NEW YORK: For six years, Amy Passiak oversaw the distribution of hundreds of objects from the World Trade Center in New York, a task she finished days before the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
There was only a knot of people on July 27, in a corner of the cargo area at New York’s Kennedy airport, to help with the end of the adventure.
The last pieces from the Twin Towers still stored in Hangar 17, which had been exposed to the view of thousands, left under Passiak’s watchful eye.
For six years, she coordinated the distribution of almost 2,800 pieces under the control of the site’s owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Among them, there was no individual, personal object: a damaged police car, sunglasses sold at one of the stores in the building, but mostly massive objects, fragments of the destroyed skyscrapers in lower Manhattan.
There was a lot of steel, including several of the tridents, the distinctive forked steel structures on the facade at the base of the buildings, each weighing several dozen tons.
In 2009, the Port Authority decided to distribute the objects to non-profit organizations and government entities for use in public memorial projects.
Already working at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Passiak was chosen to supervise the program.
Passiak, who is in her 30s and holds a master’s degree in museum studies, discovered a universe about which she knew almost nothing.
“I was a senior in high school in Michigan when 9/11 happened. I had never been to New York City,” she said.
Passiak had no close family connection to the victims of the attacks, or the police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel, nothing that could create a link, even an indirect one, with the attack.
“I didn’t have a real concept of what the World Trade Center was, where it was,” she added.
‘A lot of hugs’
Retrospectively, this distance perhaps allowed her to completely plunge into the task without feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
Since a little more than a year ago, the pace of the work has sharply slowed and Passiak is also handling other projects, but “for about four years, my life was September 11, which is crazy,” she said.
Generally, “I think that I’m a very emotionally steady person,” she said, “so I think that that actually helped with the job. I was able to remain calm.”
Passiak and the Port Authority approved the requests of 1,567 different groups across the United States, many of them fire and police departments, schools and cities.
Requests for objects also were approved for 10 foreign countries, including Canada, China, Germany and Italy. Despite its long ties with the US, France is missing from the list.
Each distribution was emotionally charged.
“I received a lot of hugs,” said Passiak, smiling.
“As the front person, you became part of that grieving process, almost like a pillar that they were able to identify and lean on.”
Passiak has now finished the project and said “it feels good” knowing that all the pieces went somewhere and the memorials were built.
“They weren’t giving it to individuals — they were giving it to groups of people that can process everything and interact together. That’s probably the element that I found most rewarding.”