Silence, tears and hundreds of people served as the backdrop to 2,000 pairs of boots Saturday in the College of St. Catherine’s courtyard in St. Paul.
Members of the Twin Cities community turned out this weekend to pay tribute to lives lost in Iraq. The Eyes Wide Open outdoor exhibit put a price tag on the human cost of the war in Iraq by featuring boots and shoes symbolizing the lives lost. More than 2,000 pairs of boots and a 24-foot wall of casualty names demonstrated to attendees and volunteers what the numbers really mean.
Marq Anderson, national tour manager for the exhibit, said the exhibit started touring in January 2004 and has made 65 stops so far. The tour tentatively will end next June, but Anderson said he wonders when the war will end.
He said he hopes to continue touring for as long as the exhibit can.
Anderson said the reaction Saturday in St. Paul was similar to the reaction the exhibit has received across the country. Visitors were respectful and had a positive reaction to the cause.
The event turned out more than 300 volunteers to do a variety of jobs. Volunteers helped with donations, welcomed people as they entered the exhibit, answered questions and helped with different speakers and readings.
Visitors could walk through the field of boots that were separated based on the state the soldiers came from. There was also a walking path that had boots representing soldiers from the Midwest.
After walking through the path of boots, visitors walked through a circle of hundreds of shoes representing the shoes of Iraqi civilians. Photographs, blankets and other items were scattered around the field with descriptions for visitors to read and capture in photos.
On Saturday the exhibit included a reading of the names of all the people who have died in Iraq, including the names of soldiers and civilians. The reading lasted four hours.
Although most of the boots were just a representation of the actual numbers, some of the boots were donated by soldiers’ families, as were some uniforms, hats and other items.
Norah McNellis, a St. Paul volunteer who worked at the event’s donated items table said she felt the event was effective and powerful.
“It does put a face to the numbers,” McNellis said.
Sitting behind her were empty boxes of tissues. Many people at the event needed to wipe their tears, she said.
Many visitors came to find the boots of someone they knew to attach a photo or an item to them, McNellis said.
The Langhorst family of Moose Lake attended the event Saturday afternoon. George Langhorst said he was there to see the boots for his son Moisés Langhorst, who died April 5, 2004, in Iraq.
“This is the first time we’ve seen the boots (in the exhibit),” Langhorst said.
George Langhorst’s other children, Matt and Amanda, also said they felt the exhibit was powerful not only for them but also for the community.
First-year University global studies student Ginny McIntosh, who attended the event Saturday, said, “It is amazing how silent it is. There is a little bit of talking, but it is an undertone and it is just so powerful.”