W’burg jokesters to build Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding museum in ap’t hallway

W’burg jokesters to build Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding museum in ap’t hallway
Associated Press / Phil Sandlin

The whack heard round the world is set to be immortalized in a tiny museum in a Williamsburg apartment.

A pair of comedians are opening the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum in the hallway of their abode. The museum is meant to focus on a media machine that hones in on one scandal after the next, and the two athletes that got caught up in it, according to the museum curators, who were both seven when one of figure skater Tonya Harding’s associates attacked rival skater Nancy Kerrigan with a police baton.

“We want to focus on the cultural reaction and the media,” said Viviana Olen, who lives in the Williamsburg apartment with her friend Matt Harkins. “I had a sense of it as a child and then to revisit it as an adult, you realize how much the media left out.”

The pair first launched the museum concept as a joke Kickstarter fund-raiser with a goal of $75, but it garnered so much attention that they decided to really go for it, she said. The level of interest shows just how much the Harding-Kerrigan scandal resonated with Americans, Olen said.

“Everyone wants to get involved with this,” she said. “It is a story that people really connect to.”

In January of 1994, Harding and Kerrigan were occasional figure-skating teammates in their 20s who were getting ready to compete in the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and aiming for spots in the Winter Olympics in Norway. The famous blow to Kerrigan’s kneecap was delivered by a friend of Harding’s live-in ex-husband outside of a practice in Detroit, and though Harding denied involvement, she eventually pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution.

The incident spawned a media circus that lasted for months, culminating at the Olympics, where Kerrigan won silver and Harding suffering a broken lace and came in eighth. The competition was one of the highest-rated TV broadcasts of all time.

Harding-Kerrigan buffs have come out of the woodwork to support the museum project, offering Olen and Harkins copies of play scripts, screenplays, and comics that they have written about the drama. A woman in Portland, Oregon said she is going to send them a handmade diorama of Harding’s triple axel, according to Olen. A woman who writes about figure skating professionally sent them buttons and programs from the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Olen said.

On display: Viviana Olen and Matt Harkins will display photos of the two figure skaters in their apartment hallway for the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum.
Photo by Cate Dingley

One fan said the rivalry may have taken on the status of kitsch, but it has serious implications for society.

“Everyone laughs and chuckles about it, but it is an example of how we treat women in the media,” said Zackary Grady, who is working on a play about the incident called “Toe Pick.”

The months of focus on the scandal would never happen today, he said.

“Nowadays, this would be on Buzzfeed and we would be over it in a week,” Grady said.

Another supporter, who hasn’t gone as far as making fan fiction about the incident, said she just wants to see the museum happen.

“It is very zeitgeist-y to me to make a museum in your apartment hallway,” said Prospect Heights resident Janie Stolar. “And it hits a sweet spot of nostalgia.”

The Kickstarter campaign has raised $1,007 so far, eclipsing its original goal of $75. Olen and Harkins plan to throw a party to open the museum in April. The museum will not have regular hours, but will accept visitor appointments over the internet.

“I mean, this is in our home and we have day jobs,” said Olen. “But anyone who is into this is someone we would like to meet, at least for a few minutes.”

Media circus: Camera crews follow Tonya Harding in 1994, the year that changed everything for her and Nancy Kerrigan.
Associated Press / Jack Smith

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf[email protected]nglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.