A plastic bag with Andrea Haberman's personal possessions -- her purse, glasses, keys and a checkbook -- had been tucked away in a drawer in her father's Wisconsin home since 2004.
Gordon Haberman had lovingly been
holding on to the items his 25-year-old daughter was carrying when terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
Andrea Haberman, who lived in Chicago and had been in the north tower attending a business meeting, was one of nearly 3,000 people killed
"When I opened the bag it brought me right back to the pit," Haberman said. "After so many years there was still that same smell" of pulverized debris and the burning remains of the World Trade Center.
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Andrea's family decided to donate her last possessions to the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which opens to the public Wednesday.
Families across the country and on Long Island have donated to the museum many items -- some of which they stowed away in drawers, closets and storage spaces. Museum curators have received 15,000 items from 2,380 donors.
The museum -- located below street level where the World Trade Center once stood -- has become a national depository of artifacts and personal belongings recovered from the pile, according to museum officials.
Margie Miller, 64, of Baldwin, donated 15 cartons packed with sympathy cards drawn by children, handmade quilts and Christmas tree ornaments, stuffed animals and memorial cards from people who never knew her husband, Joel Miller. He was 55 and working in his office on the 97th floor of the north tower for Marsh & McLennan when the towers fell.
To Miller, her personal donation tells a story of recovery.
"This tells a huge story that shows the depth of response," she said. "It is a piece of history. It gave me an enormous amount of comfort to have these things. It always spoke to me more about the giver, the people, the children and organizations that sent them to me. I felt that I needed them because there was no cemetery grave to speak of . . . "
Haberman's tale of his donation brought him back to the early hours and years of what he calls his 9/11 journey: From the frantic first hours of not knowing if his daughter had escaped the burning towers, to searching for her in a strange city he had never set foot in before.
They were followed by annual 9/11 trips to Ground Zero to attend anniversary ceremonies, where he cultivated friendships in a city that now felt like home. And then, there were the painful family notifications.
His came in 2004.
"I flew out to New York and went to One Police Plaza," Haberman said, remembering the sign on the window of the city's police headquarters: "Personal Property World Trade Center." A police officer and a clergy member stood at his side as he opened the plastic bag.
Seeing his daughter's personal belongings triggered flashbacks to the first days when he, his wife, Kathleen, and daughter Julie "hit the bricks" of New York City searching for Andrea at hospitals, only to find themselves back downtown lingering near the plume of smoke that bellowed from Ground Zero.
Haberman, now 63, had quickly sealed the plastic bag and flew back to Wisconsin. At home he locked it away in a drawer. "I didn't show it to my family for several months."
Like hundreds on Long Island who lost family and friends in the attacks, Margie Miller found solace and purpose in her community, which helped her grieve at the WTC Family Center at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Rockville Centre, where survivors of the attacks also gathered.
There was always an inviting pot of hot coffee brewing, and food. Children would busy themselves with music and art programs while their widowed parents met among themselves, said Miller, who became family coordinator.
Miller and the center's volunteers brought in speakers to discuss nutrition, the grieving process and sleep disorders, and "to just have fun," social activities that included family outings, trips and holiday parties to help heal the wounds, she said.
"It was an amazing seven years. It was a place of respite for a community caught in a catastrophic event," Miller said.
As a result, the calendar-event fliers, photographs, poems and testaments that document the services of the center would become more valuable than memory keepsakes, said Miller, who stored them in boxes in her home.
"These poems and event fliers speak to how as a community we took care of each other and extended ourselves as 9/11 families," Miller said.
Although her donations will not be exhibited in the museum's opening, she hopes they will be part of future exhibits.
Miller and Haberman say that giving the artifacts to the museum gave their beloved items a final resting place, where they would be protected and revered.
"What do you do with these things while going forward into the future?" Haberman asked. "Do I want to pass this on to Andrea's sister? Should her sister, Julia, carry this weight?"
Before turning over Andrea's items to the museum, Haberman took one last look inside the plastic bag and noticed he had missed something that belonged to her.
"There it was. . . . Her entrance badge to the World Trade Center with a picture of her smiling face," Haberman said. "She looked so happy. . . . This was the last picture ever taken of her."
Haberman decided to keep it.
National September 11 Memorial Museum opening
The National September 11 Memorial Museum opens to the public Wednesday, May 21. Opening day tickets are sold out.
LOCATION: World Trade Center, entrance at corner of Albany and Greenwich streets.
REGULAR MUSEUM HOURS: Daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
ADMISSION FEES: regular, $24; seniors 65 and older, U.S. veterans and U.S. college students, $18; ages 7 through 17, $15; ages
6 and under, free; 9/11 family members and rescue and recovery workers, free.
Admission is free to all on Tuesdays from
5 to 8 p.m.
Tickets must be reserved at 911memorial.org.