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UWF Trust Opens 9/11 Exhibit For 20th Anniversary

In observance of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pensacola Museum of History has opened an exhibit honoring victims lost and others impacted by the tragedy.

It’s called 9/11 Remembered.

Immediately, the exhibit takes you back to that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, beginning with the sounds and images recorded after the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

A short video accompanies the display in a small gallery on the museum’s second floor.

“It’s a little compact, and there’s not a lot to it, but we think that’s what makes it more powerful,” declared Jessie Cragg, curator of exhibits for the University of West Florida Historic Trust, which operates the Pensacola Museum of History.

She says the museum purposefully limited the size of the exhibit to make it conducive to reflection on the historic events 20 years ago.

“One of the things we didn’t want to do is overwhelm you, when you walked into a large space with a lot of items, you’re just not going to feel the powerful impact of what happened," she explained. "So, we really designed this smaller gallery space to feel more intimate.”

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Cragg says the idea for the exhibit came from the museum’s collections manager Lori McDuffie, who was well aware of the milestone anniversary of the attacks: She had family members who helped at Ground Zero.

“About a year ago, we started reaching out and sourcing materials, and she was the one that put it all together,” she said.

Several of the items, mostly from first responders, are on loan from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York.

One of them is a white hard hat worn by an individual who responded to the site.

“This one has got a lot of stickers on it. “I love New York” is every prominent on the front. It’s got “Tactical Rescue” on the side, which was the unit of the man that was wearing it,” she said, describing the helmet gifted by Thomas F. Kenney.

The case also includes a pair of still-dusty, first-responder work boots and a pair of work gloves, with the words “Thank You” written on their palms.

Yet another item in the case is a reminder that the response to the terrorist attacks involved people from all over the country.

“The one local helmet we have is from Lori McDuffie’s family. It’s her uncle,” said Cragg, noting that her museum colleague had two uncles from Mobile who helped in New York.

“He was part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and his name is Duane Poiroux. And, he kept his helmet, so it has a lot of stickers. It’s signed by a lot of notable people; like Rudy Giuliani’s signature is on there. And, it’s the helmet he wore when he went up after the attacks to help recover.”

On the opposite side of the gallery, there are a couple of items recovered from a first responder who died in the attack on the towers.

A big part of the exhibit experience is a short compilation film reel, with powerful images and clips from military and first responders.

“It had taken 261 days to get to this point, a remarkable achievement,” the narrator states in reference to recovery efforts at Ground Zero in New York. “But, sadly the recovery of all those lost did not come to pass.”

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on 9/11; at the Pentagon, in a field in Pennsylvania and at the World Trade Center in New York.

At the center of this exhibit is a warped, rusted section of an I-beam from the twin towers, on loan from the Museum of History of Mobile.

Hanging above the piece of I-beam is a collection of memory cards.

9/11 Remembered
Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
Anonymous cards share recollections of the 9/11 tragedy.

“One of the things we wanted to do with this exhibit is give people an outlet to share their memories,” said Cragg.

“We’ve been calling it a “community collection project.” So, visitors have the opportunity, when they come in here, to fill out a card with their memory, their thought, where they were, what they were thinking that day. And, then they can submit it to us and we display it here.”

She points out that stepping back from the exhibit, visitors can see that the memory cards are hanging in the shape of the two towers.

“Sept. 11, 2001, I was stationed in Korea and it was nighttime when I saw this event on TV and my first thought was that I’d fallen asleep and woken up to a movie,” was written on one of the cards.

Another anonymous message reads, “I was just starting 2nd grade when the terrorist attacks happened. No one knew what was happening, but all my classmates were being pulled from school and teachers are acting weird.”

“Following 9/11, it was the most patriotic I’d ever seen this country,” wrote a third person.

It’s a collective memory that covers a range of people who were in the military and those who were very young, like Cragg – who was a 3rd-grader back in 2001. She remembers 9/11 vividly, because her father is an airline pilot and happened to be flying that day.

“We had a couple of hours where we were very unsure what was happening. But, luckily he was grounded in Ohio and was safe and able to make it home,” Cragg recalled.

Stories on the memory cards will be preserved in an archive for future display or research opportunities.

This exhibit, 9/11 Remembered, will remain on display at the Pensacola Museum of History, Tues – Sat from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., through January.

Cragg hopes people of all ages will come to see it.

“Not only for visitors who remember it and who were there that day or have a connection to kind of reflect, but also for younger generations to learn how impactful this event actually was,” she said, adding that it was a “horrific event that people lived through and that really did change the world.”