NEW YORK — After seeing the new National September 11 Memorial Museum, one victim’s widow decided to donate one of her husband’s FDNY paramedic shirts, karate uniforms and beloved baseball jersey.
A retired police detective gave the sole-scorched boots she wore while working amid the smoking wreckage of the twin towers.
A survivor contributed her World Trade Center worker ID, dust-coated clothes and the high-heeled shoes she shed going down 87 flights of stairs to safety, items she’d kept boxed in a basement for 13 years.
“I didn’t think that this would be anything they would want,” said JoAnne “JoJo” Capestro, the finance worker who gave her clothing. “But once I went in there, and I saw, I said, ‘My clothes belong there.’ … I wanted to share it with people. I wanted them to see.”
Since the museum’s May opening, victims’ families, survivors, rescue workers and others have come forward to add about 135 new gifts to its collection, chief curator Jan Seidler Ramirez said.
Relatives have brought new photos or recorded new remembrances to profiles of the nearly 3,000 victims. Others have added to the wallets, helmets, and other personal effects in a collection that looks at the terrorist attacks through the lens of individual lives.
A Federal Aviation Administration worker’s hard hat now speaks to his agency’s contributions to the recovery effort. Commemorative golf balls from the delayed September 2001 Ryder Cup golf tournament help demonstrate how the world stood still after the attacks.
Two compelling reminders of the long manhunt that followed 9/11 went on display Sunday: a Navy SEAL’s uniform shirt from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and a CIA officer’s special coin commemorating the operation.
With the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum now visibly “occupying, in real space, leadership of this important national story, when people have items, they want that to be a part of that,” President Joe Daniels said.
The museum anticipated and welcomes growth in its collection of over 39,000 objects, photos and oral histories, and officials see the new donations as a vote of confidence. The institution trod a difficult path to opening, facing delays and controversy. Some victims’ relatives still bitterly oppose it as more tourist attraction than tribute.
Some new donors to the Sept. 11 museum hadn’t realized everyday possessions could be museum exhibits. Others weren’t ready earlier to part with the artifacts or wanted to view the museum before entrusting it with cherished, if wrenching, mementoes.
Neil Matthew Dollard’s relatives talked for years about donating the few possessions authorities found after the bond broker died at the trade center. But the family held off until visiting the museum.
“We were waiting to see what the museum looked like” and how it handled people’s possessions, said one of his sisters, Megan Fajardo. Finding the displays tasteful, the relatives decided to contribute the items: his wallet, cards he carried, and pocket change.
“When we’re gone, it needs to be somewhere where it can be seen, where it will be safe,” Fajardo said. “That’s where he died.”
After getting home from the debris pile at ground zero after 9/11, Detective Carol Orazem peeled off her battered, hosed-down boots and eventually put them in the attic. There they stayed until she saw another first responder’s awe at spotting his own helmet on display in the museum.
“What am I going to do with these boots? They’re just sitting here, and they depress me to look at,” the now-retired detective asked herself. Now, at the museum, “I know that they’re taken care of.”
Still, it was strangely hard to let go of her piece of Sept. 11 history, she says. So does Capestro.
“It was bittersweet,” Capestro said, “but it makes me feel good.
“I feel like I’m giving back. Because God saved me that day.”
Associated Press writer Rachelle Blidner contributed to this report.