A Show of Steel: NYC exhibition highlights naval warship built with WTC steel

A Show of Steel
NYC exhibition highlights naval warship built with WTC steel
By Jane Jerrard

There are countless memorials, tributes and remembrances to the victims who fell at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. But few are as powerful as the U.S. Navy’s new warship, the USS New York, whose bow was forged from 7 ½ tons of steel recovered from Ground Zero. And now, the Tribute WTC Visitor Center offers a look at the people who refined that steel, built the ship and serve on it today.

The Tribute WTC Visitor Center’s current special exhibit, USS New York: In Tribute, offers a look at the warship, whose bow was forged from 7½ tons of steel recovered from Ground Zero. Photo courtesy of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center

The exhibit tells the story of the people who refined that steel, built the ship and serve on it today. Poto courtesy of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center

The Tribute WTC Visitor Center, located along the south side of the World Trade Center site, was created by the September 11th Families’ Association. It includes five galleries that offer permanent and rotating exhibits on topics related to Sept. 11.

Right now, the center’s special exhibit is USS New York: In Tribute. “You have to think about the steel that they used,” says Lee Ielpi, one of the founders of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, who lost his firefighter son in the collapse of the World Trade Center. “They refined the steel … and used that in the bow stem. That’s the first piece that cuts through the water. It’s tremendously significant.”

As with Tribute WTC’s other exhibits, the USS New York exhibit focuses on people—specifically, the people behind each stage of building and serving on the warship. But the exhibit is also a departure for the center: “This exhibit is different for us because it tells a very specific story, and it’s a national story,” says Meriam Lobel, the center’s curator. “Our previous exhibits have dealt with specific communities in New York—the works, transportation, etc. This exhibit speaks to the nation.”

The USS New York exhibit first details how the steel debris was transported to Louisiana, where it was delicately recycled and then refined. “You can hear from the people who worked on the project there, many of whom were survivors of Katrina,” Lobel says. The shipbuilders, who are quoted in the exhibit, devoted themselves to building the USS New York as a “testimonial to America’s resolve,” treating the steel with reverence and respect.

An interactive section of the exhibit lets visitors explore the unique features of the state-of-the-art amphibious transport ship, from the new stealth technology in the ship’s outer skin that makes it very hard to detect, to the symbolic crest of the ship, which contains tributes to the state of New York, the FDNY, the NYPD and other entities.

The last part of the exhibit focuses on the ship’s crew—all of whom volunteered for the New York. There are quotes and stories from crewmembers, the ship’s captain and the chaplain, all of whom are proud to be part of the tribute warship. “When the ship was in port, crewmembers took turns staffing the exhibit and telling visitors about the ship,” Lobel recalls. “And during Fleet Week, they came down and did some painting and touch-up work for us.” In turn, Tribute WTC has been supportive of the crew, even hosting a reception for their families in the visitors’ center.

Visitors to the exhibit are invited to write notes to the crew of the USS New York.

Asked about what part of the exhibit he finds most powerful, Ielpi says, “It might be as simple as the photo of the ship. It sends a beautiful message. That ship was built specifically to carry a landing force of Marines, but it will be used for humanitarian purposes more than war. Ships like this one deliver aid after tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes. And when it arrives, carrying the name of New York, it will demonstrate to people that we’re a generous and peaceful people.” He adds, “But it is a warship, and it also says that if our freedoms are challenged, we’ll continue to fight for our freedoms.”

USS New York: In Tribute runs until April 12, 2010. The Tribute Center’s next special exhibit will look at the uniformed services that responded on Sept. 11, and how they’ve changed since then.

For more information on the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, go to www.tributewtc.org. For facts and details about the USS New York, visit www.ussnewyork.com.

Jane Jerrard lives in Chicago and writes regularly for FireRescue.

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