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Hallowed Ground at JFK

Notes from Sam Lubell, News Editor


Photography © Sam Lubell

Over the years Hangar 17 at JFK International Airport has housed planes for companies like Pan Am and Tower Air. Now it houses the most important trash heap in the world: the surviving remnants of the World Trade Center.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey first began moving artifacts into the cavernous space back in the winter of 2001, when two weeks after 9/11 the PA, with consulting firm Voorsanger & Associates, was asked to extract artifacts from the wreckage for an eventual memorial. Since that time mother nature has been wreaking havoc, depositing a new layer of rust on many of the massive metal slabs, peeling paint off smashed fire trucks, and endangering the lumps of concrete, shards of glass, and various other items that mark the most tangible historic record of the events of September 11, 2001.

"This was never meant to serve this purpose," explains Maury Houghton, manager of the space, who was working inside the Trade Centers the day they fell from the sky. "We're making this up as we go along." This "making up" includes slowly repairing the holes in the ceiling that let rainwater in daily, and allow at least a few birds to make the site their home. Other steps include the erection of environmentally-controlled spaces put aside specifically for painted items like mashed cars and highly symbolic beams, like the last removed from the site. Curators have gone to task injecting adhesive into the skins of some of these pieces to ensure that the paint will stay on.

The rest of the space holds more chilling remains of that terrible day. A walk through brings one upon the silver turnstiles from the Trade Center PATH station; mangled, twisted debris; large pieces of the towers' antennas, which once stood as beacons on the very top of the world. Many of these artifacts will likely wind up inside the Memorial Center, the 9/11 museum below ground at Michael Arad's World Trade Center Memorial. The amazing thing is that this massive group of materials filling up this gargantuan space is less than one one-hundreth of what was taken from the site.

Holding anymore would have been impossible, says Haughton.

For he and his partners, this job is personal. The PA lost over 100 members, including its president, who was dining at Windows on the World when the planes hit.