‘Last Column’ Returns to WTC Site as Museum ArtifactSep 01, 2009
In May 2002, the final steel beam removed from the World Trade Center site-the last remnant of the Twin Towers-departed Lower Manhattan draped in black.
On Monday, Aug. 24, more than seven years later, the same 60-ton column was returned to the site wrapped in white, a sign, some officials said, of rebirth at the site of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
The 36-foot-long “Last Column” became the second artifact of the World Trade Center, after the “Survivor Stairs,” to be installed in the planned National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, currently under construction in the very spot where the towers stood. There, crews lowered the column to ground level in the northwest corner of where the museum will stand.
“The fact that we’re bringing it back today really is a symbol of the progress that’s happening here and that the memorial and museum are getting built,” said Joseph Daniels, president of the museum. Though Monday’s event lacked the pomp and pagentry with which the beam was removed from the site, reverence of the moment of its return was palpable. Dozens of city and state officials-as well as a host of reporters and photographers-barely spoke while the beam was suspended in air. A few hundred feet away, workers busy welding together the steel supports of the new One World Trade Center paused momentarily to watch the column descend into the museum site.
The 36-foot-long piece of steel, a portion of a beam that stood vertically from bedrock to the top of the South Tower, became a makeshift memorial in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. During the nine-month removal of debris, rescuers, recovery workers and family members had covered the beam with photos, patches and messages to loved ones, fallen comrades or to fellow Americans at large.
“In many ways, [the column] stood in for the emotions of so many that worked on this recovery and the people that were killed that day,” Daniels said. “This last column became the most authentic, in a sense, of all the memorials.”
Among the most prominent tributes to lost comrades on the column are three notations: PAPD 37, NYPD 23, and FDNY 343-the totals, by agency, of first responders killed in the towers’ collapse. As crews prepared to lift the column off of the oversized flatbed truck on which it had been transported from a climate-controlled hangar at JFK Airport early Monday morning, members of the New York City and Port Authority Police Department and the city Fire Department, stood by, happy to see the column returning home.