View Full Version : WTC Artifacts Saved for Posterity

January 29th, 2002, 12:30 PM
January 27, 2002

Artifacts of Anguish Saved for Posterity


Enveloped in white plastic sheathing, set atop small wooden blocks, the immense steel bones of the World Trade Center lie under the gray winter sky on a patch of the Kennedy Airport tarmac where the jets never venture. Row after row after row, the 40-ton steel columns that once formed the lower facade of the north tower are now lined up like the coffins of soldiers brought back from war.

Behind an adjacent tarpaulin- cloaked fence topped with barbed wire is another cache. Splinters from the soaring television antenna that marked the highest point in New York City — 1,732 feet into the sky — sit on their sides, right next to the punctured, debris-choked remains of Fritz Koenig's great spherical bronze sculpture, the former centerpiece to the trade center's ground-level plaza, interpreted as a symbol of world peace through trade.

And nestled against the Koenig globe is a truly horrible object: a charred and pitted lump of fused concrete, melted steel, carbonized furniture and less recognizable elements, a meteorite-like mass that no human force could have forged, but which was in fact created by the fiery demise of the towers.

There is a randomness to the collection, but the selection is not accidental. These objects are the raw material for museum exhibitions and a memorial that do not yet exist. At this lonely corner of Kennedy, at two scrapyards in New Jersey, at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island and at a handful of other sites in New York, these hundreds of items, giant and small, have been collected.

With a level of discretion bordering on secrecy, a group of architects, museum experts, city officials and others are gathering these haunting remnants at the behest of the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built and owned the trade center complex.

The attempt is to create an archive that is already attracting interest from dozens of museums and artists, from the Smithsonian Institution to a museum in France to a sculptor in Greensboro, N.C. The collection is also likely to serve as a resource for scholars, historians and scientists who will study the disaster.

The artifacts, as the collectors call them, will be invaluable, if only as a tactile, three-dimensional expression of the unspeakable scale of the disaster on Sept. 11. For the moment they serve as an ad hoc museum, though one unlike any museum that has ever existed before.

As the collection grows, it is provoking a host of unfamiliar questions. How can artifacts like smashed fire trucks be decontaminated for asbestos, chemicals or traces of the dead without destroying items of documentary value like gloves, small tools and bits of clothing crumpled inside? How should novel and bizarre materials like the meteorites be preserved? Among the many people and institutions already asking for, literally, a piece of the trade center, which should have access to the artifacts?

The curators began the physically and intellectually exhausting work even as the firefighters were still battling fires and digging through the mountains of rubble. Relying on a mixture of professional experience, aesthetic judgment and a strong dose of gut reaction, they picked out objects from amid the 1.4 million tons of debris to save.

"Your house is burning down, you run back in, what do you save?" said Bartholomew Voorsanger, a Manhattan architect whose firm has coordinated the collection effort. "You're just not trained to do that, so you go by your instincts."

The work had to progress swiftly, for an object not grabbed immediately could be lost forever to the speedy cleanup, headed for burial at the landfill or for the metal recycling scrapyards. The steel left for disposal typically attracts bids of $80 to $100 a ton, but once a curator sets an object aside, its value becomes incalculable. Some of the pieces, like a section of the American Airlines jet that struck the north tower, are in the possession of law enforcement authorities as part of the inquiry into the attack, but the curators have requested that the objects be preserved and turned over to them when the investigation is completed.

The task proceeded, Mr. Voorsanger said, without any preconceptions on the emotion-charged question of what a memorial would eventually look like, or even if it would include any of the salvaged items, the most striking of which is the ghastly but elegant facade of the north tower.

Like the holy relics kept in European cathedrals or the scars of the blitz that have been preserved in London buildings or the skeleton of a Hiroshima dome that survived the atomic bomb, artifacts have long had the power to stir the imaginations and the souls of visitors. The collections at Kennedy Airport and the other sites make it clear that these artifacts will be no exception.

"In their ruination, as it were, their loss of perfection, they are in a sense illustrating what has happened to them," said John Fidler, head of building conservation and research at English Heritage, a British agency that, like the National Park Service, maintains historic battlefields.

Discovering what elements of the ruins had a special ability to convey the disaster, some sort of cultural significance or simply a terrible beauty was not a job that Mark Wagner, 33, an architect with Mr. Voorsanger's firm, was prepared for last September.

Mr. Wagner, a Queens native, was assigned to comb the debris field at ground zero each day for possible artifacts. A list of essential items had been made during an initial visit to the site by Mr. Wagner and the three members of a committee named by the Port Authority: Mr. Voorsanger; Marilyn J. Taylor, chairwoman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, an architectural firm; and Saul Wenegrat, an art consultant.

Fragments of the terrifying but graceful facades of the towers, which remained standing like some Gothic cathedral amid the ruins, had to be saved, the committee immediately agreed. So did the light pole that had become an international symbol of bravery and perseverance after a news photograph recorded firefighters using it to raise an American flag.

Smashed fire trucks and taxis, some so mangled and compressed that they are almost unrecognizable, would be tagged and saved. And the artworks — sculptures by Mr. Koenig and Alexander Calder — were added to the list. Other choices relied solely on improvisation.

The first days were the toughest. When Mr. Wagner arrived in late September with his digital camera, ready to take snapshots of the items the team wanted to preserve, he recalled, an angry group of firefighters demanded to know what he was up to.

"What the hell are you doing?" one of the firefighters asked Mr. Wagner. "This is a grave site. Our brothers are out there."

Unsure what might happen next, Mr. Wagner waited for a pause and then tried politely to explain the mission: "We have to start thinking about an archive, a memorial. Pieces of this have to be saved for future generations to understand what has taken place."

And with that, they understood. Soon enough, everyone was a curator, with even the scrapyard workers calling up to report strange objects they had found.

In the middle of October, the collection work shifted when a representative of the Museum of the City of New York called and notified Mr. Voorsanger of its interest in preserving an entirely different aspect of the trade center complex: pieces that would evoke the fabric of the life that had flourished there.

Bicycles still locked to a metal rack. Directional signs for the subways and trade center towers. Computer keyboards, pages from wall calendars, a file cabinet and dozens of other items that are valuable by virtue of their connection to cultural history, like Judy Garland's ruby-red "Wizard of Oz" slippers at the Smithsonian.

All of these artifacts have been found and saved. "It was what people saw in the complex as they went about their everyday business," said Dr. Sarah M. Henry, vice president for programs at the Museum of the City of New York.

Ground zero is not the only place where the collectors are doing their work.

Along the docks at Metal Management Northeast in Port Newark, N.J., a scrapyard with a crystal- clear view of the broken Manhattan skyline, a seemingly endless, temple- pounding boom rises in a crescendo and echoes as mound after mound of trade center debris is dumped into the belly of a waiting freighter.

Like the catcher in the rye, Andrea Wiedemann, 32, an intern architect at Mr. Voorsanger's firm, has been stationed to retrieve trade center artifacts before they are lost forever.

She wanders that yard as barges and trucks filled with steel columns and beams, giant elevator motors, cylindrical air-conditioning condensers the size of Volkswagens, and heavy steel supports from the trade center basement — green and red painted concrete, the color codes for parking still clinging to them — arrive here and are unloaded.

The air smells and tastes of the demise of the trade center. An acrid smoke from cutting torches mixes with the soapy, metallic flavor of rusty dust shaken loose from the trade center steel.

After months on the job, it never becomes routine, Ms. Wiedemann said. "Every time you see the pieces out of context, it just really shakes you up," she said. "It was all over the yard."

Some of the pieces that she and others have picked out are tagged and set aside in a ragged pile on one side of the muddy yard. Two examples of the 36-foot-long, three-column sections that fitted together to make the upper portions of the twin tower facades illustrate the incomprehensible forces at work. One section is arrow-straight and undamaged while the other is bent backward like a hairpin, the steel so compromised that it flutters in a slight breeze.

Another item, a flanged column made of four-inch-thick steel, is curved like a rainbow. And there is another meteorite. Though pitted and fused, the exterior of this one is less completely melted, revealing traces of the steel decking of four separate floors spaced in layer-cake fashion over perhaps two feet.

This stone is the compressed remains of those four floors. With hallucinatory vividness, bits of furniture springs, steel mesh and reinforcing bars from the concrete floors, angle iron and what could be crumpled pieces of desks or filing cabinets seem to be growing from the meteorite.

"God help anybody that was around that or near it or above it," Warren Jennings, a general manager at the scrapyard, said as a small group of people looked on solemnly.

It was too late for anyone to help, of course. But not too late for people to capture the objects that will immortalize that sentiment.

November 25th, 2003, 06:50 AM
November 25, 2003

The Men Who Saved the Relics of 9/11


An elevator floor plaque.

Three old friends gathered in the days before Thanksgiving amid a roomful of scattered artifacts, once-mundane objects that have been transformed by trauma. These are relics of the World Trade Center attack; they will be displayed in a new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society that opens today.

Mark down the friends' names: Dennis Diggins, James Luongo and Richard B. Marx. They are the wise men of the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, and they helped save history.

"They are responsible for virtually all of the things that any museum has, in terms of objects from the trade center," said Mark A. Schaming, curator of exhibitions for the New York State Museum in Albany. "Most things were saved at Fresh Kills, not at ground zero."

The fact that these public servants had no curatorial degrees did not deter them from rescuing hundreds of treasures for so many institutions, including the State Museum, which brought "Recovery: the World Trade Center Recovery Operation at Fresh Kills" to the Historical Society.

There are more than 50 artifacts on display, rescued by the efforts of these men. A rumpled five-foot American flag. A fragment of a red door from a blasted fire truck. A green and yellow chunk of a jetliner. A black leather remnant of a New York Police Department holster. And, on a twisted wire ring, a forlorn janitorial key marked "World Trade Center Do not duplicate."

Mr. Marx, 35, the special agent who was in charge of the F.B.I.'s landfill operations, surveyed the room of exhibition objects being readied for gallery walls. "Seeing this, it brings us right back," Mr. Marx said. "We used to see these things — dusty, damaged — all around us. Now they're in boxes wrapped with tissue paper."

Mr. Luongo, 45, an inspector for the New York Police Department who was chief of detectives at the landfill, slowly scanned the tables laden with artifacts. "I can smell it again," he said.

Mr. Diggins, 49, an assistant chief at the Department of Sanitation who is director of the Fresh Kills landfill, said it "certainly looks different now."

After a pause, Mr. Marx spoke. "It's unnerving to realize that history happened, and now it's in a museum so quickly. After all, these materials aren't a hundred years old."

"We are grateful," he said with Thanksgiving in mind, "that this hasn't happened again."

Inspector Luongo agreed. "America has a lot to be thankful for," he said. "As for me, I'm just thankful that I can sit down and have Thanksgiving dinner with my family. The awful thing is that 3,000 families do not have that luxury."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Diggins watched through binoculars, from the landfill across the bay, as the towers collapsed. He arrived at ground zero later that day with 24 pieces of heavy equipment to assist the recovery effort. "I escorted the first load of debris back to Fresh Kills at 2 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 12," he recalled. Mr. Marx arrived there later that day.

Inspector Luongo had just reached Vesey and West Streets "when the towers started coming down," he recalled. As he tried to rescue victims, he witnessed scenes of carnage that he does not talk about. He arrived at Fresh Kills on Sept. 13.

The recovery team encountered 175 municipal acres of mostly flat land that had stopped receiving waste. There, Mr. Diggins said, "we built a city." They called it the city on the hill.

In the end, when the sorting stopped on July 2, 2002, they had inspected 1.8 million tons of debris and 1,358 vehicles and recovered 54,000 personal items and more than 4,257 human remains. At its peak, the impromptu metropolis employed more than 1,400 people daily.

"You can't compare it to any crime scene ever," said Mr. Marx, who worked on the American embassy bombing investigation in Nairobi in 1998. The system they evolved over time — through trial, error, desperation and dogged persistence — had never been imagined before.

The mission was to recover human remains, personal property and evidence for future investigations. "We promised the families that we would look through everything," Inspector Luongo said, and the rubble was searched to recover objects over a quarter-inch in diameter.

"It was a moral promise," he added. "I live in Staten Island. And these people were my neighbors."

The relentless work was made more difficult by its numbing sameness, day after day. "The awful thing was that everything was the same color," Inspector Luongo said. "Gray."

The New York State Museum was part of a consortium of institutions that assembled in the fall of 2001 to preserve objects from the trade center. But outsiders "faced a tough crowd," Mr. Marx said; officers working around the clock felt fiercely protective of the dead and their families.

"We were so lost in the task of recovering the victims that we couldn't see the history around us," he said. "We had no historical perspective."

Mr. Schaming and several other curators deputized the three recovery managers, and other colleagues, such as Lt. Bruce Bovino, a key Police Department assistant, to serve as exhibit collectors. But the role of instant curator was a paradigm shift for them, more than just another task for the already exhausted workers.

"We try not to internalize what we see," Inspector Luongo said. But to identify objects of museum quality, "we had to become a little more sensitive to the emotional value of these objects to others.

"We had to focus on the story," he continued. "And every object had a story."

Sheer survival was an important criterion for collection: "Everything was pulverized," Inspector Luongo said. "For the most part, only small things survived." Collectors looked for the intact, the evocative, the colorful, the rare.

The objects pulled from Fresh Kills ultimately were shown to Mr. Schaming and a few other curators on the site; Mr. Schaming and Craig Williams, a curator, made 40 trips from Albany to the landfill. "He told us that we were rescuing these things for all the American people," Inspector Luongo said.

In September 2002, in Albany, the New York State Museum opened the nation's largest permanent exhibition about the trade center and the terrorist attack. It created the traveling show that arrives at the Historical Society today and will tour nationally until 2006. (The schedule is at www.nysm.nysed.gov/exhibits/traveling.html .)

The three public servants wrapped up landfill recovery in August 2002. By then, much of America had moved on, but that was the first time that the three men could finally emerge from the tunnel of tragedy.

Inspector Luongo took three weeks off and went to Disneyland with his wife and four children. "We get into the room, and I hear, `beep, beep, beep,' from the service trucks outside," he said. "That was exactly the noise we lived with at Fresh Kills — from all the trucks backing up. So, I had to get another room."

All three have new responsibilities. Mr. Diggins, who was deputy director of the landfill, was promoted to director and is overseeing its transition to a park.

Inspector Luongo was promoted to full inspector in May 2002 and is now executive officer of Manhattan detectives. He has worked, most recently, on the Staten Island ferry crash.

And Mr. Marx, a leader of an evidence response team, is "back working on robberies and fugitives," he said. "I'm recovering bullets again."

Inspector Luongo's hearing was damaged by the machinery noise. "I used to smoke cigars at the landfill, to handle the smell," he added. "It cured me of smoking. Because whenever I try to light up, it brings me back to that smell."

Mr. Marx said simply, "I've lost my sense of smell."

They are haunted by images, like the landfill's collection of beepers in boxes. Some went off as much as three weeks after Sept. 11, Mr. Marx said, "each time a loved one thought they would try to call that last time."

"I still can't feel it's over," he added. "It's always with you."

But despite the unimaginable rigors of Fresh Kills, they all are thankful for the experience. "I hope to God I never experience anything like this again, but it's a very significant part of my life," Inspector Luongo said.

Mr. Marx returned to the theme of Thanksgiving. "It's made me more thankful for the things that cannot be replaced in life," he said. "People, families, friendships. Things mean more to me than they used to. I cherish each moment I have now."

A fire alarm call box.

A baseball.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 19th, 2003, 05:43 AM
December 19, 2003

Surplus History From Ground Zero Rusts in a Hangar


Slide Show: Rusting Relics of Ground Zero (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2003/12/18/nyregion/20031219_HANG_slideshow_1.html)

There are no planes behind the mammoth locked doors of Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport. Instead, it hides history.

This is where a 100-foot-tall by 100-foot-wide section of the lower facade of the north tower — the infamous Gothic arches — is kept, disassembled into 25 pieces weighing 80,000 pounds apiece. Laid out on the floor are the crumpled remains of the north tower antenna. Parked in one corner is an assortment of crushed fire trucks. Here rests the last column removed from ground zero, complete with the graffiti from firefighters and ironworkers who recovered victims and cleaned the site.

This is the collection of 700 or so World Trade Center relics that the finalists in the design competition for the trade center memorial have, for the most part, decided to ignore. This too is the collection, according to some prominent conservationists, that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, after going to great extremes to preserve, is now allowing to rapidly and permanently degrade because of deficiencies in temperature and humidity control.

Rust is eating away at the twisted beams. Crushed fire trucks are corroding. Flakes are falling from the last column pulled from ground zero.

"This is a textbook example of how bad storage conditions can affect the preservation of an object," said Tom Chase, president of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and a specialist in the conservation of metals. "It is just awful."

Port Authority officials defend the effort to preserve these objects and encourage their use in any permanent memorial or museum. The objects, they say, are being treated with respect. "We absolutely want to preserve these objects for future generations to be able to recall what happened on Sept. 11," said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.

The most critical step, Port Authority and some museum officials in New York say, is that these items were collected and placed inside a hangar.

"It showed great foresight to set many of those items aside," said Mark A. Schaming, director of exhibitions and public programs at the New York State Museum, which has its own much smaller collection of trade center objects. "They have done a great job."

What is unmistakable is the enormous, immutable power that emanates from these inanimate objects stored below giant American flags hung on the walls at Hangar 17. It is a force that, for the rare visitor, causes almost instantaneous discomfort and reflective pause.

"It is not just a hangar filled with stuff," said Joseph Galati, a heating contractor who was so disturbed by what he saw when he visited the hangar that he had to leave. "You can sense the people who were never found. It feels like holy ground."

In the eyes of some prominent architects, critics and historians, the various waterfalls, reflecting pools and marble walls in the finalists' designs for a World Trade Center memorial carry none of the power of these raw objects.

"The eight finalists are using materials that could be in hotel lobbies or corporate plazas," said Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of history at Fairfield University in Connecticut and the author of "Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments, and the Legacy of the Third Reich." "When you turn to art to commemorate something this dramatic, it ends up diminishing the horror and distancing one from the actual authenticity of the event."

The Port Authority's collection has been meticulously cataloged, with the dimensions and weight of each major item recorded, and each with its own number, visible on tags in the 80,000-square-foot storage area. B-3177 is a turnstile from the World Trade Center PATH station. B-3101 is a motor from one of the twin towers' giant elevators that once lifted office workers into the sky. F-3001 is a bicycle rack, complete with seven abandoned bikes. Tires are blown out and rims are twisted, but a silver and blue helmet is still locked to the Crossroads Specialized bike.

At one end of the hangar, a half-dozen ladder trucks and fire engines are parked right against one another. But these trucks will never roll again. The front end of Ladder 18, from the Lower East Side, is smashed inward, its wheels are broken off their axles, its charred and twisted ladder looking like a piece of licorice. Miraculously, all the firefighters who arrived in this truck survived.

The single biggest artifact in the collection is the 25-part section of the exterior wall of the north tower. This is not the jagged, 240-foot-tall section of the south tower, the freestanding section that Philippe de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called "a symbol of survival; it is already, in its own way, a masterpiece." That chunk of the south tower was quickly demolished, as it was believed that survivors might be underneath it and the rescue workers could not approach the area without being in danger.

The surviving section of the north facade remained standing for months, precariously leaning on the ruins of the United States Custom House, and required much study before it could be taken down. Given this delay, there was enough time to devise a plan to save it.

Today, these steel pieces — a mixture of the three-pronged gothic trees and the straight, superthick columns that seemed to hold the whole tower up — are now laid out across the hangar's concrete floor, covered in a white sheathing.

Mark Wagner, an architect from Voorsanger & Associates, the firm the Port Authority hired to select and retrieve the objects from ground zero, the Fresh Kills landfill and metal scrapyards in New Jersey, said that each of these recovered facade pieces was carefully numbered so the parts could, at some cost, be reassembled as they once stood.

Perhaps the most revered object in Hangar 17 is the 36-foot-by-4-foot steel column that was removed from ground zero on May 30, 2002, in a special ceremony; it was the last large chunk of steel carried off the site. The column is covered with photographs of deceased firefighters and police officers and inscriptions from ground zero workers. "My brothers," one Port Authority police officer wrote. "You ran into hell. Now you walk with angels."

The Port Authority built a special plywood and plastic hut to hold the last column, which is set up off the ground. Four American flags are tacked to the black plastic wall. It is certainly a dignified setting. But a comparison of photographs taken of the column in August 2002 with photographs taken last week demonstrates the storage shortcomings that Mr. Chase and other preservationists cited.

The surface is now noticeably more rusted. Chunks of rusted steel are falling off, at times knocking off some of the mementos, like photographs of Firefighters Richard D. Allen of Ladder 15 in Manhattan and Dennis P. O'Berg of Ladder 105 in Brooklyn. The problem is the high humidity and lack of temperature control, the conservationists said, as well as a haphazard taping of the photos.

Hangar 17, a light gray structure with blue trim near the airport's main administrative building, was chosen as the storage spot because first Pan American World Airways and then Tower Air, its most recent tenant, are both gone, bankrupt.

Most of the hangar is dry and clean. The recovered items are generally covered with white plastic tarps. But there are a few small standing pools of water, a result of the leaking roof. Yesterday, when asked about this, a spokesman for the authority said that if there are objects standing in water, "they will be immediately put up on wooden blocks."

The objects most at risk from decay are those with painted surfaces, including the fire trucks and the last column, because humidity can eat away their skins, the conservationists said.

"Clearly it is not the best way to store things," said Charles Tumosa, a senior research chemist at the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education in Suitland, Md. "And once they go, they go. You only have one chance."

Dr. Tumosa and Mr. Chase have not visited the hangar, but they were shown photographs of conditions there.

Mr. Coleman, the spokesman for the Port Authority, said the agency's board had approved spending up to $5.75 million, although the agency could not say yesterday how much had been spent. Some leaks in the roof have been fixed, new lighting installed and the hangar door repaired. Last week, crews were repairing one of the large heaters. Mr. Coleman said yesterday that dehumidifiers would be installed by next summer.

"They are very important," he said of the objects, noting that the trade center had been the authority's home for 30 years. "They are very valuable historically."

As to why none of the finalists in the memorial design used any of these pieces as a central element, Anita Contini, vice president and director of memorial, cultural and civic programs at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is sponsoring the competition, said that one issue was that the Port Authority "could not guarantee anybody that they could have anything," citing its possible use as legal evidence.

Despite this, at least some of the designs incorporated a few of these objects. The Garden of Lights design, by Pierre David and two student collaborators, would use some of the steel to create a chamber for the unidentified remains of victims. And the Dual Memory design, by Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta, calls for placing steel items in a sculpture garden in the footprint of the south tower.

Ms. Contini said some of the designers were reconsidering their proposals to see if there were ways more of the relics could be incorporated. "Everyone is looking at it," she said.

Mr. Coleman said that while the legal questions were real, the Port Authority would try to arrange the release of any specific items requested.

At a minimum, if the central pieces of this collection are not incorporated into a final memorial design, Professor Rosenfeld and Bartholomew Voorsanger, the founding partner at the firm that helped recover the items, said they should be placed in museums or a permanent archive, or loaned out for exhibitions around the world.

"These are objects, obviously, that you cannot dispose of or sell," Mr. Voorsanger said. "They should be protected for an indefinite period of time."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

March 29th, 2004, 11:04 PM
New York Newsday
March 29, 2004

WTC artifacts await museum

By Errol A. Cockfield Jr.

Slide Show: Ground Zero Artifacts Stored at Kennedy Airport (http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/wtc/ny-jfkartifactspg,0,1758567.photogallery?coll=nyc-swapbox-homepage)

What's left of the World Trade Center, the very bones of the Twin Towers and the errant artifacts from the worst terror attack in the nation's history, sit now in a cavernous hangar at Kennedy Airport.

The 80,000-square-foot expanse houses -- among other reminders of the tragedy -- massive twisted steel beams, sections of the antennae that once dominated lower Manhattan's skyline, crushed police and fire vehicles, and "composite material," boulder-like masses of substances fused together by intense heat.

Deciding which pieces are worthy to go into an underground museum at Ground Zero will pose many challenges, but perhaps even more pressing will be the logistical quandary faced by planners.

They must grapple with whether and how the large artifacts -- many of them weighing as much as 100,000 pounds and rising three stories -- could be incorporated into the site at all.

"This stuff weighs tons and tons," said Bartholomew Voorsanger, principal of Voorsanger & Associates, an architectural firm the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has hired to archive the artifacts. "They would have to build around it."

Officials with the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency leading the rebuilding of the site, say they are creating a committee of curators, historians and victims' family members who will choose the items that would go into the underground display area that's a key element of the "Reflecting Absence" design of architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker.

Anita Contini, an LMDC vice president, said that planners will have to consider questions of "load and stability" even as they decide on the story they want artifacts to tell. "The interesting part for a curator is to figure out how those can be installed," she said.

That issue has also provoked the emotions of some victims' family members who are pressuring the LMDC to include artifacts in the design's plaza.

Lee Ielpi, a retired Great Neck firefighter who lost his son Jonathan, also a firefighter, said the pieces should figure prominently when you enter the memorial. "It should be above ground, not just below ground," he said.

But Monica Iken, founder of September's Mission, another family group, said she was so disturbed after viewing the artifacts at the hangar that she doesn't want them on display at ground level.

Visitors should be able to choose if they want to see those artifacts by heading below ground, she said. "I was prepared to see what I saw and I still had a difficult time with it," she said.

Contini said the LMDC had not come to a decision about the use of artifacts in the plaza, but she noted that Arad and Walker's plan does not currently include those elements above ground. And referring to concerns about preserving the items - which have rusted over time - Joanna Rose, a spokeswoman for the agency, said, "You don't want to expose these things to the elements."

Voorsanger & Associates was able to retrieve some of the artifacts from Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill before they were sold for scrap. Moving the items to JFK required cutting some pieces, Voorsanger said.

He also offered some advice to the memorial planners who will have to make some of the same considerations if the artifacts are moved back to Ground Zero. "They have to plan early," he said.

Tom Chase, president of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, said the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., faced similar hurdles in its restoration of the Enola Gay, the World War II aircraft that released an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. "This is out on the far end of difficulty," Chase said.

Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc.

March 31st, 2004, 01:12 PM
March 31, 2004


Oh, the Stories These Mute Pieces Could Tell


REMEMBER The twisted remains of a fire truck are among the artifacts salvaged from ground zero which may be displayed at the Memorial Center, the museum planned for the site.

MONUMENTAL SCALE One of the challenges facing the developers of the Memorial Center, the interpretive museum planned for the World Trade Center site is how to display enormous structural remnants like the steel column, the last one to be removed from ground zero in May 2002.

I CANNOT forget the shoe.

Two weeks after the attack, the mountainous wreckage of the World Trade Center, still shrouded in an evil pall of silvery smoke, was too vast to comprehend. What transfixed me instead, in part because of their fathomable scale, were everyday objects that had been blown from the north tower across Vesey Street to the 18th-floor rooftop where I was standing. There were computer keyboards, disks, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield memos and, all by itself, a brown suede Martinez Valero slip-on.

How had it gotten there? Had it fallen off as its owner escaped down a stairway? Or had it flown off as she tripped and fell, unable ever to reach safety? Was it simply sitting under her desk that morning, unworn, because she had not yet come into work? Or did it belong to someone whose face I had seen on a missing poster at St. Vincent's Hospital?

Surely, this shoe had a story to tell. But what was it? Horror? Relief? Loss? Salvation? The object was at once eloquent and mute, familiar and unknowable.

Multiply it a thousandfold and it becomes clear just how daunting a curatorial challenge is facing the Memorial Center, the interpretive museum planned at ground zero. There will be so many stories to tell, in so many ways.

"How you tell the story changes dramatically as your perspective changes," said Kevin M. Rampe, the president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. "At the beginning, the individual stories are going to predominate. Over time, the collective will."

At the beginning, with memories so fresh and personal and abundant, the most difficult curatorial choices will have to be made. If the museum were to draw on nothing more than the artifacts salvaged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that are now stored in Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport, it would have to winnow the collection by about 20 percent just to fit in the designated space.

The interpretive museum will occupy about 65,000 square feet, the equivalent of the Robert Lehman Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, about 30 feet underground. On two sides, it will be bordered by the voids marking the tower footprints, part of the "Reflecting Absence" memorial design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. The pool-filled voids may be joined with the museum in some way, at least visually.

Visitors will enter the museum from Liberty or Fulton Street by walking down a ramp alongside a craggy remnant of the slurry wall foundation, a journey from daylight into shadow that will also underscore the transition from present to past.

At the end of the descent, artifacts will emerge that were transmogrified in the crucible of Sept. 11, 2001. "Object-based exhibits are very powerful," said Mark Schaming, director of exhibitions and public programs at the New York State Museum in Albany, one of the institutions that may participate in the Memorial Center.

"People need to be in the presence of these objects," he said.

The Memorial Center will almost surely include fire trucks with shredded ladders, buckled police cars and the last steel column removed from ground zero in May 2002, with "PAPD 37" painted in blue at the top. (The Port Authority Police Department lost 37 men and women in the attack.) The column is now kept in its own enclosure at Hangar 17. "I can't imagine doing an interpretive center without it," Mr. Rampe said.

Fritz Koenig's "Sphere for Plaza Fountain," the badly damaged 25-foot bronze globe that was in the center of the trade center plaza, may also return from its current spot in Battery Park. "It was always imagined that the sphere would make its way back to the site," Mr. Rampe said. But it cannot be placed in its original location, because that will be the roadbed of Greenwich Street, which is being reopened through ground zero.

On the other hand, the epicenter of the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing — just south of 1 World Trade Center at level B2 — will correspond almost exactly to an area within the museum, suggesting where the story of that attack might be told. The memorial fountain installed over this spot in 1995 survives as a single red granite fragment.

Logistically, the most daunting challenge for the museum will probably be the incorporation of the distinctive trident columns and other structural steel from the north facade of 1 World Trade Center, the north tower. Portions of this facade, which was propped up against the nearby Custom House at 6 World Trade Center, were salvaged by the Port Authority and taken to Hangar 17.

"Everybody under the sun said, `That's the piece we need to keep,' but no one put together that that part of the tower was 160 feet tall," said Mark Wagner, an associate at Voorsanger & Associates Architects, which was enlisted on Sept. 28, 2001, by the Port Authority to begin collecting artifacts from the attack.

Eight column bays of the facade were cut into 40- to 50-foot sections, a length and weight dictated by the capacity of the trucks needed to haul them away.

There is theoretically enough clearance underground to display an upright object almost 70 feet high, if it were standing on bedrock. You can begin to imagine a multistory atrium penetrating the museum in which the columns could be viewed. "You want to look at them the way you looked at the bottom of the towers," Mr. Rampe said. "It's not as dramatic if you have them laying flat. We want to make sure we have the space to do that. That's going to be critical, to have that experience."

The fate of some structural remnants still on the site — the smoke-scarred parking garage, a ruined staircase on Vesey Street, the cast-iron tubes of the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad — has pitted preservationists against the development corporation, which maintains that ground zero "does not require the presence of any physical elements to be considered eligible" for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

But the corporation also said last month that "a portion of the Hudson tube could be retained for use in the Memorial Center." After all, the presence of the Hudson & Manhattan line, which is now PATH, dictated the location of the trade center in the first place.

The corporation is overseeing cultural and memorial programs until the World Trade Center Site Memorial Foundation is up and running. That foundation will take on the long-term responsibility for the memorial and the interpretive museum, and for the nearby cultural center and performing arts center.

Last month, the state museum, the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical Society were identified by the corporation as being on a short list of organizations that may develop the curatorial approach and content for the Memorial Center. Programming may involve Project Rebirth and Sound Portraits Productions/Story Corps, nonprofit organizations that are documenting the reconstruction of ground zero, and the personal stories around it. A designation of the cultural institutions to be involved at the trade center site is expected next month including some that may not be on the short list. When they are in place, the relationship among them can be determined.

"The synergy between the memorial and the Memorial Center and also the cultural facilities and the ground plane is very important: how you enter, how you approach, how you leave," said Anita Contini, a vice president of the development corporation who directs the memorial, cultural and civic programs.

On a tour of other memorials in 2002, she said, corporation officials learned "the importance of authenticity and the important role that artifacts play in that."

Among the more surprising survivors of the trade center collapse was a copy of The New York Times from June 23, 1969, slightly torn and rumpled but otherwise intact. It was found preserved inside a hollow box beam, presumably tucked in there by a construction worker. The front page chronicles the death of Judy Garland and the end of Earl Warren's tenure as chief justice of the United States.

If the newspaper was left behind on the day it was printed, it would have been nestled somewhere above the 20th floor of the north tower. After seeing it, Jacqueline Hanley, a senior architect at the Port Authority, said, "How poignant to be reminded of a time when the construction and completion of the two towers was still a dream and a promise, with so many floors and varieties of forces unforeseen ahead."

Some of these floors are commemorated in elevator door markers — B1, 10, 48, 62, 66, 78 — found during the sorting and recovery operation at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. For those who remember the towers, just the sight of a simple metal marker with the numeral "78" can summon a time when there was such a place in the sky.

Gov. George E. Pataki, who keeps a piece of window glass from the trade center on his desk in the Capitol, reflected on the symbolic power of commonplace objects like bullets, casings and belt buckles unearthed at Gettysburg. "I believe that 140 years from now, people will look at crushed fire engines and twisted steel and other relics that in any other context people might just discard and consider them important reminders," he said.

Of course, there is a difference between a belt buckle worn by a man who died in 1863 and one worn by a man who died two and a half years ago. And the Memorial Center must recognize the exquisite sensitivity of many artifacts, as other curators have learned. For instance, Mr. Schaming said, the state museum would not collect cellphones or other personal objects unless they were donated by family members or survivors.

For its part, the New-York Historical Society does not single out and display individual missing posters, said Amy Weinstein, an associate curator, though it may show them as part of a group in a photograph or mounted with others in an impromptu shrine.

The society is also thinking about another dimension. "In addition to things and images, oral testimony is an extremely textured artifact," said Jan Seidler Ramirez, the vice president and museum director. "Certainly an interpretive center would have a remarkable opportunity to layer in voices, memories, reminiscences."

Maybe one of those voices will belong to a woman who worked in the north tower. Alive and well, she will tell how, in such great haste to leave that morning, she lost one of her slip-on shoes. Martinez Valero, she will recall. Suede. Brown.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 3rd, 2004, 07:22 AM
April 3, 2004

Halting Rust From Devouring What 9/11 Couldn't


At Hangar 17, bags of lead shot weigh down a painted letter on Column 1001-B, the last column removed from ground zero.

Celebrating an April 4 that now seems distant beyond reckoning, a diamond-shaped stainless-steel pylon in Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport offers a poignant legend to the wreckage around it.

"In commemoration of the skill and industry of the thousands of construction workers and Port Authority personnel whose efforts created the World Trade Center," it reads. "World Trade Center Dedication Day. April 4, 1973."

More than any place outside ground zero, Hangar 17 holds the tangible evidence of the skill and industry needed to create the trade center and the courage and tenacity needed to endure its destruction.

But the evidence itself is vulnerable, no matter that some of it can be measured by the yard and weighed by the ton, no matter that all of it already endured the forge of hell - not too strong a word for a force that bent a steel I-beam with five-inch flanges.

Water, daylight, gravity and salt air have taken their toll as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - improvising a curatorial mission no one could have imagined - has transformed the abandoned Tower Air hangar, five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, into a storehouse, conservation workshop, temporary museum and shrine.

After criticism last year that it was allowing artifacts at Hangar 17 to deteriorate, the authority has taken steps to better protect the collection. It has erected a tent within the hangar in which 20 or so vehicles are now stored. It has installed hygrothermographs around the building, to take constant readings of temperature and relative humidity. It plans to build at least a half-dozen structures to house the more fragile and precious objects.

Just about the first order of business was to stabilize the impromptu memorial inscriptions on the 58-ton, 361/2-foot-long Column 1001-B of the south tower, the last column to have been removed from ground zero, on May 30, 2002. It now sits in its own plastic-lined enclosure at Hangar 17, flanked by two high-capacity dehumidifiers.

"The one thing we were most concerned about are the inscriptions by rescue workers on site," said Steven Weintraub, the founder and principal of Art Preservation Services of Manhattan, who is working with Voorsanger & Associates Architects, which began the task of salvaging material 17 days after the attack. "These are considered a condition that should be preserved at any cost."

The inscription being treated earlier this week was a blue "NYPD 23" on what was the south face of the column. (Seventeen police officers, four sergeants and two detectives died in the attack.)

To keep the painted inscriptions from peeling off, conservators use syringes to inject an adhesive resin under the curling flakes of paint. To hold the treated sections down while the resin dries, they place small bags of lead shot on tissue sheets over the paint. For the trickier underside of the column, Mr. Weintraub has rigged a camera tripod with a wood block supporting a plastic cushion that can be cranked up just enough to apply needed pressure.

After a series of experiments on an interior plate of the column, the conservators decided that one of the best resins for the job would be a polyvinyl butyral. "It has a very low gloss," Mr. Weintraub said. "It doesn't look plasticized."

Many photographs of victims and rescue workers that were attached by duct tape have either fallen off or seem poised to do so. Mr. Weintraub said the tape can be removed with solvents and preserved, allowing future curators to decide how the pictures ought to be reattached: with new tape, perhaps distressed to make it look old, or with the original tape, perhaps hiding thin magnets underneath.

The pictures pose yet another challenge, since many of them were produced by color photocopiers or ink-jet printers and are already fading badly. A possible solution, Mr. Weintraub said, is to make high-resolution reproductions and - once again - leave to later curators the choice of reaffixing the original or attaching a copy.

"The overall philosophy of the project is not to make decisions about the future exhibit but to stabilize as much as possible," Mr. Weintraub said, "to keep all the doors open to the future."

Before founding Art Preservation Services in 1988, Mr. Weintraub was a staff conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a conservation researcher at the Getty Conservation Institute. He was also a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The paradox of lavishing Chippendale care on utilitarian objects is not lost on Mr. Weintraub, who calls this phenomenon "the miracle of the accession number." By way of example, he mentioned a Danish rescue boat that had been used in World War II to ferry Jews to safety. Until its acquisition by the Holocaust museum, it was still afloat.

"One day it's in the water," Mr. Weintraub said, "the next day it's being handled with white gloves."

So, too, the artifacts at Hangar 17, which were salvaged from metal recycling plants in New Jersey, the Fresh Kills recovery operation on Staten Island and ground zero itself. Many of the pieces are likely to return to the trade center site as part of the underground interpretive museum known as the Memorial Center. But that may not happen until the end of the decade, at the earliest.

Now they fill the 80,000-square-foot hangar: deformed sections of the broadcast mast that once towered almost one-third of a mile over Lower Manhattan, the rugged steel tridents from the base of the north tower, crumpled red puzzle pieces of Alexander Calder's "World Trade Center Stabile," and a mangled Port Authority police car that is recognizable as a vehicle only because it still has wheels.

There is also the dedication-day plaque, which stood in or near a planting bed between the north tower and the Custom House at 6 World Trade Center, recalled Robert C. DiChiara, who was formerly assistant director of the Port Authority World Trade Department. "It's nice to see things survive," said Mr. DiChiara, who is now the executive vice president of the World Trade Centers Association, which represents 288 centers worldwide. "There were so many things that were destroyed."

In recent weeks, the authority has opened the hangar to about 40 visitors as part of a federal historic preservation review of the trade center site. One such visitor, on March 26, was Nikki Stern, whose husband, James E. Potorti, died in the attack.

"I cannot believe how effective and affecting this 'collection' is as a way of conveying the catastrophic proportions of this attack without requiring fancy displays or resorting to gimmicky technology," Ms. Stern wrote in an e-mail message that day.

Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter who has long prodded officials to preserve the remnants of ground zero, has a personal link to Column 1001-B. Strapped by wires to one side is a fading photograph of his son, Jonathan L. Ielpi, a firefighter who died in the attack. But Mr. Ielpi allowed that a picture on the last column might not be quite as resonant for him, since he found his son's body at the site, as it would be for the families of those whose loved ones were never recovered.

"They don't have anything at home," Mr. Ielpi said. "That column is, to them, the last tribute to their sons. In that respect, I truly hope that the Port Authority does right by the artifacts at Kennedy."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

April 10th, 2004, 06:02 PM
Downtown Express
April 9, 2004


Don’t let preservation delay W.T.C. redevelopment

By David Stanke

This sign recovered from the World Trade Center mall is now being stored at J.F.K Airport.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has retreated from its initial finding that there would be “no adverse affect” on historic World Trade Center site elements from currently planned development projects. Instead, it is proposing a programmatic agreement to “ensure ongoing and meaningful consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office and the consulting parties.” It is also expanding the list of historic elements. While this is a generous show of good faith by the L.M.D.C. toward the wishes of a few 9/11 families, it risks opening a Pandora’s box of complaints about every proposed piece of construction on the site.

As part of this process, consulting parties have toured W.T.C. disaster remnants stored at Hangar 17 at J.F.K. Airport and walked into the W.T.C. bathtub. In Hangar 17, many of the remnants from the World Trade Center are being preserved. A walk through the airport terminal is a step back in time, both physically and emotionally, to the events of 9/11. The smashed vehicles, the scattered W.T.C. antenna, a collection of random rubble, and sections of distinctive column structure all combine to recall the scenes on the street. The shear physical power of the event is captured in the structural beams bent out of recognizable shape. Some are crumpled in chaotic and random patterns, like massive twist ties. Others are curved in graceful arches, as a simple physics equation was imprinted on the beam by the force of 110 stories of imploding skyscraper. These pieces capture the chaos and emotional rawness of 9/11 and demonstrate the magnitude of the event in a way I have not felt since watching the fires smolder in the pile through the windows of my Liberty St. apartment.

As a consulting party to the Section 106 process examining the historical significance of the W.T.C., I have had the chance to take two walks — one through the hangar and the other to the bottom of the bathtub on the ground that once held the W.T.C. towers. This was the view that recovery workers left when their mission was completed, including the box beam “footprints” that were exposed when steel workers removed the final remaining columns.

The trip to the footprints communicated only one feeling: the vast emptiness that comes with the realization that the W.T.C. is gone. The huge bathtub wall, the column remnants, the temporary Path Station, even the remaining parking lot levels to the north say just one thing: it’s gone. There is nothing that recalls what was there before, nor does it communicate the personal and intimate details of loss. The historical feel of the site was removed with the recovery, and the touchstones of history are in Hangar 17 miles away. This void nature of the site will be preserved in a healing way by the Reflecting Absence memorial. Reflecting Absence will be an extremely costly memorial and it has stretched the design of the rest of the site, but it will not perpetuate the devastating damage that was the purpose of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

The proposal would add several peripheral items to the list of artifacts to be considered for preservation. Why, with a vision of a memorial in place and space set aside for an exhibit of the remnants, has the L.M.D.C. agreed to add the following to the list of historical remnants: parking garage remnants under the customs house, a stairway completely outside of the bathtub area left after the demolition of W.T.C. 5, tie-back caps that were installed during the recovery to support the bathtub, and utility holes that had been installed in the bathtub?

There is no logical connection among these items that contribute to a meaningful definition of what is significant. If these items are historical, every building that was damaged or repaired is historical, everything that existed on 9/11 and was covered in debris qualifies. If we accept the criterion necessary for these items to qualify, we would have to stop repairs on 90 West St. and preserve Deutsche Bank building as historic monuments to 9/11. Giving serious consideration to these items, aside from being an embarrassing waste of energy, could lead to delays and expensive modifications of development plans.

Finally, they have added the I-beam cross to the list, without calling it a cross. This item should be donated to a church nearby and removed from consideration at the site. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists were killed at the site. To believe that God left a sign of Christian religion at the site is demeaning to people with other beliefs.

The reason the L.M.D.C. has taken these steps is obvious. The highest levels of our nation’s government are testifying in public under oath about their actions, thoughts, and intents in the periods before, during and after 9/11. This hugely enlightening and beneficial process was forced by a dedicated group of 9/11 family members whose response to 9/11 was to prevent it from ever happening again. The same power that allowed them to bend the office of the president of the United States to its will is focused on driving the Section 106 process. Political agencies have demonstrated the difficulty of directly saying no to a 9/11 family member, for fear of being perceived as unsympathetic.

In the Section 106 process, the emotional pain of 9/11 family members has been directed at preserving the destruction of Al Qaeda attacks under the banner of “preserve the footprints from bedrock to sky”. This campaign has already forced all major buildings onto just over half of the site.

Leveraging 9/11 emotional pains are groups, like the Municipal Art Society, dedicated to fighting developers. Normally their cause is to preserve architectural significance or cultural continuity. At the W.T.C. they are still fighting development, but for what cause? To preserve an empty whole? These groups have no stake in the broader implications of W.T.C. decisions.

The 106 process is being driven by a narrow selection of special interests, not based on historical expertise, but on a struggle for control of real estate at the W.T.C. The country and the city will pay the price for this struggle. Eventually, Americans will start to ask what we are doing in the name of 9/11, why are we preserving the product of terrorism? Why are we drawing out hearings on scattered ruins for 10 years, when government hearings on failure to prevent the attack will finish in a couple of months? Do the family members involved really want to agonize over pieces of concrete hundreds of yards from the towers years from now? How do they feel that preserving tie-back caps on concrete walls will honor their loved ones? Why do they want to stop the evolution of the city at a date nine months after 9/11/01?

David Stanke is co-president of BPC United, a group of Downtown residents, and can be reached at bpcunited@ebond.com.

Copyright 2004 Community Media LLC

May 19th, 2004, 05:18 PM
New York Times
May 19, 2004

With a Small Sign, the Trade Center Endures


Every day, thousands of visitors stand at Church and Vesey Streets, scanning the sky over ground zero to discern some illusory trace of the twin towers, as if memory could be etched in the air. Meanwhile, in the subway below, thousands of commuters pour through an actual vestige of the World Trade Center.

Actual but, until recently, unmarked.

In a far corner of the PATH station is a remnant of the trade center concourse, 66 feet long and 32 feet wide. Paved in tawny, pitted travertine marble, it is marked by two gleaming overhead signs, each with a green train icon, pointing to the 2, 3, A, C and E subway lines and leading to a set of glass and metal doors.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey deliberately left this portal alone when it reconstructed the PATH station last year. It was "the right thing to do," the chief architect, Robert I. Davidson, said at the time. But only commuters familiar with the sight of travertine under foot would have recognized the passage for what it was.

Now, a 13¾-by-13¾-inch plaque marks the spot, reading, "These signs and floors below are part of the surviving structure of the World Trade Center." The Pentagram design studio produced the sign using text supplied by the Port Authority, in part to explain to first-time visitors why the old signs and stone flooring are still in place.

"Because it's a surviving piece, it's embedded with so much meaning," said Michael Gericke, a partner at Pentagram.

Those who knew this pathway before Sept. 11, 2001, will always see things no visitor can. When he walks across that travertine, Stefan Dallendorfer, an architect who used to live nearby, can picture the entrance to the Borders bookstore, the little Tourneau shop, the Sbarro pizzeria, the escalator to an upstairs that no longer exists.

"It was very touching," he said. "Absolutely. It still is."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

June 16th, 2004, 10:39 PM
June 14, 2004

Film Chronicles Preservation of 9/11 Relics

When the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11, a thick layer of white dust rained down on the colorful window displays in the Chelsea Jeans store on lower Broadway. And there it stayed. After pedestrians were allowed to return to the area, a woman with her young son in tow stepped into the store to ask if she could have a cupful of the dust. "Sure," store owner David Cohen replied, asking only why she wanted it. Explaining that her husband, the boy's father, had been in one of the towers and had never been found, the woman said she and her son just wanted to hold onto something.

Moved by her response, Cohen preserved the dust-covered storefront for more than a year after the attacks. "It's a very small piece, but it's a small piece for people to hold on to and to remember that day and their loved ones," Cohen said.

For Cohen, dust served as a connection to memories. For others it was a briefcase or a business card, a tiny glass marble or a massive piece of charred, contorted steel. In the 1.8 million tons of debris transported to the Fresh Kills landfill from the World Trade Center site, countless relics were found. And at impromptu shrines throughout the city, countless other items were left.

Making sense of these objects, and deciding which to preserve for generations to come, fell to a group of historians and curators from several area historical institutions. To better understand the choices they made -- and to provide insight into how and why ordinary objects become important to us -- documentarians Jonathan Fein and Brian Danitz decided to film the historians' work.

"When reality is overwhelming, things we can see and hold become an anchor," Fein says. "As filmmakers, we were driven by the same forces: We felt a need to record the events and thoughts of history as it was happening on the ground level and try to put it in a context for comprehension."

With their cameras rolling, Fein and Danitz followed as they sifted through both the remains recovered from the WTC site and the objects left at informal memorials citywide. They traveled from St. Paul's Chapel to Fresh Kills, from storage hangars at JFK Airport to the tribute-laden fences surrounding Ground Zero. And they watched the historians uncover objects each step along the way, objects transformed on 9/11 from ordinary things to extraordinary repositories for memories and stories.

For the woman in Chelsea Jeans -- and for many others who came to Cohen's memorial after her -- preservation of the store as it was that day helped provide a link to lost loved ones. Curators from the New-York Historical Society dismantled the storefront display on October 25, 2002, preserving its elements for possible display in a future exhibit. Fein and his crew filmed the process.

The historians also spent countless hours at Fresh Kills landfill, many of which were also filmed. This footage documents stories as they unfolded behind the objects that were discovered.

Take, for example, a simple business card found by Kevan Jackson, then vice president for business affairs at N-YHS. "Anyone who was willing to help was welcome," Jackson says, so he went with the historians and curators to the landfill to pitch in.

In the back of a demolished police van, Jackson discovered a lone business card printed with the name of an executive who had worked in the towers. "At first, it appeared to be little more than a poignant reminder of the storm of paper that rained on Lower Manhattan after the fall of the towers," says Fein, who was there to film the discovery. But when Jackson returned to his office, Fein says, "he screwed up his courage and dialed the number on the card."

Nathan Goldwasser, the man whose name was printed on the card, picked up the phone. "I almost jumped out of my seat," Jackson told Fein. Goldwasser explained that he'd been on the 89th floor of the North Tower when the plane hit. He made it down the stairs and away from the building, talking on his cell phone with his family the entire way. He now works in a fifth-floor downtown office.

With the tale of the man uncovered, and his oral history recorded, the card can help future generations understand his flight to safety, Fein says. "The story of salvaging the object and drawing out its story crystallizes the process that made present activity a potentially meaningful historical act," he says.

Fein and Danitz are now working to shape this and other stories into an hour-long documentary that also includes accounts from other memorials, such as the one commemorating the Oklahoma City bombing and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

They hope the film, presently called "Objects and Memory," will air nationally -- perhaps on PBS -- as well as around the world, on TV and in classrooms and museums. Fein expects the film to be completed within a year.

The film also could become part of the permanent memorial to be built at the World Trade Center site, Fein offers. "When you go to a museum, you seldom know how people chose what to include," he says. "The exhibits about 9/11 could have videos running alongside them, showing the exact deliberation that resulted in a given object being selected for inclusion."

And until the 9/11 memorial and museum are built, Fein says, "'Objects and Memory' will help fill the need for understanding and remembering how people responded and what they valued."

The total production budget is $525,700, of which $105,000 -- including a recent grant from Goldman Sachs -- has been raised. Individuals or organizations interested in lending support to this project are encouraged to contact Fein directly.

The New-York Historical Society is acting as the 501(c)3 fiscal agent for the project. To learn more about the recovery work done by the museum's staff, which they have titled the "History Responds Project," please visit the N-YHS website. Other organizations assisting with the documentary film project include the New York State Museum, the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Parks Service.

*All images courtesty of the New-York Historical Society

The dust-covered window display at the Chelsea Jeans store

Police doors, now part of the N-YHS permanent collection, serve as objects of memory

Melted guns were among the objects recovered from Ground Zero

Rescue 2 doors, recovered from Ground Zero, are now part of the N-YHS collection

©2003 Company 39, Inc.

December 2nd, 2004, 11:35 PM
New York Times
December 3, 2004

From 9/11 Rubble, Unclaimed Mementos


Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced further efforts to return jewelry found at ground zero.

Of the thousands of items salvaged from the World Trade Center disaster - children's photographs and melted credit cards, paperweights and plaques - the families who come to the property room at Police Headquarters are most often in search of one thing: wedding rings, golden symbols of infinity. The next most popular items are watches and earrings, necklaces and bracelets - precious objects intended to last, albeit not amid ashes.

To find them, the families bring receipts, hand-drawn pictures, insurance papers, even souvenir wedding videotapes. Still, only about half the 1,350 pieces of jewelry from the World Trade Center have been returned to survivors or their next of kin, compared with about 72 percent of the 26,799 items collected in all. Yesterday, the Police Department unveiled a database that allows people to use the Internet to submit claims for what is left. Within an hour, the police said, 17 had been filed, from as far away as Arizona and Ohio.

The database is part of an extraordinary effort by city agencies to ensure that any identifiable remnant from the disaster site is restored to its rightful owner. At the Fresh Kills landfill, debris removed from the site was manually sifted for personal items and human remains. At the medical examiner's office, new tests were developed for deteriorated DNA, and a method was invented to preserve body parts that may be identified in the future. In addition to the effort to return jewelry, the Police Department has had 8,000 tattered photographs digitally restored, and the Port Authority hopes to have them on view on a secure Internet site by the end of this year so that families can reclaim the originals.

"We are committed to returning this property to its rightful owners in a respectful and a dignified way," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday at a news conference held to announce the jewelry database. "It is an obligation that we have, and we want to see it through to the end."

The items range in condition from perfect to unrecognizable, said Inspector Jack J. Trabitz, the commanding officer of the property clerk division. They were recovered from three places: the World Trade Center site, Fresh Kills and the city morgue. Inspector Trabitz said that the transfer of the objects was an emotional affair. "It affects every family almost the same way," he said. "It relives the moment for them, it brings back memories of their lost loved ones, and then they run the gamut between mourning and closure."

Yet many people have been hesitant to take the step of reclaiming the belongings of their loved ones. Now, nearly four years after the attack, there are still people trickling into the property room, where they are ushered into a private area for World Trade Center victims and their families. "Sometimes they've just built up the courage to come down," said Michael Henley, an evidence and property control specialist who spends as much as two hours with each family. "I'll sit down with them, they'll tell me about the family, they'll show me pictures. A lot of them just really want to talk."

After each initial visit to the property room, Mr. Henley sorts through the items to see if any match the description offered. The new database, developed with help from the department's own gemologist and experts at Tiffany & Company, streamlines that process. It provides a standardized way for people to describe a piece of jewelry, from its brand or inscription to the number, type and shape of any gemstones. If there is anything in the inventory that matches a description, the claimant may be sent an e-mail message with a photograph of the item. But the jewelry itself is not on view on the Web site, www.nyc.gov/nypd, to prevent fraudulent claims. Any disputes or conflicting claims will be resolved in state court, Mr. Kelly said. The Internet claims process will be available until May 31, 2005.

The effort to return small items has at times reached heroic proportions. Anna Mojica, a homemaker in Bellmore, N.Y., raising two children, said she received a gold chain her husband had worn, as well as the keys to his car and house. Manuel Mojica, 37, was a firefighter. He did not wear his wedding ring on the job.

Beth McErlean, a homemaker in Larchmont, N.Y., raising four children, said she had not been aware of the property-return program. Her husband, John McErlean, 39, was a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. "I'd love to get back his wedding ring," she said. "It has his initials and my initials and the date we got married: 1987, on Sept. 12."

But some people seemed not quite ready, still, for the sorrowful errand of recovery. Grace Alviar, a financial services representative at a hospital, said she had not received her husband's wedding ring, gold necklace or the gold Rolex she gave him as a present for Christmas and his 50th birthday.

But, she said, when it comes to the World Trade Center attack, she has trouble following through. "Every day is 9/11 for me," said Mrs. Alviar, who has three children. "I don't bother with Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's any more. I just want the day to pass by."

Anthony Ramirez contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

July 14th, 2012, 06:42 AM
WTC Steel Finds New Home in South Carolina

By Allyson Philobos

World Trade Center Memorial Plaza in Greenville County, S.C.
Photo courtesy of Richard Shiro.

Thanks to a community effort in Greenville County, S.C., residents are able to commemorate 9/11 in their hometown.

A 1,360-pound piece of World Trade Center steel now stands on a pedestal in the center of Greenville’s World Trade Center Memorial Plaza. According to a recent story in GreenvilleOnline.com (http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20120704/NEWS/307040050/Fire-department-dedicates-9-11-memorial?gcheck=1), pieces of concrete surround the steel as a reminder of the rubble left by the towers’ collapse.

After a private fundraising campaign to bring the I-beam to Greenville County and build the memorial, the plaza officially opened to the public on Independence Day at a local fire district headquarters. Organizers say that supporters “dropped dollars in boots and businesses donated money, services and materials” for months before the memorial was able to open.


July 16th, 2012, 10:31 AM
I don't know....

I can understand certain memorializing... but the extent that we saved hunks of steel is a bit creepy.

the other thing is, although some larger assemblies may be a solid reminder of what they once were, most are just ugly hunks of painted broken steel.... My home town has a piece of beam with the composite studs on it. It's.....beam-y. It just does not give me any feeling of solidarity, or hope, or anything really.

The best parks are still the simple ones with a stone or plaque with the names of the people lost. Too much elevation of junkyard scrap is almost necrophilial....

July 16th, 2012, 11:09 AM
There's one in a little plaza in Union City that I like. I saw another one in Wyandanch that was placed in concrete in an almost forgotten place next to a highway. It held meaning to me but there was very little commemoration attached to it. I'm sure it would have very little meaning to a kid or many teenagers.

July 16th, 2012, 11:59 AM
Being that I walked on the smoking piles of rubble, they have meaning to me too....

But just one stump of a column in the middle of a park does not a memorial make.

I think the ones in the museum, like the crushed firetruck mean so much more (and makes me tear up just picturing it), but so many others are just emotional waste management.

July 20th, 2012, 01:55 AM
I don't know....

I can understand certain memorializing... but the extent that we saved hunks of steel is a bit creepy.

the other thing is, although some larger assemblies may be a solid reminder of what they once were, most are just ugly hunks of painted broken steel.... My home town has a piece of beam with the composite studs on it. It's.....beam-y. It just does not give me any feeling of solidarity, or hope, or anything really.

The best parks are still the simple ones with a stone or plaque with the names of the people lost. Too much elevation of junkyard scrap is almost necrophilial....

I disagree. Stone plaques have become cliche in the public's view. When a passerby sees "yet another" polished chunk of dark stone with a list of names, they would not have immediate event recognition. What is it about? The Vietnam War? WWII? Korea? After the brilliant Vietnam War memorial in DC was completed, the style became immensely popular and, sadly, overused and frequently watered-down. Memorials must preserve memory; instead, these generic stone plaques, intended as dignified deference, profess generic anonymity, which is the opposite of remembrance. Traditional memorial statues, sadly considered cliched and outdated by today's standards, still stir much emotion without being intrusive or overbearing. These little WTC steel memorials are effective, in my opinion, because they stir up raw emotion and instant event recognition. The bare steel is an effective reminder of the nature of the event, an antithesis to generic anonymity. I've come across a number of such memorials around the NYC area, and though most are small and unobtrusive, they are instantly recognizable. You see one from the corner of your eye, passing by on a bus, and you immediately understand what it is and why it's there, without the need to approach very close to read the fine chiseled print. The fact that it is an actual artifact from the site only multiplies its raw power. I understand the "necrophilial" point of criticism, but these memorials tend to be executed with a degree of quiet dignity that does not shock the viewer. They tend to be small, at a low elevation, and usually tucked away under some trees; they're usually not propped up on some 8 foot tall pedestal in the middle of the main square. It's not like they're jarring, traumatizing heaps of rubble strewn across a public park. I'm yet to see a memorial beam arranged in any nonlinear, diagonal, or otherwise "destructed" manner.

July 20th, 2012, 01:01 PM

That steel is no different than scrap steel in a junkyard or demolition site.

The only thing that set it apart was how it was twisted.

The fire truck that was crushed, or certain personal artifacts, or that large fork latticework are all instantly recognizable for what they are. They have more personality than a generic piece of composite steel beam.

Point being, if I were to go to a demolition site, grab s similar sized chunk of steel, and put it in a park, the "instantly recognizable" piece would be mistaken for WTC material. Other things, like the aforementioned fire truck would not be easily replaced by another fire truck you crushed and put in a museum....


July 20th, 2012, 02:08 PM
We each have our own point of view.

July 20th, 2012, 03:03 PM
I know.

I am not trying to hammer things in or call anybody wrong. As a structural engineer, however, I have seen most of these remnants as often as I have seen trees.

Well, maybe not THAT often.

I, myself, have a broken bolt shaft from one of the buildings in a plastic baggie in my office. Nothing really interesting about it at all, except that was something I picked up while walking through the wreckage only a few days later. the object is not what was important, only my memory.

Now, for a MEMORIAL, it is usually good to not only allow those that were there to remember, but to transfer that memory to the next generation. I was not in WWII, and not alive for most of VietNam, but somehow the VWM and the USS Arizona memorials are enough to impart those memories on me....

To each their own.....

July 20th, 2012, 07:09 PM
I have a piece of foam that I think must have been coating for one of the beams in my own little plastic bag.

July 24th, 2012, 12:58 PM
Heh, my Grandpa (RIP) and I used to gather bits of WWII era shrapnel left from fierce battles against the Nazis, as we tilled our garden in Russia. To us, it was a living reminder of the carnage and slaughter that took place literally in our own backyard, remnants of the greatest war ever fought in the history of mankind. But without knowing their origin, they look like average pieces of rusty metal junk. It's fascinating how much power human memory gives to otherwise ordinary objects.

July 24th, 2012, 02:00 PM
One of my favorite things about East Berlin was seeing the bullet holes left in the stone structures. It brings the battle back to life.

July 25th, 2012, 03:30 PM
One of my favorite things about East Berlin was seeing the bullet holes left in the stone structures. It brings the battle back to life.

Anyone who visits Dublin (off topic I know) can see the bullet holes in the columns and stone walls in front of the General Post Office (GPO)...left there after the Easter Uprising of 1916. Amazing, I think.