- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — It started with a clogged dust mask that fell onto the desk of Jan Ramirez on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. A friend had used the paper mask to breathe while fleeing downtown Manhattan as the air was filled with grit and smoke from the World Trade Center towers.

“That dust mask is going to be an important artifact some day,” Miss Ramirez recalled the friend telling her.

Today, it has become a museum piece, one small part of the largest records trove ever assembled to document a single event.

Millions of pieces of paper documenting government investigations, BlackBerry messages written by survivors as they fled, children’s finger paintings and family photographs are also part of the archive, preserved in such places as state offices, museums and on the Internet.

Saving all things September 11 was a mission embraced from the time of the attacks by professional archivists and grass-roots collectors.

Archivists immediately set out to compile the most complete picture ever of one historic event and already are planning for decades ahead. They shared data with museum officials and individual collectors at a symposium last month.

“Our goal is to make sure we all know who’s got what stuff,” said Kathleen Roe, a New York state archivist who is storing more than 1,000 boxes of government records — such as the September 11 commission report — in boxes in Albany.

Mary Fetchet saved a 43-second telephone message left on the morning of the attacks by her son, Brad, who later died in the South Tower. Mr. Fetchet, 24, called his mother after the first hijacked airliner struck but before the second plane crashed into his building.

“We’re fine, we’re in World Trade Center Two. I’m obviously alive and well over here, but obviously a pretty scary experience,” he told his mother.

Miss Fetchet, founding director of the Voices of September 11 family group, says: “I want people 100 years from now to be able to listen to that message.”

The organization, with several thousand members, is dispensing advice to families on preserving audio recordings, videotapes and photographs of their loved ones, as well as important papers, including condolence letters from the president.

The group is developing an Internet archive she calls a “living memorial” that eventually will hold commemorative information about the 2,973 victims, as well as survivors and rescuers.

Tom Scheinfeldt, a history professor at George Mason University, is one of the coordinators of the 9/11 Digital Archive, which stores 150,000 items including paper, audio and photographs relating to the attacks.

Miss Ramirez — who was at the New York Historical Society when she received her friend’s dust mask and now is the curator of the planned September 11 museum — said the collapse of the twin towers may have inspired people to save even the smallest remnants of that day.

“There’s a preciousness that comes attached to anything left concrete from this event,” she said. “I think people seem to feel that it was sort of almost this sacred stewardship they have taken on in holding this material.”

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