Cincinnati, OH - Tanya Hoggard started collecting letters, cards and artwork sent by children to New York City firefighters and rescue workers eight years ago in the aftermath of 9/11. As a volunteer at ground zero, she saw the power of the drawings and messages, many of them simple but heartfelt. She saw how they put smiles - if ever so briefly - on the faces of the weary workers searching the World Trade Center rubble. She eventually collected nearly 3 tons of such tributes and couldn't bear to throw any of it away. For years, she was unsure what would become of it all.
Now, the long search for a suitable home for the collection is officially ended. On Tuesday, December 29 in a downtown Cincinnati office building, a two-person MidWest Fine Art Service and Transportation crew carefully began packing the items. They were trucked the following Wednesday to New York City, where they will eventually be displayed at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
For Hoggard, 42, this is a bittersweet time. "I'm happy that (the collection) is going to the right place," she says, "but I'm really nervous. It's so important to me that these things are taken care of and treated properly. It's really hard to give them away."
In addition to countless letters and drawings from all over the country, the items include a 6-foot-diameter wreath decorated with dozens of small white teddy bears, each bearing a message to a firefighter; booties that a mother and daughter made for Ground Zero rescue dogs; a U.S. flag made of paper and $1 bills. Some items came from overseas, such as origami cranes from Japan, a flag signed by residents of Italy and a banner from Pakistan.
Hoggard, a Delta flight attendant, was in Paris during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She is also a photographer, so upon returning to the U.S., she went to ground zero to take pictures and absorb what had happened. By November, she was volunteering at a Salvation Army tent. As children's letters arrived, she pinned them up for rescue workers to see. "A firefighter would read them, and chuckle, or smile, or feel like, for two seconds, that things were going to be OK," she says. Firefighters told her they had stacks of such mail that eventually would have to be thrown away.
Hoggard didn't want that to happen, so early in 2002 she began visiting firehouses, collecting the material and shipping it to Cincinnati. For a time, she stored it in her Oakley, Ohio home, until securing free storage space from several Cincinnati businesses. While making the rounds of firehouses, she met firefighter Joe Tisbe, whose station - Engine 40, Truck 35 - lost 12 people on 9/11. "It was a very dark time for us," he says, "emotionally, mentally and physically draining. And to see that kind of support, to see the letters kids had written, was a bright spot." He, too, believes it's important to keep the materials.
Hoggard hoped to raise enough money to display the materials in a traveling exhibit. That never happened, but portions of the collection were shown in 2006 at Cincinnati Museum Center and at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. In 2005, Crestview Presbyterian Church in West Chester Township displayed some items. But she could never find a permanent home. She contacted museums, foundations, and politicians, to no avail.
Two years ago, through a friend of a friend, she learned of the proposed National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The memorial is scheduled to open on Sept. 11, 2011, and the permanent museum exhibition in fall 2012. Hoggard contacted the museum, and officials flew to Cincinnati to view her collection. Soon they were working with her on a transfer of materials. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum hired MidWest to do the packing and shipping.
Amy McEwen, collections manager/registrar for the memorial and museum, viewed the items. She says museum officials are "very, very excited to be receiving this collection. The fact that it was done by children, and was such an immediate outpouring of love and faith and hope, it just takes your breath away." Hoggard calls it the Dear Hero collection, because that was the salutation on many of the children's letters. That will also be the title in the museum exhibition.
As the MidWest F.A.S.T. crew packed up, Hoggard snapped photos. Letting go is difficult, she acknowledged. "I feel like (the museum) can do more with it than I can, having it sit here. The whole point is to have people see it." And to see it is to be moved.
In addition to the Dear Hero items collected by Tanya Hoggard, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum will contain a wide range of materials in its permanent collection. Among them: the last steel column standing at ground zero; the World Trade Center's Vesey Street stairway, which many survivors used to escape; New York firefighter gear; and personal effects donated by victims' families. The memorial and museum will be located on eight of the 16 acres of the original World Trade Center site. The memorial is scheduled to open Sept. 11, 2011; the museum, in fall 2012. Information: www.national911memorial.org.