Within hours of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Library of Congress mobilized its efforts to collect and preserve the nation’s memory of those tragic events. On the 10th anniversary, the Library looks back on its efforts to record the heartbreaking history.
By ERIN ALLEN
Early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, four commercial airliners were hijacked and, in succession, crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa. These terrorist attacks rocked the nation and the world.
But 9/11 didn’t end on 9/11. Rescue and recovery efforts were launched. Families coped with the loss of loved ones. The United States declared a “war on terror,” launching a military campaign in Afghanistan that continues today. And the Library of Congress began a decade-long effort to document the events of the day and their aftermath.
In September 2002, the Library mounted an exhibition titled “Witness and Response” to showcase the collections that the Library amassed during the year following the September 11 attacks. The exhibit, which may be viewed online, tells the story of how the materials arrived and how they reflect what the world experienced in the aftermath of the attacks. The Library also published a commemorative issue of the Information Bulletin on the first anniversary of the attacks.
Throughout the past decade, the Library has continued to collect September 11-related resources—in all formats and from all viewpoints.
The American Folklife Center’s “September 11, 2001, Documentary Project” is the cornerstone of the Library’s collections pertaining to the terrorist attacks. Immediately following the events, folklife center (AFC) staff called upon folklorists across the country to reach out to communities and record the reactions of citizens. The project was modeled after a similar Library initiative conducted by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1941 to collect and record man-on-the-street reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The “September 11, 2001, Documentary Project” collection comprises more than 400 sound and video recordings that contain about 800 interviews. The collection includes 421 photographs and drawings, as well as news clippings, written narratives, e-mails and artifacts.
The voices of men and women from many cultural, occupational and ethnic backgrounds are represented. Some of the interviews are from people who were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon during the attacks. However, the majority of the interviews are from other parts of the country—from those who first heard the news on television or radio, or from teachers, friends, family and other members of their communities. In all, materials were received from 27 states and a U.S. military base in Naples, Italy.
“What’s different about the collection is its regionality,” said Anne Hoog, a folklore specialist in the American Folklife Center who helped process the collection. “Attention is placed on people who did not witness [the attacks] firsthand. That’s a valuable part of the story to document.”
The “September 11, 2001, Documentary Project” website was launched online in 2005. The online presentation includes almost 170 audio and video interviews, 41 photographs and drawings and 21 written narratives and poems. The site has remained popular with the public since its launch, with visits to the site spiking during the month of September.
According to Hoog, the collection is popular among researchers, including sociologists who are re-interviewing project participants to see if their responses have changed with the passage of time.
The site is also popular among teachers who wish to use the Library’s primary source materials in the classroom to study the September 11 attacks.
To supplement the “September 11, 2001, Documentary Project,” the American Folklife Center has collaborated on two other oral history initiatives: Voices of September 11 and Remembering 9/11. In exchange for its expert archiving advice, the center will receive digital archives of both projects.
“Voices of September 11” provides information and support services to 9/11 families, rescue workers and survivors, on its “9/11 Living Memorial” digital archive. Launched in 2006, the site chronicles the event with personal stories, photographs and mementoes.
“Remembering 9/11” contains oral histories of first responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The project is the brainchild of Dr. Benjamin Luft, professor of medicine at New York’s Stony Brook University, who directs the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Center. The Long Island-based program is the New York area’s only comprehensive care center dedicated to caring for Ground Zero responders. The project’s goal is to obtain at least 1,000 interviews from 9/11 responders and their families.
“Between all three of these 9/11 documentary projects, we’re getting a full picture of people’s memories and reactions to the events,” said AFC staff member Michael Taft.
Rare Art Forms
For its part, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division has collected books by artists who have illustrated their responses to the terrorist attacks. One of the darkest examples is “Falling to Earth” (2002) by Michael Kuch. His poetry and drawings reflect his reaction to the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, which he viewed from his studio. The Library has the “making copy” of the book—the drawings, manuscripts and proofs used to produce the final publication.
Graphic artist and sculptor Werner Pfeiffer pays tribute to World Trade Center victims with “Out of the Sky: 9/11” (2006). The three-dimensional book features a model of the Twin Towers with the names of the victims taking on the architectural pattern of the disintegrating buildings.
Sara Parkel’s “… even the birds were on fire …” (2001) is a work of poetry fragments with a timeline of the events depicted as the cloth prayer flags of Tibetan Buddhists.
Another item, titled “Combat Paper,” began as a writing project for members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War who wished to express themselves in ways other than public protest. In 2007, the Warrior Writers Project published its first chapbook, “Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot and Communicate.” The artwork accompanying their writing was produced on paper made from the uniforms of servicemen and women.
A Reporter’s Notebook
The Library’s Manuscript Division holds the papers of Mary McGrory (1918–2004), the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post whose career ranged from the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s to the Iraq War. In 2005, McGrory’s nieces and nephew donated their aunt’s papers to the Library. Comprising 55,000 items, the collection includes the reporter’s correspondence, subject files, speeches and writings, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and extensive handwritten notebooks.
Among McGrory’s notes are those she made on the morning of September 11. The transcription may be viewed online.
“It’s a sort of stream of consciousness,” said Connie Cartledge, who helped process the collection in the Manuscript Division. “Her notes are a great play-by-play as the events unfolded.”
At 10 a.m. on September 11, McGrory wrote, “South Tower has collapsed, tower buckling. [Every airport in the country has been] shut dn [down].”
At 10:26 she added, “Our lives w [will] nev [never] be [the] same.”
The Library holds the personal papers of many public figures, a number of whom have a connection to the events of September 11. The papers of educator, politician and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927–2003)—one of the largest collections of personal papers in the Manuscript Division—provide insight into his experience of the attacks as a resident of Washington, D.C., and as a former senator from New York (Jan. 3, 1997–Jan. 3, 2001).
The collection includes correspondence, speeches, writings, legislative files, notes, press releases and many other resources that shed light on Moynihan’s career and the events of the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium. Printed e-mails and other items relate to the aftermath of the events of September 11. Materials on the Institute of American Values chronicle Moynihan’s participation with other intellectuals in framing an argument in support of the war against terrorism.
The papers of former Hawaii representative Patsy T. Mink also contain information relevant to September 11 and its aftermath. Mink served in Congress from 1965 to 1977 and again from 1990 until her death in 2002. Her papers, which were donated to the Library in 2003 by her husband and daughter, comprise more than 900,000 items. They include personal and professional correspondence, daily schedules, central legislative files, bills, speeches, clippings, press releases, scrapbooks, photographs and other personal papers covering a wide array of topics. Items in Mink’s files pertain to her constituents’ support for and opposition to the war on terror, public reaction to the events, airline security and the Patriot Act.
In 2007, the Manuscript Division completed the processing of the Mink Collection. Selected items, along with a finding aid and other resources, are available online.
“The Mink collection presents a congressional point of view on terrorism and September 11,” said Cartledge.
War on the Web
On Sept. 10, 2003, the Library formally acquired the “September 11 Digital Archive”, a collection of more than 150,000 written accounts, e-mails, audio recordings, video clips, photographs, websites and other materials that document the attacks and their aftermath.
A joint project of the City University of New York Graduate Center’s American Social History Project and George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, it is the largest digital collection of September 11-related materials in the United States, and it also serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s designated repository for digital objects related to the attacks.
Immediately following the attacks, the Library, in collaboration with the Internet Archive and the Pew Internet and American Life Project, began work to preserve the websites of individuals, groups, the media, and national and international organizations. What resulted was the “September 11 Digital Archive,” a collection of more than 2,300 sites collected between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2001.
In March 2003, the Library launched the Iraq War web-capture project to capturing born-digital content about the conflict. On March 20, 2003, the U.S. initiated offensive military action against Iraq for the stated purpose of deposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and preventing his use of suspected nuclear weapons. The war continued with the U.S. coalition forces facing increased insurgency from Shiite militants, Sunni militants and terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda.
With this development, the Library began the first phase of the project, which captured and made accessible 231 websites from the period March through June 30, 2003. The Iraq War 2003 website is accessible online. Phases two and three will include websites captured during 2004 and 2005, respectively.
Mapping a Tragedy
The Geography and Map Division responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11 by preparing for requests from Congress, federal agencies and the public for up-to-date and accurate geographic information and mapping of countries in the Middle East. A task force was established to review existing cartographic holdings and to acquire desired materials from federal mapping agencies.
Relevant maps were identified and made accessible, including several hundred sheets of 1:50,000- and 1:100,000- scale topographic maps of Afghanistan. According to curator Ed Redmond, the Library was the only institution with that resource, making it invaluable to such organizations as the CIA and National Security Agency.
The Geography and Map Division concentrated on documenting the role maps played in managing the 9/11 recovery effort. Traditional surveying and mapping techniques and modern electronic and remote sensing technologies were employed to aid the rescue and recovery operations. Also used were aerial imagery, digital orthophotography and cutting-edge laser technology with the capability of producing accurate elevation data and thermal imagery for mapping hot spots in the rubble.
“What’s unique is that this event came at a watershed moment in the field—the transition from paper to digital cartography,” said Redmond. “It really opened up ways things could be interpreted.”
Redmond says the division continues to acquire large-scale maps of New York that show building heights, sewer lines, geographic features and landmarks—useful in urban planning, post-incident management and environmental assessment.
The division also continues to acquire large-scale political maps of areas of special interest such as the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to work with the CIA, State Department and Homeland Security.
Arab World Acquisitions
After September 11, area-studies specialists were flooded with requests for information about Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, Islamist groups, Muslims and Muslim countries.
Arab World area specialist Fawzi Tadros discovered a book, “Ma’arik Ma’sadah al-Ansar al-’Arab bi Afghanistan” (“Battles of the Lion Den of the Arab Partisans in Afghanistan”). Published in 1991, the book contains an interview with bin Laden in which he discusses his faith and recalls, by name, those who fought with him against the occupying Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Tadros translated the work and a copy was provided to the Library’s Federal Research Division.
Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED), was on an acquisitions trip in the Persian Gulf on September 11. Thus began an effort by AMED and the Library’s six overseas acquisitions offices to document the events from other parts of the world and to expand the Library’s collections on Afghanistan and Islam. Subsequent acquisitions trips were made to the Middle East by the Library’s Arab World specialists.
In March 2002, Congress appropriated funds for Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to begin “surrogate broadcasting services in the Dari and Pashto languages to Afghanistan” (Public Law 107–148). The station, known locally as Radio Azadi, soon became the most popular source of news in Afghanistan, offering information, political satire, literary and music programming. From every corner of Afghanistan, “fan mail” from Radio Azadi’s listeners made its way to RFE/RL’s headquarters in Prague. Gathered over a period of eight years, the collection of 15,000 letters came to the Library in 2010 as a gift from RFE/RL.
“Letters came from schoolchildren describing the conditions in their schools, young people writing love poems to their significant others, villagers complaining about corrupt officials, prisoners asking for prison reform, refugees describing their plight and older people discussing life and work in Afghanistan decades ago,” said Deeb.
On display at the Library Feb. 24 through May 8, 2010, “Voices from Afghanistan” featured 50 items from the collection.
In the year that followed the U.S. attacks, the Law Library of Congress and other U.S. law libraries helped reconstruct the laws of Afghanistan that were destroyed under Taliban rule. As the repository for the largest collection of Afghanistan’s laws in the world, the Law Library located some legislative items that were unavailable elsewhere, including a unique two-volume English translation of Afghanistan’s laws. The material was digitized as part of the Global Legal Information Network, an international legal database.
The terrorist attacks made headlines: “America’s Bloodiest Day,” “Bastards!” and “Our Nation Saw Evil.”
That afternoon, the Library began collecting U.S. and foreign newspapers that recorded the immediate horror of the day in words and photographs. The Library continued to collect newspapers chronicling the unfolding story of the response to the events, including commemorative issues published on the first anniversary. The 9/11 newspaper issues are now part of the Library’s Historic Events Newspaper Collection in the Serial and Government Publications Division.
The Image as Witness
Following September 11, the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division began a campaign to collect a broad range of images that documented the events of that day. As a result, the Library now holds has several thousand works by a wide array of artists, photographers, graphic designers, printmakers, architects, illustrators and editorial cartoonists.
Photojournalism played a large part in telling the story of the tragedy and its aftermath. The Library acquired digital photographic prints documenting the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville, Pa., by such photographers as Daryl Donley, a Falls Church, Va., resident who captured the Pentagon in flames while on his way to work in Washington, D.C.; Bolivar Arellano, G.N. Miller, and Steven Hirsch, all from the New York Post; and Susan Watts of the New York Daily News.
Acquired by the Prints and Photographs Division, the Exit Art Reactions Collection features an array of original artwork documenting the reactions to the terrorist attacks from amateurs and professionals alike. Exit Art, an avante-garde gallery in New York, sent out a worldwide appeal by letter and e-mail for individuals to submit creative responses to September 11 events with a simple criterion: each submission had to be on an 8½ x 11-inch sheet of paper.
Other examples of visual images acquired by the division include architectural drawings of a re-imagined Twin Towers site, 9/11-related posters, more than 80 artists’ prints and drawings and a series of 10 stark, black-and-white photo essays of rescue personnel donated by the Burger King Corporation. The portraits were taken by famed New York photographer Richard Avedon.
Perhaps the most visual and rare items in the Library’s 9/11 collections are three remnants of the World Trade Center. Documentary photographer Carol M. Highsmith helped the Library’s architecture curator Ford Peatross acquire a twisted and buckled 5-foot-long by 1½-foot-wide beam from the Twin Towers, a battered and crushed aluminum panel that had been located between rows of exterior windows and two small chunks of glass. The glass is a rarity from a site where most of the vast areas of window glass had been completely pulverized in the collapse of the buildings.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications.