By Jim Himler Triblive.com
When David Zacur got a call from Stephen Tidwell, former executive assistant to the director of the FBI, he didn’t have to think twice about his response.
Zacur, himself a former FBI agent and now director of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice Training Academy, agreed that Indiana should be the next location to house Ground Zero 360, an internationally known collection of photographs, artifacts and audio clips documenting the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center.
The exhibit just completed a run at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., after previous stops including Chicago’s Field Museum, where it was viewed by as many as a million people. Thanks to the efforts of staff at IUP and the Indiana business community, Ground Zero 360 will open to the public Wednesday at The Atrium, 665 Philadelphia St., Indiana. It will be available for viewing free of charge in the office building’s first-floor corridor during weekday business hours through March 5.
“It’s almost a panoramic type of a display,” Zacur said. “It will be occupying both sides of the hallway.”
“It’s good for the area,” Zacur said of the exhibit, which is expected to attract visitors to the community while also honoring 9/11 victims and emergency responders.
“There’s an opportunity to show in this display things that have never been seen before,” he said, noting the exhibit includes a structural remnant from the World Trade Center. “When you look at the girth of this massive piece of steel, you can’t believe a building of that size came down the way it did.”
Also, he said, “Family members of victims have donated items of clothing from deceased members. On one helmet from a fireman, you can still see the soot and the dust.”
The exhibit is organized by Paul McCormack, a Philadelphia native and retired New York City Police Department inspector who was the officer in charge of the department’s 41st Precinct on 9/11. At the core of the display are images of that harrowing day’s unfolding events in the city that were captured by photojournalist Nicola McClean, now McCormack’s wife.
Though the couple now live with their four children in McClean’s native Dublin, Ireland, they’re planning to attend Wednesday’s exhibit opening.
“I’m really excited to be coming to Indiana,” McCormack said in a phone interview. “It’s a great tribute my wife put together to honor the 9/11 victims and the families. Our motto of the exhibition is to keep the memory alive and never forget the sacrifice of the people on that day.”
Among the fallen honored in the exhibit is NYPD officer Moira Smith, who issued a radio call for assistance as the second of the World Trade Center’s two towers collapsed. The towers’ supporting structures were damaged by burning fuel from the jetliners flown into them by terrorists.
McCormack won’t forget that plea for help that no one could provide. “When a police officer calls for help on the radio, it’s a very distressing thing for a police officer to hear,” he said. “It gives you a sick feeling in your stomach.”
Also expected to attend Wednesday’s opening are family members of two other responders who perished — Kevin O’Rourke, who served with a New York City Fire Department rescue unit based in Brooklyn, and Brian McDonald [sic – McDonnell], who helped man an NYPD Emergency Services Unit truck in Manhattan.
The exhibit includes McDonald’s [sic – McDonnell’s], helmet, uniform and medal of honor, donated by his wife, Maggie.
Also featured will be two in a series of 12 paintings by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick titled “Lament for the Fallen.”
The exhibit additionally recreates a portion of the “wall of the missing,” where photos of loved ones missing after the towers collapsed were displayed in the hope of discovering them alive.
Visitors will be able to add to the exhibit by recording written comments.
According to Zacur, Tidwell will be the featured speaker for the exhibit’s opening ceremony, which will begin with a 4 p.m. program in the second-floor banquet room at The Coney restaurant in downtown Indiana. Those assembled will then adjourn to the Atrium to officially open the exhibit. Events will conclude back at the restaurant with a private reception for victims’ families.
McCormack noted his wife will be signing copies of a book that reproduces her 9/11 photographs. Money raised through sales of the book and of photographic prints benefits a nonprofit effort to assist families of 9/11 victims.
The Indiana exhibit was made feasible through a partnership between IUP and area businesses.
Mark Berezansky, executive director of the IUP Research Institute, headed an effort to solicit corporate sponsorship to help cover estimated costs of $16,000. That includes travel expenses for victims’ families and costs of packing and transporting the exhibit.
“I’m amazed at the level of generosity that downtown businessmen and the corporate world have given us through donations,” Zacur said.
Memories of 9/11 have an added resonance in Indiana. A memorial to those lost in the attacks, including IUP alumni, stands on the IUP campus and is the site for a ceremony of remembrance conducted on each anniversary of the event.
It’s also not a far drive to a field in Shanksville, Somerset County. That’s where the National Park Service is memorializing the passengers of United 93, who defied the terrorists who hijacked that flight, ultimately bringing down the plane at that site, short of its intended target.
It’s also the site where Zacur, an Indiana native, reported in the aftermath of 9/11. He was then agent in charge of the FBI’s Johnstown field office.
“I was one of the first responders down there,” he said, noting the grim Somerset County scene brought back vivid memories of his earlier experience while serving with an Army Airborne rescue unit in the Vietnam War.
“There was a distinctive odor of jet fuel and human remains,” Zacur said. “The unmistakable smell hit me and took me right back to the central highlands of Vietnam.”
During the Flight 93 investigation and recovery effort, “I lived down in Shanksville for almost two months,” Zacur noted. “I was part of a large crew of people [sic] We had to preserve the crime scene. Then it was a matter of painstakingly going in and plotting out the crash site and starting to recover not only the human remains but the personal effects.”
“It was one of the most focused efforts,” he said. Though officials from various jurisdictions were involved, he noted, “There was no in-fighting. Everybody was on point.”
Zacur joined the IUP staff in June 2010 after a 30-year career in the FBI that included serving on the U.S. Attorney General’s protective detail, from 1983 to 1987.
Zacur indicated donations are still being accepted to assist with the Indiana display of Ground Zero 360. Those interested in contributing can contact Berezansky at 724-464-3020.
More about the exhibit can be seen at www.groundzero360.org.