A Space for National Mourning at DC Armory

Artist Suzanne Firstenberg's Two-Week Installation, "In America, How Could this Happen..."

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The two-week installation “In America, How Could this Happen…”, photographed Friday, Oct. 23. The installation was conceived as a space of national mourning. Photo: Nico Frank/CCN

Tens of thousands of small white flags ripple in the breeze as they stand in rows on the tree-lined field outside the DC Armory. By Sunday, more than 170,000 flags had been planted. Each of them has a story: a story of loss, of joys and pain. Each represents one of the more than 220,000 American lives lost so far to COVID-19.

The flags are part of an installation, called “In America, How Could this Happen…” which tracks the scale of that loss on a billboard. As of Monday, Oct. 26, the number has risen above 223,000 souls, each of them to be represented by a white flag arrayed on the lawn before it, each one now dancing in the wind.

There are 270,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery marking the graves of those who died to protect American lives, said artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg at a press conference Oct. 23,

“When you look out at the mass of flags here: these are the people we didn’t protect, that we couldn’t protect,” Firstenberg said.

Firstenberg conceived the installation as a space for national mourning. She said that she was inspired to create this community art installation in August after hearing the remark that 170,000 deaths were just a statistic. “My 25 years of hospice volunteering taught me every life is valuable, no death is just a statistic,” Firstenberg wrote on her website.

Firstenberg began planting the first 170,000 flags the morning of Oct. 20, and installation will continue through Nov. 6, with flags added each day that a person is lost to the pandemic.

Community members are invited to plant flags – and personalize them with names of lost loved ones – from Friday, Oct 23rd to Friday, Nov 6th,  on Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to sunset.

And on Saturday and Sunday from  9 a.m. to sunset. Bring a writing tool to memorialize your loved one.

You can see a live view of the installation here. Learn more about Suzanne Firstenberg and how to participate in the “In America, How Could this Happen…” Exhibit by visiting suzannefirstenberg.com

Follow @inamericaflags on Instagram and Twitter.