Last little fragments from 9/11 make big impact at N.Y. exhibit

`Recovery' unearths siftings of landfill, and of human spirit

For the Record

December 07, 2003|By Bryan Virasami | Bryan Virasami,NEWSDAY

Police Officer Marcelo Pevida said he tries to remember the better days he spent in his patrol car and not the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when an airplane fuselage smashed into it.

The Brooklyn patrolman was driving his cruiser near the World Trade Center that morning when his partner for the day, Detective William Moy, shouted "Look Out, Mars!" to alert him that a fireball was hurling their way.

"Part of the fuselage landed on my car and crushed my hood," Pevida said. "I was in the car backing up to let an ambulance go through."

The fireball came from the second airplane that crashed into the Twin Towers. It crushed patrol car No. 1250 but spared the officers' lives.

At the New York Historical Society recently, Pevida was staring at the dented hood of the car, one of several objects and photographs sifted from the debris shipped from the World Trade Center site to the Fresh Kills landfill.

"Right now, I try to remember the good things I had with this car. I don't try to remember 9/11 because it's depressing," said Pevida, a 14-year veteran of the force.

The new exhibit, Recovery: The World Trade Center Recovery Operation at Fresh Kills, is sponsored by the New York State Museum and will be at the society's 77th Street location through March 21, 2004.

Closed by the city in March 2001, Fresh Kills was reopened Sept. 12, 2001. The landfill was the last stop for debris hauled by trucks and barges to be sifted one last time for remains, personal property and criminal evidence. From the original mountains of debris down to the last quarter-inch, workers at the landfill sifted through 1.8 million tons of rubble from the World Trade Center, looking to recover whatever they could.

The work at Fresh Kills, miles from Ground Zero and closed to the general public, is an important part of the Sept. 11 story that most people don't know about, organizers said.

"I don't think people have a good sense of the extraordinary lengths to which every single worker there went to ... bring some comfort to the families who lost people on Sept. 11," said Amy Weinstein, assistant curator at the historical society.

Two city employees overseeing the landfill operation - Dennis Diggins and James Luongo - and FBI special agent Richard B. Marx on their own helped save these often charred and warped artifacts.

Among them are a wrinkled 5-foot American flag, a fragment of a red door from a fire truck, the warped steering wheel of a BMW and the leather remnant of a police holster. The exhibit contains photographs and objects that reveal the spectrum of lives snuffed out.

Signage identifying the items said 1,195 automobiles were destroyed in the attack and collapse of the towers, plus 102 pieces of firefighting apparatus and 61 police vehicles. Marx is quoted as saying: "We saw handguns that were melted out like a pool ... Smith & Wesson said that it would take about 4,000 degrees for that to happen."

Another corner of the display includes fragments of a computer circuit board, PATH train quick cards, and photos of two buckets filled with ID tags with heavy dust on them, and a cigar-store Indian made from wood.

"We hope this exhibit will help Americans throughout the country to better understand the historic recovery operation," said Clifford Siegfried, director of the museum.

The New York Historical Society, 77th Street at Central Park West, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission: adults $8, seniors and students $5, children under 12 free. Call: 212-873-3400.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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