9/11 memorial in mall stops visitors in tracks

Twisted metal, wrinkled and punctuated by haphazard holes, winds its way upward, reaching just sever

A couple from out of town wanders hurriedly through the expanse of a mall-turned-office complex.

They appear to be looking for a specific office, and barely notice as they pass by a looming piece of thick metal that stretches floor-to-ceiling.

They catch sight of the scrap metal and their eyes immediately fixate on it. Their jaws drop ever so slightly as soon as they realize what is sitting in the lobby of Amsterdam’s Riverfront Center.

Others begin to take notice, too.

“It gives me goose bumps just knowing where this was,” said Amsterdam 1st Ward Alderman Joe Isabel, as he passed by the aluminum sheathing.

And it does. As you approach the large — and yet tiny — chunk of the Twin Towers, it takes several moments to comprehend exactly what you’re seeing.

Twisted metal, wrinkled and punctuated by haphazard holes, winds its way upward, reaching just several inches shy of the Riverfront Center’s ceiling. The mangled metal and deep, long scratches indicate something powerful brought down what was once part of New York City’s tallest skyscrapers.

The significance is not lost. As another anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears, what may have been stale in the minds of busy Americans becomes fresh again, if only for a moment.

Amsterdam is one of 30 locations across the state to host the “New York Remembers” exhibition. The New York State Museum and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum organized the exhibitions with the office of Gov. Mario Cuomo to recognize the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Watching people view the exhibit, it is immediately apparent when they realize what this is. What begins as simple curiosity transforms into awe as they take in the exhibit.

Most have heard the stories out of New York City, feeling sorrow as fellow New Yorkers and Americans would, but never quite appreciating the physical destruction the city bore on Sept. 11.

But one piece of metal on display is enough to open up the wounds from that morning. “Has it really been 10 years already?” passersby ask.

Speckles stain the aluminum sheath, which lined the exterior of the World Trade Center. Is it dirt, or ash, or even dried blood?

A placard standing next to the wreckage reads: “The steel frame of the World Trade Center was faced in lightweight aluminum. Few examples survived the powerful collapse of the towers.”

The exterior aluminum sheathing will be on display in Riverfront Center until the end of September. The exhibit was set up Wednesday but won’t officially open until Monday.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, the mall will be open for those who want to honor loved ones or heroes.

Unique artifact

The fact that the aluminum artifact remains is of significance, said Mark Schaming, director of Exhibitions and Programs at the New York State Museum. Fewer than 20 pieces of aluminum sheathing were left intact after the towers collapsed.

“Sometimes a singular object can carry an immense story,” he said. “It was the skin of the towers. It’s what you saw that day on your TV, the silver on the buildings. And much of the aluminum was destroyed, it was just ground up. It’s very powerful. It brings the story of that day to people in a very tangible way.”

The exhibits inspire the question heard every Sept. 11 since the attacks: Where were you when the towers were hit?

Ron Blankenbaker was answering the phone. A friend of his who regularly listened to the Howard Stern show in the stock room of the nursing home he worked at called him up that morning.

“He says, ‘Hey, Howard Stern says they just flew a plane into the twin towers.’ I said, ‘Oh, Joe, will you stop that Howard Stern stuff?’ ” recalled Blankenbaker, as he stood in front of the mall exhibit, not far from his Fulton-Montgomery Community College office.

“It’s almost like a memorial,” he said. “You get the same feeling that you get when you go to a graveyard or cemetery.”

Ground zero artifacts are on display in two other places in the Capital Region: Another temporary exhibit, at the Saratoga Springs City Center, and in the permanent display in the New York State Museum in Albany.

Many of the artifacts being exhibited have never been seen by the public: A trailer filled with photographs and messages that was used by families visiting Ground Zero; damaged emergency vehicles and vehicle parts; aluminum and glass from the buildings; religious “symbol steel” created by the workers at the site; and airplane fragments, including landing gear and engine parts.

Schaming said the idea of the 30-site exhibition was to educate people in a variety of cities in every corner of the state. Artifacts are currently being installed in Jamestown, Elmira, Norwich, Syracuse and Buffalo, he said.

“What you tend to find across the state is that not only was this a New York City story, but it really impacted all corners of the state,” Schaming said. “We find rescue personnel, police, people that went to that site from every county of the state. So it just seemed like a really constructive thing to do to put this out there.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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