PARKLAND (CBSMiami) — The flowers have shriveled, the stuffed animals are fading and the prayer candles have melted. Now it is time to begin preserving the mementos that honor 17 students and faculty who were killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Thursday morning, Parkland historian Jeff Schwartz and a team of volunteer conservators started collecting the hundreds of objects left at the makeshift memorial at Pine Trails Park in Parkland.
Some of the volunteers had a personal connection to the tragedy because they knew the victims . Others were called to be there for a different reason.
“I looked at him and I saw my grandson,” Henry Karostich said of Alex Schachter. “We’re here doing what these children can’t do for themselves.”
Schwartz explained there are two memorials, the one at the park and another outside the school. The one outside the Parkland school will not be removed just yet.
“Stoneman Douglas is not ready to be removed yet but Pine Trails Park will be. We’re going to do the removal today and hopefully begin the restoration of the park. We do have big program coming on March 24 which is the March for Life and we expect 20,000 people here and today’s the day to get this stuff stored and preserved for perpetuity,” explained Schwartz, president of the Parkland Historical Society.
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After a tragic event like his, archivists face the task of documenting mementos by cleaning, photographing and storing them for future display and not everything gets chosen.
“We need to choose some of the most important items,” Schwartz explained. “The photographs, the written notes and letters, the teddy bears, the rocks that people have painted and put notes on, the flowers, the plant material that people have put here that has corroded over the past couple of weeks. We are going to grind that up, and incinerate it and its going to be used as fertilizer in the city garden.”
He said not everything will be saved and some will be repurposed.
“Some of the teddy bears that we don’t save, because we can’t save everything, will be cleaned and hopefully donated to children’s wards at hospitals, American flags will be saved and boxed and given to the boy scouts for repurposing so there’s a lot of decisions to be made.”
It is a tough task for everyone involved.
“It’s a very emotional day for everyone involved, from the families on down,” said Schwartz. “Last night we had a memorial at the park and we met with some of the families and it’s an emotional time for everyone, not only the families but for everyone doing the work, ya know, putting their hands on the items, it’s tough.”
The Parkland Historical Society felt it was important to wait at least a month before beginning the preservation process in order to allow the healing process to begin.
The artifacts will be photographed, cleaned and put in cardboard boxes and eventually transferred into longer-term archival sleeves and boxes.
“We have two storage facilities here at the park where they will be stored temporarily,” said Schwartz. “We are looking to hire a conservator to come out and begin to take care of these items in the right way and to make sure they are saved and cleaned correctly for perpetuity, so in years to come, residents and people from all over Broward County and all over the United States can look back exactly what took place here.”
The first public display will be on the first anniversary of the tragedy, although initial visits will be limited to families, law enforcement and fire rescue. There are early talks to host the exhibition at the Parkland city library. Further out, there are early plans to build a permanent museum in the city.