Ten years ago on September 11, 2001, I was asleep when my mom woke me to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Automatically I thought a small Cessna-type aircraft had accidently crashed into the skyscraper, but nothing prepared me for the moment I turned on the news to see the second plane hit the South Tower. I sat stunned as I watched the fire and smoke billowing out of those sleek towers that had graced the New York City skyline since the early 1970s. I realized that it was not a small aircraft, but commercial airliners – American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 – that had crashed into the World Trade Center Towers. I watched in horror as people ran for their lives as the buildings fell to the ground producing gigantic clouds of dust and debris. Then news of the other hijackings – American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania – brought on another fear… a friend’s sister was a flight attendant for American Airlines. Thankfully, she was safe on the ground that day.
Despite the fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness that resulted from the terrorist attacks, Americans came together as a community. In the aftermath of the attacks, patriotism surged across the country. American flags flew from houses, cars, and businesses, while eligible Americans enlisted in the United States military. Americans made their families a priority and many embraced their religious practices more. Those who had been strangers before now became friends as they worked together with firefighters and police in the hope of finding survivors in the rubble. Americans volunteered their time, gave blood, and contributed to relief funds. On that day, America’s democracy came under attack, but it did not destroy the freedom and love for our country that Americans have shared for 235 years – if anything it made those feelings stronger.
Across the country, stunned Americans tried to come to terms with the death and destruction left by the attacks. As part of the healing process children across America created works of art, poetry, and quilt projects to deal with the mix of emotions they felt relating to the September 11th attacks. During the 2002-2003 school year, the children of Sandy Culbertson’s 4th/5th grade class at Tokay Colony Elementary School created a quilt to show their patriotism and to remember those who had died in the events of September 11th. The children painted quilt blocks with patriotic pictures of American flags, military scenes, the Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers, and other symbols of our freedom. When the quilt was finished, it represented freedom and changes that had occurred, with the understanding that things would be okay.
In June of 2010, Mrs. Culbertson contacted the Museum to ask if we would be interested in the quilt since her school had closed at the end of the school year and it would need to be removed from the school’s lobby. Typically, museums prefer not to collect artifacts related to current events. This is because it becomes difficult to separate the importance of current events from what will be important historically in the future. However, realizing the significance of the events of September 11, 2001, I told her that staff was interested and made arrangements to have the quilt brought to the Museum.
This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Like most national tragedies – the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the space shuttle Columbia explosion – these events are embedded in our memories forever. Whether you lost loved ones in the attacks that day or not, the images in the media will bring back the emotions and memories of that day and we will remember where we were when we heard the news. Those who were too young to remember the events of that tragic day or who were not born yet, will have questions that many of us will still have difficulty answering.