7 Haunting Memorials That Offer Reflection and Hope

These tributes to victims of tragedies around the world stand out as especially powerful.

By Barbara O'Dair
Courtesy Nicklas Lindblom

Memory Wound

In 2011, a gunman detonated a bomb in Oslo, Norway, then stormed a summer camp off the Norwegian coast; 77 people died, mostly children. Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg has plans for three memorials including Memory Wound, where a slice of Utoya island where the shooting occurred will be removed to create a void that the artist calls “a wound or cut within nature itself.”

Courtesy Google Maps

UTA Flight 772 Memorial

In 1989, UTA Flight 772 crashed when a bomb went off during its flight from Republic of Congo to Paris, France, and all 155 passengers and 15 crew members died. Twenty-eight years later, the victims’ families and villagers transported dark stones across more than 70 miles of desert, creating a 200-foot-diameter circle 10 miles away from the crash site. Inside the circle, 170 broken mirrors represent the victims, outlining a silhouette of the plane. Because it is located in one of the most desolate places in the world, this memorial is best seen using Google Earth.

Courtesy Gareth Hart

Nelson Mandela Memorial Sculpture

In 1962, armed apartheid police seized Nelson Mandela—disguised as a chauffeur—on a road near the town of Howick, South Africa. Fifty years later at the site of capture, artist Marco Cianfanelli unveiled a monument of 50 serrated, laser-cut steel columns that at once convey the activist’s 27-year imprisonment and project a likeness of his face when viewed from 35 meters away. “The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity,” said Cianfanelli on his website.

Pool/Getty Images

National 9/11 Memorial

The largest manmade waterfalls in North America surround two square, acre-sized reflecting pools that are part of the memorial for the nearly 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. Conceived by architect Michael Arad and landscape designer Peter Walker, the memorial stands near the accompanying museum, which houses memorabilia, artifacts, and recordings related to the terrorist attacks.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

South of the Brandenburg Gate and mere yards from the former sites of Adolf Hitler’s chancellery building and subterranean bunker, an abstract grid of 2,711 concrete slabs commemorates the lives claimed during the Holocaust. The gray blocks of varying heights, which simultaneously summon images of coffins and headstones, encompass 5 1/2 acres of central Berlin. The memorial has been criticized as both inadequate and vague for not directly acknowledging Germany’s role in the Holocaust. Other reviews have been more positive, noting that as the walkway slopes downward into the stark, imposing maze, visitors lose themselves in the gravity and remembrance of tragedy.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Commemorating those who served in the Korean War (1950-53), this memorial was dedicated in 1995, and consists of 19 seven-foot-tall statues of soldiers, near a mural wall and a collection of over 2,400 photographs of the war. Perhaps most stunning sight when lit up at night, the soldiers become a ghostly reminder of the more than 54,000 troops killed during wartime.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Completed in 1982 in Constitution Garden in Washington, D.C., the Memorial Wall honors the U.S. armed forces that fought in the Vietnam War. Designed by Maya Lin—who at the time was a 21-year-old architecture student—the black color and stark simplicity of the memorial provoked critics to call it “nihilistic” and a “black gash of shame.” The wall's stone was chosen from India for its reflective quality, with the hope that visitors would simultaneously peer at the engraved names and themselves, symbolically bringing the past and present together.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail