Exhibit looks at WTC recovery operation at Fresh Kills

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2003

NEW YORK For hour after hour, day after day, month after month, they kept at it.

From the original mountains of debris down to the last quarter-inch, workers at the Fresh Kills landfill sifted through 1.8 million tons of rubble from the World Trade Center, looking to recover whatever they could.

Some of what they found, from car parts to building remnants, makes up an exhibit chronicling the massive effort. ''Recovery: The World Trade Center Recovery Operation at Fresh Kills'' opened Nov. 25 at the New-York Historical Society and runs through March 21.

The exhibit featuring more than 50 objects and 65 photographs is part of ''History Responds,'' the institution's program that collects historical materials relating to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The work at Fresh Kills, miles from ground zero and closed to the general public, is an important part of the Sept. 11 story that most people don't know about, organizers said.

''I don't think people have a good sense of the extraordinary lengths to which every single worker there went to find human remains, personal property, anything to bring some comfort to the families who lost people on Sept. 11,'' said Amy Weinstein, assistant curator at the Historical Society.

''It's a glimpse of something that very few people see,'' said Mark Schaming, director of exhibitions for the New York State Museum, which put the exhibit together. ''It's a remarkable thing. ... They sorted things down to the size of a dime.''

It took workers 10 months to accumulate the items, which range from a paperweight found during the sifting process to vehicle parts to equipment used in the search such as rakes and a bucket.

There are doors from a fire engine and the trunk lid from a destroyed police car; remnants of elevator floor numbers and a beam from the twin towers. There are pieces of fuselage and a seat belt from the airplanes that crashed into the buildings. There's also a slew of small items, such as keys, found in the rubble.

The photographs record the daily activities at the site, from the huge piles that had to be sorted to images of those who worked there, spending hours at conveyor belts watching for the smallest fragment of something vital to drift by.

Closed by the city in March 2001, Fresh Kills was reopened Sept. 12, 2001, a day after the attacks. The landfill was the last stop for debris hauled by trucks and barges to be sifted one last time for remains, personal property and criminal evidence.

At the height of the operation, 7,000 tons of material were processed each day as workers in respirators manned conveyor belts, poised to stop the flow when they spotted a bone fragment or other remains. More than 54,000 pieces of personal property, including rings, watches, wallets and ID cards, were found.

Of the nearly 20,000 human remains recovered from the twisted ruins, more than 1,400 were found at the landfill, the city medical examiner's office has said.

The show is a collaboration between the Historical Society and the New York State Museum in Albany, which has a permanent collection of artifacts related to Sept. 11. Many of the items in this exhibition have already been shown there, and the show will be traveling. It has already been seen in Cleveland, and is scheduled to go to Cleburne, Texas; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

On the Net:

New-York Historical Society: http://www.nyhistory.org

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