From tattoos to revered ruins - Americans pay tribute

History teacher Ken Senter has a plan to capture the horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks for his students in Tennessee. He’ll take them outside.

History teacher Ken Senter has a plan to capture the horror of the September 11 terrorist attacks for his students in Tennessee. He’ll take them outside.

Two beams salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Centre - battered hunks of steel he received after lobbying New York officials for nearly a year - will be shaped into a memorial in front of Oak Ridge High School. Every year, his students will file by for a hands-on history lesson.

"I just felt in my heart that if I could tell my kids, ‘This is from ground zero, people died next to this beam,’ - it will retain the reality of that experience longer," Senter said.

A year after the September 11 attacks, American towns and cities are commemorating the tragedy in concrete and steel, in words and fabric, in churches, museums, and even tattoo parlours.

There are scholarships and songs, quilts and paintings, exhibits and displays, videos and tens of thousands of Web sites. There are public memorials that will scrape the sky and private mementos already buried in the earth.

"There’s a desperate need for people to be connected," said Nick Carpasso, an art historian in Massachusetts and expert on public memorials.

And having an artifact brings the tragedy home, said Mark Schaming, director of exhibitions at the New York State Museum.

"It’s human nature to have a touchstone and be closer to a historical event," he said. "The further away you are, the greater the need for it."

Consider just the rusty, dented beams that once made up the 110 storey towers. Communities around the nation - including Charlotte, North Carolina; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Tuscaloosa, Alabama - have dispatched trucks to claim them for displays.

In Naperville, Illinois, beams - along with rubble from the Pentagon - will become part of a memorial for Commander Dan Shanower, a hometown boy who was a naval intelligence officer killed in the building.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, beams will be used to rebuild the historic bell tower of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.

"We have people who leave flowers, rosaries and letters on the beams. They cry," said John Garcia, who is organizing the memorial. "What they (the ruins) represent to us - is that our resolve is made of steel."

A different kind of memorial is emerging in a quiet Pennsylvania field six miles from the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after its passengers apparently tried to thwart their hijackers.

The Rev Al Mascherino, a Catholic priest, spent €18,000 to buy a vacant church and plans to have non-denominational services on the 11th of each month.

"Of all the messages of those who perished that day, theirs was the clearest," Mascherino said of the passengers. "It really was a declaration of independence. They were able to rise up and defeat their oppressors."

Not all memorials are meant to be seen.

In Ridgewood, New Jersey, a New York City suburb, families of 12 victims buried a vault containing photos, baseball caps and other remembrances from their loved ones. Those who died left behind 24 school-age children.

In Washington, a bronze capsule filled with mementos from the attack on the Pentagon, along with victims’ names, was placed behind a slab of limestone blackened in the crash.

Some have commemorated September 11 in a way America has traditionally honoured presidents and famous people: renaming streets, schools, public buildings, athletic fields, commuter ferry boats.

A New Jersey post office has been named for Todd Beamer, the Flight 93 passenger whose simple exhortation, "Let’s roll", became a rallying cry against terrorism. And there’s a Jason Dahl school in California, honouring one of the pilots of that flight.

The heroics of the firefighters also live on.

In Las Vegas, a fence outside the New York New York Hotel displays more than 1,000 T-shirts from fire departments worldwide and plans are under way for a permanent memorial. In Watertown, South Dakota, New York firefighters are saluted with a fire hall mural painted by high school art students.

And New York firefighters themselves have found a special - and permanent - way to remember. One Staten Island shop reports that more than 300 of them, some retired, have received a September 11 memorial tattoo.

The scope of the attacks has inspired one man to turn to oil paint and a brush to pay tribute to the more than 3,000 people killed.

Michael DeMinico, a 50-year-old Florida trial lawyer who also is a painter, wants to capture on canvas all those who died in the attacks.

Bill Bace, a former New York estate agent, is trying to do the same with a quilt, an idea modelled after the Aids quilt memorial.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will have an exhibition that will include former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s baseball cap and mobile phone.

A mangled red fire truck from Engine Company 6, buried under a pedestrian bridge when the north tower collapsed on it, will be featured at the New York State Museum along with an oral history from one of its survivors.

"This was probably the most documented historical moment in American history," Schaming said.

"We feel a public demand and a mission to get the story out a year later."

An exhibit at the Oklahoma City National Memorial highlights the bond between New York and the city where the 1995 bombing of the federal building left 168 people dead.

"No other city can really look at the shared experience of being victims of terrorism," said Kari Watkins, the memorial’s executive director.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox