The heartfelt cards, photos and quilts that poured into firehouses from people around the world following 9/11 will be used to tell a story of that fateful day thanks to a flight attendant from Cincinnati.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum has acquired more than 3,000 of the items - mostly from children - preserved by Tanya Hoggard in the year following the attacks.
The Delta Air Lines flight attendant, like thousands of others, came to Ground Zero to volunteer with the Salvation Army. It's here she learned about firehouses overflowing with the pieces and began calling and faxing firehouses, using time off over the next year to haul tubs of artifacts back to Cincinnati for safekeeping. In all she collected 80 18-gallon plastic bins classified by firehouses that will be used as part of the "Dear Hero" collection.
"It resonates directly with the museum, the outpouring of support we saw in the aftermath of the attacks," September 11 Memorial president Joe Daniels said.
Officials called the donation a "major acquisition" for the museum, which is part of a 9/11 memorial and will open in 2012. The museum collection already includes pieces of steel from the wreckage, emergency vehicles used that day and remaining pieces of the structure, including the last standing column and the lone remaining stairwell known as the "survivor's staircase."
The "Dear Hero" collection is scheduled to arrive Wednesday at a Brooklyn warehouse that houses museum artifacts. Museum curators will sift through the 3,000 pieces and begin sketching out a plan to display them.
The majority are letters, cards and photos, but there are also decorative quilts, ceramic angels, a wreath fashioned with dozens of small white teddy bears, and an American flag-painted bed sheet with 283 dollar bills stapled George Washington face-side up done by students at a Deer Creek-Lamont school in Oklahoma.
The artifacts are not limited to the United States. There is outpouring from around the world including a flag with signatures of support from Italy; a string of origami cranes from Japan; and a 40-foot long, 5-foot-tall banner from Pakistan, where children have scrawled messages including "Pakistan Loves America" and "God Bless America."
Hoggard spent years looking for a home for the pieces until she learned about the memorial and museum.
"I feel like it's in the perfect spot," she said. She finds it "really hard" to let go, but she knows it's for the best. "I feel like it's in the place where it is going to be the most useful. I think this collection becomes more valuable as time goes on, because people won't have lived it, but they can live it vicariously through the eyes of these kids."