There are more than 8,000 artifacts cataloged and prepared for exhibition at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero.
"We are so ready to show this to the public," said chief curator Jan Ramirez.
The artifacts reflect a multitude of 9/11 experiences, including everyday items that "none of us would give a second glance to," said Ramirez, whose job is to unfold the personal story that is attached to each item.
They have been collected over the last 10 years and range from office workers' wallets and work badge IDs to an array of twisted steel beams and mangled airplane fuselage, some of which is being stored inside the basement of the uncompleted museum which is next to the memorial.
Ramirez, who is also director of collections, offered a tour last week of the 9/11 Preview Site on Vesey Street. Visitors jammed into the storefront space while others waited outside to get in. The site offers an introduction to what the museum will look like once completed. It also offers visitors a glimpse of how the museum will pay historical homage to 9/11 and how that day changed the life of America and the world today.
This summer, the preview site is exhibiting the personal items of first responders to the Twin Towers, from their work boots and overalls to the art work of iron worker Rafe Greco of Manhattan.
Greco's steel silhouette of the Twin Towers reflects the dark days when the site was a pile of rubble and debris. At the time, iron workers used their fire braziers to make crosses that they gave to family members and volunteers who worked at the pile, said Ramirez.
All the artifacts tell a personal story that highlights "the human essence" of that tragic day and the days, months and years that followed, said Ramirez.
This summer's tribute to first responders also includes a pair of donated work gloves with the words "thank you" written in magic marker. NYPD officer David Brink of the Emergency Service Unit used the gloves when he searched for remains.
There is also the story of Firefighter Ed Walsh's resourcefulness when he used a garden trowel to gently dig through the debris to find the remains of his colleagues. Walsh worked with his trusty garden tool tied to his waist belt with a piece of fire rope.
"This spontaneous problem-solving is something we need to remember," said Ramirez.
There is also the story of crane operator Pia Hoffman, who demanded that a chaplain and a flag-draped procession be given to the remains of civilians as well as uniformed personnel.
"These are amazing people and this summer we can remember and acknowledge them," said Ramirez. Visitors can hear their personal narratives through headphones.
The museum's completion is delayed until there is a resolution to the dispute between its foundation and the Port Authority over cost overruns on the museum's construction.