KENNEBUNK, Maine – Each of us who was alive and old enough on September 11, 2001 has a personal story to tell about that moment in history, when terrorists hijacked planes, used them as missiles against symbols of American economic and military might. , and inflicted on the nation one of its darkest and deadliest tragedies.
In Kennebunk, many of these local personal stories are captured in The Brick Store Museum’s new online exhibit, “20 Years Later: Community Memories of 9/11.” The exhibit, which will launch on the museum’s website on Friday, September 10, features photos from two decades ago, essays and responses to a quiz asking people about their memories of that fall of 2001.
According to Cynthia Walker, the museum’s director, the program’s current offerings are just the beginning.
“Over time, we look forward to creating an Internet archive that will store these written memoirs,” Walker said.
The museum also plans to conduct interviews with those who completed a “memory form” recounting their feelings and experiences 20 years ago, she said.
“We hope this will just be the start of collecting stories as more people read the various stories and then feel comfortable sharing their own,” she added. “That’s what’s so interesting about collecting memories of an event like this, where everyone above a certain age has a distinct memory of having experienced the same event by the thousands. – millions? – in different ways.
One-year project source of learning, comfort
The museum began building its collection last September, taking a year to obtain photos and ask participants to complete and submit these memory forms. The program will remain live after the anniversary this weekend, so people will still have the opportunity to see the photos, read the stories and share their own.
Each story submitted is unique, Walker said.
“It amazes me to read the entries, to think how differently this event, 9/11, was experienced and viewed by so many random people,” she said. “Yet we all feel a connection to share these personal stories each time the date comes around. It really shows how much human beings need stories and experiences not just to learn, but to comfort one another. others.
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Some Kennebunk High School teachers, who no doubt had to help their students through the day, shared their stories for the virtual exhibit. Three locals who worked in Washington at the time, where one of the hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon, also shared their memories.
The collection also includes memorabilia from someone who took a flight from Boston to DC and was on the last plane to land when air traffic was disrupted. Another participant shares memories of being out of the country when the attacks happened. some who were children at the time also shared their memories.
“It runs the gamut and I love how it really illustrates the diversity of experiences around a single day in American life,” Walker said.
Individual stories, shared experience
Walker recalls where she was and what she was also doing when she learned that the United States was under attack. She was a junior in high school, sitting in AP History, her first class of the day, in the library. The school librarian brought a television into the room and told Walker and her classmates that a “small propeller plane” had hit the World Trade Center in New York.
“The minute she turned it on, we saw the second plane go down,” Walker said. “The rest of the day was walking the halls of our high school trying to find a television to sit in front of. I even remember listening to a teacher’s radio at one point. Classes had just stopped.
Walker said she found her twin sister and they both went back to the school library to watch the TV coverage. They saw people falling from the upper floors of the Twin Towers.
“The reporter at the time had no idea how to explain it,” she recalls.
And then one of the towers “disappeared”. He collapsed. To this day, Walker remembers NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw saying, “What just happened?”
At the time, Walker was living outside of Boston, where two of the four hijacked planes had left Logan Airport. She said she couldn’t sleep that night.
“I was so scared that something else would happen locally,” she said. “It was such a strange time and felt very surreal for several days afterwards. I think everyone who lived through that day knows the feeling of shared confusion and loss.
“Stories are what make us human”
Currently, the museum’s collection contains stories of 40 people, according to Walker. The participants were between the ages of 8 and 65 at the time of the attacks. All now live in southern Maine or visit frequently.
Walker said she hopes the collection will give people the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences up until September 11, 2001 and to read other people’s memories.
“That’s what the museum is for,” Walker said. “Stories are what make us human, what helps us understand others and what inspires us. Sharing these experiences helps our mental health and our relationships with others.
If nothing else, Walker said, she hopes people will be impressed by the experiences of others, “mere humans, trying their best to understand and survive in a world that has just collapsed.”