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Beyond the Human Toll, History and Artifacts Lost


NEW YORK — First editions of Helen Keller's books. Sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Artifacts from the African Burial Ground, a centuries-old Manhattan cemetery. Thousands of photographs of Broadway, off-Broadway and even off-off-Broadway shows.

All were lost--along with thousands of other important works of art, photographs, negatives, artifacts and historical documents--when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, a new report shows.

"In emergencies, sometimes there is simply nothing you can do," said Lawrence L. Reger, president of the group that released the report. "There was stuff put in vaults that were simply vaporized."

The report, by Heritage Preservation, a Washington, D.C.-based cultural preservation organization, surveyed 57 museums, archives and cultural institutions close to the trade center site. It focused on the scope of what was lost in lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Within and around the twin towers were works such as Fritz Koenig's "The Sphere" and the Rodin collection in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that lost 658 of its nearly 1,000 employees Sept. 11.

"The Sphere," which sat in the concourse between the towers, was badly damaged and now serves as part of a temporary memorial in nearby Battery Park.

"It was next to a miracle that the Koenig sphere survived in any way," Reger said.

But most of the rare casts of Rodin sculptures did not survive. Those that did were badly damaged.

Aside from the works of art, thousands of important historical photographs and documents also were lost.

Almost the complete Port Authority of New York and New Jersey archive was destroyed, including papers, photographs and blueprints detailing the construction of the World Trade Center and dozens of other city landmarks.

Nearly 40,000 of photographer Jacques Lowe's negatives, detailing John F. Kennedy's presidency, were lost when 5 World Trade Center was heavily damaged in the attack, destroying the bank vault where they were stored. Lowe's family estimated the negatives were worth nearly $2 million.

"Most people did not think that the World Trade towers had such a variety and such a wide breadth of historical items," Reger said.

While so much was lost at the trade center, the Heritage Preservation report also showed that hundreds of thousands of items in nearby institutions were saved by quick thinking and good emergency plans.

"The good news is that people really took common-sense action, and that helped save quite a lot," Reger said. "Most of those who did that had some kind of plan, but we do think too many institutions don't have proper planning."

For example, just across the street from where the towers once stood, administrators at the Museum of Jewish Heritage climbed to the roof and manually cranked vents closed when power was lost. As the towers burned in the background, they stayed to turn off water valves, even though police ordered them to leave.

When they returned, not a trace of dust--which can be lethal to artifacts--was found inside the museum, even though lower Manhattan was covered in a thick layer.

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