Hangar 17 at Kennedy Airport in New York City has housed many of the things salvaged from Ground Zero since 2001. Recovered steel from the site that once rose into the Manhattan skyline as part of the Twin Towers is stored in this building. FDNY fire trucks destroyed on that horrifying day and the antennae that once stood atop the north tower are also there. But more surprising than the artifacts found here was the feeling brought on by them, the connection we all felt to these inanimate objects.
Shepard Smith may have said it best: “It's all very personal, I wouldn't have thought when I came here that this would feel personal.”
Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Hangar 17 guide, said, "No matter how many times you come out here, no matter how many times you walk past the steel, no matter how many times you walk past the [train] car, there were real lives here, there were families that were never complete again after that day. These were people's lives."
It’s a human trait. We attribute human qualities to inanimate objects. Things inspire memories, and memories trigger emotions, and emotion -- the ability to feel -- is the essence of humanity.
Remembering Sept. 11, 2001 through these objects will become possible in 2011. The National September 11 Memorial is due to open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The museum housed below that memorial, at the new World Trade Center, will open a year later.
These artifacts and the museum they will be exhibited in will exist beyond this generation, a point not lost on Baroni. He says the goal is, “to preserve the physical artifacts of what happened, not to let them be lost to history so that 75 or 100 years from now a historian says you know, "I wish they had kept, fill in the blank."
It is an ambitious effort, opening a museum just 11 years after the event it documents. For comparison, consider that Washington D.C.’s Holocaust Museum opened 48 years after the end of World War II. And the National World War II Museum in New Orleans opened 56 years after the D-Day invasion.
Before leaving, we stopped at a bicycle rack. The bicycles were mangled from the damage they suffered almost 10 years ago. But what struck us all was a simple thing: They were still locked to the rack. It was a reminder of how normal that day began. Someone rode a bike to work, locked it to the rack and there it will stay, forever.
Despite the challenges, Baroni sees this undertaking as essential, saying, “in some ways it’s a blessing to me to be given the opportunity to help preserve what we’re doing here. And all of us at the Port Authority, I think, view it that way; all of us -- whether we’re welding the steel, or the folks who are out putting up One World Trade Center, or putting in the tridents at the memorial, or are working at the Port Authority, all of us know it’s a challenge, to make sure that this is preserved for generations that I will never meet?”
To see our remarkable tour and the latest segment in our Rise of Freedom series, tune into Fox Report with Shepard Smith, tonight, at 7 p.m. ET. Go to www.FoxNews.com/freedom. There you can see the planned memorial and museum, more photos from inside Hangar 17 and an exclusive web video from our tour. And to learn more about the museum and memorial you can visit www.national911memorial.org.
Martin Hinton is Executive Producer with Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @MartinFHinton.