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

"...not the sort of thing we would collect unless it had some extraordinary, iridescent story."
At the other end of the spectrum are very small objects; again, typical like a file cabinet but not the sort of thing we would collect unless it had some extraordinary, iridescent story. Such a story is that of Lisa Lefler, an insurance broker for Aon Risk Services in New York.

At about 8:45, Lisa was hit by a big blast of heat coming from the tower next door. She was on the 103rd floor facing the river, but felt the heat from the fireball that was created when the first plane hit Tower 1. Right away she knew she had to get out even though she was hearing from others that they were being told to stay put, to go back to their desks, to resume their duties, because it was the other tower that was hit, and to stay out of the streets. She chose not to agree to that and fled with many others, leaving behind her briefcase.

A day or two later a rescue worker in the collapsed debris of her tower found her briefcase. It was returned to her at a cathedral honoring the 176 people who died in her office. The rescue worker and Lisa remain good friends, and through connections I learned of Lisa and convinced her that her briefcase belonged at the Smithsonian -- not just to represent briefcases and women office workers, but the ordinary daily life of the World Trade Center that was so disrupted.

It is a completely smashed, wrecked briefcase, but because it is leather it has retained its basic shape. Lisa's resume was inside, enabling it to be identified and returned to her. She’s also given us that resume. So we have her story, we have the briefcase; we have an important office, Aon Risk Services that lost so much that day.