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Sept. 11 artifacts ‘little pieces of truth’ about victims like Chicago trader Andrea Haberman

A New York museum aims to ensure that she and nearly 3,000 others who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, won’t be forgotten

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, this missing-person poster of Andrea Haberman, a Chicago futures trader who was in New York for the first time for a day of meetings, was hung in New York City.
In the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, this missing-person poster of Andrea Haberman, a Chicago futures trader who was in New York for the first time for a day of meetings, was hung in New York City.
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For nearly six years, Andrea Haberman’s damaged wallet lay mostly untouched in a drawer at her parents’ Wisconsin home along with a partly melted cell phone, her driver’s license, credit cards, checkbook and house keys.

Flecks of rust had formed on the rims of her glasses, their lenses shattered and gone.

Those everyday items were the remnants of a young life that ended when a hijacked jetliner struck the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Haberman was 25 and about to be married to her college sweetheart when she was killed while on a business trip from Chicago, where she’d worked for the brokerage firm Carr Futures for about three years.

It was her first time in New York City. She got to work early on Sept. 11 for a day of meetings and was “on the phone with her office in Chicago when the plane hit,” her fiancé told a reporter in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

For Haberman’s family, her belongings, still smelling of Ground Zero, evoked mostly sorrow. To ease their pain, they donated the artifacts to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

“These are not the happy things you want to remember someone by,” says Gordon Haberman, her father.

The collection of 22,000 personal artifacts — wallets, passports, baseball gloves, shoes, clothing items, rings, some on display at New York’s 9/11 museum, some at museums around the country — provide a mosaic of lost lives and stories of survival.

“Each person who makes up part of that tally was an individual who lived a life,” says Jan Ramirez, the museum’s chief curator and director of collections.

Jan Ramirez (right), chief curator at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, sifts through a collection of condolence cards for a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that were donated to the museum’s archive. The museum has collected 22,000 personal artifacts to help tell the stories of those who died and those who were lucky to survive.
Jan Ramirez (right), chief curator at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, sifts through a collection of condolence cards for a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that were donated to the museum’s archive. The museum has collected 22,000 personal artifacts to help tell the stories of those who died and those who were lucky to survive.
Robert Bumsted / AP

“We knew that families — the people that have lost a loved one that day — were going to need to have a place, have a way to remember the person that never came home from work, that never came home from a flight,” Ramirez says.

Many of those personal effects were plucked from the ruins of the Twin Towers. Other items were donated by survivors or by the families of those who died.

A woodworking square, screwdriver, pry bar and a tool belt represent Sean Rooney, a vice president at Aon Corp. who died in the South Tower. Rooney’s essence was that of “a builder,” his sister-in-law Margot Eckert says, making the carpenter’s tools donated to the museum the “perfect antidote to the destruction.”

Rooney had phoned his wife Beverly Eckert at their home in Stamford, Conn., after being trapped by fire and smoke on the 105th floor. He spent his last breaths recounting happier times, whispering, “I love you,” as he labored for air.

His remains were never found.

Beverly Eckert died eight years later in a plane crash while traveling to her husband’s high school in Buffalo, N.Y., to award a scholarship in his honor. Before she died, she had set aside the items she hoped would help tell her husband’s story, that of a weekend carpenter, handyman and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

“We have a gravesite for her,” Margot Eckert says. “We don’t have a gravesite for Sean. Artifacts become very important. And artifacts are the facts that someone lived. They are the facts you can touch.”

Margot Eckert stands by a display of pictures of her brother-in-law Sean Rooney and sister Beverly Eckert at her home in Springfield, Mass. Rooney was killed on 9/11 while working in his office in the South Tower. His wife Beverly Eckert died in a plane crash in 2009.
Margot Eckert stands by a display of pictures of her brother-in-law Sean Rooney and sister Beverly Eckert at her home in Springfield, Mass. Rooney was killed on 9/11 while working in his office in the South Tower. His wife Beverly Eckert died in a plane crash in 2009.
Robert Bumsted / AP

For Robert Chin’s family, the story was about a love for playing softball. They recounted his first hit — a drive down the third-base line — playing for Fiduciary Trust International. To help savor the moment, his teammates scribbled congratulatory notes on the ball before presenting it to him.

Among the names on the ball were those of Pedro Francisco Checo and Ruben Esquilin Jr., who died with Chin that day. That dusty softball that Chin had kept at home is included among the trove of keepsakes in the 9/11 museum’s collection.

Some of the donated artifacts came from those who survived.

Like Linda Raisch-Lopez’s bloodied patent leather heels. They tell the story of her will to survive and the day she ran for her life. Making her way down a stairwell from the 97th floor of the South Tower, she slipped out of her heels and walked through the debris in her bare feet, according to the museum. At some point, she slipped back into her shoes, smearing blood on the tan leather from her cut and blistered feet.

Only a small part of the New York museum’s collection of artifacts is on display at a time because there’s so much of it.

“Each piece is a little part of a puzzle,” Ramirez says. “Having those important, little pieces of truth, those palpable pieces of truth — those bridges to allow people to get engaged in the story — is why we do what we do and will continue to do what we do.”