From items recovered at Ground Zero to tributes from victims’ families, these artifacts from September 11th reveal the true scope of the tragedy.
1 of 26A construction helmet worn by Larry Keating. He was an ironworker foreman who helped oversee the removal of wreckage from the World Trade Center site during the nine-month clean-up operation after 9/11. He later died of a heart attack in 2011.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
2 of 26A torn American flag uncovered by NYPD Detective Peter Boylan while he searched for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center. Several other tattered American flags were found at Ground Zero.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
3 of 26This pager belonged to 25-year-old victim Andrea Lyn Haberman. She was visiting from Chicago for a meeting at Carr Futures offices on the 92nd floor of the North Tower. It was her first time ever visiting New York. Tragically, it was also her last.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
4 of 26Bloodied women’s heels belonging to survivor Linda Raisch-Lopez. She evacuated from the 97th floor of the South Tower after seeing flames from the North Tower. The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
5 of 26Destroyed ID card belonging to Brooklyn native David Lee, who was expecting his first child with his wife Angela. On 9/11, Lee was working on the 94th floor of the South Tower. He was 37 years old.
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
6 of 26A recovered fragment of American Airlines Flight 11, the flight that struck the North Tower. The piece had been found amidst the wreckage on the ground.
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
7 of 26This ambulance was driven by EMS Battalion 17 emergency medical technicians Benjamin Badillo and Edward Martinez. It had been parked near Vesey and West Streets before it was destroyed due to the wreckage on 9/11.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
8 of 26This American Airlines flight attendant wings lapel pin belonged to Karyn Ramsey, a friend and colleague of 28-year-old victim Sara Elizabeth Low, who was working aboard Flight 11 when it crashed into the North Tower. Ramsey gave her service wing pin to Low’s father after her memorial service.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
9 of 26A recovered fire helmet belonging to Kevin M. Prior, a deceased firefighter with FDNY Squad 252. He was thought to have been inside the North Tower when it collapsed. The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
10 of 26A memento recovered from the wallet of 55-year-old victim Robert Joseph Gschaar, who was working on the 92nd floor of the South Tower. Gschaar and his wife, Myrta, carried around $2 bills during their 11-year marriage to remind each other that they were two of a kind.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
11 of 26As emergency medical technician Brian Van Flandern made his way from Queens to lower Manhattan on 9/11, he picked up paper dust masks en route to the disaster site. He used the masks while he tended to first responders suffering from injuries.
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
12 of 26A destroyed Bible found at Ground Zero. The Bible was heat-fused to metal and opened to a page with fragments of legible text reading, “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
13 of 26Rabbit tools were used by firefighters to pry open doors during rescues on 9/11. Members of FDNY Engine Company 21 used a rabbit tool to free a person trapped inside an elevator in the North Tower lobby.
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
14 of 26A red wallet belonging to victim Gennie Gambale. She worked on the 105th floor of the North Tower when the first plane crashed into the lower floors, trapping those on the upper floors, including her. She was 27.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
15 of 26Two of clubs playing card with the writing, “Stand the hazard of the die,” the initials W.S., and the date. It was written by Lt. Mickey Kross after he emerged from the rubble and found the card relatively intact on the ground.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
16 of 26This baseball cap belonged to Port Authority Police Department Officer James Francis Lynch. At the time of the attacks, Lynch, 47, was off-duty and recovering from surgery, but he responded anyway. He died in the attacks.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
17 of 26Known as the Survivors’ Stairs, these stairs connected the northern edge of the World Trade Center’s Austin J. Tobin Plaza to the Vesey Street sidewalk. The stairs aided in the escape of hundreds during the attacks. The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
18 of 26Men’s loafer shoe with tassels. The shoe, completely crushed and covered in dust, was recovered during excavations at Ground Zero sometime between 2006 to 2010.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
19 of 26Volunteers from aid organizations like the American Red Cross flocked to Ground Zero to support rescue and recovery operations on 9/11. This Red Cross vest, likely worn during rescues, has been signed with messages and signatures.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
20 of 26Port Authority Police Department Officer Sharon Miller responded to reports of the plane crash at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Her team helped evacuate civilians from the towers, but she was inadvertently separated from the rest of her teammates. She was the only member of her team to survive that day.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
21 of 26A “Little Red” doll discovered in the rubble by search volunteer Brian Van Flandern. It was one of several dolls that sat on the shelf in the office of the Chances for Children charity on the 101st floor of the North Tower.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
22 of 26Intact ID card of Brooklyn native Uhuru Houston. On 9/11, Houston helped evacuate the PATH station and then headed to the towers to assist there. He died at 32 years old.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
23 of 26Walkie talkie belonging to FDNY Chief Peter James Ganci, Jr. On 9/11, Ganci directed the FDNY response and was last seen near the North Tower after ordering others to evacuate the area. He was 54 years old.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
24 of 26First aid kit belonging to James Francis Lynch, a 22-year veteran of the Port Authority Police Department. He was recovering from surgery during the time of the attacks but left his home to respond to the emergency. He was 47 years old.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
25 of 26Wrecked glasses of Queens native David Wiswall. On 9/11, Wiswall was at work on the 105th floor of the South Tower. He was 54 years old and was survived by his wife and two adult children.The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum
25 Heartbreaking Photos Of 9/11 Artifacts — And The Powerful Stories They Tell
The pain endured by countless Americans on 9/11 still echoes years after the terrorist attacks. This immeasurable loss is reflected in many of the 9/11 artifacts collected during the recovery and clean-up operations. The tragedy is also displayed in many memorial trinkets created by the families of the 2,977 victims who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
Placed under the care of the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History, these 9/11 artifacts — some of which are featured in the gallery above — convey a poignant story of trauma and tragedy. But they also represent the strength of the survivors of September 11th and the resilience borne out of the devastation.
The 9/11 Tragedy
Getty ImagesThe New York City Fire Department lost 343 firefighters during the attacks.
At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, people in New York City were going about their daily lives when tragedy suddenly struck. American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked by al Qaeda on its way from Boston to Los Angeles — and it crashed right into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
At first, there was confusion as to what exactly happened. Some initially thought the plane crash had been an unfortunate accident due to a malfunction. But then, United Airlines Flight 175 — also traveling from Boston to Los Angeles — crashed into the South Tower. Soon after, it became clear that these plane crashes were not accidents.
Chaos ensued after the first airplane crash, with people panicking in the streets and in their homes, frantically checking in on their loved ones. Those who were among the unfortunate may have discovered that their family members or friends were stuck inside the burning World Trade Center.
In less than two hours, the iconic Twin Towers of New York City had turned to ash, leaving unimaginable suffering in their wake. That same day, terrorist attacks were also launched against the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as well as a plane that went down outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The 9/11 tragedy was undoubtedly one of the worst catastrophes in modern U.S. history. The death toll reached 2,977 people with as many as 25,000 injured. Countless others who survived that day endured scars — both physical and emotional — that lasted decades after the incident.
Rescue Efforts After The Attacks
Beth A. Keiser/AFP/Getty ImagesInitial rescue and recovery operations were carried out over the months following the September 11th tragedy.
The World Trade Center site suffered $60 billion in damages from the attacks. The cost to clean the debris at Ground Zero amounted to $750 million. But the biggest toll by far was the lives lost in the tragedy — as shown by the heartbreaking 9/11 artifacts found at the scene.
The Last Column — a 58-ton beam that was part of the South Tower — wasn’t removed from Ground Zero until May 30, 2002. This marked the end of an initial nine-month-long rescue, relief, and recovery effort.
Immediate rescue and recovery attempts on the day of the tragedy were a joint effort that included various city and state agencies. They were also supported by the resilience of quick-thinking civilians.
For instance, about 300,000 people were evacuated over the water by merchant mariners docked near Lower Manhattan. They were also aided by staff, cadets, and faculty from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at the nearby Kings Point.
Rescue efforts also counted support from agencies outside of New York, such as a group of San Diego firefighters who were dispatched to aid the rescues at Ground Zero.
“As soon as I saw the collapse — every firefighter will tell you they’re thinking one thing: A lot of firefighters just died,” recalled San Diego Fire-Rescue Deputy Fire Chief John Wood, who was part of the search-and-rescue team deployed to New York.
He added, “There was a lot of missing people. One of our big things we found out all these years later — thinking about, reflecting on — it is bringing back closure to families was important.”
With the amount of people caught in the midst of the catastrophe of 9/11 and the destruction of the towers, many human remains have never been found. As of 2017, about 40 percent of the New York victims were still unidentified.
“The most important thing I will never know,” said Liz Alderman, who lost her son Peter in the North Tower, “I won’t know how much he suffered and I won’t know how he died. I travel back into that tower a lot and I try to imagine, but there is no imagining.”
9/11 Artifacts: Remembering The Loss
The National 9/11 Memorial & MuseumLt. David Lim, who survived the North Tower collapse, was wearing these boots during 9/11.
Three months after 9/11, Congress officially charged the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History with the daunting task of collecting and preserving artifacts recovered from that day. It was meant as a way to honor the memories of the lives lost.
Now, the collection of 9/11 artifacts at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum showcases countless photographs and objects, including personal items from survivors, victims, and first responders. The collection also features tributes created by families after the tragedy.
It is a remarkable memorial to the people who were lost that day, as their stories are depicted through the everyday objects that they once owned.
Among the artifacts is the gear worn by Port Authority Police Department Lt. David Lim, who survived the North Tower collapse on 9/11. Like many first responder survivors, Lim donated items to the memorial, including a pair of leather boots, a utility belt, and a can of pepper spray — all layered in soot from the wreckage and debris.
The National 9/11 Memorial & MuseumA ring belonging to Robert Joseph Gschaar, 55, one of the 2,977 victims killed.
Others were less fortunate. Robert Joseph Gschaar, who was working on the 92nd floor of the South Tower when the airplane crashed into it, was among the 2,977 victims killed. But a few of his personal items were able to be recovered and delivered to his family.
Among Gschaar’s items was his wallet, which held a rare $2 bill. It was a symbol he shared with his wife, Myrta, as a reminder that they were two of a kind. His wedding ring was also recovered during the clean-up. As it turned out, Gschaar had spoken on the phone with his wife after the plane crash, reassuring her that he would evacuate. But like so many others, he never made it out that day.
It’s clear that this vast collection of 9/11 artifacts is more than just a compilation of objects. These items are poignant reminders of the lives that could have been and the strength that continues to carry on their memories.
Now that you’ve learned about the most heartbreaking 9/11 artifacts, read the tragic story behind “The Falling Man,” the infamous photograph of an unknown man falling to his death from the Twin Towers. Next, read about the far-reaching toll of the tragedy on the brave first responders who spurred into action on 9/11.