Bringing 1 million ‘bones’ to D.C. for a good cause


For a weekend, Washington's National Mall became an open mass grave to raise awareness of genocide.

On 200,000 square feet of grass in front of the U.S. Capitol, 1 million artistic renderings of human bones were arranged to bring awareness to the victims of genocide. The stirring art installation and logistical triumph was the culmination of four years of work.

Thousands came together to lay 130,000 pounds of handmade bones at the U.S. Capitol.

The idea for the One Million Bones project began when New Mexico-based artist Naomi Natale read a book about the 1994 mass atrocities in Rwanda.

"It's inconceivable to me on so many levels that what occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago is happening again today in other African countries," Natale says. "I wondered, if we could actually see a mass grave, would that inspire us to take action?"

Working with the Bezos Family Foundation, CARE and many other groups, Natale began to turn her vision into a reality by asking students, artists and community groups to make bones that would be used in a visual petition against genocide. While the bones were being created out of materials such as clay, paper pulp and plaster, the next order of business was figuring out how to transport them to Washington, D.C.

Planning and preparation
Even by UPS standards, ensuring that 1 million delicate, handcrafted bones arrived at the National Mall on the same day from locations as far north as Juneau, Alaska, and as far south as Tijuana, Mexico, presented a big logistical challenge.

"I quickly realized that this wasn't just a logistics project," says Randy Leach, a customer solutions manager, who headed the project for UPS. "It was about people's hearts and passions – people who truly wanted to make a difference in the world."

Transporting 130,000 pounds of bones to Washington required the combined expertise of UPS people all over the country. Armed with boxes, pallets and shrink-wrap, they helped package the bones. The palletized shipments then traveled through the UPS Freight®LTL (less-than-truckload) network to the UPS Service Center in Washington, D.C., where manager Rob Stevens and his staff handled the final leg to the National Mall.

Before sunrise on Thursday, June 6, the first of 11 UPS Freight trailers were "dropped" along the Mall. By the end of the day, more than 200 pallets had been unloaded and placed, despite torrential rains. On Friday morning, the remaining pallets were unloaded.

"It was like a ballet," says Sandy Adkins, a public relations manager for UPS Freight, who helped document UPS's involvement. "One trailer would arrive as another would depart. It was a beautiful, fluid movement of trailers, forklifts, boxes – and people working incredibly hard all day long."

Installing the exhibit – and packing it up
On Saturday, June 8, the sun came out, and some 2,000 volunteers began placing the bones on the lawn. Among those volunteers was Laura Lane, president of UPS Global Public Affairs, who was stationed in Rwanda with the U.S. Foreign Service before, during and after the 1994 genocide. Only one person on Lane's staff survived the mass slaughter, despite tremendous efforts to save them.

"I lost a lot of personal friends and colleagues during that time," says Lane, who, along with her daughter, helped unload and collect empty boxes, but left before the laying of the bones. "It was just too emotional for me. ... I kept thinking of everyone we lost."

Dismantling the exhibit after the weekend proved to be an even greater challenge as UPS contended with more bad weather. But in two days, the bones were collected and repackaged, many heading to their final resting place at a permanent exhibit in New Mexico.

Natale estimates that, start to finish, 150,000 people were involved in the One Million Bones project and about 100,000 visited the exhibit. "I'm so proud to work for a company that cares enough to be part of this project. Our involvement is a larger statement about what UPS stands for as a company, and what we stand for as a nation."

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Bob Hernandez
Couldn't all the money time and effort go into something that will really help the cause ?? I don't know but there has to be someone that would know !!
It wasn't "war" in the usual sense--Rwanda genocide was pure tribalism which is the same evil force as racism--the idea that the "other group" is different from "our group" and must be killed. War is an act of government. Tribalism and racism are mob actions. The evil force behind both is the same, and it is within individuals.
Bruce Skala
In the last century over 170 million, both military and civilian, died in conflicts and genocidal acts. No doubt whenever or if ever ISIS is defeated a whole new set of mass graves will be discovered.
Cynthia Ferguson
They are plaster of Paris bones.
It is unbelievable that we live in a world where such things can happen at all. Human life is so precious and is to be respected as God given, and should be protected, and honored. I want to thank everyone involved in this project for bringing great awareness to the fact that nations need to take action to protect its own and rally to help each other keep every citizen safe.
I think this is an amazing and provocative way to help people understand the impact of war. Even the description of the time and toil involved with this endeavor.... Can you not see the volume and feel the weight of these bones? Hear the burden in the sound of the planes whine, the trucks groan and the peoples labor in body, heart and mind. Understand these bones represent human beings, families and generations. Where on this earth do you not find bones? Add flesh to these old dry bones and you would hear a roar of voices so loud like the sound of the whole earth giving up her dead and God saying, "Enough!"......mercy...mercy.
Dilipkumar Chattopadhyay
Common people do not want war.It is the nexus of politicians and industrialists (to sell the arms), which causes war.The art is for art's sake, but, we won't keep any bones unturned to stop the war.
Wanda Johnson
The list [of atrocities] is endless, spans centuries, and yet man keeps right on killing. As long as men seek to do evil, nations will rise up to stop them.
Amen. . .
Any mass killing of innocent humans is a genocide, in my view, whether it is in Africa, Europe, Americas or Middle East. Human life is precious irrespective of sex, age, etc. Thousands of innocent people are killed for paltry and insignicant political gains, which are short lived. Especially when they can be avoided.
Compass Guy
Tony, although they seemed to look real enough, the bones were not real but instead created out of materials such as clay, paper pulp and plaster. And they're not on the Mall now -- it was just a weekend exhibit in 2013.
I think it's a great point but actually bones it's a a desecration of those peoples remains(no matter is they had permission or not. (No one should have rights to another humans remains they should be buried and leave them in peace.) plus placing on the ground makes some people not able to go to the mall now due to dead there. They could have used another form.
S. Duffey
Genocide happens after a government disarms their citizens. Mass graves are dug with dozers and the abused bodies of women and children are rolled to the bottom with less kindness than throwing a McDonald's bag into a garbage can.
Richard Travis
Or the 20 million Russian souls who died fighting Hitler?
S. M. Brewer
What about a display of 6-million bones for the victims of the Jewish genocide in Europe?
This is awesome! Keep up the good work UPS Team!
What an imaginative, beautiful, thoughtful way to illustrate a horrible event in the history of the world. It is one of those events that needs to be examined and discussed so that it never happens again, but Ms. Natale's idea made it artistic and thought provoking. It's on the same order as the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I will have to travel to New Mexico to see it for myself. Thank You Natalie Natale.
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