In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the University of Pennsylvania is presenting an exhibit of everyday items transformed into stirring symbols of loss and remembrance.
Broken eyeglasses, visitor badges, a barely recognizable computer keyboard, dictionary pages, perfectly preserved Christmas ornaments and a loudspeaker twisted like a rumpled piece of fabric are among about 15 items on view for "Excavating Ground Zero" at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology through Nov. 6. The items have never been shown publicly before and were selected for the exhibit by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, slated to open on the former site of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2012.
The archaeology museum was an apt location for the exhibit because the aim of archaeology is to reconstruct lost moments in time through objects, said Kate Quinn, the exhibit's designer.
"The focus is more about the human story of what happened that day but through the lens of the excavation," she said. "We wanted to create a quiet space to come in and reflect and see these objects and remember and have an outlet to share your thoughts if you want to."
A blank wall allows visitors to post their thoughts. One person wrote, " 9/1 1 was one of only two times I saw my father cry." Another post reads in part, "I was 15. Now I'm 25. I can't remember what life was like before that."
The 9/1 1 museum has countless objects in storage awaiting its opening next year and archivists are attempting to trace their ownership. The owners of the personal items in the Penn Museum show are unknown and may forever remain a mystery, Quinn said.
"What gets you right away is these were people just like us. They went to work that day like we all do, but this horrific thing happened," Quinn said. "It's something that feels very personal. It just tears your heart out all over again."
The exhibit also features a slideshow of 9/1 1 images from news organizations and reprinted obituaries of 14 Penn alumni who died in the attacks.