By Kevin Kirchman, Marketing Director, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York, New York
very day, thousands of people drive right past it, a plain-looking building nestled amongst other aviation-related structures on the west side of the Van Wyck entrance to John F. Kennedy International Airport, just a few miles from lower Manhattan. Some of the older aviation buffs might recall that it was once the site of operations for Pan American World Airways and, more recently, Tower Air. Most of the people speeding past the rather unremarkable building have no idea of its importance. But for the small number of people who have had the privilege to step inside, the visit has been awe-inspiring and often has a profound impact on their lives. For inside Hangar 17, are painstakingly catalogued, meticulously maintained, and lovingly cared for artifacts recovered from the World Trade Center.
The heroic rescue and recovery effort was in its earliest stages when a group of forward thinking public servants quickly realized that the opportunity to preserve these important reminders of the horrific attacks of September 11 would be lost, probably forever, without decisive action. So, members of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department, New York State Museum, and others were dispatched to the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island and locations in New Jersey where wreckage from the World Trade Center was being trucked, to identify appropriate items that would help ensure that these historically vital reminders would be preserved and protected. Working closely with preservationists and stakeholders, the group selected hundreds of items of historical significance for preservation.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey immediately began scanning its facilities for a secure, large-scale location to house the objects. The agency’s Board of Commissioners quickly authorized an allocation of funds for long-term preservation, and world-renowned experts were hired to ensure the precious objects were safely handled. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey found an unused aircraft hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport that, at 80,000 square feet, was large enough to store the massive steel beams, vehicles, concrete, turnstiles, and other unique items recovered from the World Trade Center and receive large truckloads of materials. However, as an airplane hangar, the building was not equipped with the precise monitoring equipment needed to keep the environment at exactly the right temperature and humidity, and prevent the artifacts from rusting or further degrading. Working with experts, the group ensured that repairs were made throughout the building, platforms were constructed on which items would securely rest, and the most delicate items were stored separately based on their individual composition. A curator was selected to keep tabs on the items and make sure they were kept as close to their original condition as humanly possible.
Some of the items stored at Hangar 17 are very familiar to most people around the world: remnants of the antenna that topped 1 World Trade Center, rising to a height of 1,732 feet; the tridents that stood defiantly amid the rubble; crushed and mangled emergency vehicles, testaments to the heroism of the thousands of first responders who assisted the most successful building evacuation in history; cars from the PATH train that brought unsuspecting commuters to their offices that morning; and smaller, more surprising surviving elements like a rack with bicycles still chained to them. Also contained in the collection are remnants of some of the well-known pieces of art that were throughout the World Trade Center, and items from many of the retail stores that lined the World Trade Center concourse.
The most famous, and possibly the most revered, artifact preserved at Hanger 17 is the last column that was removed from the World Trade Center at the end of the cleanup in a solemn ceremony on May 30, 2002. The column is covered with hundreds of inscriptions, symbols, words of love, and other remembrances placed there by members of the army of heroes that removed the millions of tons of debris from the site. At Hangar 17, the column sits by itself in a special room that has reminded more than one visitor of a shrine.
Inside Hangar 17, are painstakingly catalogued, meticulously maintained, and lovingly cared for artifacts recovered from the World Trade Center.
Fittingly, the artifact whose trip to its temporary home at JFK Airport marked the end of the cleanup effort, will be the first artifact from Hanger 17 to return to the World Trade Center site to be placed in its permanent home in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. The move underscores the sheer size of many of the artifacts – several of which are so large that the Memorial and Museum will be built around them.
The return of artifacts to the World Trade Center site also signals the start of the last phase in the current life of Hangar 17. The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum will be removing a number of the artifacts for permanent installation at the World Trade Center site and other artifacts for other temporary exhibitions by organizations across the United States that have requested and been approved to receive artifacts.
There are still thousands of artifacts, large and small, whose ultimate disposition has not yet been determined. In order to help preserve the memory of the World Trade Center, the innocent victims, and the bravery of those who responded, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will accept requests from cities, towns, museums, public safety and fire departments, and other appropriate organizations that have a suitable plan for a public display that is respectful of the loss of human life that took place at the World Trade Center.
If your town, city, or uniformed service would like to request an artifact, please send a letter on official letterhead or stationary to The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the attention of Christopher O. Ward, Executive Director with copies to Timothy Stickelman, Esq. of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Law Department and Norma Manigan in the Public Affairs Office of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The mailing address for all three is 225 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.
The letter should specify the type of artifact you are requesting (for example, a piece of steel or other building material); how the artifact would be used; an architectural description of the place where it would be displayed (such as a metal case with a glass panel); and other pertinent information and photos, designs, or sketches of the proposed display.
If the request is approved, you will receive instructions on how to pick up the artifact. You will be solely responsible for all logistical details associated with picking up the artifact, including bringing the proper equipment, securing any necessary permits to transport the artifact, and providing proof of insurance, indemnifying The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey during removal and transportation.
Acknowledging the historic significance of these items, the group turns from being caretakers to finding permanent, appropriate placement for these items. We would like to make this possibility available to police departments, national police memorials, fire departments, and other uniformed agencies. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for whom the World Trade Center was home and headquarters, appreciates your help with this important project.■