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Sunday, May 15 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(General Session) Preserving Trauma: Treatment Challenges at the 9/11 Memorial Museum

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History museums, especially memorial museums, present particular challenges to the conservator because the condition of an object can play a paramount role in its interpretation. Many of the objects in the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s collection are severely damaged, having suffered physical trauma on the day of the attacks. It is this visible destruction which so powerfully allows the museum to tell the story of the attacks and their aftermath. The conservators’ role at the 9/11 Museum is to preserve this damage, allowing the objects to tell their stories to future generations. This presentation will discuss three items in the collection which exemplify the challenges faced by the museum’s conservators. When Hurricane Sandy struck Manhattan in 2012, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is mostly below grade, was not yet complete. The storm surge flooded much of lower Manhattan, including the Museum site. Several collections objects were already on-site, their size dictating that the museum be built around them. These large objects were submerged by the flood, including a section of wall from the World Trade Center parking garage level that was struck by the 1993 truck bomb. A “B2” mark on the wall was covered in soot after 9/11 when the pile at Ground Zero burned for months. When recovery workers reached the garage level, this wall section was saved. During Sandy, the object was protected by a wood framework covered in plastic. The floodwaters penetrated the plastic and left behind a layer of silt on the sooty surface of the slab. Conservators had to remove the silt, while leaving the soot intact. At the concourse level of the World Trade Center there was a shopping mall which included a Warner Brothers store. During the recovery, workers discovered the remnants of a “That’s All Folks” sign, still attached to a portion of the wall. They removed this remnant in pieces, including portions of the concrete tile backing. The exhibition plan called for this remnant to be installed as it appeared when discovered. This required that the parts be reassembled in such a way as to not obscure the damage. This treatment required careful interpretation and close consultation with curatorial staff. When the towers collapsed, Chelsea Jeans, a clothing store nearby, was inundated with the dust that was ubiquitous across lower Manhattan that day. The owner of the store, rather than clean up the dust, erected a glass wall in front of a portion of his store, preserving it as a stark memorial to the events of 9/11. When the store went out of business a year later, the owner gave the contents of this “case” to the New-York Historical Society, which removed and crated the contents using asbestos-handling techniques. The NYHS has given the Chelsea Jeans store display to the 9/11 Museum, and the museum has put the display on exhibit, still coated in 9/11 dust. The toxic nature of the dust required special preparation, handling and case design in order to exhibit this material.

avatar for John Childs

John Childs

Principal, Childs Conservation Consulting
John Childs graduated with a BA in history from Yale University in 1985, and earned a master’s degree in conservation specializing in furniture from Winterthur in 1992. Since then John has worked at museums in New York City, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and from 2006 to 2011... Read More →

avatar for Maureen Merrigan

Maureen Merrigan

Assistant Conservator, 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Maureen Merrigan is an Assistant Conservator at the National September 11th Memorial Museum. While a student at Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program she trained at the Conservation Research Laboratory. As the project conservator at the National Museum of Bermuda’s... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 11:30am - 12:00pm EDT
Room 210 AB/EF