After receiving a very warm welcome from hundreds of area residents who lined Military Avenue to greet the large trailer chauffeured by area first responders on its trip from Valley on Thursday, the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit received a similar response from the community Friday during its first day at John C. Fremont Days.
Word about the 9/11 exhibit—making its first-ever stop in Nebraska as part of John C. Fremont Days festivities—spread quickly as free-of-charge tickets needed to experience the tour were all swooped up by eager eventgoers in under an hour. People began lining up for tickets before noon. The line grew steadily, eventually reaching from the middle of the park to Main Street shortly after opening ceremonies.
As festivities got underway at John C. Fremont Park on Friday afternoon, the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit was clearly drawing the largest crowd as people showed up early and often to take their turn learning more about one of the most devastating days in recent American history.
Attendees patiently waited their turn in a packed tent near the exhibit’s entrance throughout the afternoon, as about 25 people were able to take the tour every 15 minutes or so.
Some of the first to tour the exhibit described the experience with a variety of terms: “breathtaking,” “heartbreaking,” and “amazing,” were some of the most common.
The exhibit features everything from World Trade Center steel and an aluminum façade to audiotapes of firefighters battling the fire. It also includes items like a panel of a firetruck and a golf ball found in the rubble.
But the most memorable part of the exhibit, for some of the first to tour it, was the tour guides themselves.
The tours are conducted by firefighters who were eyewitnesses to history and able to share their perspective on what happened that day and thereafter.
“The passion of the presenters—because they were there—makes it extra special,” Shelley Partridge said. “It gives you that opportunity to just feel a tiny, tiny bit of what it was like.”
Shelley and her husband John were part of one the first group’s to tour the exhibit on Friday, and said that the experience allowed them to gain much-needed perspective on what first responders and victims of 9/11 actually went through on that fateful day in 2001.
“Basically it just brings it here and it puts everything into perspective,” John Partridge said. “The presenters really give it a human face, and being here in Nebraska we don’t get to see the memorial or all the other things involved with memorializing 9/11 unless we can travel to New York and see it—so it’s really neat to see and hear about what they sacrificed for all of those people.”
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Another local couple—Luke and Carol Waage—also got the opportunity to tour the exhibit during the afternoon on Friday.
At first, Carol struggled to find the right words to describe her experiences, but like others, said the most memorable part was hearing firsthand experiences from her tour guide.
“It was very realistic and it just makes you appreciate the sacrifices that all those people made,” she said.
Luke Waage said that he was also appreciative of hearing just a small slice of what first responders went through during 9/11.
“The event was a million times bigger than what this exhibit shows you, but it gives you a very small sense of what it was actually like,” he said.
Carol Waage also commented on some of the items—like pieces of steel from the World Trade Center and ladders used by first responders—that are also featured in the exhibit.
“Seeing all the little pieces of rubble—the melted metal, the distorted ladders—it’s just hard to imagine,” she said.
In its mission to ensure that Americans never forget what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, established in memory of a fallen 9/11 firefighter, created the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit to bring the events of that day to Americans who are unable to travel to New York City.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors and supports first responders and service members who continue to make the sacrifice life and limb for their communities. For more information about the exhibit and foundation is available at www.tunnel2towers.org.
The 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 13. But free-of-charge tickets are no longer available due to overwhelming community response.
On Friday afternoon, staff at the John C. Fremont Days Information Booth—where tickets were being distributed until they ran out—were taking interested individuals phone numbers in case more tickets became available. Anyone not needing some of their tickets are encouraged to return them to the information booth as soon as possible.