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Port Authority Aims To Empty Hangar Of World Trade Center Debris Soon


Since 2002, a hangar at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport has held debris from the old World Trade Center. On one level, it's simply wreckage. On another level, it's a collection of nearly sacred relics. They've been sent around the world as reminders of the 9/11 attacks. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is now hoping to pass out the final items. That could happen soon. Here's Stephen Nessen of our member station WNYC.

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: At hangar 17, once used by Pan Am, a forklift digs into a pile of about a half a dozen rusty, steel beams. They'd be unremarkable if they weren't rails from the PATH train that ran under the World Trade Center on 9/11. They're almost all that's left of the 2,500 items once stored here.

How was the drive from Hamburg?

That's Hamburg, Iowa - population 1,200. That's where Elaine and Tom Howard are from. They applied for the pieces on behalf of their local civic association. They drove their white Chevy Silverado all the way to New York to pick up the two 600-pound beams. But one of the forklift operators, who's hauled out thousands of items here, is skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It'll never fit.

NESSEN: Faced with a little New York gruffness, Elaine is plucky.

ELAINE HOWARD: Maybe we came a long ways for nothing, huh?

NESSEN: While Tom backs up his truck, Elaine explains they requested the pieces a few months ago. They're planning to put the beams in Heroes Park, a white-fenced, well-manicured piece of land in their town.

HOWARD: We just have to always recognize all heroes, and I'm passionate about that, our veterans and all the heroes left at home. And 9/11, I would say those people gave to their country. They're heroes.

NESSEN: As for the beams - they fit. While they hang over the edge a few inches, Tom cinches them down. Inside the nearly empty hangar, there are still a few items left - a police car - minor damage - a rusty elevator motor that resembles an airplane engine, a 20-ton slab of concrete and steel from the parking garage and a triangular piece of one tower's antenna.

Amy Passiak is the archivist in charge of cataloging and distributing the artifacts. She says people have requested items in all 50 states and 10 countries.

AMY PASSIAK: By receiving a piece or requesting a piece, they were able to then connect themselves to, like, this larger fabric of what it is to be American, to all be affected together, to come together.

NESSEN: So how do you get a piece of history?

PASSIAK: We track fully every organization. It's all vetted in that they have to submit a letter requesting a piece. They have to be a nonprofit organization or a government organization. The pieces have to be on display publicly with public access.

NESSEN: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is hoping to distribute the last items by the end of the summer. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Nessen
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