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SU Archivist Edward Galvin, Montauk artist Suse Lowenstein honored for their work in advancing the legacy of Pan Am Flight 103
Kelly Homan Rodoski
Edward L. Galvin, Syracuse University archivist, and Suse Lowenstein of Montauk, N.Y., mother of Pan Am 103 SU student victim Alexander Lowenstein and creator of the Dark Elegy sculpture collection, are the 2008 recipients of the Keeping the Spirit Alive Award from the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 (VPAF 103). The awards were given during VPAF 103’s annual dinner, held in Syracuse on Oct. 24.
The Keeping the Spirit Alive Award recognizes the person or persons who, over a long period of time, have succeeded in keeping the government and public aware of the important lessons learned from this terrorist action. The inaugural award was presented in 2007 to Judy O’Rourke, SU’s director of undergraduate studies, and to counselors Eileen Leary and Joe McBride.
Galvin, the SU archivist since 1995, oversees the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives, which are housed at SU. The unique collection, which was established at the University in 1990, includes a broad range of government documents, newspaper clippings and personal memorabilia from many of the 270 victims of the tragedy. The collection has been accessed consistently by victims’ families and friends, law enforcement and attorneys, journalists and students, particularly the 35 students chosen annually as Syracuse University Remembrance Scholars.
“It is a comfort to know that one person has taken it on to give loving care to our memorabilia, to keep it for generations to come,” said Glenn Johnson, VPAF 103 board chair, in presenting Galvin with the award. “He has made it possible to use the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives to educate those who are trying to prevent similar acts of terrorism.”
For Galvin, his work in building and maintaining this special collection has been a labor of love. He has established many strong relationships with families of victims not connected to SU and has drawn on his experience in documenting this tragedy to help other universities, such as Virginia Tech, Bluffton University and Northern Illinois University, in times of crisis.
Galvin speaks on the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at SU alumni events around the country. He presented a paper on Pan Am 103 at a session on “Documenting Tragedy: Preserving Human Sensibilities” at the spring 2008 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Chautauqua, N.Y., in May. He has been invited to speak at a session at the July 2009 Chicago meeting of the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the American Library Association, along with representatives from Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Galvin has also been asked to contribute an article on Pan Am 103 for a new volume, “Disaster and Tragedy: The Archival Response,” which has been accepted for publication by the Society of American Archivists.
Suse Lowenstein created the Dark Elegy sculpture collection (http://darkelegy103.com), 78 figures that depict mothers returning to the actual moment that they learned their child had died.
“One by one they came to my studio, stepped onto a posing platform, closed their eyes and went back to Dec. 21, 1988; to that horrible moment when they learned that their loved one had died,” Lowenstein says of her work. “They allowed their bodies to fall into the position that it took upon hearing that most devastating news. Some screamed, some begged, some wept, some prayed, some curled into a ball, while others raised their fists in anger and despair. This is the moment that I froze in time; this is the pose that I shaped into sculpture.”
A selection of pieces from the collection was exhibited on the SU campus earlier this semester as part of the University’s 20th anniversary commemorative activities.
The award was presented to Lowenstein by Aphrodite Tsairis, first board chair of VPAF 103 and the mother of SU student victim Alexia Tsairis. She spoke of how Lowenstein doubted her ability to return to her work following the tragedy but realized the art was the most powerful form of expression that had lasting relevance. Tsairis was the first mother to pose for Dark Elegy.
“Dark Elegy sprang from the creative energy pouring from her heart,” Tsairis said. “Yet what most affected Suse’s creative process was the stark reality that the toll of terrorism victims was enormous and rising exponentially. Suse began to feel it her obligation to preserve, for generations to come, the historical memory of these heinous crimes against innocent people. Dark Elegy has been on exhibition at various times at important venues over the years. Each time, those who view it and physically pass through it are deeply struck by its emotional aura that transcends a terrorist event and underscores the raw pain and devastation that is the ravage of political terrorism.”
Dark Elegy speaks to people of all nations, Tsairis said. “It fills the vacant pages in our history by commemorating the events that took the lives of so many unsuspecting and innocent people at the hands of hateful murderers who used terrorism as a political tool,” she said.
VPAF 103 was formed by the families and friends of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 shortly after the tragedy, with four objectives: to seek the truth about the tragedy; to provide emotional support for the families of the victims and to reach out to the families of other aircraft disasters; to improve airline safety and security by working with the aviation system and alerting the public; and to combat terrorism through government lobbying.
More information on the organization can be found at http://www.victimsofpanamflight103.org/.