Those everyday items were the remnants of a young life that ended when a hijacked jetliner struck the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Haberman was 25 and about to be married when she was killed while on a business trip from Chicago — her first visit to New York City.
Her belongings, still smelling of Ground Zero, evoked mostly sorrow for Haberman’s family. To ease their pain, they donated the artifacts to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
“These are not the happy things you want to remember someone by,” said Gordon Haberman, her father.
The collection of some 22,000 personal artifacts — some on display at the 9/11 museum, and others on display at other museums around the country — provide a mosaic of lost lives and stories of survival: wallets, passports, baseball gloves, shoes, clothes and rings.
“Each person who makes up part of that tally was an individual who lived a life,” said Jan Ramirez, the museum’s chief curator and director of collections.
“We knew that families — the people that have lost a loved one that day — were going to need to have a place, have a way, to remember the person that never came home from work, that never came home from a flight,” Ramirez said.
Many of those personal effects were plucked from the ruins of what was once the Twin Towers. Other items were donated by survivors or by the families of those who perished.
A woodworking square, screwdriver, pry bar and a toolbelt represent Sean Rooney, a vice president at Aon Corp. who died in the South Tower. Rooney’s essence was that of “a builder,” his sister-in-law Margot Eckert said, making the carpenter’s tools donated to the museum the “perfect antidote to the destruction.”
Rooney had phoned his wife, Beverly Eckert, at their home in Stamford, Connecticut, after being trapped by fire and smoke on the 105th floor. He spent his last breaths recounting happier times, whispering, “I love you,” as he labored for air. His remains were never found.
Beverly died eight years later in a plane crash while traveling to her husband’s high school in Buffalo, New York, to award a scholarship in his honor. Before she died, she had set aside the items she hoped would help tell her husband’s story, that of a weekend carpenter, handyman and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
“We have a gravesite for her, we don’t have a gravesite for Sean,” Eckert said. “Artifacts become very important. And artifacts are the facts that someone lived. They are the facts you can touch.”
Just a small part of the museum’s collection of artifacts is ever on display because there are just too many to show at any one time. When not on display, the artifacts are stored in warehouses, including a hangar at JFK airport and across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Row after row of shelves are stacked with boxes filled with tragedy and remembrance.
“Each piece is a little part of a puzzle,” Ramirez said. “Having those important, little pieces of truth, those palpable pieces of truth — those bridges to allow people to get engaged in the story — is why we do what we do and will continue to do what we do.”
– THE INDIAN EXPRESS