News / USA

Ordinary Items Bring Home Impact of 9/11

Smithsonian marks 10th anniversary by displaying objects recovered from three sites

This clock was hanging on the wall of a Pentagon helipad when the impact of the crash knocked it to the ground, freezing it in time.
This clock was hanging on the wall of a Pentagon helipad when the impact of the crash knocked it to the ground, freezing it in time.

A leather briefcase, a little girl’s doll, a handful of coins. These ordinary objects take on extraordinary meaning because of where they come from.

They are among the items recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania - the three sites involved in the most devastating terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

There are more than 50 artifacts in the “September 11: Remembrance and Reflection,” exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The items are laid out, uncovered, on three tables; one for every impacted site. There is also a table bearing newly-obtained objects from the Transportation Security Administration.

The decision to display the exhibit without protective cases was unusual for the Smithsonian, but deliberate, according to museum curator Cedric Yeh.

“We hope that it provides our visitors with a sense of intimacy, and gives them a chance to interact with the objects on a level that isn’t normally available.”

Among the most meaningful pieces in the collection, Yeh says, are materials donated by Isaac Ho‘opi‘i, a Pentagon police officer credited with saving many lives in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

After hearing a report on his patrol-car radio about the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Ho‘opi‘i rushed to the destroyed portion of the building.

“Not only did he physically help remove people from the building,” says Yeh, “but he used his voice when the fires and smoke got too intense for him to return to the building.”

Image of first responder Isaac Ho‘opi‘i, who is credited with saving many lives at the Pentagon. The photo of Ho‘opi‘i is taken by Richard Avedon.
Image of first responder Isaac Ho‘opi‘i, who is credited with saving many lives at the Pentagon. The photo of Ho‘opi‘i is taken by Richard Avedon.

“He would call out to those still trapped inside the building and say, ‘Follow my voice,’ and just with his voice, people were able to orientate themselves and found themselves escaping the building. He affected so many people’s lives. He is still remembered by those he saved.”

The materials Ho‘opi‘i donated to the exhibit include his uniform, shield, his dog Vito’s collar and shield, a K-9 patch, and a poster of Vito.

Associate Curator Shannon Perich realized just how intense the conditions were in the Pentagon after seeing a handful of melted coins.

“When you see that clump of coins and you understand how hot that fire was, it makes your stomach turn," says Perich. "Those metals that are supposed to protect us, that rebar that is supposed to be strong and sturdy, is twisted like a straw, you began to really understand the power of the impact of when those planes hit.”

She is also moved by the standard-issue Pentagon office wall clock that froze at the moment of impact.

“It bounced off the wall, the batteries fell out and time stopped,” she says.

David Allison, associate director for Curatorial Affairs, is struck by the everyday nature of many of the objects in the display, such as a simple office telephone.

“The phone of the solicitor general, who was in contact with his wife who was on Flight 77, he made his last calls to her on that telephone. And I think being able to see that telephone is like a phone you might have on your own desk, and I think you can begin to envision what your life might be like if that had been your spouse," Allison says.

All fifty-three passengers, six crew members, and five hijackers were killed when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.

At the New York table, a crushed fire truck door is a reminder of the 343 members of the New York Fire Department who were killed trying to rescue people.

Airplane fragments, a seat belt and a personal logbook belonging to flight attendant Lorraine Bay are among the items on display at the Pennsylvania table. Bay was among the seven crew members and 33 passengers who were killed when Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

"Each object has its own story and they’re connected to real individuals whose lives were changed, because all of our lives were changed,” says David Allison.

Close to 3,000 people lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. The display provides a place for visitors to remember and share their personal experiences of that tragic day, says museum interim director Marc Pachter.

Pachter expects the items to play a critical role in educating future generations of Americans, those for whom September 11 will no longer be a personal memory.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs