David Shayt
September 11 Collecting Curator
Museum Specialist, Division of Cultural History

"... I felt as if I was on Antarctica, at an Antarctic base of some kind."
Fresh Kills landfill is on a hill. The Staten Island recovery site for World Trade Center is on the top of that hill behind barbed wire and fences in part to prevent things from blowing out of the site, but also to restrict access. With some effort, I got through the various security aspects of the site and rose up this dirt road of gravel and everything sort of gray arriving at these trailers and in the distance these funny machines—these grappling machines.

And I felt as if I was on Antarctica, at an Antarctic base of some kind. That was my impression—that this was a remote site from everything, and that these gray piles were in fact glaciers or icebergs. But it became something very different on closer study. Getting used to the peculiar smell of Fresh Kills—a sweet smell that is, I learned, introduced intentionally to counteract the other smells that you find up there. But it’s that sweet smell that will always stay with me; a fruity, almost candy-like smell in the air…

In the distance in an area called the Exclusion Zone, men and women, typically law enforcement volunteers in white suits head to toe, with breathing apparatus, were on these elevated walkways. They were staring at a continuous stream of rubble that went across them, went between them on a conveyor belt that was the distilled essence of the World Trade Center. All the stuff, all the small stuff had been carefully screened for dirt somehow, in shaker tables nearby, and loaded onto these conveyor belts. There were five or six or eight different tents full of workers staring, looking for finger rings, wristwatches, ID cards, human remains, maybe a recognizable earring or a piece of a black box—all day long, in shifts.