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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Argus Paul Estabrook

SPE Member since 2020
Member Chapter: Southwest

School Memories: The Loss In Danwon High

Ten classrooms at Danwon High School were transformed into memorial sites during the Sewol Ferry Tragedy on April 16, 2014, when the lives of 250 students and 12 teachers (nearly its entire second year class) were lost off the coast of Donggeochado, South Korea. Overnight these classrooms were covered in their own sea of photographs and personal letters addressed to the departed. From this origin of loss, these classrooms emerged as sacred spaces, repositories of memory.

Amidst debate of what should be done to preserve the memorials, a controversial attempt to forcibly clear out and remodel the classrooms was made almost immediately after the 2nd year anniversary of the tragedy. For several days family members occupied the school grounds until an extension was granted to access the classrooms for a few more weekends.

In August of 2016, the school resumed renovations and removal of all memorial items.

Powerless against the forces that be, these families say they're losing their children and loved ones for a second time.

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Author's Note:
In 2010, I entered public school teaching through the Gyeonggi English Program in Korea. GEPIK serves the Ansan area, placing educators in Danwon High School. Because of this connection, it was easy for me to imagine the children as middle school students I had once taught.

I felt compelled to help preserve the space. When government and school officials made it clear that this would be impossible, I re-focused my efforts to photograph the significance of the memorial's removal. Dismayed that my initial essay hadn't generated the awareness I had wished, I sought to assist the families further. Approximately a year later, I returned and provided them my photographs to record their thoughts. This renewed document is a collaborative effort, one that shares personal insights from individual family members to create a portrait of the community's voice as a whole.

A defaced memorial blackboard in Danwon High

Im Young-ae writes to her son, Oh Jun-young

Lee Ji-sung presses tight a photo of her daughter, Kim Do-eun, while sitting at her classroom desk in room 2-3

Set to 4:16

Park Ye-na holds her brother Seong-ho's Danwon High School identification card

Lee Yeong-su sits in front of a two-year old note addressed to his brother, Yeong-man

Kim Jeong-hee writes to her daughter, Kim So-jung. Her school jacket hangs on the back of her chair in classroom 2-2

Kwon Mi-hwa writes a letter to her son, Oh Young-seok, in classroom 2-7

Jun Mi-soon remembers her granddaughter, Park Jung-seul, at her desk in classroom 2-10

Last Days

Park Hea-young recalls her daughter, Choi Yun-min

In classroom 2-3, Choi Sung-yong looks over letters addressed to his daughter, Choi Yun-min

Letters in the Hall

Kim Yeon-sil cleans the classroom of her son, Jeong Cha-woong

Park Yu-shin buries her head into Jeong Yea-jin's memorial journal

Volunteer Han Kyoung-sook recalls her thoughts about Moving Day

Choi Ji-young, mother of student Kwon Soon-bum, collapses outside of Danwon High School

Volunteer Misun Cho recalls Moving Day

Choi Soon-hwa looks down from her son Lee Chang-hyun's boxed up classroom

A View of Danwon

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