Citizens lined the streets waving flags and cheering as local first responders — firefighters, police officers, EMS workers — and dozens of Freedom Riders turned out Tuesday morning to escort the 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit to its place at the Washington Town and Country Fairgrounds.
Lisa Reiss, coordinator of the exhibit for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, who has seen a similar scene play out in towns across the country, said it is always moving.
“It’s a sign of respect for them to escort us into the community,” she said.
A tribute to all the lives that were lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Never Forget exhibit is a tool to educate America’s youth about that historic day, said Reiss.
It will be open from 1 to 7 p.m. all five days of the Fair near the North/shuttle gate.Admission is included with your Fair ticket.
Dedicated on Sept. 11, 2013, in Fayetteville, N.C., the Never Forget exhibit has been on the road for nearly four years.
In Memory of Stephen Siller
Siller was the youngest of seven children, the father of five children and an FDNY (Fire Department of New York) firefighter assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1 who responded to the World Trade Center scene on 9/11 even though he was not on duty.
“Stephen drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes,” the Tunnel to Towers Foundation notes on its website, www.tunnel2towers.org. “Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave up his life while saving others.”
On the first anniversary of 9/11, Siller’s family created the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation in his memory.
“One of the premier programs for the foundation is Building for America’s Bravest, where we build Smart Homes for catastrophically injured servicemen,” said Reiss.
To date, the Foundation has built and dedicated 59 homes for wounded servicemen and women. The goal is to reach 200, said Reiss.
FDNY Firefighters Are Tour Guides
It was John Hodge, a first cousin of Siller who serves as chief operating officer for the Foundation, who had the idea to create the Never Forget mobile exhibit.
In traveling around the country in the years after 9/11, Hodge discovered there were a lot of areas where 9/11 wasn’t being taught in schools, unfortunately, said Reiss.
“Young people who were born after 9/11 are exactly the reason why John had the idea to create the exhibit,” Reiss said. “It was built as an educational tool.
“We first thought we would go primarily to schools, and then we discovered that families do come to fairs and air shows and music festivals, so for us to be able to reach as many people as possible, we branched out and we do spend most of our summer touring in the fair market,” she added.
The exhibit includes artifacts that have been donated or loaned to the Foundation by FDNY firefighters and fire stations in New York City.
“So everything on the exhibit is actually an artifact from 9/11. In addition to that, our firefighters are guys who were there on 9/11 or immediately afterward, and they act as our tour guides,” said Reiss, noting there are three FDNY firefighters scheduled to be in Washington at the Fair.
She has a roster of about 58 FDNY firefighters who volunteer their time as tour guides, sharing their stories with visitors.
“The reason they do that is because they don’t need to tell their stories in New York City. In New York City, everyone has a 9/11 story,” said Reiss. “But you take those same gentlemen and bring them out to places like Washington, Mo., where there is a good chance many people will never get to New York and never see the museum, and you give them the opportunity to shake the hands of a first responder who ran into a burning building with no thought of their own safety — these are ordinary men doing extraordinary things — and it also gives them a chance to share their stories outside of the history. So I call it living history. It’s quite moving.”
The exhibit does have an audio device an audio-guided tour for anyone who would rather walk through on their own, Reiss noted.
What You Will See
The exhibit, which is inside a 53-foot tractor-trailer that expands to an 1,100-square-foot space, is handicap-accessible and age-appropriate.
“There is no terrorism on our exhibit. Our exhibit is about the heroes,” said Reiss. “We do have video of the second plane hitting the second tower in the 9/11 room, and that is probably the most graphic piece of information you will see on the tour.”
The exhibit is divided into three rooms, the first of which is dedicated to the World Trade Center. Details include when and how the twin towers were built, how tall they were, and even the marketing campaign video that was created by New York City to entice businesses to move into the towers.
From there, visitors go through a five-panel time line that outlines the exact events as they happened on 9/11, and that leads into the second room, which is the 9/11 room.
Here visitors will see steel from the World Trade Center, a piece of facade from the front of the building, firefighting apparatus and a uniform from one of the firefighters who was lost that day, said Reiss.
There also are items that were found on “the pile” after the towers collapsed.
“When you stop to think about this, there was a pile of rubble — no desks, no computers, no chairs or any of the things you would expect to find. And then John LaBarbera (battalion commander, FDNY) looks down and found a perfectly sound baseball in the middle of the rubble. So there’s a showcase of those kinds of things,” said Reiss.
The final room in the exhibit tells Stephen Siller’s story, and in the middle of that room is a miniature bronze statue of Siller. The full-size statue stands at Randall’s Island in New York City, which is where FDNY sends new firefighters for training.
“So when they get off the boat, they say ‘Hi’ to Stephen and do a chin-up on a piece of World Trade Center steel,” said Reiss.
The third room also includes information about the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, videos of Siller’s life and panels showing what the Foundation does through its Building for America’s Bravest program.
A new addition to the exhibit this year is the Wall of the Fallen Heroes, which features a list of all the first responders who perished on 9/11 and the names of all of the firefighters who have died post-9/11 as a result of 9/11.
This includes firefighters who died from illness related to cleaning up the debris, for example. That particular panel will be updated once a year.
There are two donation boxes with the exhibit where people can make donations to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. There also is a merchandise trailer, where, for a donation, people can receive a firefighter hat or T-shirt with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to the Foundation.
The 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit travels the country year-round, said Reiss. This year it started in April in Duluth, and will continue touring through November. Next year, the first tour date is in February in Texas.
The goal is to provide an enlightening experience that will help communities to “Never Forget,” said Reiss.
For more information on bringing the 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit to your community, contact Lisa Reiss at email@example.com.
For more information on the exhibit, go to https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B98LEHsVA__pNG1iaVo2UVNTSVU.
Or visit the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation at www.tunnel2towers.org.