By Vanya Scott, Registrar/Collections Manager
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is a powerful public commemoration of the fallen from those who make up the Thin Blue Line that protects American civil society. The message of the Memorial, acknowledging the honor and sacrifice of fallen law enforcement officers, resonates most powerfully in the individual stories that objects, photographs, and written messages reflect.
Dear Uncle Mark, I miss you. I fondly remember that fall when we picked the giant pumpkins in your garden. Todd can ride a 2-wheeler now. I love you. Love, Emily (1996)
Police Week 2009 was the first National Police Week I was privileged to attend. I found the profusion of objects of all types, including stuffed animals, patches, t-shirts, photographs, pins, plaques, flowers, candles, coins, figurines—the variety seemed endless—to be quite evocative and powerfully emotional. The National Law Enforcement Museum preserves objects from the Memorial wall that are left during National Police Week remembrance activities each year, carefully storing them in a secure and climate-controlled facility for future study. Police Week memorial collection objects have been saved since the 1990s, and after my experience at Police Week 2009, objects collected in earlier years suddenly hold new meaning for me. Each object bears witness to the mourner’s loss and has its own unique message, a message of private mourning placed in public context.
Jeff – It angers me that you died possibly thinking that no one was coming to help you. It angers me that you bled to death…the system failed you. It angers me that I have learned so much about you, through your wife, after your death…We never formally met, but I am your friend. We will do, and I will speak for all L.E.O.’s, anything and everything to see to it that the “Jeffrey Tackett Bill” will pass. You’re missed by many, many people. (1996)
As I moved through the Memorial during my weekly duties, I had a chance to meet many Police Week visitors. Several had attended the Memorial event year after year, and used this time to renew bonds with friends and colleagues. For others, Police Week 2009 was the first they had attended, and they were, without fail, greatly moved by the fellowship and goodwill they found here. What was interesting to me as a museum professional was how they all used this time at the Memorial to revisit and renew their bonds with the friend or loved one they had lost. Though not all chose to express this by leaving tribute objects or written messages, many, if not most, folks did. Sometimes the meaning of an object was a bit obscure, known mainly to the family or friends who placed it there. Other objects had messages that were quite clear in their commemorative intent. All, though, were unmistakable in their need to maintain the thread of affection with the one they lost.
Jimmy – You are my son, my friend. I will love and miss you forever. Mom (2007)
The objects collected from 2009 Police Week will join the objects collected from previous years’ commemorations. The Museum approaches the collection of tribute objects from the Memorial in a thoughtful, respectful way. Objects are preserved to make sure they remain intact and accessible for future generations to study and contemplate. The Memorial exists to honor the fallen heroes of law enforcement, and an important part of what the Museum does is to preserve the legacy that exists in tangible form.