Within weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithsonian Institution began collecting a wide range of artifacts recovered from the three sites where the hijacked planes went down.
In an exhibit opening Sept. 3, the National Museum of American History will let visitors get much closer for a more intimate experience. The museum plans to depart from the usual glass-covered displays and assemble the objects on open, uncovered tables.
“September 11: Remembrance and Reflection” contains about 60 objects from the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.
“The objects come from collectors and donors and, more importantly, people who were there,” said Cedric Yeh, curator of the Sept. 11 collections. In 2002, the museum was designated as the official archives for Sept. 11 materials.
“There are some everyday moments in the midst of destruction. There are things we all recognize. They help people understand it happened to all of us,” Yeh said.
Some are ordinary objects — a window shade and seat belt from the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville. Some are ordinary but became extraordinary. Jan Demczur, a window washer at the World Trade Center, donated his squeegee handle to the museum. On Sept. 11, he was stuck in an elevator with five other men in one of the towers. He used the handle to force open the elevator door and then dig through the wall. All six were saved.
There is a crushed firetruck door from Brooklyn Squad 1, one of the first responders to the fiery scene at the twin towers.
Also displayed are smaller, but equally telling items: a postcard that a traveler mailed just before getting on one of the hijacked planes, a doll found in the rubble in New York, a log book from a flight attendant on Flight 93 and a beige corridor map of the Pentagon that hung close to where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building.
A curator will be on hand to describe the objects on the uncovered tables. Visitors will be encouraged to record their reactions on comment cards. These cards will stay with the Sept. 11 collection at the museum; a digital version will go to the September 11 Digital Archive at George Mason University.
The show, which is mounted as part of “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” permanent exhibition, will be on view until Sept. 11.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 3-11, at the National Museum of American History, 14th Street
at Constitution Avenue NW, americanhistory.si. edu or 202-633-1000.