If you’re still hoping to get your very own piece of the World Trade Center, you’re probably out of luck. That’s the word from the mayor’s office, which has only four or five steel chunks left to dole out to those wishing to use genuine wreckage in their 9/11 memorials.
Shortly after recovery efforts began at ground zero, the city started donating metal pieces, usually an I-beam section, to pretty much anyone who signed an affidavit agreeing not to profit from the piece of history and not to sue. (Recipients also have to acknowledge that the steel could include chemical contaminants.)
So far, more than 150 towns, fire departments, churches, and museums have received steel. Many pieces remain within the metropolitan area, where memorials have been cropping up at an increasing pace over the last year. But the list also includes three presidential museums; Ireland, Israel, and Portugal; Dodge City, Kansas; the Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico; a Texas firearms-training company; and a California light-rail advocacy group called Transportation Involves Everyone.
“Why wouldn’t we?” says Randy Roach, mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana, when asked why his city wanted a piece from the World Trade Center. “I guess what I’m saying is, 9/11 didn’t just happen in New York, it happened to America.”
“We got a very nice one, one of the biggest pieces,” says an official at the Portuguese consulate here. “It went back to Portugal, and it’s in a public garden in a city named Alverca.”
One California real-estate company rejected its steel because it wasn’t large enough for a memorial sculpture in front of a planned development. “We wanted, like, a fifteen-foot piece, and it was a four-foot piece,” says Edie Frazier, an administrative assistant at Silagi Development and Management Inc. in Thousand Oaks.
In Nevada County in California, a piece of the Trade Center has been rotated though local schools and drew huge crowds at the county fair. “We had a sign on it that said PLEASE TOUCH,” says Diana Ely, assistant to the schools’ superintendent.
It turns out there’s no way to know how many groups actually received the steel, or what’s been done with it, because the city never followed up. (When asked about the poor record-keeping, Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, pointed the finger at the Giuliani administration.) But calls to a few recipients revealed they had almost all incorporated it into some kind of public memorial or exhibit. One exception is Walt Bigelow, a senior accountant in the finance office at Denver International Airport, who, with his boss’s permission, requested a piece of steel and was given not one, but two girder sections, which he drove back to Denver in his two-seater Mercedes in 2002.
In the end, however, the airport’s managers decided against displaying such a vivid reminder of an airline-industry tragedy in the terminal, so Bigelow donated the larger piece to a local firefighters’ museum. The smaller piece, weighing around 25 pounds, is on display on top of some filing cabinets in the finance office. One square was cut out and given to a colleague’s husband, a retiring firefighter, but otherwise it’s intact.
“I was at the Smithsonian in Washington, and they got a moon rock there that people can touch,” says Bigelow. “You feel you’re real close to the moon when you touch it, and if you touch a piece of what was the World Trade Center, it comes pretty close to you.”
See also: The Bullies of Ground Zero