September 7, 2011
Each day this week until September 11, the National Museum of American History is displaying artifacts recovered from the horrific crash of United Airlines Flight 93 a decade ago in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, along with more than 50 objects from the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
Helena Wright, the museum’s curator of graphic arts, describes the sensitivity guiding the artifacts’ collection and preservation. “Shortly after the attacks, we began discussing what our role as a museum should be, and concluded that we had a responsibility to document the events of September 11 in the National Collections,” said Wright. “The immediacy and deadly nature of the events posed particular collecting challenges. We worried about appearing ghoulish in the face of bereavement, about important material deteriorating or even being thrown out, and about whether we understood enough about the events to document them for posterity. And we knew we would have to be selective—we cannot collect everything.”
The exhibit includes personal items from some of the seven crew and 33 passengers who perished when a terrorist hijacking ended with the airliner plunging to the ground. One of the artifacts is a tattered but still readable personal log carried by flight attendant Lorraine Bay, who had been working in the first-class section.
Among the most arresting artifacts were those recovered from the aircraft itself, frozen in time at the second of impact. A bright orange call button ripped from a ceiling panel (above) is slightly charred. The aircraft’s vertical speed indicator lies mangled and marred.
The Smithsonian Channel has produced a 46-minute video to present the moving stories behind its collection, while the American History museum considers its exhibit a work in progress, and invites additional donations of artifacts and information from the public.
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