NEW YORK CITY: Only about a half-dozen artifacts from Flight 93 are displayed in the intimate alcove at the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
But each small item tells a powerful, emotional story of the Pennsylvania chapter of the 2001 tragedy.
The smashed Rolex, its date indicator frozen on the number 11, that belonged to Todd Beamer, who rallied fellow passengers with the words “Let’s roll!” as they steeled themselves for a cockpit assault.
The mangled piece of a galley stove that became a weapon as quick-thinking flight attendants boiled water to attack the terrorists controlling their plane.
The United Airlines handbook instructing flight attendants not to challenge a hijacker.
The Flight 93 passengers and crew ignored that advice and are considered heroes in the first blow against al-Qaeda for their actions on the doomed jet, which likely saved the US Capitol.
Behind the battered New York City fire truck, marking the entry to the exhibit area, is a sign etched with the time: 10:03 a.m. —the moment terrorists drove Flight 93 into the abandoned coal mine in Shanksville at 564 miles per hour.
A large photograph of the cloud of smoke rising from behind a storybook-red barn against a crystalline blue sky —the only known photo of the crash—provides a striking splash of color in a museum awash in a funereal palette of granite and black.
In the darkened space, visitors are greeted by the soothing voice of Flight 93 passenger Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas leaving a phone message to comfort her husband, Jack, telling him that there was “a little problem on the plane,” but that she was fine, “for now.”
Photos and tributes
In the four months since the museum has been open, 900,000 visitors have traveled below ground zero in lower Manhattan to visit it and be catapulted into that dark day.
Exhibits that assault the senses—audio, visual, three-dimensional – are framed by the granite outlines suspended from the ceiling of the footprints where the north and south towers once stood.
One section of the museum chronicles the day’s events minute by minute. What started as an ordinary Tuesday morning unraveled in horrific, rapid-fire detail before the eyes of the nation on cable news and the Internet.
Another section is dedicated to the personal side of the tragedy, with photos of and tributes to the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day, including the 40 Flight 93 passengers and crew.
Jan Seidler Ramirez, the museum’s chief curator and vice president of collections, said last week that the designers’ objective was to create separate spaces for the attacks on the Pentagon and Flight 93, so those stories would not get lost amid the museum’s New York focus.
“The thing that sets Flight 93 so apart from the other catastrophes was the knowledge that was infiltrated into that cabin through phone calls that were made,” she said.
“We looked at how to strip that experience in the alcove. It’s very quiet, the white noise like you’d hear in an airplane, like you’ve slipped inside the cabin of the plane,” she added.
This year, the Flight 93 dead, along with those who died at the other sites, are being posthumously recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, which will be on display as part of the 13th anniversary ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Among the 800 artifacts displayed at the New York museum are the remains of an antique chronometer bought by 38-year-old biologist Richard Guadagno in Bucks County during his visit home to New Jersey the weekend before 9/1l.
He made the trip to celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday and was returning to his job as a national wildlife refuge manager in California. Guadagno’s birthday pictures, too, survived, remaining sealed in their canisters for several years as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) evidence.
“It was very moving,” Linda Shipley, a tourist from St. Louis, said on Thursday. She was visiting the museum and at first was unsure which attack site was connected to Flight 93.
“Especially hearing the hopeful voice of the air-traffic control person,” Shipley said, “assuming when she was told the plane was ‘down’ that it meant it had landed safely.”
Many more artifacts—including photographs of critical evidence still in FBI hands, that helped link the 9/11 hijackers to a radical terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany—will be displayed at the Flight 93 National Memorial when the visitors center and museum open in September 2015.
Part of history
A surprising amount of paper survived the conflagrations that day, including a log book belonging to Flight 93’s senior flight attendant, Lorraine Bay.
Stained and discolored by jet fuel but still legible, the pocket-size book contains notes and addresses that reflected a generous soul. Bay was the family member who remembered everyone’s birthday, said a cousin, Ed Root of Allentown.
Root said Bay’s husband donated the book to the Smithsonian—which lent it to the New York museum—because he thought it was a distinctly personal item, one that would carry on her memory.
“He wanted it to be part of history, and he wanted her to be remembered,” Root said. “This fits both of those things,” he added.