By BRIAN GOULD
Some precious cargo has arrived at the Library of Congress, delivered by photographer Carol Highsmith, who has worked with the Library on exhibitions and collections over the years. Some of the artifacts–remnants of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon–will be featured in the Library's exhibition "Witness & Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress." The exhibition will run from Sept. 7 through Nov. 2 in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building.
In a recent interview, Highsmith discussed the journey she took across the United States accompanying a steel beam from the World Trade Center on its way to a California sculpture foundry. Highsmith went along with the press corps to photograph the cross-country journey of these artifacts and their reception in towns and cities.
"It was like going across the country on a funeral train," Highsmith said, referring to her trip from June 21 to July 4, when she accompanied two flatbed trucks from New York to California. One transported a crushed fire engine, the other the last great I-beam from the World Trade Center site. Both will be used in a large memorial sculpture titled "Freedom's Flame." The monument is to pay homage to those aboard American Airlines Flights 11 and 77 bound for Los Angeles, and United Airlines Flights 93 and 175 bound for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, who were killed on September 11.
The caravan made stops at 11 state capitals along the way, providing Highsmith with some of her most poignant memories. "The more people I saw along the way, the more I realized the value of what we were doing," she said. During a stop in Springfield, Ill., the wreckage was left unattended overnight. When Highsmith and the drivers awoke the next morning, the entire steel beam had been signed by residents who came to pay their respects to those who gave their lives. The battered structural steel had been completely covered with signatures, thanks and inspirational messages such as, "We will not forget," and "God Bless America." "There was not a single spot left to sign on this gigantic piece of metal," Highsmith exclaimed. "It was just so moving to see an entire town display their American spirit."
Highsmith helped connect Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) architecture curator Ford Peatross with officials in charge of recycling the steel from the Twin Towers, with the result that a 400-pound section of structural steel from the upper floors of the World Trade Center, now resides in P&P. "It sure feels like 400 pounds," said head of Prints and Photographs curatorial staff Harry Katz, one of the six men it took to unload the chunk from Highsmith's vehicle.
Approximately 5 feet long by 1½ feet wide, the crumpled surface of the box-like form is pitted by smoke, fire, ash and other debris. "The thing that is so moving," Highsmith said, "is that this is not just a piece of broken metal, but a welding of steel and human beings."
One end has the recent mark of a cutting torch; the other end is in far worse shape, showing the terrible damage from the total collapse of the Twin Towers. A twisted piece of steel is attached to one side. Once a construction joint, this piece of metal contains a massive bolt at least two inches in diameter that has been sheered in two. According to Highsmith, it is one of the larger "invincible" bolts that attached the sections of the structure together, bolts that were perceived by engineers to be indestructible, giving the towers their own Titanic-like reputation.
The thickness of the rectangular beam also provides clues to the beam's location within the structure, Highsmith said. The sides of the beam are about an inch thick, indicating that it was part of the tower's higher stories. Thicker, heavier steel was used on the lower stories, giving the structure greater stability.
Another piece of the World Trade Center that Highsmith provided is a battered and crushed aluminum panel. About four feet long and two feet wide, this panel was a piece of the silver-toned exterior cladding of the towers, located between the rows of windows. This once vibrant sheet of aluminum is now punctured, torn and dented.
Two small chunks of glass at least an inch thick, round out the contribution. The New York Times had reported that no glass had been found amidst the wreckage transported to the landfill site, that it had been pulverized in the buildings' collapse, but Highsmith held proof to the contrary in the palm of her hand.
Highsmith has high hopes not only for the Library's use of the artifacts, but also for Americans' appreciation of the times in which they are living. "What I am most happy about," she said, "is that people are realizing how valuable current [documentation] is. Current is important."
The "Freedom's Flame" memorial (www.freedomsflame.us) sponsored by Verizon, Metals Management Northeast Inc. (the donor of the metal fragments), Southwest Airlines, and many others, is still in the process of raising funds for its construction. Shaped like a giant sundial, it will have a spiral staircase winding around it, a fireman ascending the stairs and citizens of all types positioned on the base. It will feature marks on the sundial's base, commemorating the specific times that the events of September 11 occurred–each plane collision, each tower falling.
Brian Gould is an intern in the Public Affairs Office.