Pan Am 103 Archives Tell Victims’ Stories
By Louise Rath
SYRACUSE, NY – It’s been nearly 33 years since the terrorist bombing of flight Pan Am 103, but the memory of all 270 victims lives on inside Bird Library.
The sixth floor of the library is home to Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), and the nation’s central repository for Pan Am 103 archives.
The archives were established in 1990, just two years after the bombing killed 35 SU students returning home from a semester abroad.
“And since that time, we’ve collected over 400 linear feet of material,” said Vanessa St. Oegger-Menn, Assistant Archivist and Pan Am 103 Archivist at Syracuse University.
St. Oegger-Menn has been working at the SCRC for six years, and she’s developed relationships with the student victims’ families over the years.
The archives have something to represent each of the 270 victims, whether it be a newspaper clipping or a personal belonging. St. Oegger-Menn is currently working on collecting photographs of every individual.
“So we’re very, very much looking forward to being able to share their faces, particularly with students here on campus, and definitely as we commemorate future anniversaries,” she said.
St. Oegger-Menn also said that it’s very important that the archives don’t focus on the way these people died, but that they showcase what their passions were.
Much of their archival material consists of photographs, government documents, letters, and journals.
A lot of these materials come from the victims’ families, and St. Oegger-Menn says they receive boxes on almost a weekly basis.
“We’re incredibly honored that the families trust us to take care of these materials,” she said.
The SCRC is working to establish a set of best practices for working with tragedy related archives, as more and more archivists are working with these materials.
“There’s really not norms for a lot of the things that we need to do. Whether that be working with families, in very delicate conversations, or supporting our staff as they work with the material, which can be very emotionally affecting,” St. Oegger-Menn said.
The archives are stored in a temperature-controlled space inside the SCRC, and the storage area is not accessible to the public.
The SCRC is planning a sizeable Pan Am 103 exhibition for the 35th anniversary of the tragedy in 2023, specifically focusing on the significance of the number 35 to Syracuse University.
“I like to hope that students are in some ways comforted by knowing that the archives are here and well cared for and are being used to educate both undergraduate and graduate students, not just about the disaster, and the lessons that can be learned from the aftermath of the bombing itself, but especially about the lives of these students, and the people that they were and the gaps that they left behind.”