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Reminders of Ground Zero on Display at New Museum

Coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a one-room “museum” in New York is opening that displays photographs, video, and remnants and artifacts from the site where the World Trade Center towers fell.

It’s a tiny, private museum in New York’s Meatpacking District, set up by photographer Gary Suson, who spent almost nine months volunteering at Ground Zero, photographing firefighters, police and other workers as they dug through rubble to recover the remains of nearly 3,000 victims.

After a book of those images was published in 2002, Mr. Suson returned to his other career as an actor and playwright. Then he visited Amsterdam, and saw the home of Nazi Holocaust victim Anne Frank. He thought of his photographs gathering dust, he said in an interview, and of the years before an official Ground Zero Museum would be built. “And I thought, you need to do something. You need to erect something to remember the fallen and pay homage to the recovery workers who spent so much time recovering the fallen for the families," he said.

So, Mr. Suson established the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, to display his photographs, video shot by others, and objects found at the site. Some of his photographs are cutouts, to create more depth. They are mounted above stones and dirt taken from the outer edge of the site, where no human remains were found, next to equipment used by firefighters.

And throughout the room are displays of what might be trash, or pieces from an archeological dig: ruined objects, remnants of signs, shards of glass and marble. “I wanted it to be as realistic as possible,” Mr. Suson said, “I wanted people to feel as though they were in Ground Zero. I think that lends a hand to helping people connect, similar to the way I connected to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I just wanted people to feel what I felt when I was down there.” And what did he feel then, he is asked. “I was humbled by the whole experience,” he said, “I was touched, I was saddened. I fully got [understood] what evil is.”

Gary Suson’s photographs from Ground Zero have been compared to the work of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. His images document the grief and exhaustion of the recovery workers, and their determination. More than a few lost firefighter brothers or fathers when the towers fell, and some carried out the remains of their own relatives.

But the new museum is drawing more attention for the artifacts on display than for the photographs. One reason is that unlike in most museums, visitors here may hold some of the pieces. Mr. Suson explains:

“Children often have said to me, ‘Why did nobody live when the World Trade towers collapsed, why is that?’ And I let them hold a piece of steel from the World Trade Center beams, and it’s extremely heavy. And so when they hold it, it becomes educational, they get to see how really powerful those buildings were. Or, here’s a piece of glass: it provokes a lot of thought. You wonder, who looked through this glass, what floor was it on? I know for me it was very humbling to pick up these things at Ground Zero.”

Some critics, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have questioned Gary Suson’s appropriation of objects from Ground Zero for his museum. Mr. Suson says none were identified as personal property of the victims, and that some were lent to him by firemen, and others were plucked from the trash. The Ground Zero Museum Workshop in downtown Manhattan will be open by appointment only, and Mr. Suson says that proceeds from admission charges will go to six charities, including the 9/11 Families Association.