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A part of Manhattan's immigrant past vanished with everything else on 9/11

Five Points in 1827 as depicted in Valentine's

Five Points in 1827 as depicted in Valentine's Manual in 1855. Credit: U.S. General Services Administration

There were 2,753 people known to have died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in lower Manhattan, an area steeped in the city's storied past. The victims live on in the memories of family and friends. Their names are etched on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Friday, hundreds will gather at Ground Zero to remember and mark 14 years since two hijacked jets slammed into the Twin Towers, stealing lives but also crucial links to lower Manhattan's rich history as a haven for immigrants more than a century ago.

The remains of the Five Points neighborhood -- 19th century headquarters for gangs, crooks and prostitutes but also home to a huge wave of hardworking new New Yorkers -- vanished as did nearly everything else when the World Trade Center's north tower collapsed.

Thousands of artifacts from the small chunk of lower Manhattan next to Chinatown and crammed with German, Irish, Jewish and later Italian immigrants, were packed into a basement storage area beneath 6 World Trade Center. When the north tower collapsed, part of it careened into the eight-story building, obliterating the basement.

The nearly 700,000 lost artifacts from Five Points were originally uncovered in a major archaeological dig in the early 1990s before the construction of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse and taken to the 6 World Trade Center basement.

The only human remains from Five Points that survived the attacks represent some of old New York's most tragic stories. Skeletons of three infants -- two full-term and one fetus -- were found in what was believed to have been a brothel at 43 Baxter St., said Rebecca Yamin, one of the lead urban archaeologists on the Five Points dig.

Experts believe they were the result of miscarriages by prostitutes or the result of infanticide.

Eighteen artifacts from Five Points on display at the South Street Seaport Museum at the time of the attacks were also spared, Yamin said.

Despite the loss of so many other items, they were historic, not human, reminded Yamin.

"They were just things," she said.

Local archaeologists asked the federal government several times for access to the remains of the basement after Sept. 11 before finally getting permission.

But when they got there they found nothing. The Five Points artifacts had been pulverized and churned with the tons of debris from the towers. What they did find and salvage, according to Yamin, were scores of boxes of materials from the African Burial Ground site.

The burial ground was uncovered during construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway.

The discovery of hundreds of graves of former slaves, including large numbers of children, sparked controversy about the handling of the remains.

Eventually, the burial area was designated as the African Burial Ground National Monument. Howard University in Washington, D.C., is the curator of the artifacts.

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