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In the weeks after 9/11, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) hired Voorsanger Associates, an architectural consulting firm, to walk through the site during the cleanup operation and tag objects they believed might be of use in a permanent memorial at the World Trade Center site. They specifically looked for steel and other objects that would tell the story of 9/11. The recovered WTC steel that once stood tall in the Manhattan skyline would now be preserved in an expansive aircraft hangar known as “Hangar 17” at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where it would await a more permanent memorial purpose.
In early 2010, after the The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation Inc. (9/11 Memorial Foundation) decided which artifacts it wanted for its Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site, the Port Authority began a program to solicit proposals for some of the remaining WTC steel to be used for public displays. Proposals were solicited from police and fire departments, municipal governments and community organizations. The primary requirement, according to Steve Coleman, an official with the Port Authority public affairs office, was that the steel be used in a public memorial display to provide a lasting memory of this tragic event and to ensure that we will never forget. The September 11th Families’ Association (www.911families.org) also helped to promote the program.
When I asked Coleman what the most significant artifact in Hangar 17 is, he replied, “All of the artifacts have their own special importance. Perhaps the most famous artifact is the Last Column, which is a giant piece of steel that was used as a message board for cops, firemen and construction workers during the cleanup operation. It will be a permanent fixture in the WTC Museum.” As far as Hangar 17, it will continue to be in operation as long as it takes to find the steel and other artifacts a new home. While some dignitaries have visited Hangar 17, the number of visits has been very limited because it is not a public space and has been mainly only open to Port Authority and 9/11 Memorial staffs. (For a look inside Hangar 17 and the Vehicle Tent, there is a link from a New York Times online article: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/09/10/nyregion/20080911-hangar-panos.html.)
The Application Process
The solicitation by the Port Authority received proposals from 1,500 groups in all 50 states and eight foreign countries. To date, the Port Authority has approved 1,040 requests. The Port Authority stopped accepting new requests when they no longer had enough steel to fulfill the requests. According to the Port Authority, none of the approved requests have changed their mind to date but if they did, they would go to one of the other requests on file.
The process included a formal letter of request to the Port Authority, a trip to New York City to select the steel and then transportation of the 9/11 Memorial Steel to its final destination. All of the WTC steel was documented evidence of the 9/11 terrorist attack and had to be officially released by the New York Attorney General’s Office. Each piece of the WTC steel was extensively catalogued as to where it was situated on the WTC site following the attack and where the steel was located when the Twin Towers were standing.
A Personal Account
In an earlier visit to the WTC Tribute Center, I met Lee Ielpi (a retired member of the FDNY and President of the September 11th Families’ Association) who told me about the 9/11 Memorial Steel Program. He stated, “The steel withstood the most horrific attack on American soil that took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people. This is a rare opportunity to create a lasting memorial honoring the lives lost and educating future generations about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Every day, your work as emergency personnel demonstrates the power of good. A public memorial to the victims and heroes of 9/11 is a powerful way to ensure their memory lives on in your community.”