What Happens to Those Heartbreaking Tributes at the 9/11 MemorialHistorians in the News
tags: museums, archives, 9/11, memorial
They were trinkets that whispered to lives wrenched away.
A jar of sand from Oahu for a sister who danced on its shore. A blue herringbone scarf for the flight attendant who had taken a fateful extra shift. Six scraps of notebook paper, each with a word in Spanish written to the father of four from the Bronx. “Hay gente aun que te aman.” There are still people who love you.
Left at the plaza of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan, the items were placed with no expectation they would linger any longer than one night.
But even the tiniest of tributes can express so much — so these items, along with thousands of others left behind, made their way into the museum’s vast storage facilities. There, artifacts of unremarkable appearance — a tiny teddy bear, a seashell, a ribbon for a No. 1 dad — are considered valuable expressions of mourning that continue the narrative of Sept. 11.
Impromptu memorials are the first tendrils of hope after tragedy, public declarations that someone is remembered, something good endured. Even posters of the missing remained up for years out of respect to the 2,977 victims.
“It really was: Where does the tribute landscape begin and where does it end?” recalled Lisa Conte, head of conservation at the 9/11 museum.
There was an intrinsic sensitivity to tributes by the time the memorial opened in the footprints of the twin towers on the 10th anniversary of the attack.
“We had made the decision from the get-go that this site would be cleaned every night so that every time a visitor stepped onto it, they could experience it fresh,” said Jan Ramirez, the museum’s chief curator. “We knew those trinkets had to go somewhere, so we wanted to build in the opportunity to collect them respectfully.”