9/11 digital archives: Visitors tell us their stories
Visitors to the museum's 2011 commemorative event September 11: Remembrance and Reflection were invited to share their stories with the museum. Intern Sara Halpert has been digitizing these comment cards.
I was 11 on September 11, 2001. After my sister shook me awake, I watched the second plane hit the South tower on a small TV screen in our kitchen in Thousand Oaks, California. This summer, I've had the opportunity to immerse myself in a variety of diverse perspectives and reflections on the events of that day 13 years ago, which I saw through child's eyes.
Like Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy for previous generations, the way each of us witnessed 9/11 may never be far from the minds of those who lived through it. Preserving American history is not just about the objects and people directly involved in major events, but also about recording how these events changed the American people as a whole.
For the museum's 10th anniversary commemoration, September 11: Remembrance and Reflection, the Smithsonian asked visitors to leave comment cards. Some of the cards asked, "How did you witness history on September 11, 2001?" Other cards asked, "How has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?"
Part of my job while interning in the Division of Armed Forces History has been to scan these comment cards into the Online Digital Archive. I have found that many of the same sentiments and themes kept showing up in card after card. Interested in getting a bigger picture of these individual comments, I took a random selection of responses to the question, "How has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?" and inserted them into a word cloud generator.
A word cloud generator takes all the content it receives and creates an image composed of the most used words. The words that appear the most often in the text appear the largest in the world cloud. The cloud depicts the kind of heart-felt and emotional responses we received.
As I scanned the comment cards, I made sure to read each and every one. I felt that this would deepen my understanding of that day and help me connect with the experience of the wider American public. It's been an honor to read these very personal and touching stories from people all over the world. I'd like to share with you some of the most touching and profound of these comment cards.
I related closely with the many cards written by visitors who had been in school at the time of the attack. The reality of being too young to truly understand was often mentioned. Visitors also wrote about what it was like for the millions of school children throughout the nation to spend the day surrounded by classmates, experiencing this tragedy communally. Then there were those too young to really remember the events, or not even born yet.
Many Americans were just going about their day as normal, getting ready for, driving to, or already at work.
Some of the most amazing and emotional responses told stories of those who, by mere fate, were not at the places they were supposed to be and were thereby saved from experiencing the attack.
Then there were those who were not so fortunate.
Then there were those who felt the call of duty on that day.
I deeply admire the bravery it must have taken these victims of loss to come to the museum and remember that horrible day through the objects on display.
To see more of these heartfelt memories and thoughts visit the September 11th Comment Cards Flickr album.
So now I turn to you, blog readers. How did you witness history on September 11, 2001? How has your life changed because of September 11, 2001? Tell us in the comment section or visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum's "Make History" page to record your own stories. To learn more about our 9/11 collection, and to see the objects these visitors were reacting to, visit the online exhibition.
Sara Halpert is an intern in the Armed Forces History Division. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies at The George Washington University.