From September 11, 2002 to July 6, 2003, more than 1 million people from around the world visited “September 11: Bearing Witness to History,” an exhibit at the National Museum of American History. In addition to displays of photographs, television footage, artifacts from ground zero, and voicemail recordings from the morning of the attacks, the exhibit included a section with pencils and cards inviting visitors to share their reflections and memories of September 11, 2001.
More than 20,000 of those cards – representing the thoughts of people from 50 states and more than 40 countries – are now available online for public browsing as part of the September 11 Digital Archive. Some cards contain several paragraphs of recollections and reactions, others only a few words, and others children’s drawings. The cards can be viewed at http://www.911digitalarchive.org/smithsoniancards.
These handwritten responses offer unique glimpses into the lives and perspectives of people whose stories might not otherwise be told:
A 13-year-old girl living in Georgia began, “As I sit here and write this using the same pencil as I don’t know how many other Americans, I feel a great unity with everyone in this room. For the moment I spend in here, time is suspended.”
A 60-year-old man living in Illinois wrote, “I was born on Sept. 11. I was watching television, but I was overcome with emotion and had to turn it off. I have had very mixed feelings on my birthday since then.”
A 39-year-old woman living in New Jersey wrote, “I was watching the south tower collapse on TV – while at the same time listening to my brother in law on his cell phone screaming and running away from the collapse of the tower. His chilling screams while running for safety will forever be in my mind.”
And a 34-year-old woman living in Florida wrote only: “I have learned that history is real.”
The physical cards will be archived by the National Museum of American History; the scanned images of the cards, as part of the September 11 Digital Archive, will be permanently preserved by the Library of Congress, which formally accepted the Archive into its collections on September 10, 2003.