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9/11 always hits home at the New York State Museum

Thursday, September 1, 2011
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“From Within, Remembered View” by Nancy Friese will be displayed in the exhibition “Before the Fall: Remembering the World Trade Center” at the New York State Museum. The exhibition opens Sept. 9 in the West Gallery.
“From Within, Remembered View” by Nancy Friese will be displayed in the exhibition “Before the Fall: Remembering the World Trade Center” at the New York State Museum. The exhibition opens Sept. 9 in the West Gallery.

“When the building shook, we got tossed around like toys. . . . And then it was silent.”

For five years, Billy Green, a firefighter from Engine No. 6 in Manhattan, has been telling his story at the New York State Museum.

The 20-minute video of Green, clad in his bulky uniform, his face covered in sweat and grief, is mounted inches from the remains of his company’s charred and battered firetruck.

Four of his buddies were killed when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and Green was the only survivor from Engine 6, one of the first companies to respond to the terrorist attacks.

Every single day, without fail, visitors stream into “The World Trade Center: Rescue, Recovery, Response,” the museum’s gut-wrenching exhibit about 9/11. They pause when they see Green’s face and often remain silently glued to the spot, paralyzed by his words.

“We’ve seen about six-and-a-half million since the gallery opened in 2003,” says Mark Schaming, director of exhibitions and programs.

Adding exhibits

On Sept. 9, two days before the 10th anniversary of the nation’s life-changing tragedy, the museum will unveil four new exhibits and many more never-before-seen artifacts.

A fire-scarred ladder from another firetruck will be installed in the front window of the museum lobby.

Related story

Click here to read about how other local areas are marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

In the museum’s Adirondacks section, visitors will be able to look inside “The Family Trailer,” a 30-foot-long metal enclosure that was installed at ground zero so family members of victims could have some privacy.

“Only family was allowed into it,” says Schaming.

In the World Trade Center gallery, more than 75 objects are being added. “International Response” will show how the world responded to 9/11, and there will be more voices and video of survivors and rescue workers. This summer, the museum added a video of President Obama’s May 1 announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Three 9/11 exhibits, titled “Reflecting on Sept. 11, 2001,” will remain in the West Gallery through April 2012:

u “Before the Fall: Remembering the World Trade Center” will feature artwork by artists who had residencies at the World Trade Center as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. One of the artists, Michael Richard, was killed in the terrorist attacks.

u “CedarLiberty Project,” a multimedia film installation by artist Elena del Rivero, documents the damage done to her studio/home, which was directly across from the World Trade Center.

u “Documenting a Decade: From September 11, 2001 to Today” is an interactive exhibit, with the public submiting photographs that depict the post-9/11 world.

This summer, Schaming and his staff also prepared exhibits and more than 300 objects for “New York Remembers,” a statewide recognition of the 10th anniversary. Thirty public sites across the state, from Stony Brook University on Long Island to the Jamestown Municipal Building in western New York, are currently hosting exhibits of artifacts from ground zero. At the New York State Fair in Syracuse, there’s an FBI vehicle.

“The entire state is an exhibition,” says Schaming. “And in Lake Placid, Potsdam and Binghamton — you’ll see different things. Every object will be explained.”

Leading repository

While other places, like the New Jersey State Museum, New York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York, have collections of 9/11 artifacts, the Albany museum’s collection is by far the largest.

“This is the national repository for Sept. 11 collections,” says Schaming, who traveled to Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, a sorting ground for rubble from ground zero, immediately after the disaster to begin the collection process.

The New York State Museum has 2,000 objects in its 9/11 collections, from items as small as car keys to pieces of airplanes.

There’s also a “sympathy collection,” Schaming says, “tens of thousands of items” that were left by visitors to ground zero from around the world.

New York State Museum was assigned the role of keeper of 9/11 objects because of its vast warehousing space, including 80,000 square feet in Rotterdam.

In the first years after the tragedy, the museum wasn’t really in contact with relatives of the victims, but in the past few years that has changed.

“Families have begun to see the museum as keepers of these things,” Schaming says.

Lisa Frost, a Boston University student, was on Flight 175 when the plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

A bone fragment and Lisa’s United Airlines frequent flyer card were sent to her family from Fresh Kills.

Recently, Lisa’s father, a former Albany resident who now lives in California, called Schaming.

“We want you to have this card. We can’t bear to keep it. It should be in a museum,” he told Schaming.

Lisa’s father never opened the envelope that came from Fresh Kills.

“They saw it for the first time at the museum,” says Schaming.

“Since 2005, we’re also hearing a lot more from survivors,” he says.

One man donated a cellphone and told Schaming the story about how it was lost and found in the disaster. The man says he had escaped with his office mates before the South Tower collapsed but left his cellphone on a window ledge. When the tower collapsed, the phone landed on the roof of a nearby building. Several hours later, a firefighter found the phone and used it to call his wife and tell her that he was OK. The phone was eventually traced and returned to the original owner.

“A week doesn’t go by that this doesn’t happen,” says Schaming.

On a recent August day, when The Gazette met with Schaming, he had already talked with an FBI agent, a firefighter and a family member.

Schaming also still hears from survivors and family members who contributed to the exhibit.

“They helped us every step of the way,” says Schaming.

And Billy Green?

“I’m still in touch with him,” he says.

 
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