Anniversary stirs memories for Kid Reporter who was there
Juliette Kesseler, 13, of New York, NY, tours artifacts from the World Trade Center being preserved by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The tour was curated by Peter Gat. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)
For more of Scholastic News Online's coverage of September 11, read our special report.
Six years ago, I was lining up in the hallway to begin my third day of second grade at PS 234, an elementary school a few blocks from the World Trade Center. “Glenda!” There was a shout from down the hallway, and a friend’s dad came running, addressing my teacher: “A plane,” he was panting, “has just crashed into the World Trade Center. We need to get these children to safety.”
At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on. I remember pretending to cry like all the other children around me. I remember the voice of our principal, Anna, coming through the public announcement system, telling the teachers to lower the window shades. I remember my mother running into the classroom, taking my hand and pulling me out.
She picked me up and put my head on her shoulder to block out what was happening. People were running, some screaming, some just standing still, stupefied, staring in eerie silence. I remember looking up from her shoulder and seeing the two burning towers looming over us.
So, you’ll understand why I hesitated when Scholastic asked if I would like to visit the remains of the World Trade Center for this anniversary article. I
|Twisted steel beams preserved by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Some of these artifacts will be part of a memorial museum planned for the World Trade Center site in New York City. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)|
As time goes on, 9/11 has become more of a surreal dream for me than a crisp memory. I sometimes forget that it ever happened. But then I’ll walk by a construction site and the smell of concrete dust and burning metal revives the visions from that time.
Six years later I am now 13, and I have done a very good job of blocking those memories. Not that I want to forget completely, but it’s hard to think about how my neighborhood became a battlefield with battered firetrucks and Army tanks parked on my street. People wore facemasks to protect their lungs from the toxic air. My school was closed for five months. Life was chaotic. The smell lingered for months.
But something else happened too.
Inside the war zone that the area near Ground Zero had become, neighbors were reaching out to each other and to the rescue workers.
Families volunteered to peel and chop vegetables at Bouley, a neighborhood restaurant that was feeding the workers. The hotel next to my house, the Tribeca Grand, took in displaced families and their pets. Everyone in my building shared what was in our refrigerators because the local shops were closed. It was New York at its best—people of all kinds coming together.
Those are some of the better memories.
TRACKING THE PIECES
I visited Hangar 17 at JFK Airport in a part of New York City named Queens, with my Editor Suzanne Freeman, and Sonnet Takahisa, the director of education for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site. Peter Gat, an objects conservator, showed us around the 80,000 square feet of 9/11 artifacts, which is not open to the public.
As we entered the enormous space, my heart skipped. Inside were rows and rows of iron bars, strips of long twisted metal, bent in ways that they shouldn’t have been, like a dislocated shoulder. There were twisted bicycles still locked to a bike rack. And stone benches, where I used to sit and eat ice cream at the World Trade Center plaza. Some beams had the word “SAVE” spray painted on them, sending an ironic message. While ironworkers used machinery to cut through the rubble at Ground Zero, other experts were picking and choosing pieces to preserve.
Steel beams and concrete blocks have been sorted, numbered, and catalogued. Sections are divided by wide walkways marked with white tape. While my neighborhood was a messy battlefield after the attacks, this place is extremely neat. I felt as though we had entered a morgue.
We went into a special climate-controlled room with more of the buildings’ remains. Steel beams showed cutouts of crosses, stars of David, and police badges. The cutout shapes were polished by iron workers and rescue crews to give to volunteers and family members of those who died there.
Another climate-controlled room is lined with damaged firetrucks, ambulances, motorcycles, and Port Authority cars. Some cars are too crushed and rusted to identify.
In another room, objects that had been in the World Trade Center’s underground shopping mall have been preserved. Some were disturbingly whole: a Dorothy doll covered in gray September 11th dust was laid out on a shelf. A giant plastic Bugs Bunny dressed as a businessman with a briefcase and cell phone stood in a corner smiling at us.
These sad objects are all being carefully preserved. Some will be loaned to the Memorial Museum at Ground Zero for the public to see. Some are now being shown across the U.S. to help raise money to build a memorial at the site. According to Takahisa, they are a tragic but important piece of our history, a reminder of what happened that day.
For me personally, they are also a reminder of what happened afterward: New Yorkers of all kinds, from all different races and religions, from all different parts of the world, came together to help each other. So, when I was asked to take this assignment, I said yes. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I accepted because I am a New Yorker and because I love this city.
Critical Thinking Question
Read today's news story, and then answer the following question.
Where were you on September 11, 2001? What will you do to remember that day?
Juliette Kessler is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.