- a visual recreation of the memorial book On Eagles’ Wings, consisting of photographs of the 270 victims alongside their name, birth date, seat number, and home country.
For St.Oegger-Menn, there are a couple of items on display that stand out in her mind. One from the public library in Lockerbie, and the other an item that belonged to one of the passengers on Pan Am 103.
“The library had published a newsletter in 1989, shortly after the event,” she explained. “It was a very matter-of-fact publication about life in the town at the time, and how they were dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy, offering information and resources. I found that amazing. And we also have a travel alarm clock from one of the passengers. To me, that alarm clock takes on a much different meaning when you realize where it came from.”
An opening reception for the exhibit is planned for Thursday, September 13. It will be held from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. on the sixth floor of Bird Library. Exhibition hours are planned for Orange Central weekend, on October 19 and 20, and on Family Weekend, October 27. Tours are also available by request by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the exhibit, visit the Special Collections Research Center website.