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Vol. LXV, No. 36
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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Programs at HSP’s Updike Farmstead Pay Tribute to 9/11’s Tenth Anniversary

Anne Levin

On the website of the organization Voices of September 11, there are wrenching accounts written by survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center. These detailed descriptions by evacuees, eyewitnesses, and first responders, make the horror of that morning ten years ago shockingly real.

It was after attending a talk at the New Brunswick office of Voices of September 11 that Eileen Morales, Curator of Collections at The Historical Society of Princeton (HSP), began to think about bringing the non-profit program to Princeton. Ms. Morales had a personal connection to the tragedy. Her cousin’s husband died in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Last May, she accompanied her cousin to the session to learn about Voices of September 11 and its 9/11 Memorial Project. The online digital archive commemorates the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the attacks, and documents firsthand accounts of survivors and rescue workers.

Before long, Ms. Morales and Eve Mandel, HSP’s Curator of Education, had arranged for Sheri Burkat, Program Director of Voices of September 11, to visit Princeton. On Wednesday, September 21, Ms. Burkat will give a presentation at HSP’s Updike Farm on Quaker Road. Her talk is the second of two events marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to be held at the restored, historic farmstead this month. The first is Saturday, September 10, the National Day of Service and Remembrance, when the farmhouse will be open to the public as a place for reflection.

“There were about 30 residents of Mercer County, including Princeton University alumni, who were lost on September 11,” Ms. Morales says. “So many people have a connection. The people in this organization are advocates for the families of those who were lost, and we are partnering with the New Brunswick office to make people aware.”

A social worker named Mary Fetchet founded Voices of September 11 after losing her son in the attacks. With an insurance specialist and 9/11 widow, she opened an office in her hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut, sharing her experiences working with the offices of the medical examiner, dealing with red tape, and creating an information clearinghouse for those affected by the disaster. In 2009, Johnson & Johnson offered the organization space in New Brunswick, and a satellite office was established. The company lost numerous workers on 9/11.

“We have continued in our New Brunswick office, and we have communications with people internationally,” says Ms. Burkat. “We try to get the word out to let people know about our organization and the living memorial, which is a way for people to digitally pay tribute to their loved ones and for survivors to tell their stories.”

Staff members have met with family members representing about 1,000 people who were lost on 9/11. “We meet with families either in our offices or elsewhere,” Ms. Burkat says. “They bring in photos, memorabilia, and obituaries, and we digitally scan it all. It becomes a digital page for the family. It takes about a year for the page to be created by an artist.”

The information also gets transferred to the 9-11 Memorial Museum scheduled to open next year in New York City. The organization continues to provide families with support services, information, and referrals, and is working on developing a support group for rescue and recovery workers from New Jersey.

“For some families, there is a lot of anxiety and a lot of confusion about the different organizations and who does what,” Mr. Burkat says. “We have a really compassionate staff and social workers who with sit with them, advise them, and help them organize their photos and memorabilia. They’re often very grateful and very relieved after they understand the process. They often come back to add more, not just in person but through email or over the phone.”

At Updike Farm on Saturday, September 10, the museum’s galleries will feature the exhibit Caring Kids in the Community, which explores the wide-ranging efforts of young people who seek to make a difference in people’s lives through community service. The poem “For Our World,” written by 11-year-old Mattie Stepanek on 9/11, will be used as inspiration for journal and poetry writing throughout the day. A donation of an individual portion of canned fruit, a juice box, or microwave pasta is requested as admission.

“We hope people will come here that day as a place to reflect and honor this anniversary,” says Ms. Mandel. “It is a peaceful place for this day of remembrance.”

The September 21 event featuring Ms. Burkat is part of the Meet Me at the Farmstead series. Admission is $5 for ages three and older; $8 for two people; $10 for three; $15 for four (free for HSP members). Updike Farm is at 354 Quaker Road.

“We want people to know that we’re not just about things that happened a long time ago, but also about things that happened 10 years ago,” says Ms. Morales. “We are about history, but also part of the community and contemporary life.”

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